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Fox and Dogmatism

How many of you have read The Authoritarians by Bob Altemeyer of the University of Manitoba?  Go read it if you haven’t yet.  Altemeyer is the expert on the kind of people who do what other people tell them to do and the people who lead them.  John Dean referenced Altemeyer heavily in his book Conservatives Without Conscience.  Getting into the heads of the authoritarian follower is useful if you want to understand where right wing politics are going.  Don’t bother trying to convert the authoritarian follower.  They’re tough nuts to crack.  But it may be possible to head off potential problems and plan for the future by studying this group and understanding the era that produced them.

To that end, here is a very interesting talk about dogmatism from Judy Johnson professor of cognitive psychology at Mount Royal University in Calgary, Alberta.  By the way, it’s curious that the authorities on authoritarianism and dogmatism are in Canada, isn’t it?  It’s like Canadian ethologists are studying Americans to try to figure out what makes us tick and maybe building even higher fences to keep us out.

When I viewed this talk, I was struck by the similarity of the highly dogmatic to the typical Fox News viewer.  Now, it is probably not a revelation to anyone that the typical Fox News viewer is highly dogmatic.  But I often ask myself, did they start out this way or did Fox News indoctrinate them?  After this talk, I’m pretty convinced that the Fox News viewer is a product of the 1950s and that the right wing is taking advantage of this natural constituency to drive politics even further to the right.  Johnson’s research also reinforces my hypothesis that the reason why the right wing has stepped up the crazy in the last couple of years is because it is running out of time.  There isn’t another demographic with this high degree of dogmatism on the near horizon until the helicopter parent generation of children is of voting age, and the degree to which they adhere to dogmatism may depend on how the internet is regulated in the future.  So, the authoritarians who are presently in charge are going to ram everything they can through federal and state legislatures in this election cycle and the next because their target demographic and critical mass is dying off.

With that in mind, we should ask ourselves why it is that Democrats are not simply digging in their heels and waiting it out.  Are they being lead by morons or not really an opposition party?

Anyway, here is Judy Johnson’s talk on Dogmatism: A Scar on the Face of Reason:

Reason Resources

Freethinking is rising.  I’m sure that the right wing is already aware of this but maybe the left isn’t yet.  In the past couple of weeks I have been astonished at the sheer number of websites, podcasts, authors and youtubers who have come out of the closet as atheists, agnostics, panentheists, freethinkers, pastafarians, etc.

Now, I’m not here to convert anyone.  In fact, you believers of mainstream churches like the Presbyterians, liberal Catholics, liberal Christians, Methodists, Quakers, reformed and conservative Judaism etc can relax.  I think you guys have your heads on straight and there’s no reason to change, that I can see.

But woe to you more conservative and fundamentalist sects.  You guys are in big trouble.  Because the most vociferous, adamant and irreverent new atheists seem to come from your side of the Judeo Christian tradition.  You might have taken away a lot of the mainstream believers in recent decades but it’s my sense that those the mainstream churches retain are theirs for a lifetime.  *Your* people reach a breaking point, usually right about the time when they’re deeply involved in the strict lifestyle they’ve been forced to lead.  They go beyond what is considered humanly possible to be the perfect Christian.  And then, it’s usually one conversation or one thing that they read that pricks their curiosity that leads to a complete unravelling.  In that unravelling, they shoot right on past mainstream Christianity and wind up rejecting the whole damn thing, church, bible and god.

Some of the podcasts I have been listening to feature quite a number of pastors of fundamentalist Christian sects.  After awhile, the pastors didn’t find joy in damning people each week for all too human faults.  They questioned and they researched and they rejected.

The reason I think it is important to follow this trend is because it may explain why the right has been so rabidly hysterical about “religious liberty” this year.  There are still a lot of believers in the US, indeed, they are going to outnumber freethinkers for a while.  But the rapid growth of the freethinking movement, especially when lead in some cases by the very people who used to be deep into Christian fundamentalism, must have them very, very nervous.  The apostate has their number.  He or she knows just what makes these churches tick and after their research can refute their arguments with devastating precision.  And the numbers of deconverters may start to impact the politics of the right wing tribe as well.  If you are in organized religion and you hitched your wagon to the right wing movement conservatism, you know that your days are limited.  Likewise, the right wing political arm knows that there will be a tipping point where they won’t be able to marshall the fundamentalist christians to do their bidding because there won’t be enough of them.

It’s not just the impending mortality of their senior base that has the right wing worried.  It’s the rapid rise of the freethinkers, and those people who cut the cord with television and their churches, and who are finding each other on the web.  Last night, I tuned into The Thinking Atheist podcast and found that Seth had thousands of active listeners, waiting to be patched in to talk to him.  Over and over again, they thank him for letting them know that they’re not alone and that there are many others like them having the courage to deconvert and unbaptise themselves.  Almost all of them have a thorough knowledge of the bible and are appalled by what they find in it.  Forget Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris, the evangelicals and fundamentalists  should be scared to death of regular average people who used to be in their churches.

I could be wrong but it feels like a backlash against fundamentalist christianity.  These people don’t hate God.  They don’t believe in him so there’s nothing to hate.  But they sure don’t like the way they were raised or the lives they were forced to live.  And they are no longer afraid to speak up.  Before the internet, these people would have been outcasts and loners, disinherited by their friends and families and used as an example by the religious as what will happen to people who don’t toe the line.  But with this recent explosion on the web, these people are finding out that there’s nothing wrong with them, they’re normal and there are many people who are going through the same thing and want to get together and talk about it.

The trajectory of the freethinker movement may be different here in the US than it is in Europe.  In Europe, it may be no big deal because freethinkers are a significant population.  But European culture is structured differently as well.  There is more interdependence, more public squares and meeting places.  You don’t have to make too much of an effort to find people to talk to and form a sense of comaraderie.  Here, with the American emphasis on rugged individualism and community through faith, coupled with suburbanization where everyone around you is a cookie cutter of everyone else, it has been a lot harder to be the first one on your block to be an atheist and still have a social life.  I’m going to predict that freethought will take on a more organized flavor in the US.  It will have to be if the numbers keep increasing and freethinkers get increasingly disgusted with being second class citizens to the religious.

While I’m still collecting data, I’ll keep my other thoughts to myself.  There are definitely some emerging trends that should keep the political operatives up at night.  I have no idea how they’re going to spin or try to disrupt The Reason Rally coming up on March 24, 2012 but I have no doubt that they’ve got plans to either media black it out, mute it or are currently data mining and formulating talking points to minimize its impact.  But this genie is out of the bottle.  The non-believers are finding their voice.

Here are some places where you can hear them:

The Thinking Atheist : Seth, the son of two evangelical theologians, takes your deconversion stories and provides a sympathetic ear

Living After Faith : Former Pentacostal pastor Rich Lyons and his wife Deanna discuss deconversion to atheism with other former evangelicals and fundamentalists

No Longer Quivering : Ever want to know what’s like to try to live like Michelle Duggar?  Vyckie Garrison and her former baby farmer friends tell the truth about Quiverful.

Evid3nc3: This youtuber documents his deconversion from devout Christian to atheism in well produced, thoroughly researched and compelling videos.

CStheApostate: What happens when you try to leave the Jehovah’s Witnesses and find out you can’t take your family with you?  Phineas explains it all.  (His first Thanksgiving video will make you cry)

The Out Campaign: Encouraging atheists to come out of the closet.  It must be working.  BTW, one of our blogroll favorites, Blue Lyon, is out as an atheist.  She has the scarlet letter symbol on her sidebar.  Something to look for if you’re into looking for such things.  I’m not quite there but would consider myself in the freethinker camp and their symbol is a pansy: