The Unheard Hearing

Regarding the separation of church and science

October 8, 2018 in THE KITCHEN SINK | Comments (0)

By Larry Joseph Calloway

Christine Blasey Ford, a research psychologist, was a stranger in that strange land, the United States Senate, and so her impromptu response to the two most definitive questions by the Democrats was strange. 

When Sen. Feinstein asked how she was sure her sexual assailant was Justice Brett Kavanaugh, Ford responded: 

“In the same way that I’m sure I know I am talking to you right now. It’s just basic memory functions. And also just the level of norepinephrine and epinephrine in the brain that sort of encodes — that transmitter encodes — memories in the hippocampus.  And so trauma-related experience, then, is kind of locked there, whereas other details kind of drift.”

And when Sen. Leahy followed up with the question, “What is the strongest memory of the incident, something that you cannot forget?” Ford responded:

“Indelible in the hippocampus is the laughter, the laughter, the uproarious laughter between the two, and their having fun at my expense.”

It occurred to me that these Spockian responses could be explained psychologically as Ford’s distancing herself from the terror of reliving an attempted rape when she was 15, or formally that as a witness to power she was suppressing her tears. In Heinlein’s “Stranger in a Strange Land,” (Exodus 2:22) there are respected professionals called Witnesses who can be called to testify exactly and relevantly what happened without emotion or ego. 

Like Ford.  Unlike others in this — to use the common word for anything fictional non-fictional on TV — show. She was the only scientific thinker in it.

The most definitive question from the other hemisphere of this surgically divided brain of the American state, the Republicans, was by Sen. Kennedy to Kavanaugh: “Do you believe in God?”

“I do,” said Kavanaugh without hesitation.

Kennedy followed by asking him if he could look him in the eye and swear “before God and the nation” that all he had said was true. He did.

Two things about this exchange impressed me. The first, of course, is that no American politician regardless of party would ever declare in public that they do not believe in God. This cultural absolute is powered by the tyranny of the majority. Non-believers can lie without worrying about the Decalogue dicta to not take the name of the Lord in vain or bear false witness any more than they worry about committing adultery.  For, if God does not exist all things are lawful (Dostoyevsky).

The other thing is that Republicans do not in practice honor the “separation of church and state,” as generations of constitutional lawyers have called it. This is one explanation how we got a Supreme Court with a majority of Catholic-trained men, two of whom went to the same small Catholic prep school near Washington. 

And this also explains why so many Protestant Christians, with unusual ecumenical spirit and prayers about God’s will, supported the Republican candidate for president, ignoring Trump’s inconvenient record of adultery and other probable sins.

“The Great Separation,” as Mark Illa, a historian of political theology, calls the principal behind the unique Exclusion Clause in the American constitution, goes back to the 17th Century philosopher Hobbes, who was reacting to the ravages of 150 years of religious wars. Instead of dealing with the use of religion by politicians, Hobbes changed the subject. Another philosopher at the birth of science, Spinoza, dealt with it. Before turning to freedom of thought, his political-theological essay advocates studying the Bible in the same way you would study the natural world. Sweeping away the superstitious revealed truths of religion is necessary and sufficient to establish free thought and expression in the world.

Spurned as an athiest, the sephardic jew Spinoza was formally shunned by his synagogue and threatened with death by others in Amsterdam. Four centuries later, a scientist who told the truth was similarly estranged. I was saddened.