Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Really Dumb Things ...

The Pew Research Center's August 19 poll is getting a lot of attention because it reveals that one in five Americans believe that President Obama is a Muslim, and only a third identify him as Christian. Newsweek is running a piece on line called Dumb Things Americans Believe that leads with the Obama/Muslim opinion.
Of course, one in five Americans also believe in witches. As an astute friend is fond of saying, around election time, "never underestimate the random stupidity factor in American politics."
Never underestimate the power of the noise machine, either. Almost 40 percent of Americans believe that the recently enacted health care insurance reform legislation creates panels that will make end-of-life decisions. Never mind that it is demonstrably false, the idea is out there and it has taken hold.
The noise machine is not confined to right wing delusions. A poll taken last September revealed that a quarter of Democrats believe that President Bush had something to do with the attacks of September 11.
Random stupidity is just that: random and stupid.
Not all of the dumb things Americans believe are foisted upon us by political interests. The Newsweek piece refers to a Gallup poll from 1999 showing that 20 percent of Americans believe the sun revolves around the earth. One wonders about the overlap in this polls.
Clearly, there's a lot of just plain ignorance. Almost half of Americans don't know which of the Abrahamic faiths is the oldest, though one would think that identification might be a clue.
The same poll that found significant ignorance about Obama's faith also found that more than half of Americans think churches should stay out of political matters while 43 percent believe churches should express themselves on social and political issues.
Every time I see such poll results I grieve that we have such narrowly constrained perspectives on both our politics and our faith communities.
That narrow understanding of these critical spheres of life has something to do with some of the really dumb things Americans believe that were not asked about in any of the polls that Newsweek referenced.
Though the Founders would not have recognized them, we now hold some "truths" to be so self-evident that we don't even bother to ask about them in our polling, and they have everything to do with impoverished national political and spiritual life.
Questions, for example, about the nature of empire, the unquestioned dominance of our military-industrial complex, the equally unquestioned place of corporate rule in our politics, economy and media. The blind faith that we put in these institutions tops my list of really dumb things most Americans believe. I'm not holding my breath waiting for a Newsweek piece on them.

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