A New American Faith
We should not be surprised that – as the journal Scientific American observed in a recent article – ‘… people seem to double down on their beliefs in the teeth of overwhelming evidence against them. The reason is related to the worldview perceived to be under threat by the conflicting data. Creationists, for example, dispute the evidence for evolution in fossils and DNA because they are concerned about secular forces encroaching on religious faith. Anti-vaxxers distrust big pharma and think that money corrupts medicine, which leads them to believe that vaccines cause autism despite the inconvenient truth that the one and only study claiming such a link was retracted and its lead author accused of fraud… In these examples, proponents’ deepest held worldviews were perceived to be threatened by sceptics, making facts the enemy to be slayed.’
This is exactly how religious faith works. Contradictory, if not actually ludicrous beliefs are held by groups of adherents, and facts simply make them believe more – and more deeply. As someone interested in the world and our relationship to it I’ve long been perplexed by this process of “faith-testing,” and I used it in The Girl With One Friend, where Erasmus and Pastor Richardson duel over Erasmus’ growing apostasy.
When I was growing up, I didn’t have a world-view forced into me. My parents are both non-religious, and although I went to a C. of E. school from the ages of six to eleven I was an atheist even then, with Christianity bouncing off me. My world view accumulated slowly, based in what I experienced around me. In other circles this is called the scientific method. Of course, it could be argued that atheism is a world-view (which it is), and that it was forced into me, but that ignores the fundamental point – I discovered the world over a long period of time through a method which assumes the independent existence of that world, and which tests it. Science does not care what I or anybody else believes.
We see this odd phenomenon of “faith-testing” at work now in American politics, as the dread day Friday 20th January hoves into view. The overwhelming majority of Donald Trump’s followers support him using principles of religious faith, carried over to the political world. Facts simply make them believe more, because facts threaten them. The contradictory nature of the beliefs of these supporters is identical to the contradictory nature of the beliefs of religious people – in the case of Donald Trump’s supporters a hotch-potch of stuff based in incoherent anger at their ruling class, absurd principles of freedom, and the ugly narcissistic codes of misogyny and racism, which have always loomed large in America’s ultra-Christian culture.
So we should not be surprised at the teflon-coated quality of Donald Trump’s supporters. Just like him, they don’t interface with the real world, where facts reside. They interact with their imaginary construct, supported by everyone else around them and inspired by the man himself. The real world, with its inconvenient truths, is not for them. Donald Trump leads a new religious sect, and is its only source is him. He is the messiah of himself; and it seems quite a lot of people do actually believe in him.