About four days ago, Penn Jillette was a guest on the Lawrence O'Donnell show. After the two of them watched a video clip from Michelle Bachmann's pre-political Fundamentalist days, where she ridiculously preaches that "God wants you to be a fox" (meaning sexy, although she tried to spin it into a spiritual context), they both laughed, and Penn reacted by quoting Poe's Law. Poe's Law (for those who don't know about it) was invented by the internet debater and blogger, Nathan Poe (no relation to Edgar Allen), and goes something like this:
"Unless it is blatantly labeled as humor, no one can create a parody of Fundamentalism without someone mistaking it for the real thing."
What a brilliant thought! It illustrates so economically how religion makes one so incredibly blind to the ridiculousness of itself. At a stroke, it describes how wild-eyed religion is a joke that its followers don't get!
It is precisely Poe's Law which explains the success of shows like The Colbert Report. Stephen Colbert simply acts like a Fundamentalist Conservative, and it's automatically a joke! It also explains the view that some conservatives have regarding the hyper-homophobic preacher, Fred Phelps, who is seen by them as being a "deep undercover" liberal, out to discredit the fight against homosexuality by parodying it.
This leads to my corollary of Poe's Law, which goes like this: "Unless it is blatantly labeled the real thing, no one can display Fundamentalism without someone mistaking it for a joke."
Classic example of this: Bibleman! The battle-armor-wearing superhero, portrayed by actor Willie Ames (formerly of Eight is Enough and Charles in Charge), is so face-slappingly insulting to Christians that one can't help but wonder if it wasn't invented by a bunch of atheists who were simply trying to make fun of Evangelicals.
So here's where my pondering of Poe's Law has me at a loss: It seems that one can come to the realization that certain beliefs one was raised on are silly, but it's a difficult process. It requires effort, courage, and enough receptiveness to new ideas to be able to change. In other words, you might finally get the joke, but when you do, you won't be laughing! I, for one, broke free of Fundamentalism, even when being so firmly committed to it as to want to enter the ministry and "save the world for God." But I managed to wiggle out of it when it stopped making sense. I broke my chains.
Why do I seem to be the only one?
I suppose I could try to pat myself on the back, assert to everyone that I'm of exceptional intelligence, and take all the credit. But while it's true that I happen to be a Mensa member, and probably am a little bit above average in the I.Q. department as a result, I refuse to be so narcissistic as to pass off my own liberation as "being gifted." No, I'm not a Mensa member because I'm especially gifted. I'm a member of this elite class of smart-cookies only because I kept pounding on the door of educational establishments until they finally let me in. I never declared my education "done." (And I never will.) If intelligence were likened to speed, I'm not a hare, I'm a tortoise. But I won the race, only because I refused to give up!
But even with that firm commitment to self-improvement, I still could very easily have remained a Fundamentalist. Suppose I'd married some nice, Christian girl, and become a father? I would have found myself in a situation where leaving the faith would have meant a messy divorce, or worse. And even if I'd done so, I would still have needed to put in extra work to pay for child support, and watch the kids on alternating weeks. It would have been so much easier for me to simply remain inside the faith, even if I felt it were stupid, just for the sake of the kids, and to avoid a bad situation.
The extra time I would have been able to devote to learning, would have been gone.
And here's where I sadly realize why I seem to be one of the lucky few to have escaped the confines of my childhood indoctrination: With no spousal ties to religion, I was free to explore, and to change my mind with few consequences. With no children, I was free to spend my free time furthering my education, both in college and in private study. I avoided the "two kids and a mortgage pitfall," and so was able to dig myself out of the hole that tradition and religious upbringing threw me down into at birth.
Okay, technically, I'm not the "only one." And there are plenty of people who, with kids and mortgage both, have freed themselves of their religious limitations to be able to think freely. To them, I'll grant the title of "gifted," for gifted they indeed are. But how insufficient their numbers are to make a difference! What a small percentage they make of the overall population! This leads me to another of my own new laws, somewhat a corollary of Poe's Law, but mutually exclusive of it. I call it the law of general stupidity. It goes like this:
"Humanity will always be doomed to general stupidity, because the most important years of cognitive exploration, one's 20's and 30's, are wasted on child-rearing."
By the time one has sufficient time to explore the complex issue of this world, one typically is in one's mid-40's or 50's, and by that time, the limitations of the human brain simply make it un-receptive to new ideas or radical changes in thinking. Any cognitive talents such a person has would then be spent, not embracing new truths, but defending old falsehoods. What a sad state to be in with this modern world, so full of science, and yet so populated with people ignorant of science. We are all trapped in a tomb of our own making, committed to populating a world already overpopulated, and consigning ourselves to ignorance as we do so.
It is a testament to the evolutionary power of the sex-drive.
To those reading this with kids and mortgage, let me not leave you depressed. My "law" is not necessarily a law at all. I strongly feel that by realizing this state more fully, we can likely circumvent it. The more we realize we are the prisoners of our own upbringing, the better prepared we are to break free. Explore the issues freely with your children! You will set the example of free inquiry to those who need it most. And when, in your 40's and 50's, you find yourself with free time to explore again, be willing to abandon your old ideas. Never mind about pissing off mom & dad, grandma or grandpa, your friends at work, at church, Father Mokehe, or whomever. Your mind is your own.
Commit yourself to truth, no matter what conclusions you must reach.