Monday, April 17, 2006

The Other America

Forty percent of the voting public in America thinks that the Biblical explanation of how the universe was born should replace the scientific. Not be taught in parallel - replace it.

Meanwhile, they drive cars that run on petroleum created millions of years before the tiny 6000-year span captured by the bible, petroleum discovered using sciences which discarded Adam and Eve as they learned about Tyrannosaurus Rex. They let themselves be healed by brain surgeons whose knowledge of living processes descended from the theory of the shared evolution of life's many forms,yet they pull their children from schools that teach it.

Curiously, almost the same percent has undying support for a fading president.

Who are these people?

In Garrison Keillor's Lake Wobegon, all the children are above average. If a child is not above average in brains, there are always social skills, height or girth.

As far as intelligence goes, the sad truth that too many Junior High graduates forget is that only half of us are above average. The rest of us are below. Intelligence follows a bell curve. A person with an IQ of 100 is precisely average.

When asked, most people in the lower half will confess that they have above average intelligence. They really believe this. How can they be so deluded? First, they can identify many individuals who are dumber than themselves. Secondly, they cannot identify many who are smarter. This is not intentional. They just have no way of knowing.

Geniuses may walk among us, unnoticed.

The information age treasures intelligence and rewards its owners with free training and wonderful salaries. It connects intelligent people to each other in ways that are not much used by the bottom 40 percent. It presents them with larger information flows, provides databases, organizes histories.

The information age also presents the bottom 40 percent with a more graspable life. Parents who got D's and F's in school and learned early that they would be life's failures, useful only for propelling the curve that makes everybody else look good, now can see their children presented with a ladder of learning that they can climb at their own pace, with the reward of personal accomplishment at each step.

The keyboard teaches the alphabet. The word processor teaches spelling and composition. Messaging teaches social skills. Blogging teaches the art of the soapbox.

Each of these is a part of literacy, each gives a better grasp on life.

The brainy people often forget about the bottom 40 percent, although at election time they rediscover them.

When you're in the bottom 40 percent, life can be manageable if you keep it simple. It can get adventurous if you try to have too much fun. So you want a community of people with whom you can be a good person. You walk the line.

Want to meet some 40 percenters? Go to church. Stay for the fellowship hour after the service. Greet each person as a child of God. They will be happy to tell you about themselves and their beliefs.

Some churches take the bible to be the literal word of God. The book itself is holy. Every last word in it is true, in every translation and edition. The literalists tend to favor the King James edition - the one that sounds like Shakespeare. For them, truth was once and forever revealed, and is immutable. In coming close to it, one comes close to God. All that is needed is acceptance of Jesus' power in your life for your life to change. In these churches a visitor will meet the core of the true believers.

Other churches are less tied to the literal cross. They may believe that God reveals new truth to us daily, every hour, every minute, every second. The model for these churches is that our understanding is always evolving. For many in these churches, the bible is seen as a source of teachings that can change a person, a guide to the process of becoming holy and closer to God, a poetic guide to the history of man's evolving relationship with his maker. They are Christian, but not literalist.

Literalists thrive on faith.

Believe something long enough - make yourself believe it - and it will become true for you. Your husband loves you, even though he beats you. Your children are in Jesus' hands because you pray for them every morning, and they're sure not in your hands, at least not the older ones. If the disability check got a little more generous, we'd have Rush Limbaugh to thank for that. Believe that people can be good, and they will. Have faith in their salvation, and they will have faith in yours.

Faith beats logic for a literalist. Truthiness meets the test.

Literalists thrive on the power of trust.

Trust that the president will take good care of the nation. Trust in the candidate who looks the most like Johnny Carson. When you vote, vote for the president if you can. After all, he is our leader, and we need to show our support. He may not know everything, but he will surround himself with competent people. We hope and trust.

"Being loyal to your school is just like being loyal to your girl" goes an old song, possibly by the BeeGees. Being loyal to your country is just like being loyal to your mom and dad.

Of course there are also those in the bottom 40 who don't go to church. It's hard to find them at a fellowship hour, except perhaps at a club or a bar. They are another country, too.

People who are mentally in the bottom 40 percent also tend to be in the bottom 40 percent financially. This means fewer can afford cable. Fewer have computers. Fewer can type. Fewer can navigate the web.

For people in the bottom 40 percent, truth does not need to be a product of logic. You don't have to deduce the truth. Truth is what you believe. You may believe something to be a truth because someone shouted it at you long and loud, or made you shout it. It can be like the barking of a dog. He who barks the loudest is the truthiest. You believe something because you trust the source.

You may believe a truth because you need to believe in something so you can know you exist.

Truth is spoke in simple words. The truest sentences are the shortest. Long words and long sentences are hard to understand and are probably intended to fool a person.

How can the bright, young residents of blogland, the world's newest ivory tower, connect with the yearning masses aching to breathe free?

Ask a biblical literalist who parented the brides for Adam and Eve's sons and the question may confuse him, but it will not put his mind in gear. Suppose, instead, that in exploring understandings, you ask, "What is the evidence?" and "How do you know that this is true?" Given the carrot of your attention, a simple mind can learn to reward its listener by constructing supportable, reality-based understandings.

We are all simpler than we think.

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