25 March 2011


Pi. The conservative fundamentalist religious right has always been pretty far out on the fringes of social, scientific, and moral reality. Witness the consequences suffered by Chad Holtz, a Methodist minister in rural North Carolina. Holtz posted on his Facebook page "a defense of a forthcoming book by megachurch pastor Rob Bell, in which Bell challenges millions of Christians' understanding of the afterlife." In short, Holtz expressed his doubt in the existence of hell. For his affrontery, Holtz was fired. So much for intellectual inquiry and freedom of speech within the church.

(An aside -- I've been in Holtz's shoes, in a small way. As a teenager, I attended a Presbyterian church youth group every Tuesday evening. I was coming to terms with my own disenchantment with humans' need for a supernatural deity, and with the internal contradictions contained in Christian dogma. At the time, each week a different group member was asked to make a presentation on a relevant topic. When my turn came, I read aloud Franz Kafka's short story The Hunter Gracchus, a man "destined to wander aimlessly and eternally over the seas". Since Protestant churches generally do not accept the doctrine of Purgatory, I felt that this tale offered the opportunity to open up a discussion of those teachings we accept without question. I was right. Reaction ranged from confusion to outright panic. Thankfully I had no pastoral job from which to be fired.)

Witness also "The Bizarre Religious Myths Mormon Right-Wingers Are Pushing on Tea Partiers" seeking to rewrite American history into a "religious and apolcalyptic interpretation that has roots in the racist right of the last century", holding that "governmental powers should be used sparingly, limited largely to the common defense and the elimination of 'debauchery and vice'." Horrors. Debauchery and vice? I must have missed my invitation in the mail. The farther out on the fringe the religious right ventures, the more they lose credibility -- and the more saner Americans look like fools in the eyes of the rest of the world. [Note: if you're interested in a much more rational re-examination of U.S. history, I dare you to read James Loewen's seminal book Lies My Teacher Told Me. This is not revisionist history, but rather an illumination of the actual history we all were denied in school.]

So given these and many other developments in the o'erweening influence of religion on politics over the past thirty years, most especially over the past three years, it is small wonder that for a moment I believed the following headline -- "Conservative Pie: Republicans Introduce Legislation Redefining Pi as Exactly 3". Far stranger things have happened in our culture, whose members are abyssmally ignorant of science and math. It turns out that the well-crafted article is only the most recent iteration of similar satires involving the redefinition of pi (the ratio of a circle's circumference to its diameter). The earliest, as reported by Snopes, was set in Alabama in 1998. It's pretty scary that in our current climate, such behavior would actually be consistent with events in real life. Welcome to Wonderland -- curiouser and curiouser.

U.S. NUCLEAR SAFETY. Speaking of scary, check this out -- At California Nuclear Plant, Emergency Response Plan Not Required. Really? I mean, f***ing REALLY? "The Diablo Canyon nuclear plant, which sits less than a mile from an offshore fault line, was not required to include earthquakes in its emergency response plan as a condition of being granted its license more than a quarter century ago."

Let's see. The Three Mile Island partial core meltdown happened in the U.S. in 1979. The Chernobyl disaster happened in the former USSR in 1986. So we knew these nasty things could happen, right? The Diablo Canyon nuclear plant, with upgrades, is designed to withstand an earthquake of magnitude 7.5 on the Richter scale. The ongoing nuclear crisis in Japan was caused by an earthquake of magnitude 9.0.

"Emergency response plan not required." Does anyone besides me see the potential for another homegrown nuclear disaster here? I'm just asking.

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