When Zack Kopplin was in his sophomore year at Baton Rouge Magnet High School, in 2008, he started his fight against a new law called the Louisiana Science Education Act (LSEA), which has earned him fame and notoriety for being a notable advocate for science in defiance of this law's disguised attempt at introducing creationism into the classroom in Louisiana.*
For your Saturday Inspiration, may I present a modern day David vs Goliath story:
When Christian fundamentalists in the Louisiana legislature passed the Louisiana Science Education Act, it was a signal that the religious right had finally declared open war against reality-based public education. This law virtually guarantees that growing numbers of children will be deprived of education as the modern knowledge available through comprehensive educational curricula is replaced by medieval constraints on learning where all access to knowledge must be restricted to whatever can be Biblically referenced.
Zack Kopplin pushed past his shyness and fear of retaliation to protest the law. Zack began by writing a research paper on the subject while still in high school. Since then, he has sought and gained the support of 78 nobel laureates in his effort to persuade the Louisiana legislature that the LSEA was not just a mistake, but potentially disastrous for Louisiana children and the future economic growth of the state. He was disappointed in that effort: the Louisiana legislature refused to repeal the law. To Zack's (and many others') horror, Tennessee soon followed Louisiana's example and passed a similar creationist bill of their own.
Zack's concerns are founded in chilling reality. Not only has the LSEA opened the door for creationism to be taught to unsuspecting children by dishonestly calling it "science", but the Louisiana legislature - with the blessing of Governor Bobby Jindal - has also passed bills for school voucher programs which funnel public tax dollars into religious schools which teach this overtly religious material. This blatant violation of the Constitutional prohibition against government endorsement of religion was made possible through a cleverly packaged bill purporting to support "academic freedom".
While science has been in the crosshairs of religious fundamentalists for decades, it is not the only school subject in danger. History is being rewritten in Texas (the source of the vast majority of textbooks used by all American schoolchildren), while Bible-based Mathematics (yes, Math!), Economics and Literature, currently being taught inside the Christian homeschooling movement, are poised to be launched into the public school curricula as soon as Christian fundamentalists succeed in getting their agenda passed in state legislatures around the country. Louisiana is far from the only Republican-controlled state to be pushing through these anti-education measures, either. In addition to Louisiana, Tennessee, and Texas (unofficially), four more states are considering legislation which will allow religious fundamentalists to do an end run around both the Constitution and reality-based educational standards.
Fresh legislation has been put forward in Colorado, Missouri and Montana. In Oklahoma, there are two bills before the state legislature that include potentially creationist language.
A watchdog group, the National Center for Science Education, said that the proposed laws were framed around the concept of "academic freedom". It argues that religious motives are disguised by the language of encouraging more open debate in school classrooms. However, the areas of the curriculum highlighted in the bills tend to focus on the teaching of evolution or other areas of science that clash with traditionally religious interpretations of the world.
Four US states considering laws that challenge the teaching of evolution, Paul Harris, The Guardian, January 31, 2013.
Why are religious fundamentalists so determined to inject religion into science curricula (and into public education, generally) anyway? What possible benefit can there be in denying reality and refusing to accept the scientific theories which enabled humankind to develop technologies and medical treatments which these same people presumably do not refuse to use? The answer is sadly banal. Christian fundamentalists are attempting to destroy secular public education for the same reason that religion has always opposed allowing the people access to real education: for the preservation of the religious elite's power and wealth.
American Christianism - like all religions - is a symbiotic relationship: religious elites derive their power and wealth from legions of followers who look to pastors and preachers for leadership and who believe that the religion they promote is true. Church is big business. From the enormous, multi-million dollar mega-church corporations to the one-man storefront church business, there is a huge incentive for preachers and their organizations to do whatever they need to do to maintain their "moral authority" over their flocks and thus hold on to their power and wealth.
|The allure of religion|
The foundation for this mutually beneficial relationship is the Christian belief system. The moral authority of the religious leadership depends upon general acceptance of - and willingness to profess belief in - the doctrines of the faith. It is this belief system which is the weak link in the power structure of the business of religion. When the supremacy of the belief system is challenged, the power of the leadership is threatened.
The problem for both the fundamentalist leaders and their willing followers is this: Christian beliefs - like most religious belief systems - are founded in mythology and the supernatural so evidence-based reality is obviously a threat to that foundation. Reality-based education, the goal of good, secular schools, is a direct threat to religion because by teaching children empirically supported facts about the natural world and giving them the critical thinking skills to continue to seek the truth about the world and our place in it, it teaches them the skills they need to understand how religion manipulates and controls the culture and to see how that manipulation is often motivated by very worldly, selfish goals.
|The Christian right has long suspected |
that colleges are their enemies.
Well-educated people may not lose their belief in gods, but they often move away from organized religion. As more and more educated people moved away from organized religion during the last century - and gained independence from religiously-mandated tithing, rules for living and political activism - the wealth, power and influence of the church began to decline. The religious elites realized that public education was their mortal enemy. In the 1970's, a group of influential evangelical Christian leaders joined forces and formulated a plan to "take back America" - and a major focus of that plan was to undermine the public education system which they saw as the most dangerously effective dispeller of religious mysticism.
It wasn't only religious leaders who wanted to maintain the illusion of religious Truth™, however. If that were the case, they would have failed miserably since they are a relatively small elite with nowhere near the number of votes they would need to control elections or influence legislatures. They needed an army of loyal followers willing to act against their own material interests to provide the financial backing and votes needed to support the fundamentalist Christian agenda. Incredibly, they were able to marshall just such an army of dedicated, ideologically-driven followers within a couple of decades. Why?
Why would millions of people vote against their own interests and support a leadership which is working to deprive them of rights and their children of education? On some level they know the Bible-based worldview is flawed and that the anti-science movement is wrong. They know it - even if they refuse to acknowledge it - because they use science-based technology, medicine and reproductive technology every day. Yet they deny the truth and vote to deny the truth to their own children and their neighbors' children, too.
people who refuse to bow to religious power. People gravitate to power and they can see that in a democracy the power is with the majority, so many make a choice to join the majority. That is not stupidity, it is calculation. In a purely objective calculation - looking at the negative social consequences experienced by outspoken non-Christians, for example - it may actually be more stupid not to go along with the Christian majority.
The charge that Christianists are "irrational" is probably without merit, too. We cannot know what people really believe in the privacy of their own thoughts, only what they profess to believe. We can, however, see that perfectly sensible people say and do objectively irrational things for very rational reasons. For example, when people endure hazing rituals in order to be accepted into a highly desired group, it is clear that they do not "believe in" the irrational things they must say or do to win a place in the group, but it is equally clear that they are willing to do whatever it takes to be members because they do believe in the value of belonging to the group. Self-professed Bible-believing Christians may or may not believe that the Bible is literally the source of all truth and knowledge, but they definitely believe that belonging to the Christian religion is worth saying that they do. When you consider the harm that they know they would experience in their social, personal and professional lives should they refuse to submit to the pressure to profess the Christian faith, it is undeniable that in a very real sense it is more rational to go along with Christian fundamentalism than it is to fight against it.
Public apathy about the creep of religious fundamentalism into the public sphere will have a profound impact upon the future of this country. This is not a fringe movement which poses no threat to our reasonable, sensible little corner of the world. This is a powerful, well-organized and - until very recently - stealthy campaign to concentrate power into a few hands, using religion as the weapon to subdue and incapacitate the people. Nearly 50% of the population already professes to believe that the creation myth explains our existence and the Bible is literally the source of all knowledge. That number could jump to an overwhelming majority of future voters if an entire generation of schoolchildren is deprived of the ability to think critically or to understand the basic principles of math and science which underpin nearly all of modern technology and medicine.
|A child devastated by the |
"good news" of Christian
indoctrination. (Jesus Camp)
|"Give me a child until he is seven|
and I will give you the man."
Coming soon to a school near you: Belief instead of knowledge. Feeling instead of thinking. Obedience instead of understanding. Acceptance instead of justice. Conformity instead of liberty. Fearful self-loathing instead of hopeful confidence.
Unless America wakes up to put a stop to this madness, the result of these laws will be the perversion of every cherished American ideal. Christian fundamentalists have been working on this particular strategy to control American society for more than 30 years (before that, they tried other strategies which were not as successful). If this sounds alarmist to you, consider that these religious extremists are counting on that. They are counting on the moderate middle of America to dismiss those who are raising the alarm, while they continue their stealth campaign to destroy the foundation of religious liberty and establish a Christian theocracy in the USA. If we continue to ignore this situation and allow religious extremists to write, lobby for and pass laws which enshrine a particular religious ideology as the government-endorsed national ideology, the consequences for religious, political and intellectual freedom - not to mention technological and economic development - in this country will be disastrous.
Please read more on this topic and spread the word. Below, you'll find some links worth checking out (even if you have no time to read, please take 5 minutes to watch the video linked at the bottom of this post):
*Meet Zack Kopplin: The Millenial Fighting Creationism in Louisiana (Q&A), Dillon Zhou, policymic, January 28, 2013.
Christian Fundamentalists teach US Children Loch Ness Monster is Real to Disprove Evolution, Lucy Sherriff, The Huffington Post UK, June 25, 2012.
New Creationist Bill in Colorado, Ed Brayton, Dispatches from the Culture Wars, January 27, 2013.
She Brainwashed Me With Science, Ed Brayton, FTB, January 24, 2013.
Another Clueless Legislator on Evolution, Brayton, January 26, 2013.
Texas Public Schools: Still Teaching Creationism, Josh Harkinson, Mother Jones, January 28, 2013.
Critics say Montana allows creationism in schools, Associated Press (OregonLive), January 25, 2013.
Loch Ness Monster seen as real dinosaur in biology books taught in Louisiana school, Eric Ortiz, NYDailyNews, June 26, 2012.
14 Wacky "Facts" Kids Will Learn in Louisiana's Voucher Schools, Deanna Pan, Mother Jones, August 7, 2012.
If you doubt that the school voucher idea is for anything other than to undermine secular, public education for American citizens, please take five minutes to view this video excerpt from the documentary, School Choice: Taxpayer-Funded Creationism, Bigotry and Bias.