A reader writes:
In your Wednesday post "Dobson, Armageddon, and Foreign Policy" you noted that the untouchable James Dobson, "the most influential man in the Republican base", is "quite clearly out of his mind". I could not agree more. Reading the bizarre transcript you quote of his interview with author Joel C. Rosenberg ("Jesus... is moving in the Middle East"), I was reminded of my teenage nephew and his friends playing one of their online virtual-reality role-playing games - most notably their favorite: "World of Warcraft" (WOW). As you know, WOW is an MMORPG, a "massive multiplayer online role-playing game", a "multiplayer computer role-playing game that enables thousands [actually, millions] of players to play in an evolving virtual world at the same time over the Internet." The only difference I can see between MMORPGs and fundamentalist sects is that the kids know they're playing a game, while Dobson and Rosenberg think their own "World of Rapture" is actually real. They are - literally - out of their minds.
Couple that insight with your comment that:
"[T]he Republican party has not been very keen on reason these past few years. What matters is faith in a leader and unremitting violence in accomplishing goals. Whatever else this is, it isn't conservatism as I have come to understand it."
and you can see why Sam Harris, in his book "The End of Faith" and in his online discussion with you, is so concerned: our belief systems, our "massive multiplayer real-life role-playing games", when unmoored from reality, propelled by the paranoid delusions of dogmatic fundamentalist cults (whether Islamist, Christianist or Communist) and supplied with weapons of mass destruction, bring our very survival in the next century into question...
The ancient world fell. So might we - and by "we" I do not mean just the United States, but our whole evolving modern global civilization. I do not think that will happen - but it certainly could. It is possible. And I know you share that concern. If we do fail and fall, it will be an expression of sheer human insanity, of fear and paranoia and self-destruction overwhelming love and courage and creativity in a huge psychotic break - the kind of break already enjoyed by Dobson and Rosenberg. If we survive these times, it will be because we are forced to find a better answer than either rational atheism or raptural nihilism. This is a test - an evolutionary challenge. So although I disagree strongly with Sam about the existence of God and the nature of faith, I am with him 100% in his call to confront our own beliefs - and the beliefs of the world's fundamentalists - with a large dose of cold reality. We can no longer afford to coddle insanity in the name of faith. The paranoid narratives of the world's fundamentalisms - including secular fundamentalisms - must be demonstrated to be the fantasies they are.
Fundamentalists - including our home-grown variety - need to have their thinking challenged. There are at least two good ways to do that: Cognitive therapy - the public variety - and humor.
Both James Dobson and Joel C. Rosenberg are public figures making public arguments that effect our collective future (as Rosenberg said, "…given the events going on in our world today, people at the Pentagon, people at the CIA, people at the White House are asking to sit down and talk [with me] about these issues, to understand the Biblical perspective…"). They should be challenged publicly without deference to their "faith" status.
Serious cognitive challenges to this insanity must be offered. Both you and Sam helped begin that process with your recent books ("The Conservative Soul" and "The End of Faith", respectively), though from very different angles. But, with all due respect, nothing matches the power of... South Park:
While this famous episode does not address fundamentalism directly, it would allow your readers to get a first-hand (well, second-hand) glimpse of an MMORPG in action: "World of Warcraft" as experienced by South Park fourth-graders Stan, Kyle, Cartman and Kenny. It's only a short leap from there to James Dobson and "World of Rapture".