Sunday, September 14, 2008

The Devil in Dover

I just finished reading The Devil in Dover, by Lauri Lebo, which I know I saw mentioned somewhere on a blog that I read recently, but now I can't for the life of me remember where I saw it. Its a great book, not just for the fascinating portrait of the Kitzmiller v. Dover trial but also for Lebo's reflections on the nature of faith and truth.

I have been thinking about truth, and Truth, myself lately. The school year started a few days ago, so I have overheard my religious mother reading aloud to the kids she homeschools about how everything they think ought to be guided by a religious perspective. Slactivist's post on "biblical worldview" brought up all kinds of memories of my own religious indoctrination, both ancient and as recent as this morning.

For a certain kind of religious fundamentalist, mostly the kind that uses the same keywords Slacktivist notices, nothing is more important than Truth. See for example Focus on the Family's "The Truth Project," a small group study which advertises with the question "Do you really believe that what you believe is really real?" and which aims to tutor average Christians in fundamentalist apologetics, transforming them into bigoted footsoldiers ready to fight for FotF's pet causes. The thing is, Truth and truth are not the same thing. FotF et al only advocate "truth" when they're able to change the definition of the word to something no regular person would call true.

From FotF's

The Truth Project begins by defining truth as “that which conforms to reality.” But it’s much deeper than that. It’s about one’s personal worldview, which we define as “the set of individual truth claims which I embrace so deeply that I believe they reflect what is really real – and therefore they drive what I think, how I act, and what I feel.”

Many people today – unfortunately, most people – don’t seem to think that there is any universal standard of absolute truth. But we believe differently. The purpose of The Truth Project is to develop a biblical worldview: “A formal worldview based ultimately upon that nature, character, and being of God as it is expressed in His infallible Word [the Bible] and His creation. It becomes the foundation for a life system that governs every area of existence.

For us, the “truth” is God’s truth, as set forth supremely and most definitively in the Bible – and we regard this truth to be absolute in the sense that it cannot be compromised and is not open to purely subjective interpretation. Ultimately, we cannot dissect the truth; we can only proclaim it.

Truth in their hands has nothing to do with observation of reality, and everything to do with parroting
a line received from religious elders. If their religious doctrine explicitly and provably contradicts real events, well, reality has to bend. Truth, after all, is the infallible Word of God Himself and is not open to interpretation by reality or any other damn thing.

Lebo came up against people with this way of thinking during the Dover trial. The devout Christians who tried to adopt a school policy teaching intelligent design alongside evolution lied repeatedly under oath, but seemed not to even be aware that they were lying. I have no trouble believing that they didn't recognize what they were doing as lying. If "trying to advance the kingdom of God" and "telling the truth" are synonymous, then as long as a person is convinced that what they're doing is right, what they say is true. The videotape proving that their statements are not true has nothing to do with anything; only God's will is relevant.

Truth- real truth, facts and proof and, you know, reality- is important to civil society. I may be one of the godless heathens the Truth Project accuses of "reject[ing] the value of rational thought, deny[ing] the existence of moral and spiritual absolutes, and affirm[ing] the right and power of the individual to invent his or her own reality," but I know that human interaction is predicated on a certain amount of trust. Yes, people lie and manipulate all the time, but when they deny the reality they're interacting in, communication is impossible. Efforts to indoctrinate people in denying reality, redefining truth as blind adherence to dogma, are efforts to destroy the fabric of interaction that makes society possible.

I know I don't know how to communicate with people who are sunk deep into this fundamentalism
, and it troubles me. I have been driven all the way back to my roots these past couple of months and I find, like Lebo, that my home is full of lies, and the only way to cope with this pernicious worldview is to just not talk about it at all. Its very isolating.

1 comment:

yanub said...

That's a pretty scary block quote you have there from FotF, but it does a good job of showing exactly how their point of view is different from those of us in the reality-based community.