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There was a very interesting piece posted on the New York Times site yesterday from Karl Giberson and Randall Stephens called "The Evangelical Rejection of Reason". They fairly accurately describe what I've observed in U.S. politics and culture over the past decade or so, a gradual ascendancy of a kind of Christian movement that is completely against any form of intellectualism. The interesting part about this piece is that it is written by two self-avowed evangelicals.

Now anyone who knows me, knows that I have a bit of a problem with most forms of religion. It's not so much the belief system that gets to me as it is the enforced structure and required conformity. We live in an odd age. We seem to say that we worship individualism. That's one of the key tenets of the Tea Party movement. And yet, if you look at the way they treat their own people, they are very intolerant of anyone who doesn't toe the party line. There is obviously a strong correlation between the Tea Party movement and the rising tide of anti-intellectual evangelicalism. The political movement worships the 'invidividualists', a la Sarah Palin and her 'Going Rogue' ethos. The linkage to the Ayn Rand Objectivists bring in their own ardent preferences for strong individualists.

And yet . . . and YET, there is such a strong push to conform among these groups. The evengelicals will call on the carpet anyone who doesn't fit the proper role they see. One doesn't even need to slip and agree on some controversial point, all one needs to do to raise the ire of their membership is to merely TALK to people who disagree about a key point.

That's why I find the Op Ed piece in the Times to be so hopeful, and so brave. Here we have people who do agree with the religious basis for the evangelical movement, but who are voicing dissent. They find it troubling that their fellow Evangelicals have so completely divorced the movement from any connection to enlightened thought. They argue, pursuasively, that their fellow Christians should back away from the charismatic anti-intellectual leaders such James Dobson and Ken Ham, and start to move to more of a constructive role in society. Clearly, Mr. Giberson and Mr. Stephens want their religion to be an important aspect of their public lives, but they just want other Christians to stop rejecting all forms of thought that require deeper contemplation. This is the first instance I've heard of the members of the modern evangelical movement voicing the very reasonable arguement that, you know, some issues ARE complicated.

It struck me when reading this piece that the thing that bothers me about religion in America these days isn't the belief system, its the enforced social constructs behind the movement. I worry, some times, that Christians in America are going to forget their basic humanity, and decide that anyone who doesn't agree with them should be burned at the stake, or smashed under stones, or stretched on a rack, or placed inside a red hot bull sculpture to be slowly cooked to death. (ALL of these things have been done BY GOOD CHRISTIANS through history, when their level of conformity reached a fever pitch.) I'm not an avowed athiest. Personally, I find athieism as constraining as any other religious belief system. If anything, I'm a militant agnostic. Stop trying to tell me what to believe.  The thing that worries me is when the conformists put on the clothes of non-conformity, and sneak up on the rest of us. I wonder when the intellectual straight jackets will come out. (Too late, they've shown their shapes already, in the Republican primary battles and in the halls of Congress.)

But I find hope in the writings of non-conforming Christians. I don't believe that most Christians are bad people. There are many things about Christianity to admire. But it always reassures me to see that some members of this faith do occasionally question dogma. Only when the position of the established powers are questioned do members of a movement stop long enough to remember that those outside of the movement aren't monsters . . .aren't the enemy, but are simply people who might disagree on some points. Nonconformity is by its definition, a philosophical state that acknowledges that not everyone agrees all of the time . . . and that that's, in fact, OK. It may even be healthy.

So I'm very glad to see some genuine non-conformity showing up among the Evangelicals today. If those voices can be heard, it may save all of us from the rising hypocracy of the ardent religious conformists hiding under their sheepskins of 'individualism.'

Originally posted to tergenev on Tue Oct 18, 2011 at 07:54 AM PDT.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  do you think the real lynchpin (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    tergenev, claude, sleipner, Dixiedemocrat

    is conformity, or complexity?

    I find what undergirds so much of what I find uncomfortable or difficult about that closed-minded evangelical position is the search for simple answers or easy templates.  Conformity would be an indicator (or maybe a by-product) of this.

    Sort of couched the punchline in my question there, didn't I?  Sorry about that.  But a thoughtful read.  Thanks.

    Words can sometimes, in moments of grace, attain the quality of deeds. --Elie Wiesel

    by a gilas girl on Tue Oct 18, 2011 at 09:53:43 AM PDT

    •  Complexity is the truth they do not wish to see (3+ / 0-)

      Complexity is the reality around them that they do not wish to acknowledge. Conformity is the 'big stick' used to keep people from asking uncomfortable questions . . . you know, the ones that highlight how complex things really are.

      The truly sad thing is that, were they to really embrace the complexity of the universe, and of human nature, they would have so much more reason to be in awe of God . . . if she does, in fact exist. :-)

      The most positive thing about living through such troubling times is the realization that even when the darker side of human nature is on the rise, the goodness in people does not disappear. Often, it just puts on the required clothing of the times, and continues to provide moments of kindness in the lives of those nearby.

      -- I share no man's opinions; I have my own. -Ivan Turgenev -6.75 -3.79

      by tergenev on Tue Oct 18, 2011 at 11:11:01 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Non-conformists group? (0+ / 0-)

    I've yet to run across any group that really welcomes non-conformists or does not exhibit the hallmarks of "group-think." DK is as much an example as any other. If there is some party without a party line, I've yet to run across it. Which, I suppose, was why Groucho professed that he wouldn't join any club that would have him as a member.

  •  'individualism' is just a word (5+ / 0-)

    Its real significance to the teabaggers (and I would argue to most other Americans) is not what the dictionary says it means, but rather its power to make neurons fire in certain ways.  I would argue that most of the buzzwords that litter our politics serve the same function.  Even calling them words might be too generous; they're animal vocalizations that trigger emotional states.

    I remember reading about a situation where products made in China that had been labeled as 'organic' were not in fact organic.  The ultimate reason for this was as trivial as it was absurd; the Chinese company involved believed that 'organic' was simply a word that Americans liked and which could be applied indiscriminately to anything one wanted to market to Americans.

    Do you know why they call it the American Dream? Because it only happens when you're asleep.

    by Visceral on Tue Oct 18, 2011 at 03:34:45 PM PDT

    •  Good point, this reminds me of another Carlinism (0+ / 0-)

      Words no longer have any meaning because of how prevalent propaganda is in our culture.

      "Although the world is full of suffering, it is full also of overcoming it" Helen Keller

      by Johnnythebandit on Tue Oct 18, 2011 at 04:04:24 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  But the Tea Party believes their own advertising (0+ / 0-)

      They genuinely think that they are the individualists. They're mostly deluded about that, but their aren't lying. (about. that. one. thing.)

      True, most of modern politics in the US is brand identity and buzzwords, but the emotional connections are to real feelings and real truths. The problem is that they often aren't associated with the actual feelings and truths they claim to describe. The cynics

      Hence, the evangelicals are there to 'protect religious freedom.'

      -- I share no man's opinions; I have my own. -Ivan Turgenev -6.75 -3.79

      by tergenev on Tue Oct 18, 2011 at 06:06:39 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  If you find atheist "as constraining as any other (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Leo in NJ, sleipner, Nowhere Man

    belief system", then you are mistaking atheism for something else. It's a lack of belief in any god or gods. Nothing more, nothing less.

    "Soylent Green is a corporation!"--Mitt Romney. Eat the rich.

    by ubertar on Tue Oct 18, 2011 at 03:37:39 PM PDT

    •  Atheism<>Antitheism. n/t (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Nowhere Man

      Don't let millionaires steal Social Security.
      I said, "Don't let millionaires steal Social Security!"

      by Leo in NJ on Tue Oct 18, 2011 at 04:00:54 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  I admire atheism, mostly. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      I just can't conform to it. I'm unwilling to decide categorically that there is no god.

      “There's nothing an agnostic can't do if he doesn't know whether he believes in anything or not”  - the great Monty Python (and his flying cirCUS)

      OK, stating that atheism is 'as constraining' was hyperbolic on my part.

      -- I share no man's opinions; I have my own. -Ivan Turgenev -6.75 -3.79

      by tergenev on Tue Oct 18, 2011 at 06:10:59 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  American Christians are not alone in this (5+ / 0-)

    All over the world, you'll find people claiming that their customs are commanded by their religions, when in fact their religions say nothing of the kind and in fact contradict those customs outright. Their customs are just that -- their customs, which they choose to follow, not because their religions command it but because their parents and teachers and neighbors command it.

    And if the Blue Sky Mining Company won't come to my rescue, if the sugar refining company won't save me, who's gonna save me?

    by Geenius at Wrok on Tue Oct 18, 2011 at 04:16:09 PM PDT

  •  It would seem that for people... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Boudicia Dark

    ...who believe the literal word of the bible, the "original sin" wherein Eve ate from the "tree of knowledge" could be interpreted as "thinking" or "knowing" anything whatsoever offends their version of god. If their conclusion is that this god could only ever love his human creations if they were dirt-stupid it would go a long way to understanding their rejection of scientific facts and even the act of intellectual reasoning itself. Adam and Eve were cast out of the garden because they chose to indulge in knowledge, which I guess is a plausible explanation for the rise of willful ignorance on the part of fundamentalist believers. Rationality frightens them because deep inside they probably understand that if they really think it all the way through their entire religious system would be revealed to big a steaming pile of shit.  

    •  Actually there are two points here (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      Besides believing that the literal word of the Bible is received from God and thus true, they also have to believe that God's representatives on Earth are giving them the correct interpretation of each and every passage in the Bible. Because an awful lot of it, when taken in modern context, has no clear meaning. In no way are members of any religion encouraged to educate themselves on Biblical criticism, read the Bible, and figure out what it means themselves. That would be the opposite of dogma. It would be intellectual anarchy.

      That would be nice for a change though.

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