It is one of the quirkier tenets of conservatism that Einstein’s theory of relativity is part of a liberal conspiracy to undermine civilization.
Yes, the theory of relativity, which probably not one person in a million understands — and I include myself in the 999,999 who don’t — having something to do with the curvature of space-time and the relation between energy, mass and the speed of light.
Who’d a thunk it? as they say. Who’d a thunk that political zealots as pedestrian as Charles Krauthammer and Andy Schlafly would give two hoots about the speed of light as an absolute measure?
Evolution, yes. You can understand that. The theory of evolution undermines Holy Scripture as literal truth, and Holy Scripture is the basis of all right thinking.
Global warming, yes, you can understand that too. If global warming is a danger, and if it’s man-made, then the only answer is large-scale government regulation, which conservatives despise. So they scoff at global warming and call it a liberal plot to increase government regulation.
But a theory having to do with mass, energy and the speed of light?
But there it was yesterday in this very newspaper, on the editorial page, a column by the nationally syndicated Krauthammer, belligerently gloating over an experiment in a European laboratory that found tiny particles called neutrinos traveling at faster than the speed of light, something that according to Einstein should be impossible.
He blasted his bugle, he pounded his drum, he hollered hosannas. “We shall need a new physics,” he declared. “A new cosmology. New understandings of past and future, of cause and effect. Then shortly and surely, new theologies,” which probably gave the game away — new theologies, as if the study of ghosts could have any bearing on the traveling speed of neutrinos, or on anything else for that matter.
But that’s conservative enthusiasm for you. It so often comes back to the supernatural.
What’s really going on here, if you want my opinion, is a simple confusion between physical relativity and moral relativism, which persons of sober disposition understand are two different animals.
Moral or social relativism posits that all cultures, or all values, are equally good. It has long been a favorite of academic liberals, but it has nothing to do with subatomic particles.
Go to Conservapedia, a right-wing knock-off of Wikipedia, founded by Andy Schlafly, son of Phyllis Schlafly, look up relativity and see what you find.
You find that Einstein’s theory, a bedrock of physics since the beginning of the 20th century, “has been met with much resistance in the scientific world,” that “evidence contrary to the theory is discussed outside of liberal universities,” and that “some liberal politicians have extrapolated the theory of relativity to metaphorically justify their own political agendas,” which is the funniest of all, faulting a scientific theory because some politicians (actually a Harvard law professor) once made metaphorical use of it.
Such dunderheadedness you could not easily find outside of the political fringes.
Krauthammer couldn’t get enough of the ramifications of faster-than-light neutrinos: “The implications of such a discovery are so mind-boggling,” he said, “that these same scientists immediately requested that other labs around the world try to replicate the experiment,” revealing that he doesn’t even know that trying to replicate an experiment is standard scientific procedure.
He doesn’t know that science is different from theology. You don’t look up the answer in Scripture.
Isn’t it awful to have something so ignorant appear in a newspaper? It makes me want to hang my head.
WHAT’S A HUMAN?
Then there was the response to some innocent remarks I made after visiting a demonstration in front of Planned Parenthood in Schenectady.
Without taking a stand on abortion, I declared that words mean something, “and the words ‘person’ and ‘human being’ do not mean a cell or a microscopic cluster of cells.”
A letter-writer retorted that “scientific evidence supports that the life of a new human being commences at the moment of conception,” and also, “a fertilized egg is a human being,” which is just begging the question and to which I say, no, ma’am, a fertilized egg or even a microscopic cluster of cells is not a human being for the same reason that a blood spot on an egg yolk is not a chicken.
I also noted that the Bible, so meticulous in the prohibition of mundane matters like eating shellfish, is silent on abortion.
To that, another letter-writer responded with evident satisfaction, “Abortion is mentioned in the Bible. It’s the 6th Commandment, ‘Thou shalt not kill.’ ”
But, I’m sorry, that won’t do.
In the first place, it’s too generic. In the second place, it obviously doesn’t mean what it says, since the Israelites of old enthusiastically killed left and right with God on their side.
Why, when they massacred the Midianites, God, through Moses, explicitly ordered them to kill all the little Midianite boys also, though they could keep the girls for themselves. (Numbers, Chapter 31)
And when they returned to Jerusalem from their captivity in Babylon they were directed, per Ezekial’s communication from God, to “slay utterly old and young, both maids and little children, and women.” (Ezekiel Chap. 9)
Are we supposed to believe that a God who gave such orders would care a fig about unborn children?
No, don’t try to fool me with your selective use of Holy Writ. Read the whole bloody thing, and then come back and talk.
WHAT’S A CULT?
As for whether Mormonism is a cult, well, that depends on the meaning of cult. If it means a group of people with zany beliefs, you could argue that every religion in the world is a cult.
But it can’t mean that. The way the word is actually used, it seems to mean a zany-belief-holding group that is quite small and has not been around very long.
That lets the Catholic Church off the hook, for example. The Catholic Church has been around for 2,000 years and has more than a billion members. It also lets Islam, Buddhism and every other major religion off the hook.
The Mormon church? Well, judge for yourself: It has been around for about 180 years, and has about 14 million members, a mere handful compared to the big religions (Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism) but about as many as Judaism.
Judaism is off the hook because of its longevity. If a cult survives for 2,700 years you can’t say it’s a cult anymore.
On the grounds of pure zaniness, Mormonism probably has an edge over other religions (or cults), but only an edge. Not enough to put it in a different category.
So it comes down to whether you think 180 years and 14 million adherents are sufficient. I will not be so bold as to venture an opinion myself but will leave the matter to Republican philosophers and theologians, for whom the matter is apparently as urgent as the traveling speed of neutrinos.
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