“Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact; everything we see is a perspective, not the truth.”
— Marcus Aurelius
To be stupid means you have (or show) a great lack of intelligence or common sense. That might seem straightforward but it really isn’t. You can be very smart about some things and really stupid about others.
By now you’ve probably heard about Trump’s taxes and his enormous refunds in comparison to his tiny contributions. And you might have already noticed Trump’s evangelical base making excuses for him. Defense of a Trump who doesn’t pay taxes is nothing new. In 2016, The Washington Post reported how his supporters called him a “genius” with taxes. Four years later, those same folks get to say, “I told you so,” just as the Left says the same thing.
There was never any authentic doubt that Trump doesn’t pay a fair share of taxes. There was only a difference of perspective about what it would mean. Now that it’s all come out, we get to see the various perspectives in action. And when you see evangelicals of every income bracket praise the President who pays fewer taxes than most Americans while simultaneously receiving far more of a refund than, uh, most Americans, you might wonder how they can do it.
How can they call the President smart for enjoying enormous wealth, a lavish lifestyle, while refusing to pay into the country he supposedly loves? How can they call it “good business” when deep down, everybody knows there’s something wrong with a billionaire paying $750 some years, zero other years, and receiving more than a $72 Million refund in another?
It’s funny. "Taxes" is one of those rare modern issues Jesus actually talked about in the Bible. We don’t have to guess or extrapolate anything. So, if Jesus had no problem telling poor disciples to give to Caesar what was Cesar’s, why would Donald Trump not do the same for America?
Remember, this is the man who was supposed to drain the swamp. Wasn’t he also supposed to get rid of loopholes like these?
Critics of Trump get so exasperated because it’s hard to understand why people who talk so much about draining the swamp, protecting family values, and representing the little guys over Washington could keep sticking up for Trump. Let me be blunt.
Evangelicalism trains people to be stupid.
It is shockingly offensive when I call evangelicals stupid, I know that. Part of the reason I’m so comfortable using the word is that I used to be an evangelical. I was stupid in the same way too.
Nearly a decade ago, Scientific American reported that religious experiences like being “born again” shrink the hippocampus in the brain. At the time, researchers suggested that stress was at least partly to blame. When people think that God is punishing them, when they perceive themselves to be under attack for their religious beliefs — these things create and increase stress.
Most notably? Stress and perceived persecution negatively impacts a person’s ability to regulate their emotions and recall memories. The hippocampus is important because it’s the part of the brain that helps us to contextualize fear. It also feeds information to other areas of the brain that are responsible for learning.
None of this is particularly surprising. If you come from an evangelical background like me, you already know how it encourages dualistic, or black-and-white thinking. Also known as binary thinking.
In psychology, it’s understood that binary thinking is unhealthy and unhelpful. If you suffer from borderline personality disorder, one issue you’ll have to work on is your tendency for “splitting.” Aka, splitting into black and white thinking where everything is good or bad with nothing in between.
For ex-evangelicals, it seems so obvious that binary thinking lacks appropriate nuance. Nuance is integral for critical thinking. But for evangelical Christians, critical thinking is eschewed from a very young age.
According to Bobby Azarian, Ph.D., a cognitive neuroscientist and science writer in the Washington, D.C. area, evangelicals may even be hardwired to believe Trump’s lies:
“For Christian fundamentalists, being taught to suppress critical thinking begins at a very early age. It is the combination of the brain’s vulnerability to believing unsupported facts and aggressive indoctrination that create the perfect storm for gullibility. Due to the brain’s neuroplasticity, or ability to be sculpted by lived experiences, evangelicals literally become hardwired to believe far-fetched statements.
This wiring begins when they are first taught to accept Biblical stories not as metaphors for living life practically and purposefully, but as objective truth. Mystical explanations for natural events train young minds to not demand evidence for beliefs. As a result, the neural pathways that promote healthy skepticism and rational thought are not properly developed. This inevitably leads to a greater susceptibility to lying and gaslighting by manipulative politicians, and greater suggestibility in general.
If we want to combat the brain’s habit of taking the path of least resistance, which has destructive downstream consequences for critical thinking, as a society we must place more value on empirical evidence, and this must be reflected in how we educate our youth. Additionally, we must create an awareness of the fact that for the human mind, believing is more of a reflex than a careful and methodical action.”
Nobody grows up thinking, “I want to be stupid, or morally bankrupt.” Nobody thinks, “Hey, I really hope I can be a hypocrite today.” Still, everybody makes bad decisions, and everybody has blind spots. We don’t make terrible mistakes with complete self-awareness. Some of our worst decisions are made simply because of what or how we’ve learned to think.
How we’ve been taught to think.
Calling evangelicals stupid is not an insult in my mind. It’s more of a commentary on what’s clearly lacking — and not working — in the religious design.
When evangelicals are discouraged from critical thinking because it might “lead them astray,” this is a symptom of religion gone terribly wrong. And there is no fixing the problem without asking tough questions. Often, those questions will counter everything a person has been taught about being a good person or even having commonsense.
Which makes them next to impossible to even consider for some people.
Regarding the news about Trump’s taxes, I’m not doing backflips or shouting, “I told you so.” If anything, I’m just waiting because I know that most of his evangelical supporters are not going to withdraw their support over money, even when that means Trump lied or cheated.
Donald Trump has been lying for years now, and he’s going to keep on lying for as long as it serves him. Probably for the rest of his life.
A very big reason for this is because evangelicals are stupid about Trump and politics. It’s a major blind spot. When evangelicals hear how Trump hasn’t paid much in taxes over the past 15 plus years, or how he’s received enormous refunds, the knee-jerk reaction isn’t to understand and interpret the data. It is to perceive the data under the assumption that Trump is good, and that God put him into power.
So, of course, if you ask your die-hard confederate-loving Uncle Jim what he thinks about Trump’s taxes, you’ll get some sort of response about the President’s genius. You certainly won’t hear any complaints about Trump being the first billionaire President.
On the contrary, his supporters like to perceive Donald Trump as a wrongfully persecuted man. They perceive him to be under attack because they perceive themselves to be under attack. Every Leftist talking point (in their minds) is evidence of that. When we talk about basic principles like equal rights or better yet, social equity, most evangelicals lack the critical thinking skills to see that it isn’t beneficial to force all Americans to live under Christian legislation.
They can’t see any gray when they’re fixated on good and evil.
Many people today support Donald Trump’s ability to evade taxes as something to be admired. And they hold up the faulty logic that he’s working for the American people for free.
Of course, the big picture is typically not what evangelicals care about. So, they don’t care how Trump is profiting financially from his presidency. All that matters is the perception that Trump is giving his money away, standing up for supposedly oppressed Christians, and speaking on behalf of those who consider themselves to be a sort of everyman.
In case you missed it, evangelicals in the spotlight have long been putting on a show where they portray themselves to be part-everyman and part-saint, regardless of reality. It’s the sort of show that Tim Tebow perfected and Trump now banks on. If you play the role right and use the right words, nobody will bother to use one bit of critical thinking against you.
This is a dangerously effective strategy among evangelicals when you promise to give them the power they want. They’ve already been groomed to willingly believe tall tales and are prone to magical thinking.
One might ask whether it’s really possible to betray evangelicals at all when they have long betrayed the message of Christ in return for political power.
Or, at least, the promise of it.
I don’t think that anyone can claim that evangelicals today have true political power. As The Atlantic said back in July, evangelicals don’t have much to show for their betrayal of Christ as they steadfastly hold onto Trump. They took a gamble and they lost, or to be fair, they won a cruel prize of chaos.
Regardless of anything they say, is anybody truly happy in 2020? Do everyday people feel a happiness or peace about politics, the economy, racism, policing, or COVID-19?
To say there is a great deal of unrest is, of course, an understatement. But it’s not just the Left that’s been left unhappy. Evangelicals are unhappy too. They think they’re fighting in some holy war against evils like socialism. They turn on Netflix and fear they’re losing a cultural war.
Trump’s poor leadership has impacted us all. Further divided us. I daresay it’s even served as the devastatingly perfect experiment for some of the issues discussed in the recent docudrama, The Social Dilemma. Director Jeff Orlowski says the internet is undermining democracy, and that lies spread six times faster online than truth.
As it turns out, Trump’s presidency and evangelicalism’s blind spots have converged at this frighteningly ideal point with social media where the facts no longer matter because everybody’s perception of the facts have been clouded by what they want those facts to mean.
I wish like hell that I could tell you the solution here is easy, but it’s not. There’s a saying that “You can’t fix stupid but you can vote it out.” Even that is too simplistic, though. Americans are wrestling with mental illness, social media influence, and frankly, stupidity, in a way we’ve never done before.
Problems in the world are nothing new. Racism, inequality, and all sorts of political unrest are not issues exclusive to 2020. We shouldn’t be surprised by struggles and unrest, but we should recognize no generation gets through life unscathed.
And when we think about American history, not to mention world history, we need to remind ourselves that we are in it. We are making history every damn day. Our actions and errors have consequences with the power to reverberate for generations.
It reminds me of the Billy Joel song, “We Didn’t Start the Fire.”
After all, we didn’t start the fire. So much of what is happening right now was put into motion long before any of us were old enough to make our own choices. Like me, some of you were raised in an evangelical bubble that stunted your cognitive growth. Maybe it made you more gullible or even “stupid” about certain things.
Ironically, there’s no shame (or sin) in being stupid. It’s very human and natural to take the path of least resistance and believe what we’ve been taught when we were very young. And in addition to stunting critical thinking, evangelicalism has had a hand in teaching folks to respond, well, positively to authoritarian parenting and leadership. Of course, authoritarian parenting isn’t limited to evangelicals, but it’s quite common among them and Christians in general.
“People with an authoritarian mindset believe, first and foremost, in obedience to authority. So, of course, obedience is high on their list of ideal traits for a child; but obedience is also high on their list of ideal traits for people in general. Leaders, especially strong, confident leaders, are to be followed. Authoritarians also tend toward simplistic ways of thinking; things are black or white, right or wrong. If something is right for one person, it should be right for everyone and everyone should see it as right. They don’t tolerate ambiguity and have little taste for subtlety or dissenting opinions. To an authoritarian, the way to solve problems is to find a powerful, confident leader—a sort of superhero who claims in unambiguous language that he can solve your problems—and then follow that person.”
I see this weird sort of lust for authoritarian rule a lot, lately. Arguments supporting Trump aren’t debates at all. They’re generally just screaming matches to “get with the program.”
For the Trump-supporting, authoritarian-loving person, the President’s critics are just grasping at straws to bring up taxes. They paint any reasonable and valid criticism against Trump as biased or “fake news,” because those are the only options when you lack appropriate critical thinking skills.
While it’s no one’s fault to be raised this way, it is up to each individual to not remain stunted in their ability to think critically. Furthermore, we have a responsibility to ensure that younger generations are equipped with the tools they need to think for themselves and acquire the critical thinking skills they will need to make this world a healthier place.
This is a big ask. This is going to take work. There’s a reason why evangelicals so often complain about indoctrination from the Left, like this “lovely” rant my friend ran into on social media about evil… teachers:
Teachers are thoroughly indoctrinated by the enemies of America. This started a long time ago, 1930s, when atheist Marxists like John Dewey took over the TEACHER COLLEGES and warped them with lies, taught them to use methods of teaching reading that just confused children (“Look-Say”), and turned the classroom into a psych lab to eliminate the independent thinkers. I have the documentation to prove every word.
Why TEACHERS? Because they have the souls of children in their hands. Teachers are “God” to young people, a source of truth, strength, love, and courage -- teachers mold the character as well as give skills for the future. So, teachers are a primary target for being unwitting useful idiots in the grinding down of America. The Marxists knew they could not conquer us with bullets, so they had to be sneaky, sly, and dirty and deceive teachers -- who are mostly women, and women are more easily deceived because their hearts are designed to trust.
I don’t know how to fix it. How do we undo the lies that have affected so many? That have caused so many bright, talented people to abandon the living water of liberty and jump into a stinking sewer? I wish God Himself would come down and tell these young folks the truth, but I guess for now, all they get is the “bigots” down the street.
This is the sort of stupidity we’re fighting against, people. Evangelical Trump supporters believe they are independent thinkers. Adherence to the narrative that Trump is good all the time and that the Left is out to lead their children astray runs deep and it’s rooted in their fight against critical thinking.
As The Social Dilemma points out, social media has allowed us to dig deep into our perception of reality without any regard for its accuracy, or if that perception is even good for us.
Only one thing is certain right now. We’ve got a helluva lot of work to do. And Trump’s taxes aren’t enough to break his thrall over evangelicals. Americans have to learn how to be critical thinkers first.