How is it possible that a significant portion of the American population believes, or says it believes, that President Obama was not born in America, that Donald Trump would make a great president, that Sarah Palin is fit to lead our country, that Michele Bachmann is telling the truth, that health care for all means "Death Panels" etc., etc., ad nauseam?
Put it this way: being ignorant in America is now considered a virtue.
Amongst other reasons blame American-style religion.
As I point out in my new book (Sex, Mom and God) it takes hard work, years of religious indoctrination, the failure of public education and the fulfillment of Neil Postman's prophecy about "entertaining ourselves to death" to get a country to the point where a Glenn Beck or Donald Trump is not simply laughed (or scorned) off the national stage by an informed public that knows that village idiots belong on lonely street corners howling at the moon, not on talk shows taking the rest of us with them.
We're too nice
One of America's great sins is our respect for any and all religion. Note: the irony is that religious gullibility even prepares many religious believers to accept greedy evangelists and crass tycoons like Trump because they -- like the believers -- are perceived as "outsiders" bucking the educated culturally savvy "elite's" facts.
This is an unintended spinoff of our commitment to free speech. Since we're all free to say or believe anything then, the thinking goes, we should respect whatever it is our neighbor says he or she believes.
This is a mistake: Just because we're all equal before the law doesn't make everything said or thought of equal value, let alone deserving of respect.
One group that has perfected the art of special pleading for respect for non-reality-based "ideas" are the religious fundamentalists otherwise called Evangelicals. They train their families from birth to be the sort of gullible dupes the Palin/Trump/Bachmann/Becks of this world manipulate.
Evangelicals are a group to which no idea is too farfetched. From birth they are told that facts are lies and that "true believers" like them -- and they only -- have access to the actual and only truth: the Bible.
And this isn't just any Bible theirs is the literal "I-believe-every-word-to-be-true" Bible.
When you raise people on the idea that black is white and white is black, green is red and blue is yellow.... don't be surprised if eventually a whole class of folks are color blind.
Someone repeatedly told that God-hating elites deny the "fact" that dinosaurs and humans coexisted a few thousand years ago; that the world is 6,000 years old; that gay men and women choose to be that way and can be "cured"; that everyone besides "born-again" Evangelicals are going to hell; that Jesus will come back soon... etc., etc., becomes the sort of person who, quite literally, will believe anything.
Talk about alternative medicine, here's a whole alternative reality: "You believe in human evolution, but we know better!" "You believe that president Obama was born in America, but we know better..."
Ignorance has been elevated to a new form of "virtue"
The belief of most Americans is that everyone has the right to believe what they want, say what they want, be what they want. But today's' Republican Party and the bloc of Americans who believe in both creation myths and that President Obama is Kenyan etc., proves that it's been a horrible mistake to offer stupidity a serious platform. And sincerity of beliefs isn't the point.
Respect for religious stupidity is -- by extension -- why the media gives Trump, Bachmann et al platforms from which they can spread falsehoods. Trump isn't remotely religious but the sort of people ready to believe in someone like him (or the Tea Party) have been fed a steady diet of mythology that has literally altered the way their brains work. If a scientist, an expert or the "liberal media" says something is true then ipso facto the opposite -- no matter how harebrained must be true! Actually believing that the Palins, Becks, Trumps of this world are serious people is just the political version of giving creationists a "serious" place on textbook committees.
Or to paraphrase Bill Maher's catchphrase: One should choose one's imaginary friends carefully.
Frank Schaeffer is a writer. His new book is Sex, Mom, and God: How the Bible's Strange Take on Sex Led to Crazy Politics--and How I Learned to Love Women (and Jesus) Anyway.