If I lived in Kansas, I'd be checking plane fares to anywhere right about now. I'd be out of there so fast my shadow would have to catch a later flight.
Not to dump on Kansas. The Sunflower State has contributed much to this country. It has given us spicy jazz and amber waves of grain. Given us American icons like Amelia Earhart, Buster Keaton and Damon Runyon.
Unfortunately, it just gave us something else - a disturbing example of religious zealotry run amok. Meaning, of course, last week's decision by the state board of education to adopt classroom science standards that do not require the teaching of evolution. It seems the religious conservatives on the board are making an end run into Kansas classrooms. Having been told repeatedly by the courts that they cannot force schools to teach so-called "creation science," the Christian right has chosen instead to effectively banish the opposition.
The likely result is that a Kansas education in science will soon be worth about as much as an Iraqi education in diplomacy.
And if this all sounds like a rerun to you, that's because it is. Nineteen twenty-five. The Scopes monkey trial. Clarence Darrow squaring off against William Jennings Bryan over the fate of a Tennessee educator arrested after he dared teach Charles Darwin's theory that humanity evolved from lower animals.
Tennessee won in court, saw the decision reversed on appeal, and has since had to live with the historical black eye of being the state that arrested a science teacher for teaching science. You'd think the lesson would have thus been learned, but evidently they don't teach history so well in Kansas, either. Why else would we be stumbling down this road again toward an unnecessary and unproductive argument over how the world began?
Put aside the fact that it makes the state seem positively medieval. Here's the thing I keep coming back to: Why are those who accept every Bible passage as literal truth so fanatical in their quest to make the rest of us nod assent? If you know what you know, why do you need to be seconded in that knowledge by anyone, much less an agency of the government? If you know what you know, it seems as if you would be serene in the celebration of it.
But in the roughly 20 years since the Christian right coalesced as a political force, in all the time they've sought by hook and crook to make their beliefs the law of the land, serenity is an attribute they have seldom shown. Indeed, it's not too much to say that the characteristic that seems to mark them more, curiously enough, is an abiding lack of faith.
No faith in their ability to survive unaided in the marketplace of ideas. No faith in what they say they know. No faith in their ability to pass that knowledge to their kids. No faith - only the fear that conflicting ideas and competing beliefs pose imminent threat, that they and their children must be kept hermetically sealed, because exposure to opposing views, or even simple questions, is destructive to their convictions.
For what it's worth, I've never perceived evolution theory as incompatible with religious faith. It contradicts the letter of Genesis, yes. But not the essence. For me, at least, it confirms the essence - that we are not accidents, that there is an author to this work.
Think about it. We're told that humans and apes evolved from a common ancestor. We're told that before this there were dinosaurs and before that there were cellular creatures and before that, there was the primordial planet, formed from the debris of a massive explosion, a "Big Bang" that marked the birth of the universe.
And I say, Fine. Who lit the fuse on the bang? What existed prior to the beginning? And what will be here after the end?
Only one name suggests itself to me.
Which leaves me marveling at the weak-kneed creed espoused by some, a belief so flimsy it totters and quails at the first gust of contradiction. Is their God so small that he can be threatened by Charles Darwin?
Mine is not.