The United States is a Fantasyland. And not just any old Fantasyland -- people in this country probably have the most fantastical beliefs of any country in the world.
This is the core message of Kurt Andersen's marvelous book, "Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire, a 500-Year History." It's more that 400 pages, but if you want a short overview, check out an Atlantic piece, "How America Lost Its Mind."
I've only read the first part of the book. But already it's offered up fresh insights into a familiar topic on this blog, the ridiculousness of giving subjective religious beliefs way more credibility than they deserve by politicians.
For some of my posts on this subject, see here, here, here, and here.
A few days ago right-wing wacko Attorney General Jeff Sessions instructed federal agencies to give more credence to religious beliefs that conflict with established law. This is a totally amazing quote from his memo.
“Except in the narrowest circumstances, no one should be forced to choose between living out his or her faith and complying with the law,” Sessions wrote. “Therefore, to the greatest extent practicable and permitted by law, religious observance and practice should be accommodated in all government activity, including employment, contracting, and programming.”
It's totally absurd for the Attorney General to say that "no one should be forced to choose between living out his or her faith and complying with the law."
As I've noted before, why should only religious faith get a free pass from United States laws?
Frequently people who drink a lot have faith that they can drive just fine. Shouldn't they be absolved from a ticket or jail time if they're caught driving drunk? What difference is there between a Holy Church of Drink All You Want Because God Loves This and another church that believes it is OK to discriminate against gays?
The above-linked article says:
“This guidance is designed to do one thing—create a license to discriminate against the LGBTQ community and others, sanctioned by the federal government and paid for by taxpayers,” Vanita Gupta, who led the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division during the Obama administration, said in a statement. Chad Griffin, the president of the Human Rights Campaign, accused Trump of furthering a “cynical and hateful agenda” and said the memo “will enable systematic, government-wide discrimination that will have a devastating impact on LGBTQ people and their families.”
Here's some quotes from Kurt Andersen's Fantasyland that shed light on how the United States became such a wacked-out country, a nation that elevates unfounded personal beliefs above reasoned, factual, evidence-based conclusions.
It's really sad that we've come to the place where our Attorney General says it is absolutely fine to discriminate against someone if you have a religious belief that is OK to do this. Again, why is religious belief elevated above other sorts of beliefs? As Andersen notes below, the root of our current Fantasyland lies in Protestant beliefs from the 1500s.
But many branches have grown from this root. Like the Attorney General's memo. Andersen writes:
Why are we like this?
That's what this book will explore. The short answer is because we're Americans, because being American means we can believe any damn thing we want, that our beliefs are equal or superior to anyone else's, experts be damned. Once people commit to that approach, the world turns inside out, and no cause and effect connection is fixed. The credible becomes incredible and the incredible credible.
...In other words: mix epic individualism with extreme religion; mix show business with everything else; let all that steep and simmer for a few centuries; run it through the anything-goes 1960s and the Internet age; the result is the America we inhabit today, where reality and fantasy are weirdly and dangerously blurred and commingled.
...Out of the new Protestant religion, a new photo-American attitude emerged during the 1500s. Millions of ordinary people decided that they, each of them, had the right to decide what was true or untrue, regardless of what fancy experts said. And furthermore, they believed, passionate fantastical belief was the key to everything. The footings for Fantasyland had been cast.
...As we let a hundred dogmatic iterations of reality bloom, the eventual result was an anything-goes relativism that extends beyond religion to almost every kind of passionate belief: if I think it's true, no matter why or how I think it's true, then it's true, and nobody can tell me otherwise.
That's the real life reductio ad absurdum of American individualism. And it would become a credo of Fantasyland.