Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Death by Gentrification

Some Harlem Churches in Fight for Survival - NYTimes.com

Ministers from churches across Harlem said they had yet to penetrate the walls of the high-price condominiums and the million-dollar refurbished brownstones that now dominate the neighborhood. Some, in truth, expressed little desire to do so. Others said they saw the gentrification of Harlem as an opportunity, but one as yet unrealized.

The gentry don't go to church. The New Atheists of course have an easy explanation: the gentry are too smart and educated to buy superstitious nonsense.

But the gentry buy all manner of other superstitious nonsense--food fetishes, conspiracy theories, alternative medicine and a variety doctrines that are not only empirically falsified but dangerous. It isn't, for example, the churchgoing masses who have for over a decade endangered their own children and the general public by refusing to have their kids vaccinated.

There is some good news: the doctor who invented the myth that MMR vaccine caused autism has now been defrocked--or whatever it is they do to doctors who misbehave in the most serious way. The story is remarkable:

In January, after the longest investigation in its history, the council found several instances of what it said was unprofessional conduct by Dr. Wakefield. It cited his taking blood samples for his study from children at his son’s birthday party; he paid each child £5, about $7.20 today, and joked about it later. It also noted that part of the costs of Dr. Wakefield’s research was paid by lawyers for parents seeking to sue vaccine makers for damages....The disciplinary tribunal’s action came after more than a decade of controversy over the links Dr. Wakefield and associates in Britain, as well as supporters among parents of some autistic children in Britain and the United States, have made between autism and a commonly used vaccine for measles, mumps and rubella. The suggestion of a link caused use of the vaccine in Britain and elsewhere in the world to plummet, a development that critics of Dr. Wakefield said contributed to a sharp rise in measles cases in countries where the vaccine was in use...

The council said he had shown “a callous disregard” for the suffering of children involved in his research. The ruling banning him from practicing medicine on Tuesday was a sequel to the January finding...In all, Dr. Wakefield was found guilty of more than 30 charges.

“The panel concluded,” Dr. Kumar said, “that it is the only sanction that is appropriate to protect patients and is in the wider public interest, including the maintenance of public trust and confidence in the profession.” He said the sanction was “proportionate to the serious and wide-ranging findings made against him...

Dr. Wakefield resigned in February from his position as a staff researcher at Thoughtful House, an alternative medicine clinic in Austin, Tex...A 2007 annual report for the clinic has a picture of Dr. Wakefield looking into microscope with a caption that reads: “Where would we be without Dr. Wakefield and your entire team? Thank you for your courageous efforts in swimming against the tide. Without you we would still be hearing, ‘There is nothing we can do.’ Because of you we know the hope is great and the progress is attainable.

It wasn't the huddled masses who followed (ex-)Dr. Wakefield or financed his operation.

There is, of course, fashionable nonsense and unfashionable nonsense--upscale nonsense and vulgar nonsense. What's interesting is how that gets sorted out. It isn't a matter of the degree of nonsensicalness. Wakefield's alternative medicine is as nonsensical as the doctrine that humans walked with dinosaurs--equally unscientific--but you can bet his clients wouldn't be caught dead espousing Young Earth Creationism. Feng Shui is dumber than most forms of theism but you can bet also that the yuppie housewives who have their homes redesigned for high chi, and hang crystals at crucial locations to bounce the energies around, wouldn't be caught dead in church.

Theological revisionism, reductionist programs intended to make Christianity acceptable to what used to be called Modern Secular Man, are a complete failure because the target audience is as grossly superstitious as a bunch of medieval Western European peasants or Hottentots.

So here's the grand question: how can the Church exploit the superstition and stupidity of the Upper Middle Class to win them back?

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