Essay:Speculation on the Psychology of Andrew Schlafly
At some point in our lives, we’ve all come across people whose views seem over-the-top crazy. When Harold Camping came out with his May 2011 rapture date, most of us just shrugged our shoulders and blew it off. We often tend to write off these particularly extreme people. But how often do we think about why these radical people think this way? What causes them to take such preposterous views and what keeps them sustained in the face of clear proof to the contrary? Andrew Schlafly, son of infamous anti-feminist Phyllis Schlafly and founder of the ultra-conservative fundamentalist Christian website Conservapedia, is one such person. He frequently and whole-heartedly embraces ideas such as President Obama being a Muslim, liberal propaganda and bias being just about everywhere (including the Bible), homosexuality being a mental disorder, and the Earth being created only 6000 years ago. How did a Princeton- and Harvard-educated man adopt these ideas and continue to promote them despite overwhelming evidence contrary to his views?
It is likely that Schlafly grew up in a fundamentalist Christian household. Considering how conservative his mother is and how he thinks now, being raised fundamentalist Christian is a reasonable statement. A common theme of fundamentalist Christianity would undoubtedly be a very religious atmosphere. The constant, intense infusion of fundamentalist Christian dogma into young Schlafly would be a powerful force of indoctrination. A person’s mind at a young age is malleable enough to absorb such extreme doctrine and establish it as infallible (see here for more detail). It is safe to say that Andrew Schlafly was endowed with his extreme and preposterous fundamentalist views at a young age. Schlafly then went on to study at both Princeton and Harvard, two schools he must undoubtedly view now as full of deceitful liberal bias. How could extensive engineering and law educations at prestigious universities such as these not alter his radical views? This, I believe, is a testament to the power of religious indoctrination; Schlafly’s fundamentalist upbringing was more than powerful enough to resist the rational influence of an Ivy League education. His religious upbringing completely solidified in his mind the veracity of a literal interpretation of the Bible.
This thoroughly embedded notion of the correctness of literally interpreting the Bible would affect Schlafly’s denial of scientific fact in a series of steps. First is the obvious lack of modern science in the Bible; a literal interpretation forbids evolution, a 4.5 billion year old earth, and homosexuality as a natural phenomenon, among other scientific facts. Since Schlafly believes so fundamentally that a literal Bible interpretation is the correct way to look at the world, anything not in line with that interpretation must be false. His narrow and incorrect worldview prevents him from being able to take seriously scientific fact and acknowledge its veracity, no matter how obviously his views have been proven wrong. Because he now sees rational, proven scientific fact as incorrect, he now begins to view its originators as deceptive and even evil. This makes Schlafly feel compelled (and feel justified) to inappropriately slander scientific opponents (such as Charles Darwin, Richard Lenski, and many, many others). The next step his upbringing affecting his denial of scientific fact stems from the first. Once Schlafly has decisively purged his mind of anti-literalist science he has to reason why it is false. The only way a person can deny scientific fact and then attempt to give reasons why would have to be backed up with an incredibly unwavering belief in a literal interpretation of the Bible. This leads Schlafly to find unreasonable and unfounded faults in science and allows him to rationalize the use of quote mining and “one single proof” arguments, as often seen in areas such as relativity and the fossil record. Since he denies scientific fact he must somehow rationalize alternate, Bible-approved solutions to what modern science has discovered and proven. Whether he makes these new, ridiculous solutions up, finds them from other fundamentalists, or takes them from the Bible doesn’t matter, as long as he finds a fundamentalist Christian-appropriate alternative to rational, scientific fact. Once he’s taken these steps with a firm belief in the Bible’s legitimacy, alternate scientific solutions such as c-decay and modern dinosaurs become quite reasonable. Thus, intense fundamentalist Christian indoctrination at a young age set up Schlafly to be able to comfortably deny scientific fact, find unfounded faults in scientific fact, unreasonably discredit its founders and promoters, and consider preposterous Bible-approved alternates. This does well to explain how Schlafly can defy rationality in a way he thinks is both appropriate and reasonable.
I believe part of the reason Andrew Schlafly is so adamant and so uncompromising in the promotion of his own specific “scientific” beliefs and the degradation of ideas he doesn’t like or agree with is the radical, unpopular nature of his beliefs. Beliefs such as the earth being 6000 years old are often heavily scrutinized by the rest of the more sensible public and in many cases ridiculed. Schlafly most likely feels constantly under attack and responds with his own heavy criticism. His religious and “scientific” views are so fundamentally different from true scientific fact and reality that he would feel compelled to unfairly attack people who rightly disagree with him. The only way to legitimize his views would be to rigorously defend them and zealously attack dissenters. Take President Obama, for instance. Because he implemented a near-trillion dollar bailout, struggled in helping the ailing economy recover, and reformed the capitalistic health care system, among many other things, Obama is seen as a sadistic, America-hating, utterly incompetent. A bright, good-intentioned, capable liberal who was seriously hindered by uncompromising right-wingers is turned into a ruthless enemy of the United States all because he disagrees with radical views that require extremely hardnosed defending. The stubborn conservatives who obstruct Obama’s benign agenda are not to blame in Schlafly’s eyes for many of the economic/social/government problems in America because they generally agree with him. Once Schlafly’s unfounded, callous opinions against Obama were formed, he would have begun believing and then promoting baseless accusations such as Obama being a Muslim, similar to how he looks for faults in sound scientific theories that do not conform to his views. The more dissimilar one’s views are from Schlafly’s the more he will demonize them and attack their views, no matter how correct or rational his opponents are and no matter how unreasonable he has to be to do it (of course in his eyes he’s not unreasonable).
Schlafly’s religious and “scientific” views can be explained quite well this way, but why is he so extreme politically as well? Although it is only reasonable speculation to assume Schlafly was brought up in a strong fundamentalist Christian household, it is a fact that he was brought up in a very conservative one. The influence of Mother Schlafly on Andrew’s views of women and their roles, for example, is obvious. His other ultra-conservative views would have been heavily influenced as well by his mother’s very conservative, antiquated beliefs. His fiscal beliefs could be explained this way as well as by ultra-conservative social views needing ultra-conservative fiscal views to properly supplement them. I also believe, however, that his fundamental Christian beliefs, being thoroughly and irreversibly ingrained in his brain since childhood, contribute to his far-right views as well. Opinions on social political issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage can be influenced by the Bible. The Bible frowns on such practices and when one unfalteringly adheres by a literal interpretation of the Bible, concepts such as these are vehemently attacked. Because the mainstream views of the vast majority on these social issues are so different from Schlafly’s extreme views, he feels compelled to attack dissenters and promote his own beliefs to get them out there.
In Schlafly’s mind, liberal and atheistic bias and influence permeate just about all of society and poison people’s minds. He believes this nearly to the point of paranoia. This could be explained by the nature of his radical fringe beliefs. Because his views are held by so few, are so extreme compared to the vast majority of beliefs, and are not taken seriously by most people, Schlafly sees all aspects of society that aren’t in agreement with him as being liberally and atheistically biased (this could be somewhat true because society seems to be heading in a more liberal direction). To him the only places safe from malicious, deceiving bias are bastions of his own extreme fringe ideas such as his Conservapedia. Because Schlafly’s notion of truth isn’t based in reality and does not conform to most other people’s notions of truth, others must be wrong. If society and media don’t base their notion of truth and their influence on others on a literal interpretation of the Bible (and by extension, ultra-conservative political views), then it is biased by malicious, deceiving liberals and atheists out to harm the public. As Schlafly would have learned at a young age, the Bible is the root of all truth and any deviation is corrupt.
Since views like those held by Schlafly are not based in reality or scientific fact, they are covered by only a very thin veil of “logic.” When people easily break through that veil Schlafly’s mind (convinced his Bible-based views must be correct) must suffer extreme mental discomfort and anxiety. This drives him deeper into denial and irrationality as he puts forth more and more radical excuses (that he deems reasonable) to recover his beliefs. Thus, questioning and disproving his views would only further catalyze his psychological issues.
It appears that the bizarre, fallacious, radical, and unwavering psychology of Andrew Schlafly stems from his deeply-ingrained, unalterable belief in the veracity of a literal interpretation of the Bible. He is a prime example of the way one’s environment can shape their psychology and even their most deeply held views in an essentially permanent way. He demonstrates that radical, unpopular, and absurd views will lead someone to ruthless, unfounded attacks on dissenters and zealous, outlandish defense of their own views. Would he ever entertain the notion that this is a likely explanation for his views and be able to see how severely misguided he is? Highly unlikely (a better question would be can he possibly entertain such notions). All in all, Andrew Schlafly is an excellent example of the most distorted a sane psyche can achieve in regards to opinions on politics, truth, and reality.