Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Fundamentalism, science denialism and the culture of fear

Although Evangelical Christianity and Christadelphians have significant theological differences, there are strong cultural and sociological parallels, particularly in their response to the fact of evolution, and in general, anything that is perceived to threaten evangelical identity. This Evangelical mentality can be seen in all its ugliness below:

For a meeting of two academic societies, the presentation, as OT scholar and Evangelical Christian Peter Enns notes, represents apologetics, and a particularly nasty, tribal version of it at that:
“Wolf in sheep’s clothing” is an common criticism against those who hold “dangerous” opinions for theological conservatives. But the metaphor is intentionally demonizing. It connotes a clandestine, sinister, and therefore slanderous strategy on the part of those deemed “wolves.” 

The truth is, those they likely have in their sights are quite open and upfront about what they believe. They write books and stuff –which is precisely why they are noticed.

The choice of image tells us more about the conference organizers than anything else, namely they are operating in a culture of fear and driven by fear.

Along with the image, every word of the conference title is wrong.

“Liberal” is a scare word that does not remotely describe evangelical insiders and others who find it honorable and necessary to criticize the evangelical system. But, apparently, to disagree is to be “liberal”–being labeled a warlock would get you more slack.

“Seepage” is what sewers do.

“The Evangelical Culture”–there’s only one and we’re it.

“The Evangelical culture” is under threat, and the propriety and necessity of defending that culture’s continued existence is simply a given. Whether said culture is true or the most faithful expression of the Gospel is not up for discussion and requires no deliberation. Ever. It would be like questioning air. This is tribal thinking, and if criticism is blocked like this, the only by-product is insular thinking and intellectual inbreeding.
Replace 'liberal seepage' with 'evolution' and you would get something disturbingly close to how some in our community react to those who accept the fact of evolution:
  • They make one of the best attested facts in science a doctrine to be rejected, despite the fact that those who agitate against evolution are generally grossly ignorant of the rudiments of biology and simply not in a position to understand evolution, let alone offer a valid critique of it.
  • They are willing to make it a fellowship issue
  • They refuse to even consider the fact that they could be mistaken, but instead assume their view should be normative for the community, and demonise those who argue otherwise.

Ultimately, evolution denialism is merely a symptom of a deeper problem, and that is, to use Enns' words, insular thinking and intellectual inbreeding. Twenty years ago, evangelical historian Mark Noll observed in his landmark book The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind that "[t]he scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind…Despite dynamic success at a popular level, modern American evangelicals have failed notably at sustaining serious intellectual life."

The same alas can be said of not a few in our community.