Christmas is a-comin’, and soon a certain political element will revive talk of a “war on Christmas.” There may be a concerted effort to drop the word “Christmas” in favor of “holiday.” Is it a war? Probably not.
But clearly a war is raging, a war on knowledge at the top levels of government. And of some religions. It has been raging for quite a while and has ramped up since Jan. 20.
One might want to believe that in this era of technology (read science and engineering) everyone would prize knowledge. One might want to believe that in a world in which knowledge is power everyone would prize knowledge.
The war on knowledge surfaced in 1996, in Washington at least, when the Centers for Disease Control released a study that showed homicide far more common in houses in which people kept guns. The National Rifle Association ordered Congress to deny the CDC any more money for research into gun violence. Congress obeyed, in the person of Rep. Jay Dickey, a Republican from Arkansas. His measure forbade the CDC to spend money “to advocate or promote gun control.” The timid folks atop the CDC took the easy way out and stopped researching gun violence as a public health issue.
I don’t want to ban firearms. But one might believe that the NRA and Congress would want all the information they could get on how to make guns safer. Safer guns might reduce the pressure to ban guns altogether. Folks are going to keep guns in their homes. No way around that. Some folks are careless. No way around that. One might want to believe that if we knew more about how folks die, we could teach people how better how to store and handle their firearms at home.
In October, the Environmental Protection Agency forbade three of its scientists to speak at a conference in Rhode Island. They were to present scientific findings on the effect of climate change on Narragansett Bay. The ban was confirmed by John Konkus, the EPA’s deputy director of public affairs. That’s a title that a wag might say means assistant flak.
But, Konkus’s power goes beyond mouthing platitudes in press conferences. He also reviews all awards of grants by EPA and has denied some. His background for that job, which one might want to believe would require scientific knowledge, is having been the Leon County (Tallahassee) campaign manager for the Orange Guy in the 2016 campaign.
Oh, yeah. The EPA helped to fund the conference in Rhode Island, right up until the three scientists were ready to board the Acela for Providence.
Public debate on climate change has long been one-sided. For about eight years, human activity seemed to be the only officially tagged cause of climate change. Now, it seems that not only is human activity not officially part of the cause but a good many people in power deny that climate change even exists. They should ask the polar bears.
One might want to believe that we should learn all we can about our climate, regardless of how comfortable or uncomfortable it makes us. One might want to believe that the more we know the more say we could have over how humans respond to climate change.
Knowledge isn’t a no-no only in government. Ask any of your atheist friends and you might get an earful on how religion rejects science and all other knowledge. Yes, but . . .
Many believers call the Bible “inerrant,” that it holds all answers to all questions for all time. Others believe the Bible answers a great many of our questions about how to treat one another, how to view time — does our time end when we end or does our time go on in some other dimension? — and how to make ourselves better people.
Call it hard-liners and pragmatists. Hard-liners take a “biblical worldview.” Molly Worthen, a history professor and columnist for The New York Times, wrote, “Two compulsions have guided conservative Protestant intellectual life: the impulse to defend the Bible as a reliable scientific authority and the impulse to place the Bible beyond the claims of science entirely.”
Stands to reason. If all you need to know about science and the world is within the covers of one book, then you don’t need to learn anything else. It isn’t a long walk from that point to believing that everything outside that book is false. Why learn what is false?
But that sorta overlooks all that science and other quests for knowledge have learned since the Bible was last rewritten. Dean Nelson, who teaches journalism at Point Loma Nazarene University, told Worthen he sees no way to teach “Christian journalism” or for anyone to teach “Christian mathematics.” These fields didn’t exist in Bible-writing time.
One might want to believe, as one sits in one’s recliner (post-Bible invention) and streams a Netflix (post-Bible) series about advertising (post-Bible) or about a sheriff in Wyoming (post-Bible) while nibbling a takeout pizza (post-Bible) and working the crossword (post-Bible) in the newspaper (post-Bible) that one might appreciate all that civilization has accomplished post-Bible. And might wish for humans to keep looking for knowledge that will permit us to accomplish even more.
Dream on, apparently.
Count Bob Neal among the pragmatists who believe that when it comes to knowledge, the more the merrier.