It is always a joy to read an excellent blogger, who can craft a careful argument, follow it through, and keep your attention throughout. Greta Christina, who was in Pittsburgh in the fall of 2010, is one such person. Her latest column asks why there is so much anger in Cranston, Rhode Island, directed at 16-year high school student, Jessica Ahlquist. Jessica was the brave soul who pointed out to the school board that a religious banner in the school auditorium was not appropriate. A judge agreed and ruled the banner should come down.
After the ruling, sparks flew. Crazies came out the woodwork. Death threats were made and a RI State Rep. went so far as to call her “evil little thing.”
Back to Greta. She asks:
What the hell is going on here?
Why has an entirely unsurprising court ruling — on a well-established point of law, based on one of the most fundamental rights established by our country’s Constitution, protecting everyone’s right to practice their religion without government pressure or interference — resulted in such grotesque, hateful, violently threatening rage aimed at a 16-year-old girl, simply for having the temerity to ask her public school to obey the law?
Some of it, of course, is Internet culture, and the anonymity that makes people feel comfortable saying horrible, cruel, threatening things they would probably never say in person. Some of it seems to stem from a grossly underfunded public education system, and the widespread piss-poor understanding of Civics 101 that apparently goes along with it. And some of it, of course, is just generic enforcement of conformity, and generic hostility aimed at anyone who steps outside social norms. (A tendency that’s especially prevalent in high school.)
But some of it seems to have to do with the unique nature of religion.
Religion, unlike any other belief system or social structure, is based on a belief in that which cannot be seen, felt, heard, touched, or otherwise detected by any normal or reliable means. It is based on ideas that have no good evidence to support them, and that by definition can’t have good evidence to support them.
And in a frustrating and exasperating paradox, when people hold beliefs we don’t have good evidence for, we have a strong tendency to defend them more vigorously, more vehemently, and in many cases more violently. … So — paradoxically — the less good evidence we have for a belief, and the less defensible it is, the more vigorously we defend it.
It is interesting that this would not have gone so far, if it was not about religion.
Be sure to read the rest of Greta’s post. It is wonderful food for thought and worth the read.