Monday, February 20, 2006

"Propaganda Masquerading As Science"

The use of purported "scientific evidence" to support some of the more onerous conservative positions makes for some interesting analysis. It's a bold attempt at playing both sides of the ideological fence at the same time. On one hand, Christian fundamentalists decry the very existence of homosexuality as evil on a scriptural basis; excerpts from the books of Genesis, Leviticus, Romans and Corinthians are commonly used to invoke God's prohibition against such. Unfortunately for anti-gay religious groups, their hardline moralism leaves a bad taste in many people's mouths. Hence the rise of pseudo-scientific analysis that attempts to provide real-world evidence to support conservative religious beliefs.

Many issues have become targets for this sort of propagandist false science. The theory of evolution is a favorite target, as is the right to a legal abortion. But perhaps no cause in the Christian fundamentalist platform has received as much help from phony science as has the anti-gay agenda. And no one has been more at the forefront of this dubious cause than Dr. Paul Cameron.

From The Southern Poverty Law Center:

Under the guise of chairman of the Family Research Institute, his statistical chop shop in Colorado Springs, Colo., Cameron has published dozens upon dozens of research studies that offer homophobes a supposedly scientific justification for their prejudices by invariably concluding that gays and lesbians are dangerous and diseased perverts.


While he makes no attempt to disguise his personal bias, Cameron dresses up his studies with footnotes, bibliographies and charts, and then publishes them in bogus "academic" journals. His work is propaganda masquerading as science and has been repeatedly unmasked as such by many legitimate scientists. Cameron himself has been cast out of both the American Psychological Association and the American Sociological Association. The ASA declared that, "Dr. Cameron has consistently misinterpreted and misrepresented sociological research on sexuality, homosexuality, and lesbianism."

But no matter how low his professional reputation sinks or how patently ludicrous his findings become (one recent Cameron study concluded that lesbians are 300 times more likely to die in car accidents than heterosexual women), the social impact of Cameron's so-called research far exceeds that of all but a few genuine research psychologists. Cameron's findings are repeated ad nauseum by lawmakers, radio talk show hosts, preachers and anti-gay activists across the country.

I should add to that litany "right-wing bloggers" as I've seen those same statistics used on other blogs (and here, in fact). Cameron's "work" essentially proves the lie of the theological argument: that it is so evident in the Bible that homosexuality is a grave sin that U.S. statutory law and even the Constitution itself ought to be changed in opposition to it. Cameron's bogus studies are a tacit admission that the underlying theology is weak and does not, by itself, make a convincing argument. In a country that self-identifies as 80% Christian, there should be no need for fabricated studies to bolster the theological argument. Unless, of course, the conservative religious prohibition against homosexuality has its roots in something deeper than religious scripture.

I, for one, believe it does. The term "homophobia" gets bandied about quite a bit, but I really believe it applies in this instance. Those who support political and social movements that attempt to eliminate or at least discourage homosexuality from having free expression in our society generally lay claim to the issue as a moral one. But I see a deeper seated uneasiness; a visceral disdain for the notion that sexuality has more facets than certain ancient texts were willing to elaborate upon. The use of Cameron's work seems to be an attempt to grab further moral traction for anti-gay beliefs; a tacit admission that the scriptural prohibition simply is not compelling enough and, thus, the appearance of science is needed to add legitimacy. This, in fact, undermines the entire argument for a faith-based belief when science is seen as a legitimizing agent needed to properly ground spiritualism in reality.

The visceral nature of the unease that many conservatives feel with homosexuality is what leads to garbage like Cameron's research getting mainstream attention. Acceptance of homosexuality in society requires a closer look at sexuality in general, which, given the sexually repressed culture of the United States, tends to feed the level of discomfort that causes many to turn to scriptural explanations. This is, in effect, the nature of "homophobia": an irrational fear of mainstream homosexuality because of an emotional discomfort with sexual issues and societal change in general. This is what leads many otherwise rational, compassionate people to support gay marriage bans that shatter all hope of a normal family life for many of their fellow Americans. This is also why a greater awareness of the real impact of these laws tend to erode their support. Individual life stories elevate the issues of homosexuality out of the murkiness of misunderstood theology and fabricated science and into the everyday realm of human-to-human interaction. It's the same way all civil rights actions truly succeed; not by laws, though those are important, but by understanding bred from empathy and understanding.

Paul Cameron is, in my opinion, a deeply disturbed individual. I encourage everyone to read the full article from SPLC to get an idea of the lengths to which this man has gone to demonize homosexuality. His is a sociopathic and ultimately self-destructive obsession, which would be pitiable if not for its horrid impact on our culture. The phony statistics and studies that Cameron is responsible for creating have been used far and wide across the conservative Christian spectrum and are still recycled today. They are the very opposite of science; ignorance, vile bigotry and religious literalism mixed to form a toxic sludge of self-righteous hatred not unlike the witch-burning fervor of days past.

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