The base of the Republican Party is to be pitied more than feared. They have literally been conditioned to fear their own brains. Their religious indoctrination has actually destroyed their ability to reason. No wonder they eagerly believe in Fox News' alternative reality.
Outside observers here in the US and overseas shake their heads in wonderment over just how it is that so many Republicans seem to literally come from somewhere else, say another planet.
"How on earth could they believe" fill-in-the-blank: that global warming is not real, that evolution never happened, that an embryo is a "person," that the right to carry a gun equals "security," that President Obama is a socialist, communist, Muslim, the Antichrist, soft on terror, a dangerous man, not a Christian, the wrong sort of Christian or that history text books should reflect America's "Christian country" status...
that Santorum could ever become president!
To help readers understand the mindset that leads to the embrace of falsehood as truth maybe I can help. I am a former insider of the religious right and the evangelical movement as I describe in my book Crazy for God: How I Grew Up as One of the Elect, Helped Found the Religious Right, and Lived to Take All (or Almost All) of It Back.
Insider Fact One, the backbone of the Republican Party is the American Evangelical community and the conservative Roman Catholic community.
Insider Fact Two, American Evangelicals and conservative Roman Catholics are raised from birth to reject common sense, learning and progress in favor of a literal interpretation of the Bible.
How do these facts contribute to the state in which the ever more fringe Republican Party finds itself in?
Simple: if your base is a group that has been trained to reject truth in favor of faith in faith, they will believe anything because rejection of what "everyone else believes" is a bedrock article of faith and your very identity.
Let's be blunt: science has rendered a literal interpretation of any scripture, be it the Bible, Koran, whatever, as impossible. For many religious people this means that they have sought out deeper meanings in a spirituality that depends on a more intuitive sense of meaning and purpose than a slavish attempt to follow texts that have been simply disproven.
But for another group -- the fundamentalists of all religions -- modernity has been "answered" by opting out or attacking facts as lies.
Enter Madrassas of all kinds, literal -- as in Pakistan -- or virtual -- as in the Evangelical home school movement and private school movement. Enter the Evangelical TV and radio and publishing industries and mega churches as personality cults. Enter the "conservative" Roman Catholic bishops, cut off from their own far more tolerant (and liberal) flocks.
The rise of the religious right within religion is designed intentionally to isolate, indoctrinate and "protect" from challenging ideas. Fundamentalist leaders, be they conservative bishops or evangelical leaders, do this because actual true information is no longer helpful to the fundamentalist religious cause. So that cause becomes about controlling the minds of the faithful by cutting them off from other opinions.
Having circled the wagons and gone inward, the American evangelical community and conservative Roman Catholics now speak their own language, have their own culture, and they despise and fear the country they dwell in as virtual strangers. This is a self-imposed exile.
But when general elections come along the evangelical community, Roman Catholic bishops' et al, like some hibernating creature, are forced (as it were) from their cave. For a brief moment they must interact with the larger world in the full light of day.
When the fundamentalist, anti-modern community emerges the rest of the population gets a rare look at how the conservative reactionary "brain" of fundamentalism works. All of a sudden the larger world is reminded that there really are people like the ultra-conservative Roman Catholic bishops who actually think contraceptives are wicked things. All of a sudden the larger world is reminded that right here amongst us are people who believe that Satan is attacking us, that we should attack Iran to make Israel safe for Jesus' return, that a sperm and egg joined 5 seconds ago is a "person", that evolution is a secularist plot, that the Federal Reserve is of the devil, etc., etc.
And the cry goes up (once again) "How could they believe this stuff?"
It takes training for years to reject what is true. That training starts in a million Sunday schools and carries on through home schooling or private religious "education" and is completed in a hundred alternative Christian "colleges." It is sustained by a network of magazines like Christianity Today, World and many more. It has its own celebrity culture with heroes that no one outside the religious ghetto has heard of but who are selling literally millions of books to their followers.
Is it any wonder that a bedrock article of faith in the Republican Party is now that public schools are evil? Is it any wonder Santorum says he objects to President Obama saying all kids should work to go to college? In fact anything public and open to accountability is to be feared. Education is feared most of all.
All public space is hated because in that space, from infrastructure projects to the Federal Reserve to the UN to all government agencies, there has to be an acceptable baseline of fact that everyone buys into. Universities and the media -- both places where ideas are discussed openly -- are hated most of all.
So public space is demonized because by its very nature it falls outside of the control of the "mullahs," -- i.e. the pastors and bishops and celebrity religious leaders that are fighting off facts to maintain their control of their flocks. And the government is demonized because it imposes a rule of law over and above the Bible's mandates.
And that is why "They" -- the bedrock supporters of the Republican Party -- do what they do and allow a Santorum to emerge as a serious candidate. The base of the Republican Party don't live here in our world anymore, they have moved to the Bronze Age and like it there.
The problem is that the "conservatives" (who are actually revolutionaries) are not content to just live in their private space and indoctrinate their children. They want to make the rest of us reject facts and move into their time machine with them and travel back to a world safe from truth.
And the far right of the evangelical movement and far right Roman Catholic bishops are also at war with their more moderate people.
There are many moderate religious people (I'm one), as the emergence of the Wild Goose Festival proves. Wild Goose is set to be held for the second year running in June and attracts several thousand religious people including many moderate evangelicals and Roman Catholics committed to saving religion from fanatics. Moreover I'm in the middle of a speaking tour to colleges and churches, many with religious affiliations called "Theocracy or Democracy?" and far from being chased out of town I'm welcomed by many religious people. To them I'm defending religion by trying to separate faith from politics and spirituality from fundamentalism.
So by no means am I saying that all religious people fit the description of the fanatics made here. But to the extent that the evangelical/Roman Catholic fanatical wing of American religion has taken over the Republican Party their motto seems to be -- lies are truth! From the Creationist Museum to the latest falsehood about how the Dutch are killing their elderly or that Obama is "anti-religion" because he wants all women to have access to contraception, the reaction is to just dig the falsehood hole deeper and deeper.
Brains can be altered by how they are abused and misused from early childhood on. In that sense the evangelical and conservative Roman Catholic fundamentalists are damaged people. They are hurting and lost and lashing out at reality itself. And they are presiding over the destruction of the Republican Party.
Frank Schaeffer is a writer. His new book is Sex, Mom, and God: How the Bible's Strange Take on Sex Led to Crazy Politics--and How I Learned to Love Women (and Jesus) Anyway