Evangelicals, Elites, and Alternative Facts

alternative-facts

Molly Worthen, a reputable scholar of American evangelicalism who teaches at the estimable University of North Carolina—Chapel Hill, suggests in a recent New York Times article that evangelicals have been leery of “fake news” for a long time now.

She’s more right than she knows.

Worthen points to the usual suspects, rationalist defences of Biblical inerrancy and seven-day creation, and adds to them a brief mention of theologian Cornelius Van Til, who posited a great gulf fixed between the Christian (= true) view of things and every other (world)view.

Van Til and his arch neo-Calvinist philosophy would be utterly unfamiliar to the vast majority of North American evangelicals. But his extreme and rather theoretical division of (Christian) truth on one side and what “the world” says on the other side is not just the oversimplification of fundamentalism. I suggest that such a dichotomy reflects much of evangelicals’ actual experience over the last century or so of North American culture.

For during this time, all “right-thinking” people just “knew” that…

…the Bible was not only to be studied “just like any other book” (Benjamin Jowett) but with a strong anti-supernaturalist bias against both the miraculous in its accounts and any divine involvement in its composition;

…not only are science and religion fundamentally antagonistic, largely because “Darwin has disproved the Bible,” but, paradoxically, Christianity is also responsible for justifying the scientific and technological despoliation of the earth by granting license (in Genesis 1) to human beings to use, and abuse, the planet as we see fit (Lynn White, Jr., Peter Singer, et al.);

…cohabitation before marriage is the best way to produce happier, stronger marriages, and then, if things don’t work out, divorce can be good for everyone, parents and children alike;

…sexual freedom brought by the Pill will be just as beneficial for women as for men;

…all women who decide to stay home and raise a family are guilty of false consciousness and thus are complicit in their own enslavement;

…abortion is entirely about freedom for women over their own bodies, and nothing (and no one, such as an unborn baby) else matters;

…conservative churches will die unless they adapt their theology to contemporary psychology and their ethics to liberal mores;

…all religions are basically the same and produce identical good/bad effects, so evangelism and apologetics are absurd and offensive;

…religious freedom is restricted to liberty of belief in the interiority of one’s own mind and in the privacy of one’s own home or place of worship, while any public practice of religion is in bad taste at best and a threat to public order at worst; and

…holding ethical and psychological reservations about non-traditional sexuality and gender is exactly the same as holding racist prejudices.

The cultural elites who cannot bring themselves to understand why anyone other than “deplorables” would support Donald Trump also cannot understand why any sensible person would disagree with them about anything. Isn’t it all just so very obvious? Aren’t the facts clear?

Molly Worthen suggests that evangelicals have been leery of those cultural elites for a while. I’d say so, too.

In fact, I’d go her one better: North American evangelicals by now have a long list of “alternative facts.”

And why shouldn’t they?

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John G. Stackhouse, Jr., PhD, serves as the Samuel J. Mikolaski Professor of Religious Studies at Crandall University in Moncton, New Brunswick. A graduate of Queen’s University, Wheaton Graduate School, and the University of Chicago, he was formerly Professor of Religion at the University of Manitoba and held the Sangwoo Youtong Chee Chair of Theology and Culture at Regent College, Vancouver. He has given interviews to ABC, NBC, CBC, CTV, and Global TV as well as to CBC Radio from coast to coast. His work has been featured in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Times Literary Supplement, The Globe and Mail, the National Post, The Atlantic, Time, and Maclean’s. Author of over 700 articles, book chapters, and reviews, his tenth book is scheduled for release later this year: “Why You’re Here: Ethics for the Real World” (Oxford University Press).