By Dom Nozzi
The more a man knows, the more he forgives. – Catherine the Great
According to Canadian psychologist Robert Altemeyer…fundamentalists exhibit a high quotient of authoritarian traits: “They are highly submissive to established authority, aggressive in the name of that authority, and conventional to the point of insisting everyone should behave as their authorities decide. They are fearful and self-righteous and have a lot of hostility in them that they readily direct toward various out-groups. They are easily incited, easily led, rather uninclined to think for themselves, largely impervious to facts and reason, and rely instead on social support to maintain their beliefs. They bring strong loyalty to their in-groups, have thick-walled, highly comnpartmentalized minds, use a lot of double standards in their judgments, are surprisingly unprincipled at times, and are often hypocrites.” –The Party is Over, by Mike Lofgren (2012)
A fundamental difference between those with a reactionary, religious (or fundamentalist) mindset and those with a more progressive, non-religious mindset is that the reactionary mind sees almost all societal problems as problems associated with a discreet set of inexplicably evil people. Such utterly heinous people are not evil due to upbringing or societal dysfunction or economic woes or unfairness. Rather, such awful people are either born evil or have chosen to engage in evil. There are a limited number of them, and it is possible to separate righteous, moral people from evil people – largely through their belief or lack of belief in the views of the Christian tribal norms.
Given this, for the reactionary religious mind, problems caused by evil people elicits fearful hysteria, and can only be solved by submissively and self-righteously supporting authority figures (such as judges or elected officials) who demand that the evil people be punished (as our Christian god so often urges as a “solution” to evil), be isolated from us (so that we and our children are not contaminated by them), or be killed (if we kill enough of them, we will eventually rid ourselves of the contamination).
For the reactionary religious mind, it is not possible to rehabilitate evil people (the Christian god makes that clear with his use of the eternal lake of fire in hell). Nor is it possible to reduce evil behavior by economic or other forms of societal or judicial reform. According to the reactionary religious mind, because abusing a nation does not breed an increase in bad behavior, imperialistically or preemptively attacking evil nations or punishing and abusing such nations will REDUCE the amount of evil in the world, and will not increase the amount of bad behavior.
Non-religious progressives, by contrast, generally believe that punishment, abuse, and social or economic woes are a root cause of poor behavior.
The reactionary religious mind self-righteously considers itself amongst the Chosen People (or the exceptionalists), which means they have nothing to fear about loss of privacy or loss of civil rights.
After all, they are certain they will never engage in unlawful activity.
This mindset also leads to a host of hypocritical, double-standard beliefs and behavior (“Terrorist nations” cannot use drones or preemptive strikes or torture, but the exceptionalist, Christian America has a right to do so because we are, by definition, righteous and a force for Good.”)
Again, those of a non-religious, progressive mind believe, in general, problem behavior or crime is caused by societal problems, a dysfunctional or otherwise unfair economic system, or of poor upbringing.
By contrast, the reactionary religious mind has concluded that problem behavior or crime is due to bad, insane or evil individuals. Behavior that is utterly inexplicable.
Contributing to this is that such a mind finds it necessary and virtuous to be ignorant of certain knowledge (since “bad” or “immoral” knowledge can lead to a loss of religious faith or other forms of wickedness).
The only “solutions” left for those harboring the reactionary religious mind is that such evil people must be isolated, punished or killed. Or submit to and cheer on judges, prison guards, policeman and elected officials who will do that for us.
This distinction helps clarify a number of major societal issues in American society:
Terrorism, for the reactionary religious mind is monstrously inexplicable. The reactionary religious mind believes “terrorism” is contagious. “Terrorism” must be quarantined by punishing “terrorists,” isolating “terrorists,” or killing “terrorists.” It is not caused by nations that have abused people. It is caused by a discreet number of evil people (who George W. Bush informed us are people who are so inexplicable that they “hate freedom.”) If America is able to round up and kill enough of these evil, insane “terrorists,” we will not have “terrorism.” The ignorance of the reactionary religious mind means that such a mind is completely incapable of seeing any military, economic or social cause for such “terrorism.” “Terrorism” is, in other words, inexplicable. By contrast, the non-religious, progressive mind would generally argue that the US “War on Terror” is creating a HUGE INCREASE in people who hate the US so much that they end up dedicating their entire lives to harming America and Americans. That is, punishing, isolating and killing people is making the “terrorism” problem much worse.
Illegal drugs, for the reactionary religious mind, immediately cause, on first use, addiction, ruination of a person’s character and future, or death. Excessive or recreational drug use (unless the drug happens to be alcohol, nicotine or caffeine) is inexplicable, and such behavior is chosen because the person is evil or has been contaminated by other evil users of illegal drugs. The “solution” for the reactionary religious mind is punishment, isolation, or killing illegal drug users and illegal drug “kingpins.” Again, such reactionary “solutions” make the drug problem much worse. The ignorance of the reactionary religious mind means that such a mind is completely incapable of seeing any economic or social cause for such dysfunctional drug use. Dysfunctional drug use is, in other words, inexplicable (or due to someone too weak or immoral to resist drug addiction). For the non-religious, progressive mind, by contrast, illegal drug use that leads to dysfunction by the user is generally caused by economic or social dysfunction (or medical/genetic issues). Similarly, the non-religious, progressive mind knows that violent illegal drug sales are almost entirely induced by the illegality of the drug.
Sex, for the reactionary religious mind, if not for procreation within a marriage, will infect one with deadly AIDS, unwanted pregnancy outside of marriage, or a host of other terrible STDs. To reduce societal sex-related problems, the reactionary religious mind believes that sex and contraception must be hidden rather than introduced as sex education in school. Depictions of sex or discussion of sex and contraception will contaminate people, and lead to promiscuity, unwanted pregnancy and STDs. We must punish and isolate those who are open about sexuality, as doing otherwise will contaminate us. Non-religious progressives, by contrast, know through worldwide studies, as well as logic, that knowledge about sex and access to contraception substantially reduces the incidence of STDs, unwanted pregnancy (particularly in teens), and abortions. Once again, the reactionary “solutions” make sexuality problems much worse.
Religion, for the reactionary religious mind, is only legitimate if it is of the Judeo-Christian variety. And Christianity must be heavily subsidized by all US citizens (regardless of their religious beliefs). Christianity must be forced down all throats of US citizens because not doing so will result in the downfall of the morals of US adults and children, lead to an explosion in crime, and bring about the downfall of the nation. Exposure to non-Christian beliefs or (gasp!) atheism will contaminate minds and lead many to shed their Christian beliefs. Only by punishing or isolating ourselves from non-Christian beliefs are we safe. Historically, it was also necessary to burn non-Christians at the stake. Today, many of the reactionary religious mindset believe it is important to kill Muslims.
Police, for the reactionary religious mind, must be given ever larger amount of local and state government dollars to assist society in punishing, isolating and killing the unalterably evil people who prey on law-abiding people. Because of the supreme importance of law enforcement to punish, isolate and kill evildoers, the police budget must dwarf all other local government service budgets. For the non-religious, progressive mind, sub-optimizing on providing resources for the police department significantly worsens crime problems, because when an unbalanced amount of public dollars are allocated to police, other essential social services are hobbled. Why? Because such services are starved of public dollars and other resources. This hobbling of social services greatly increases societal crime problems.
The Death Penalty, for the reactionary religious mind, is an essential tool for removing the contamination of unredeemably evil people. Since we cannot rehabilitate those who are inexplicably evil, our only recourse is to punish them and isolate them until we can execute them. By contrast, non-religious progressives tend to know that the death penalty costs more in public dollars than imprisoning someone for life. Non-religious progressives generally see that this counterproductively results in other social services essential to rehabilitating problem behavior is curtailed. And this leads to an increase in the amount of problem behavior in society.
Gun Control, for the reactionary religious mind, is intolerable because it will mean surrender to a tyrannical dictatorship in America, and we will be defenseless against inexplicably murderous, evil, insane, mass-murdering gunmen. It is possible, according to the reactionary religious mind, for society to identify law-abiding people who would never think of unjustifiably using a gun to kill people in a criminal action or fit of passion. Only those “other” people, who we can easily identify as inexplicably evil, would ever use a gun inappropriately. Guns are essential for the overriding task of punishing, isolating and killing evil people. Guns are emblematic of the violence-loving nature of the reactionary religious mind. For the non-religious, progressive mind, by contrast, easy and nearly universal access to guns inevitably leads to an increase in gun deaths due to “crimes of passion,” and an increase in the number of accidental gun deaths. Non-religious progressives know that even “upstanding” or “law-abiding” citizens can some day end up engaging in criminal behavior with guns, have gun-related accidents, or kill people in a fit of passion.
Militarism, for the reactionary religious mind, serves purposes that parallel that of the local police. The military budget must forever expand and dwarf all other government expenditures. Militarism is essential in protecting us from evil that threatens to take over our nation and take away or freedom-loving way of life. We need overwhelming military force to punish, isolate and kill those who are inexplicably hating America. For the reactionary religious mind, military violence is a necessary, ever-present way of life. By contrast, the non-religious, progressive mind knows that unbalanced public funding that provides excessive dollars to militarism is a far more likely recipe for endangering national security, because unbalanced military spending starves other essential federal government services. Starving other areas of the federal government thereby degrades public education, social services, rehabilitation, and the overall economy. This worsening will ultimately lead to a self-imposed societal death spiral that has nothing to do with foreign “enemies.” In addition, the non-religious, progressive mind knows that aggressive military build-ups inevitably lead to unsustainable American military intervention overseas (which the reactionary religious mind self-righteously defends is our role as the “world’s policeman”). The non-religious, progressive mind also realizes that the arming of other nations or groups abroad – often will have the boomerang result of arming future enemies of America in the future.
Crime, for the reactionary religious mind, can only be effectively reduced if we drastically increase punishment for criminals, isolate criminals, and execute the irredeemably evil criminals in our midst. The ignorance of the reactionary religious mind means that such a mind is completely incapable of seeing any economic or social cause for crime. Crime is, in other words, either inexplicable, or committed by immoral people. We must, according to the reactionary religious mind, eliminate the rights of anyone suspected of a crime – which, to the reactionary religious mind, are guilty by the simple fact that they are suspects. Those who harbor a reactionary religious mind need have no fear of a loss of civil rights, as the reactionary religious mind naively believes that they will never have anything to hide, or will never be engaged in activity that will lead to government investigation.
A crucial difference between the reactionary religious mind and the non-religious, progressive mind is that the former is convinced that on each of the above issues, there is a discreet number of “bad guys,” and that problems caused by such inexplicably evil people will decline if we would just punish, isolate, and kill such people.
For the non-religious, progressive mind, the opposite is believed. The non-religious progressive generally believes that it is NOT a matter of rounding up a discreet number of “bad guys.” Instead, by punishing, isolating and killing “bad guys,” we are INCREASING the number of “bad guys” and worsening societal problems.
The striking American failure to reduce the above problems is a testament to the failed, uninformed, authoritarian, violent thinking of the reactionary religious mind. By rejecting the idea that there are social or economic causes for such problems, the reactionary religious mind perpetuates and worsens the problems. For the non-religious progressive, the solutions to the above problems are based on successfully addressing the root causes of the problems. If America remains in the hands of a plutocracy of wealth and anti-intellectual religious ignorance, this nation will remain in an end-of-empire Death Spiral.