CSotD: Looking to find a reason to believe

Barney & Clyde (WPWG) has it right, but it’s more complex.

I don’t think people are any more stupid than in the past, nor do I believe there are any more stupid people than ever. However, stupid people are far less isolated than they used to be, and that gives them a great deal more power and influence.

Example: Back in 1987, I was at a party where our hostess began to tell us that she and her husband had learned that Elvis, alleged to have died a decade before, had actually faked his death in order to retire into anonymity, and she explained the elaborate means he had used.

At the time, she appeared to be nuts, though there was something impressive about the depth of detail. It wasn’t as if she simply told us that penguins could talk. Her delusion was very well developed.

And, as we slowly backed out of the house, we realized that there was an actual, operational underground belief in this bizarre theory.

Now that we have the Internet, there’s nothing particularly underground about such things.

The challenge today is how to distinguish obvious delusions about Elvis and the Moon Landing from less clearly lunatic beliefs about vaccination from vague, half-developed rumors about Justice Kennedy’s retirement.

It is clearly absurd to believe in them all, but it’s equally absurd to disbelieve in them all.

Where do they start? Someone must surely have said it first, after all.

And it’s hard to imagine a theory so ludicrous that someone won’t believe it.

I remember rumors that JFK was alive, in a persistent vegetative state, living on a Greek island under the care of Aristotle Onassis, who was only pretending to be married to Jackie.

And, of course, there was the death of Paul McCartney. I knew people who spoke with him on a Ouija board.

However, these popular delusions are not always innocent, nor are they always spontaneous.

Fresh Air had an interview with one of the writers of the WSJ’s “Facebook Papers,” who, among other things, related how already-existing anti-vaxxers rushed to create massive doubt about Covid 19, which Facebook was unable — for a variety of reasons — to shut down.

(UPDATE: That’s a good interview, but this On The Media piece is the one I was thinking of and is far more damning.)

We should have seen it coming.

The promise of the Internet was that, while left-handed flute players are scattered around the globe, they would be able to gather on the Internet to exchange tips and enjoy some solidarity.

And that a niche comic about, say, what it’s like to be a librarian, could find a worldwide audience though it couldn’t attract much of a crowd locally.

It’s kind of like inventing the photocopier so people could make copies of their term papers without realizing they could also use it to duplicate $20 bills.

Relying on the good intentions of others is a basic, but sadly universal, error.


Juxtaposition of the Feast Day

(Pros & Cons – KFS)

(Michael de Adder)

There are comedic aspects of being a Roman Catholic and there are aspects of considerable more gravity.

I say this as a recovering Catholic. As often noted here before, you can no more be an “ex-Catholic” than you can be ex-Irish or ex-Italian. But you can step back and view it all with knowledge and skepticism.

It’s a tough culture to grow up in. Catholic guilt isn’t simply that your mother upbraids you for some disappointment, but that you are consigned to the fires of Hell for your transgressions.

James Joyce gets it in a nutshell: Stephen Dedalus no longer believes but yet fears eternal punishment for his disbelief.

In Pros & Cons, Lyndon and Stan have a conversation that I would classify along with Philip Roth’s semi-comic depiction of Jewish guilt in “Portnoy’s Complaint,” except that, when I went back to doublecheck their names, I found that, in the comments, Kieran Meehan has been condemned to the aforementioned fires of Hell for the cartoon.

Proving his point.

If that cartoon contains a dark bit of gallows humor, there’s nothing funny in de Adder’s, which notes the prevalence of Catholics among Supreme Court Justices.

It could be dismissed as anti-Catholic prejudice, if the Justices themselves were not seemingly on a “We’re not political!” lecture tour, a case of protesting too much, methinks.

Mario Cuomo steadfastly insisted on keeping his religious beliefs separate from his political activity, but that was a generation ago.


Today, there seems to be a major contingent of Catholic politicians intent on proving Thomas Nast right: A vote for a Catholic is a vote for the Pope.

There is a movement of conservative Catholics who might once, like Elvis-lives believers, have been isolated screwballs but who are now united in their fierce opposition to a Pope who views homosexuality with compassion, who speaks of our obligations to refugees and to the poor, and who reprimanded Catholics for demanding pro-choice politicians be refused the sacraments.

Which would be amusingly eccentric if it were only happening within their own walls, but becomes a matter of public interest when a religion that is 23% of the population makes up two-thirds of the Supreme Court and is increasingly reluctant to follow the separation of church and state that Mario Cuomo — and the Founders — prescribed.

This liberal Catholic article — a more compassionate view of the assault on Pope Francis — notes that conservative Catholics have doubted the Pope since the days of Vatican II, and Francis has not been the only modern Pope to confound them.

All major religions are a combination of theology and folklore, and most have conflicts in determining what you must believe and what is simply a story to illustrate concepts.

The Bible describes the Sun going around the Earth, but few modern Catholics feel obligated to believe that.

However, even though the Church downgraded Christopher to a legend, his medals still adorn dashboards throughout the country. And, if you need an example of casuistry, I recommend this tortuous explanation of all that.

Still, putting a St. Christopher medal or a plastic Jesus or, for that matter, a dreamcatcher on your dashboard doesn’t matter, and it’s simpleminded bigotry to make fun of people for their religion.

Until we elect a Christian Scientist who insists on closing all the hospitals.


3 thoughts on “CSotD: Looking to find a reason to believe

  1. “[C]onservative Catholics have doubted the Pope since the days of Vatican II, and Francis has not been the only modern Pope to confound them.”

    I remember noticing a Lefebvreist Catholic church here when we moved to Rochester in 1980. And shortly after Benedict replaced JP2 I saw a bumper sticker on an expensive car that read “Attention Cafeteria Catholics: The Cafeteria Is Closed.”

  2. Being old enough to remember the stir caused when JFK ran for President, I can only refer to what Harry Truman said* :”It’s not the Pope I worry about. It’s the Pop.”

    *ALLEGEDLY Harry said that. I’m sure it’ll be contested if I don’t put in that qualifier.

  3. Sitting up here in Canada, peering over the 4th parallel at the insane asylum that the U.S. has become, I must add to the discussion that leads off this column. No doubt everything that the anti-vaxxers believe is certifiably delusional . . . such as Bill Gates plotting to inject people with malign organisms sporting tentacles . . . but I say that the most insane belief is the QAnon scripture, that the US is run by a cabal of people who lurk in tunnels under Washington DC, sexually molesting children, and then eating them. How likely is that? Actually, I can believe it of Repuglicans, but not of Democrats, who have much better taste and manners than that. The Repugs, gruesome thugs hailing from hillbilly country, would do anything at all. But Dems . . . their sins are all financial and legalistic. I am deeply concerned that the crazies are going to take over the U.S., and then invade Canada. I am planning to move to Finland.

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