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.'