September 19, 2007

The earth can be any shape you want it

flat-earth-society.jpg A few weeks ago, Christian comedian Sherri Shepherd posted a message on her web site.

To those of you who prayed... let me tell you ... PRAYERS WORK! Because it is a miracle of God that I am now a co-host on The View... Now just keep praying, that every morning I don't put my foot in my mouth...

Guess her fans weren't praying hard enough, 'cause in a discussion on evolution, Shepherd left open the possibility that the world might be flat, saying she "never thought about it" (and apparently wasn't about to begin now).

I met Shepherd and saw her perform while researching my chapter on Christian comedy. I liked her quite a bit. First of all, her stand-up is amazingly good. I mean, way better than most comedians you see on the cable TV. She has a confessional, storytelling style that forgoes punchlines in favor of a steadily building yet totally unpredictable wave of hilarity. I don't watch The View, so I have no idea if this comes through in that format (and I can't find any clips online, not even on GodTube, the fastest growing site on the internets), but you'll have to trust me. (Or perhaps my friend, regular commenter and anti-Christian bigot Jake can back me up. He accompanied me to the show with great trepidation and came out totally won over).

More than that, Shepherd struck me as pretty bright. Not the kind of person who would entertain the idea that the earth is flat. So I think there are a couple of possibilities as to what happened here.

The most likely one is that she suspected (not entirely incorrectly) that Whoopi Goldberg was attempting to lead her into a trap. Sensing that it might be hard to get out of, she opted instead not to step inside at all, even if that meant dodging a question that she would have been quite comfortable answering in other circumstances.

Alternately, or perhaps as a contributing factor, Shepherd must be keenly aware, in her new position as a celebrity, of Corinthians 10:32, "Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God." Perhaps, not being steeped in the finer points of "creation science," she had a moment of panic: Maybe the Bible does say something about the earth being flat. Even if it were just the smallest doubt, she might prefer to dodge the question rather than say something potentially unbiblical to an audience of millions. Apparently Shepherd apologized today for having a "brain fart" (clip anyone? clip), but that could just be because she consulted her pastor who told her that, yes, the earth is round and creationists have no problem with that.

It should be noted, in case anyone is concerned, that Shepherd's open-mindeness about the shape of the planet does not represent even the fringiest strain of evangelical thought or Bible science. There are no flat-earthers anymore, Christian or otherwise (I looked hard). There's a minute fringe that... well, I'd better save something for the book tour. Suffice it to say that a flat earth is not a creationist belief, and no doubt creationists are cringing at being made to "look stupid" (I know, I know.)

On the other hand, Shepherd's hesitation to reject the notion outright does speak to the profound antipathy to natural science that is the bedrock of creationism and to the anti-intellectualism that infuses much (though not all) evangelicalism in general. So while it would be incorrect to say creationists "think the world is flat," it is perfectly accurate to say that instilling creationism in people seriously degrades their ability to think rationally (or at least scientifically) at all.

Having come to like and admire many evangelicals in the pop culture scene, I had hoped that Shepherd would be a kind of antitode to Elisabeth Hasselbeck — a woman who could show the world that not all evangelicals are humorless, uptight scolds. But I'm afraid that she's now going to be permanently known for something even worse.

Posted by Daniel Radosh


"PRAYERS WORK! Because it is a miracle of God that I am now a co-host on The View."

On the other hand, the scores of us who were praying that she didn't become co-host on The View feel betrayed by God.

I'm actually glad God ignored the prayers from, say, Darfur to help round out the cast of the View.
One has to have priorities.

Speaking of God's plans
and miracles

George W. Bush used the term "the Internets" three years ago, in a debate with John Kerry. When is it going to cease to be de rigueur for even professionally remunerated Esquire humorists to desist from this very, very juvenile jab at ... what? Bush's technophobia? Oooh, that's good stuff right there.

Martin, babe, we say "the internets" now because "the internets" is how we feel.

As perhaps the only reader of this site willing to admit that he actually saw that exchange when it happened, I can tell you that just after that clip, while trying to demonstrate that things clearly have changed since biblical times, and that perhaps God built evolution and change into His divine plan, Barbara Walters said "(and now) we have the internets."

I think the prevalence of "the internets" as a referent for "the internet," much like "interweb" "interwebs" or "the interweb" has far less to do with Bush's inability to speak English properly and far more to do with the lulz.

As far back as 1995, my roommate and I would say things like, "my internets are broken". I'm not exactly sure why we thought it was funny. In any case, the term and its usage certainly predates 2004 GWB. Heck, the novel 'Ender's Game', written in 1985, referred to the then fictional global information network as "the nets".

They don't think the world is flat but they may be forced to believe that the sun goes around it...

Wouldn't they?

BTW, I hear that the belief *that the belief* was once common that the world is flat is false. That Washington Irving is responsible for this. I think Terry Jones of Monty Python pointed this out.

Oh, and regarding the term "Internets": Anyone using it not in jest, even once, is a dope. I can prove this...

First, the usage is still a weird kind of easy minstrelsy (albeit not the racial kind) and a really cheap laugh.

Second, mypalmike's evidence is news to me. I still maintain that there has been a massive spike in the term's use since 2004, nearly all of it having to do with GWB. I think to deny that e.g. Radosh is essentially referencing GWB here is useless. Even if the term predates 2004.

Third, I don't mean to pick on Radosh, and I certainly never called him a dope. He was just my randomly chosen victim on this verbal tic that really does drive me up the wall.

Oh, and I didn't know Baba Wawa said that, which in this context seems pretty crucial. Of course, Radosh wasn't really referring to that anyway. I assume it was not meant satirically? She honestly thinks it's called that?

For what it's worth, I had completely forgotten, until you brought it up, that the term originated (or entered popular usage) with GWB. I don't use it to mock him or anyone. Rather, it's become a reflexive way to puncture the pomposity of talking about The Internet, which pomposity still somehow survives in 2007, as though The Internet was anything special.

Or, as Jess puts it, for the lulz. A phrase that is similarly self-puncturing.

On a separate but neighboring note: If you discovered, there was a deity claiming responsibility for you winning an award, would you, and if so, how would you deal with it at the podium?

Oops. That was me...

Complaining about how passť the phrase "the internets" is is soooooo early 2006.

Saying something is sooo early 2006 is sooo early 2003. Like, gag me with a spoon.

Title of the post is a reference to Thomas Dolby's album title track, "The Flat Earth," a song that is hauntingly beautiful, if perhaps sophomorically cryptic.

I was a huge fan of his in my tween years. Radosh, do you know he's started touring again after a 20-year hiatus, and has suggested he may start recording again?

"There are no flat-earthers anymore, Christian or otherwise (I looked hard)."

I hate to admit it is true, but there ARE so-called "flat-earthers". I also hate to advertise for this message board. They have some of the most ignorant arguments there. It wouldn't be so bad if they were just playing "devil's advocate" or debating hypothetically, but some of the members ACTUALLY BELIEVE the earth is flat, there is an "ice wall" with guards and NASA is part of a government conspiracy. I could go on, but it is just soooo ridiculous. You really have to read it to believe it, but I don't advocate going to the website - you may lose a few IQ points.


BTW - I found this article randomly and felt compelled to post about the modern-day flat-earthers.

It's true that saying something is sooo early 2006 is sooo early 2003. But I said it was soooooo early 2006. Try to keep up.

icebook - Yeah, I'm aware of those forums. I spent a lot of time perusing them. And I'm convinced for several reasons (e.g, the ice wall, which does not exist in "classical" flat earthism) that it's a deadpan hoax, perhaps spiced up by a couple of people with a paranoid delusion disorder that happens to express itself as flat-earthism.

Hmmm. I think it's my cue to say, "Pretending that people are still inordinately pompous (puncture-worthily pompous) about the Internet is sooo 2005," but-- I take your explanation at face value, so I won't.

"Internets" is "internet" in Yiddish. Emes.

"...I'm convinced for several reasons...that it's a deadpan hoax..."

I hope, for the sake of humanity, you are correct. That forum really makes me sad. I have a hard time contemplating the ignorant things people believe, think, do and say.

My stepson posts there b/c he loves to argue (let me tell ya). Hopefully, that is what they are all doing. Maybe they are actors, role-playing. Yeah, now I feel better. Thanks

Hello, nice piece here. There is another, third possibility that you have not considered: that the woman is as dumb as a box of rocks.

There is not insult implied, don't get me wrong. There are people out there who don't have the mental equipment that an average person does. That is not anyone's fault. Sheri Shepherd may actually be as dumb as she appeared when she denied evolution and questioned the rotundness of our planet.

Just another possibility I wanted to share with you.

Steven -- like I said, I talked to Shepherd one on one for half an hour, heard her speak to a group for nearly an hour, and saw her perform. She may believe dumb things, but she's not dumb. At all. Failure to understand the distinction is one reason those of us who accept evolution have been unable to make inroads against creationism.

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