Gene Expression

The Evangelical war for science?

NPR has a piece, Evangelical Leaders Urge Action on Climate Change. Paging Chris Mooney for commentary (and Ed Brayton).

You can see the full list of signatories here, I was surprised that some heavy hitters are on the list. For example, the presidents of Calvin College, Wheaton College and Whitworth College. This isn’t selection biased from the liberal wing of the evangelical movement (though some of those are there). Calvin is American’s premier Reformed liberal arts institution, and produced Alvin Platinga, the Protestant philosopher in the United States. Wheaton has been called the “Harvard of Evangelical America” (Billy Graham’s alma mater), while Whitworth is notable because Stephen C. Meyer of The Discovery Institute received his undergraduate degrees and taught there. This move doesn’t surprise me, evangelicals often follow the trends of the culture as a whole.

Today we tend to see evangelicals as foot-soldiers in the right-wing of the cultures wars, but this is an ahistorical perception. In fact, the contention is falsified in strong form by the fact that black Americans avow an orthodox Christianity, but nevertheless produce an elite political class aligned with the Left. It is well known that progressive politicians of the past, like William Jennings Bryan, were propelled by the “Old Time Religion,” but even more recently you find peculiar factual nuggets that might surprise. Many readers might know that the association of the evangelicals with the pro-life movement was a phenomenon that took root several years after Roe vs. Wade, but in Catholicism and Freedom historian John T. McGreevy states that in the late 1960s Christianity Today published pieces cautiously optimistic of the trend of abortion laws (this was a time when men like Ronald Reagan were signing legislation liberalizing access to abortion).

Taking a step back from specific policy implications, I think this goes back to my contention that for secularists we should ultimately adhere to a nominalist conception of religion. By nominalism, I simply mean that religion and religious beliefs are names and associations of behaviors with those names, but they aren’t fundamentally separate real and distinct entities. This means that religion can take many faces, and cognitive science tells us that people are masterful fabulizers, lying to our heart’s content. Religious people obviously can not take a nominalist stance toward their beliefs, because they imbue them with ontological significance. Seculars on the other hand view religion as a man-made phenomenon, and we should be aware that “religion” can inhabit a vast interpretative sample space. In the attached statement by evangelical leaders they quote passages from the Bible to support their positon, but who could doubt that others could spin other passages in a reverse direction? The possibilities of interpretation are endless, and the text imposes few constraints. As rational actors we need to be aware of the nature of the landscape, and religion is as flexibile as the human mind.

Comments

  1. #1 Adam Ierymenko
    February 8, 2006

    “Taking a step back from specific policy implications, I think this goes back to my contention that for secularists we should ultimately adhere to a nominalist conception of religion. By nominalism, I simply mean that religion and religious beliefs are names and associations of behaviors with those names, but they aren’t fundamentally separate real and distinct entities.”

    I often talk like this about all sorts of political and religious terms.

    “Oh… no… he’s the good kind of republican, not the bad kind.” or “Oh, that’s not *that* kind of Christianity.” … etc.

    Part of the problem I think is that we’re not using the proper terms. The proper term for Straussian/neocon “noble lie” ideology should probably be something like “cryptocratic fascism.” The proper term for the ultra-reactionary wing of the evangelical movement might be “theocratic fascism.” Both are essentially neofascist movements. There are many conservatives and Christians who might be more or less on the same side of the fence as the fascists but do not share many of their beliefs.

    For example, this bit of neofascist vomit is quite offensive to many Christians:

    “There are different kinds of truths for different kinds of people. There are truths appropriate for children; truths that are appropriate for students; truths that are appropriate for educated adults; and truths that are appropriate for highly educated adults, and the notion that there should be one set of truths available to everyone is a modern democratic fallacy. It doesn’t work.” – Irving Kristol

    It implies that religion should be promoted because “stupid people need it.”

    It’s funny. I once got flamed on Pandas’ Thumb for posting a borderline violent comment about Mr. Kristol. I can read tons of evangelical fundamentalist claptrap, ID propaganda, etc… but there is *nothing* on the contemporary political landscape that provokes the kind of visceral blood-boiling reaction in me that the quote above does. Give me that old time religion any day over that kind of filth.

  2. #2 razib
    February 8, 2006

    1) i don’t know if it is judicious to use the term “fascist” (which itself is highly pliable).

    2) one thing i did not note is that the christian right has particular theological fissures unseen by those on the outside between postmillenial dispensationalist and premillenial dispensationalists. to make a long story short, the latter are numerous and the core of the movement, and characterized by pro-israel sentiment. but, the postmillenialists, typified in the extreme by the christian reconstructionist movement, are a disproportionate number on the activist Right, and many them are explicitly theocratic (theonomic).

  3. #3 Matt McIntosh
    February 8, 2006

    Oddly enough I was thinking about just this very thing on the bus today. Evangelicals are also generally big supporters of humanitarian interventions abroad, which is generally not seen as something the (secular) right has ever had much of an apetite for insofar as “national interests” weren’t at stake.

  4. #4 Shane
    February 8, 2006

    Many readers might know that the association of the evangelicals with the pro-life movement was a phenomenon that took root several years after Roe vs. Wade
    However, some do not. Could someone clue a brother in?

  5. #5 razib
    February 8, 2006

    Could someone clue a brother in?

    roe vs. wade triggered a massive & immediate roman catholic pro-life response. the roman catholic church had been on the forefront in campaigning against family planning and contraceptive measures as early as the 1920s, so the infrastructure was there. the evangelical protestants were caught unawares and it took them several years to get involved in the issue. there seems to have been a ‘tipping point’ phenomenon where the pro-life zeitgeist went from being mostly catholic to being swamped by an influx of conservative protestants in the years before 1980. george w. bush’s family might be illustrative of the evolution, his grandfather was nick-named ‘rubbers’ for his assocation with planned parenthood, his father (bush I) flipped from pro-choice to pro-life before the 1980 vice presidential nomination, and gw is solidy pro-life.

  6. #6 Shane
    February 9, 2006

    So did evangelicals believe that it was Christian to be pro-choice? Secondly, and as a very minor point, I thought that George Bush, Jr. was the first evangelical Christian in his family, having converted sometime between “long ago” and “recently.”

  7. #7 razib
    February 9, 2006

    So did evangelicals believe that it was Christian to be pro-choice? Secondly, and as a very minor point, I thought that George Bush, Jr. was the first evangelical Christian in his family, having converted sometime between “long ago” and “recently.”

    1) they were mostly agnostic…though as i said earlier, the evangelical oriented magazine christianity today seemed to mildly in favor of abortion liberalization in the late 1960s.

    2) yes, gw is the first technical evangelical. and jeb is a catholic. i believe their ner do well youngest brother is the only episcopalian in the family (though bush is a member of the mainline united methodist church, so these definitions are fuzzy).

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