Lots of buzz this week about the Washington Post’s tragicomic report from Luverne, Alabama.
As the Post reports, the folks in Luverne live in a “binary world”: you’re either with them or against them. And Trump has been sent by God to smite those who are against them.
A talking head remarked that, for many, tribalism has triumphed over national interest. In Luverne, tribalism has also triumphed over the Christian religion, which has become a rancid parody of itself.
Yes, Aardvark was Once a Sunbeam
When I was a wee lad, my parents worshiped at the First Baptist Church. At the age of four, I became a Sunbeam.
And here was the first song they taught me when I was a little Sunbeam:
Jesus loves the little children,
All the children of the world.
Red and yellow, black and white,
They are precious in his sight.
Jesus loves the little children of the world.
I would be willing to bet that there are still little Sunbeams in the First Baptist Church of Luverne. And that they are still learning how Jesus loves all the children of the world.
But tell me, mommy, would that also include the little children being snatched away from their mothers at the border?
The Good Samaritan—Is that Like Some White Person in the Next County?
Jesus taught in parables, and the most famous parables, the one everyone knows, is the parable of the Good Samaritan. And as little Aardvark learned in the First Baptist Church so many years ago, the whole bloody point of the story was that A SAMARITAN WAS SOMEONE FROM A DESPISED RELIGIOUS/ETHNIC GROUP.
And the Sermon on the Mount Only Applies to Americans?
Give me a break.
Cognitive Dissonance of Epic Proportions
These folks have turned their religion upside down. As another commentator has pointed out, the cognitive dissonance must be mind-boggling.
What’s the explanation for the craziness down in Luverne? A piece of it is captured by the observation that we are sorting ourselves into two groups: those who have the gumption to leave places like Luverne, and those who don’t.
Low Boil Rage and Authoritarian Personalities
A friend cites Richard Cohen: “My guess is that it’s a low-boil rage against a vague and threatening liberalism — urbane, educated, affluent, secular, diverse and sexually tolerant. It is, in other words, some of the same sentiment that once fueled European fascism.” The same friend also draws our attention to “the defining characteristics of the Authoritarian Personality sensu Adorno et al.”
Where the Answer Will Come From
Like the man who greeted Justice Frankfurter with great relish, I look to the Modeling Religion Project of the Center for Mind and Culture to explain how little Sunbeams turned into the folks filling the pews in Luverne:
For centuries, scholars and scientists have posed the question: what are the most compelling features of religion? Is it complex theological systems? Rituals that increase social solidarity? Fear of the afterlife or the unknown? In response to these questions academics from philosophers to evolutionary biologists who study religion have developed numerous theories to help explain religious beliefs and behaviors. But how do these approaches relate to one another? How could their relative merits and flaws be tested systematically?
At CMAC, we tackle these questions by turning to an unconventional source: computer modeling and simulation. By building agent-based and system-dynamics models of psychological and social processes, we are creating comparable versions of theories that can be rigorously tested against real-world data and the historical record.
This undertaking requires a wide variety of experts, including scholars of religion from the humanities, cognitive psychologists, and complex system specialists, as well as modelers and programmers. It has unfolded across three organizations (CMAC, the Virginia Modeling and Simulation Center, and the Center for Modeling Social Systems at the University of Agder in Norway), and brought together a large international and interdisciplinary team. Our work modeling religion has enabled our team to clarify and operationalize theories of religion, build realistic and complex AI systems and introduce the power and potential of simulation in the social sciences.
Yes, farther along, through system-dynamics models of psychological and social processes, we’ll understand it, all by and by.