Recently here on the blog I talked about the various ways some people in our culture seem to be vulnerable to conspiracy theories, fake news and magical thinking.
Being susceptible to bogus science, to far-out occult theories of supernatural intervention in human affairs, to the Big Lie -- whatever that means in our time -- creates conditions that can lead society down a terribly dangerous road.
I am not equating what's happening in 21st Century America to what happened in this regard in the 1930s and before in Germany, but some observers are finding disturbing parallels between the widespread acceptance of fantasy thinking then and similar gullibility today.
For instance, this Slate article asks what we might learn from the ways in which many of the Nazis were fascinated by the occult, by creation myths, by pseudo-science, such as eugenics.
How did their connection with all this supernatural magical thinking contribute, for instance, to accepting the idea that the Jewish people were vermin and needed to be exterminated?
The Slate piece is an interview with historian Eric Kurlander about his new book on Nazi occultism: Hitler’s Monsters: A Supernatural History of the Third Reich.
"Educated urban liberal elites and Jewish intellectuals," Kurlander says, "were the least likely to embrace any of this as authentic, or see it as anything other than a pathology of modernity that was particularly strong in Austria and Germany and needed to be dealt with. They could see people they otherwise respected finding some of it interesting, and worried about that response, but they were almost universally opposed to it.
"Then you have the German and Austrian middle and lower-middle classes. Traditional religious practice was waning over the course of the 19th century."
This group of people was much more open to occultism and strange scientific theories, he says. The result was that "in Germany so many of the people who joined the Nazi Party or supported it are using language and ideas directly borrowed from these occult and border scientific doctrines."
In some ways it's this kind of phony science in which white supremacists are marinated. They ignore the real science, such as that gleaned from the Human Genome Project, and prefer their twisted versions of racial origins, including the bogus and bizarre idea jackhammered out of the Bible that black people are cursed and degenerate because they are descendants of Ham, a son of Noah.
Prejudice based on religious belief may be the hardest to counter because the people holding it think it represents divine thinking.
The point in raising any of this -- besides letting you know about Kurlander's new book -- is that, as I wrote here recently, facts matter. And when we pledge allegiance instead to wild myth and theories detached from reality, we set ourselves up for the kind of clashes we saw in Charlottesville, where the problem did not lie on "many sides," no matter what President Trump alleged.
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EARLY CHRISTIAN NON-LITERALISTS
The earliest known Latin commentary on three of the four New Testament gospels indicates that early Christians didn't always read the Bible literally. Nor do many Christians today. Those who do take it all literally miss a lot of the point.
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THE BOOK CORNER
To Hear the Forest Sing: Some Musings on the Divine: Margaret Dulaney. For some years now, the author has offered her essays rooted in her love of nature and imaginings about eternal matters in readings available on her Listen Well website. Now she's put them in print. Dulaney walks daily through the woods next to her home in Pennsylvania, attuned to what she didn't hear, see, feel, smell or think about on yesterday's walk. Then she shares her experiences via spoken essays and now in this small book. She comes across as a person who cares deeply about spiritual matters but has not pledged allegiance to any particular religious tradition. "My suspicion about those who avoid the word 'God,'" she writes, "is that they have heard the term hurled around by too many careless people or had it repeatedly slung in their faces over the years." No doubt she's right. Sometimes her questions seem naive, sometimes sharp and engaging. Her spiritual experiences move out to the edge of mysticism and beyond at times, such as when, she believes, she was personally visited by St. Teresa of Avila. Margaret Dulaney walking in the woods doesn't have Annie Dillard's remarkable eye, but she sees enough to interest others in walking with her.
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P.S.: My latest Flatland column -- about clergy gathering together to help fix education in Kansas City -- now is online here.