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I’ve seen friends of mine — and television news anchors, even — laughing over Santorum’s recent statement to a group of his fellow social conservatives that “we will never have the elite, smart people on our side.” Most of the people I’ve heard who’ve talked about this have treated it as an obvious mis-statement, a Freudian slip, a gaffe. “I can’t believe he actually told the truth about conservatives, har de har,” and so on.

Rick Santorum

But that’s missing the point. Santorum’s statement is one of those things that actually means something different to people who were raised in a fanatically conservative Christian environment than it does to people who were raised in a normal place. He wasn’t speaking to normal people. He was speaking to the other kind.

For normal American people, “smart” is always good.

For fanatically conservative Christians, though, “smart” can be a hindrance to accepting God, and anything that keeps somebody from accepting God is bad. No: is worse than bad. Is evil. I was taught in Sunday school that “too much intelligence” can be a deliberate challenge that Satan places in the way of a child — something to be overcome on the way to finding faith (which is the ability to believe something without any evidence). Intelligence leads to questioning faith, and “there is a way that seemeth right unto Man.” An intelligent person is cursed with the impossibility of believing impossible-to-believe things, and believing impossible-to-believe things is the only way to salvation.

I’m not saying I believe this. I’m saying that that was the party line when I was growing up. It’s actually a sublimely effective piece of brainwashing, turning your consciousness against your own ability to reason. If my intelligence makes me question these fairytales, then it is my intelligence that is to blame. I’d call that the very definition of mind control.

I’m not the only one who had this ill logic drilled into my brain during my formative years. Hundreds of thousands of your friends, neighbors, and co-workers were similarly taught. Santorum’s statement was not a gaffe at all: it was him re-engaging this little bit of brainwashing that his followers all share with him and with one another. It’s like when George Bush would say “there is wonder-working power” in some tax cut or another, and normal people would think he was just being flowery, but people raised in conservative Christian households heard the rest of the song (“in the blood … of the lamb, there is power, power, wonder-working power in the precious blood of the lamb”) instead of whatever Bush was actually talking about for the rest of the speech. Similarly, Santorum was igniting old programming in people’s minds. It probably worked. I’m sure that Santorum’s anti-smartypants statement made his followers love him more, not less. It was the opposite of a gaffe.

I am telling you this so that you will understand the enemy a little more. That is all.

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