Melissa Harris-Perry would like more irrationality, please

“Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.”
-Voltaire

Melissa Harris-Perry, seen here being incredibly full of shit.

I like Rachel Maddow’s show. It’s one of the few I can stand on MSNBC. Sure, she slips into the “Defend the President and Party At All Costs” mode from time to time, but it’s nowhere near as egregious as some of her fellow hosts on the network. Also, her head is not a ginormous wonder to all surviving phrenologists, which is another plus.

Last week Maddow was on “vacation.” This might be true, or it might be that she was preparing her legal defense against a bullshit defamation lawsuit against her from heavy metal rock star / Christian minister Bradlee Dean. Melissa Harris-Perry filled in for Maddow.

Last Friday, she recorded an un-aired segment about the proper role of faith in politics. Harris-Perry believes that such a thing exists. It’s one of those editorials which tries to get at a ‘big picture’ perspective but somehow still fails to say anything useful about anything, making us all stupider in the process.

She introduces the segment with a fair enough, albeit obvious point: That while we’re all learning about this right-wing Christian terrorist in Oslo who just killed nearly 100 innocent people, the US Congress is holding these hearings on the radicalization of Muslims taken straight out of The Crucible. She claims that the demonization of Muslims here in the States is “as much guided by prejudice as it is by evidence.” That sounds about right. Seems obvious enough. What else is obvious to most of us would be that it’s a bad thing to let policy be guided equally by evidence and whatever fills the void left by the lack thereof – in this case, prejudice.

“I saw Goody Proctor with the Prophet Mohammed!”

But then things take a turn. Suddenly, Harris-Perry orders the audience to ignore any kind of faith-inspired political violence:

“Let’s not talk about fanaticism. Let’s not talk about violence. Let’s just talk about religion in the political world and the ways it’s been divisive.”

And we’re not talking about fanaticism and violence because… why exactly? Fanaticism and violence are ways in which religion’s impact on the political world have been divisive, to put it extremely mildly. So why not talk about it? In whose interests does it serve to just ignore violent religious fanatics? Definitely not those of us who’s rather they not be inspired by their stupid beliefs to do stupid things, like fly planes into buildings or shoot up a camp full of teenagers. She continues:

“In this moment, it often seems that the connection between religion and politics happens exclusively on the right.”

She then lists some examples of conservatives “using religion” in order to advance their agenda: the anti-gay, anti-woman, and anti-science policies so popular with the right these days (n.b. apparently all of those positions are “not fanatical,” according to the host here, since she earlier decreed that we shouldn’t talk about fanaticism). This should be a PR bonanza for us progressives. We could be using this perception of faith-based politics being a mostly conservative phenomenon to point out that it’s the right who are the ones disconnected from reality and with their heads in the clouds.

I’m pretty sure he wasn’t the first to say that.

But Harris-Perry makes it clear that she doesn’t have much of a problem with that disconnect. Her only problem with it is that the conservatives have their heads in the wrong clouds. Instead of just laughing at those religious conservatives who base their politics on goofy beliefs which aren’t supported by evidence, Harris-Perry tries to convince us that the real problem is that most people don’t recognize that believing in nonsense is something liberals should be adamant and proud about as well:

“We do not need to give up faith… The faith ‘tool’ I want us to retain is the one that gives us strength in the face of daunting circumstances. I understand the appeal of reason. But if we look exclusively at the evidence in the world, it’s a pretty bleak place.”

Harris-Perry then goes on to relate some sad facts about the world, but she forgot the part where she demonstrates that we can’t be inspired by the real world and the empirical evidence in order to change those sad facts. Looking at what’s called the cold hard truth can actually get people off their asses, but having faith just pacifies us and makes us comfortable waiting around for someone else to fix our problems.

And though I obviously agree with her in that the disparity between rich and poor is a bad thing, others might not see it that way. Others might look at the advances made by civil rights and science and become depressed, thinking the world is a “bleak place” because of them. Using Harris-Perry logic, they’d be perfectly justified in ignoring the empirical evidence (for example, that there can be more genetic differences between two people of the same race than between two people of different races) and rely on their faith.

Or we could go back to Bradlee Dean and his bullshit defamation suit against Rachel Maddow and MSNBC. If Dean only looks at the empirical evidence, it looks like his lawsuit is transparently ridiculous and doesn’t have a chance at succeeding in an American court. This makes Bradlee Dean sad. The world looks like a bleak place to him. His circumstances are daunting. So he should apparently rely on his faith to give him the strength he needs to carry on with his frivolous lawsuit.

That’s the big problem with having a place for faith in politics. It’s all way too subjective since there’s no epistemological basis we can all agree upon. And since we can’t even agree on the difference between what we believe because it’s true and what we believe because it feels good, any distinction between what is and is not “fanatical” is going to end up being totally arbitrary. Harris-Perry already proved this earlier in the segment by supposedly suspending discussion of the fanatical and then proceeding to immediately talk about conservative religious fanaticism.

Harris-Perry’s brought up this sort of thing before, and for some reason she’s being praised to high Mormon heaven for it (that’s a cheap jab by me, since her mother’s side of her family was Mormon). So it’s important for rational people to fight back against this glorification of faith, because if we don’t then the only opposition will be coming from other faith positions and our political discourse will degrade to the point where the idea of basing our arguments on reality instead of what makes us feel good will just be a distant memory.

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