alien & sedition.
Wednesday, December 13, 2006
  Let Me Lie to You

One of the projects I'll be undertaking here at a&s is a look at the history of evangelical Christians as a political force. Since I'm an agnostic ex-Catholic from the West Coast currently living in the Second Most Godless Neighborhood in Brooklyn*, I'll be approaching the subject without any particular claim to expertise - just an open mind and a reliance on good sources.

One of the best online sources of discussion about American evangelicalism is slacktivist, a blog by Fred Clark - himself an evangelical, and one of the most thoughtful observers of the subject I have found. Clark is engaged across a variety of subjects, but his ongoing deconstruction of the Left Behind novels is officially the Very Best Thing on the Internets.

His most recent LB post cites Mark Noll's classic The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind ("The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind..."). Noll's "epistle from a wounded lover" ponders

...a picture of an evangelical world almost completely adrift in using the mind for careful thought about the world.... [E]vangelicals -- bereft of self-criticism, intellectual subtlety, or an awareness of complexity -- are blown about by every wind of apocalyptic speculation and enslaved to the cruder spirits of populist science.

Evangelical thought was not always this way. In the mid-nineteenth century evangelical colleges helped foster a flourishing intellectual life, devoted to democratic principles and enthralled with the scientific revolution as exemplified by the work of Francis Bacon.

And then Darwin happened, and that's another story entirely.

Clark observes one of the organizing principles of the LB novels:

One of the stranger things about LB is the way the authors seem to think that their novel, their work of fiction, serves as "proof" of their [premillenial dispensationalist] claims. They seem to think it not only illustrates, but demonstrates, that faith conquers reason and that Scofield's notes are canonical rather than heretical. They've created a fictional reality in which their weird theories are true. In this fictional world, all who disagree appear as fools.

When you refuse to abide the common rules of defining reality, you're forced to create your own, and to push and push for your airless worldview against the threatening hegemony of intellectual honesty. Faith must conquer reason. This dynamic is at work as much within evangelical circles, as between evangelicals and others. There is no evangelical consensus on standards of truth, but there is an aggressive faction of mindless fundamentalists determined to impose its own truth on others, because to attempt anything less would be to concede the collapse of its entire worldview.

And thus, for now, fundamentalist evangelicals make perfect partners for a party that claims to make its own reality - and, no matter the facts, is determined always to stay the course.

*All statistics made up


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Critical analysis of the American conservative movement from a progressive perspective. Also some stuff about the Mets.

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