SOME YEARS AGO A FRIEND told me about a researcher who claimed to have uncovered a disturbing fact about humans.
On average, this researcher said, most people tend to marry someone less intelligent than they are, with the result that we are slowly becoming less intelligent as a species.
For once in my life, I actually was able to respond with clarity in the moment.
I said, without hesitation, "That's not true."
When my friend objected that I had not done the same research, I replied that I didn't need to—that there were two people in every marriage, and therefore, one person marries up for every person who marries down.
On average, it has to come out even.
The point of that little story is that no matter how authoritative an argument sounds, we can often protect ourselves from being misled if we simply apply a little common sense.
It's a good thing to remember when reading those forwarded emails.
The ongoing propaganda from the extreme right wing has become more frightening recently.
It's no longer just aimed at getting us to vote against democrats or liberals, or nurturing subtle racism, or getting us to deny women or gays their rights.
Now it's aimed at turning American against American.
The only way it can accomplish this, of course, is if we are stupid enough to suspend our common sense.
The most recent example is titled "Can a good Muslim be a good American? "
It starts right out with an authoritarian tone, telling the reader what he or she "needs" to do":
"This is very interesting and we all need to read it from start to finish and send it on to everyone. "
Having established who's boss, it then moves quickly to smear the group in question:
"Maybe this is why our American Muslims are so quiet and not speaking out about any atrocities. Can a good Muslim be a good American? "
Notice the reference to "our American Muslims " with that faint hint of ownership about it—the implication that "they" are not "our" equals.
The letter next moves to the usual tactic of establishing a position of authority which is impossible to challenge because we aren't actually told who the authority is:
"This question was forwarded to a friend who worked in Saudi Arabia for 20 years.
The following is his reply: "
So, since we don't know who the author is, or who the "friend" is, why should we believe a word of what follows?
The answer, of course, is that we shouldn't .
Even if we assume—and it's a pretty big assumption—that the friend isn't simply a fictional expert, working in a country (even for twenty years) doesn't make you an expert on that country's religion.
There's actually nothing in the list which follows which couldn't have been dug up on the internet in half an hour.
So just remember to apply some common sense, as we work our way through the list.
Ready? Here goes...
Can a good Muslim be a good American?
"Theologically - no. . . Because his allegiance is to Allah, The moon God of Arabia."
So we're supposed to believe that an American who happens to worship Allah cannot have any allegiance to the United States.
Notice the cute little "moon God" phrase, designed to make Islam sound primitive.
And notice the mention of Arabia, intended to make Islam sound foreign.
It's all very nicely done, if you're a fan of propaganda, but there's a big problem buying into this nonsense if you're a fan of common sense.
Ask yourself whether a good Christian can be a good American, then consider the following response:
Theologically - no. . . Because his allegiance is to Yahweh, The star God of ancient Israel.
See the difficulty? Yahweh, the God of Christians, was originally the national God of Israel, and was originally one of the "stars of El".
And Yahweh is still the God of Israel.
But do you really believe, for a moment, that that means a Christian can't be loyal to the United States?
Of course you don't, and the reason is that you know some Christians, and you know from experience that for most of them religion is one thing and patriotism is another.
A real-life Christian, like a real-life Muslim, does not get his or her God confused with his or her country.
Are there some Christians in America who don't think this way, whose religious loyalty would allow them to break laws, even kill fellow Americans?
Of course there are.
And they have been known to assassinate other American Christians.
But they are a tiny minority, and not any more representative of the average good Christian than an Islamic terrorist is representative of the average good Muslim.
That's just the first point in the email's list.
There are nine more to come.
Next time We'll take up numbers
two through seven...