I see a clear parallel between fundamentalist religion and Kellyanne Conway’s defense of an obvious falsehood about the crowd size at the presidential inauguration. White House press secretary Sean Spicer, in a five-minute statement where he refused to take questions, argued that the number that had gathered to witness the inauguration this year “was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration, period, both in person and around the globe.”
Anyone with half-a-brain knows that is not true. The crowds at President Trump’s inauguration paled in comparison to the huge swell of people at President Obama’s inauguration in 2009. Nevertheless, Conway defended Spicer, calling his words to the press a statement of “alternative facts.”
It is remarkable how gullible this administration considers the electorate to be. I find it interesting because of the way this approach resembles and reflects fundamentalist religion. Fundamentalist religion, Christian or otherwise, feeds and grows on the gullibility of people to believe what they want to believe. It thrives on the propagation of beliefs that defy logic, reason, science, and common sense, but somehow appeal to our lower instincts and passions.
For example, consider how many Christians believe that the biblical account of the ark (we have got a big one here in Kentucky supported by tax dollars) and Noah’s flood is actually a historical, factual account. The actual logistics of this is impossible (it denies science) and the theology it expresses is terrible. God commits genocide of an entire species with the exception of a few people he chooses. And yet consider how many Christians believe in this religious story as an “alternative fact” that reports a historical event.
Whether these “alternative facts” are being propagated by the White House or by fundamentalist Christian leaders, the end result is about control. Far too many political and religious leaders want to control what people believe and think. These “alternative facts” become the grounds for determining who is “in” or “out.”
Whether in politics or religion, “alternative facts” are employed to protect the ego, justify biases, and manipulate responses. And when those in power are committed to “alternative facts,” then the truth which sincere seekers “admire the most” catches “the last train for the coast.”
Image by Dan Wilkinson, based on a photo from the National Park Service.
Chuck Queen is a Baptist minister and the author of several books on progressive Christian faith, including his most recent, Being a Progressive Christian (is not) for Dummies (nor for know-it-alls): An Evolution of Faith. Chuck blogs at A Fresh Perspective, has contributed to the blog Faith Forward and is a monthly columnist for Baptist News Global.