Saturday, March 03, 2007

Forget Reality. Gimme That Old-Time Religion

Is it just me, or do American conservatives seem increasingly adamant (even shrill) about asserting their waning political influence? This last November’s midterm elections, which found Democrats executing a complete shutout of Republican’ts on Capitol Hill and in state governorships, has led to such idiotic stunts as right-wing political commentator Ann Coulter calling former Senator John Edwards a “faggot,” pro-war candidate John McCain sucking up to Christianists by flip-flopping on his abortion stance, and George W. Bush threatening again to start a war with Iran in order to assert his relevance in the post-Rovian United States.

But the creation of Conservapedia, a right-wing alternative to the allegedly “anti-Christian and anti-American” Wikipedia online information bank, may be the clearest indication yet that political conservatives are determined to counter any viewpoints not in line with their own reactionary, denial-based, and too often exclusionary perspective on the world and its history. “Conservapedia is an online resource and meeting place where we favor Christianity and America,” the site says on its front page. “Conservapedia has easy-to-use indexes to facilitate review of topics. You will much prefer using Conservapedia compared to Wikipedia if you want concise answers free of ‘political correctness.’” Hmm. So how exactly does Conservapedia demonstrate its greater adherence to the truth and its rejection of “political correctness”?

In its write-up about former President Bill Clinton, it leads with the reminder that “Clinton never won a majority of the popular vote.” That’s followed immediately by the unsubtle editorialization that “In his first two years in office, 1993 through 1994, Clinton failed at his massive attempt to ‘reform’ health-care in the United States by some sort of government-backed universal health-care insurance, which would result in effective government control of the health care system.”

In an entry about “intelligent design,” a religion-based “alternative” to Charles Darwin’s accepted theory of evolution, Conservapedia insists that “Design Theory enjoys broad support within the scientific community which is steadily growing.” It goes on to denounce a federal judge (and a Republican) who ruled in a Pennsylvania case that intelligent design “cannot uncouple itself from its creationist, and thus religious, antecedents” as “an activist judge ... whose ruling has been described by influential opinion-makers as ‘biased and religiously bigoted.’” (Gee, way to go Conservapedia: no bias in your own write-up, is there?)

On a page devoted to the four-term presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt, Conservapedia contributors say absolutely nothing about FDR’s efforts to beat the Great Depression, beef up employment, and help Britain and France survive World War II. Instead, they devote 173 words of their 276-word profile of the 20th century’s greatest U.S. chief executive to Roosevelt’s statements about religion. (It seems he was for it.)

Defining the term “theocracy,” Conservapedia writes: “Government ruled by a divine means or by leaders considered to be divinely guided. Israel was a theocracy before King Saul. Modern theocracies include Iran, Turkey, and Afghanistan prior to the ousting of the Taliban by the military of the United States of America. With any luck, a new modern theocracy will be established within the United States by the end of the decade.”

Remarking on the presidency of George Washington, the site proclaims: “Washington is perhaps the only person other than Jesus who declined enormous worldly power, in Washington’s case by voluntarily stepping aside as the ruler of a prosperous nation.”

On a page about the Democratic Party, the site says little more than this: “The official platform of the Democratic party emphasizes strengthening America. Right-wing critics claim, however, that the Democrat [sic] voting record reveals a true agenda of cowering to terrorism, treasonous anti-Americanism, and comtempt [sic] for America’s founding principles such as freedom of religion.”

Trying further to make the case that it’s “an online encyclopedia you can trust,” Conservapedia has this to say on the important subject of global warming:
On February 2, 2007, an internatonal [sic] panel of hundreds of scientists and representatives of 113 governments issued a report concluding:
The observed widespread warming of the atmosphere and ocean, together with ice-mass loss, support the conclusion that it is extremely unlikely that global climate change of the past 50 years can be explained without external forcing, and very likely that is not due to known natural causes alone.
It should be noted that these scientists are motivated by a need for grant money in their field of climatology. Therefore, their work can not be considered unbiased, though no more than any scientist in any other field. Also, these scientists are mostly liberal athiests [
sic], untroubled by the hubris that man can destroy the Earth which God gave him.
And I’m not sure what to make of Conservapedia’s entry under the word “religion.” I’d assumed, given the goals of this site, that it would have much to say on this controversial subject. However, the page contains nothing but this text:
Types of Religion
There is only one type of religion, Christianity. The others are frauds.

Sources of Religion
Christians used to look to the Bible for God’s word, but now they have the
Blog of the Gods, which relays His word directly in modern language people can understand. It is also less silly than the Bible.
(Most of the Web links above have been added by yours truly, in order that readers can find more information on certain subjects. However, don’t blame me for that weird Blog of the Gods link; it’s original to Conservapedia.)

Obviously, Conservapedia is still in its formative stages, with subjects of seemingly greatest interest to its originators receiving the most attention first. Which might explain why, after attacking Bill Clinton for most of a 519-word write-up, its creators then devote only 168 words to his successor; and why extensive entries are written about homosexuality and abortion--both abject sources of evil, apparently--yet the site offers absolutely no information about the U.S. Congress, only a quote from Mark Twain: “It could probably be shown by facts and figures that there is no distinctly native American criminal class except Congress.”

The creation of this sort of online “resource” isn’t really surprising. As Steve Benen of The Carpetbagger Report remarks: “A Bush White House aide famously said a few years ago, ‘We create our own reality.’ I suppose it stands to reason, then, that Bush’s supporters would want to do the same thing.”

And the whole enterprise would be quite hilarious, were it not merely pathetic. The idea that self-styled conservatives--trying to counter what they see as a too-liberal interpretation of the world’s complications by intellectuals and encyclopedia authors--need to edit history to fit their own biases simply emphasizes their minority viewpoints. Furthermore, in its effort to avoid what project leader Andy Schlafly (son of longtime conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly) calls the gossip, vulgarity, and long-winded writing of Wikipedia, this site actually insults its readers’ intelligence by trying to shield them from other opinions--not unlike what FOX News does by, say, sinking its resources into seemingly endless coverage of former Playboy playmate Anna Nicole Smith’s death, rather than reporting on the day-by-day increase of body counts from Bush’s Iraq occupation. Can’t let those readers find out what’s really happening in the world, and that most people think differently than they do, lest the sheep start to abandon their right-wing shepherds. Only chaos can ensue from that, am I right?

Of course, as Wired News points out, “Conservapedia isn’t the first example of the religious right turning to social software to reach a wider web audience--there’s also CreationWiki, an encyclopedia of creation science written from a Christian perspective.” And we all know how influential that site has been. Getting worked up about Conservapedia is probably just as much wasted energy.

READ MORE:Worst. Encyclopedia. Ever,” by Andrew Leonard (Salon); “Create Your Own Reality,” by DarkSyde (Daily Kos); “Sources, Sources,” by Carl Zimmer (The Loom); “Conservapedia,” by Jon Swift; “Repressed Republicans, Part 273,” by David Terrenoire (A Dark Planet).

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