Last night a girl I know from KC, a fellow IHOPper, posted a link on her wall to an article promoting the new conspiracy theory that’s been going around this week. Supposedly, the Pentagon is pushing for Christians to be court-martialed if they talk about their faith in public. What really happened is that the Pentagon reaffirmed its ban on proselytization (coercive, aggressive evangelism is forbidden), but regular evangelism (talking about your faith with other people) is perfectly fine.
We’ll ignore for the moment that some Evangelicals apparently consider a ban on coercive displays of evangelism a form of persecution and return to my friend. When I saw what she had posted, I wrote in the comments, “Here’s another perspective” and posted a link to the above article, along with Defeating the Dragon’s pretty thorough rebuttal which got at the root of so much Christian conspiracist paranoia. As my comment had suggested, I thought it might be helpful to get another perspective.
She doesn’t seem to have thought so, however, because she immediately unfriended me.
Now, there are a number of reasons this might have happened. Maybe she barely knows me and thought I was being intrusive. Maybe she has a particular disdain for my “smug, self-righteous intellectualism masquerading as virtue.” (I was constantly getting punished for this back when I was in the Group). Maybe she didn’t understand my motivations and felt personally attacked (like the five who unfriended me last week when I compared fundamentalist Christianity to radical Islam). Maybe I think about this kind of stuff way too much.
But I realized the reason why it was nagging at me so much when I read this post by an Evangelical blogger who’s excited by a much-ballyhooed article in Atlantic Monthly describing how a growing number of Evangelicals are demanding science textbooks that teach actual science. Yet, as with first love, the initial glow of enthusiasm soon gives way to tempered expectations:
The article goes on to discuss a handful of efforts by publishers and other organizations to offer textbooks that present content from an orthodox Christian perspective without twisting or ignoring certain facts of modern science. I encourage everyone to read it.
Here’s the problem: None of my evangelical readers who reject evolution will (read the article, that is). And if they do read it, they probably won’t buy it. We are talking about The Atlantic, after all — the liberal media! “Well, that’s exactly what they would write, isn’t it?” a hypothetical young-earth creationist — who fervently believes most of the world is conspiring against them — might say. “Anything to promote their anti-God, pro-everything-else agenda!”
And THAT’S what I get so angry about! At this point it isn’t really about my friend (I’m pretty much over that at this point) but because so many Christians reflexively run away from whatever threatens their own perceptions.
Ever since I left the Group a year ago I’ve been meditating on a verse from that notorious heathen poet Walt Whitman, in his short poem, “Myself and Mine.” He says:
I call to the world
To distrust the accounts of my friends
But listen to my enemies
As I myself do.
And I think we’re getting at the heart of what drove Jordan Mayhew—and what is now driving me—so crazy. People—or at least fundamentalist Christians—won’t listen to that which challenges them. The funny thing is, when I was a fundamentalist I thought all atheists and unbelievers were like this. I realize now it was largely a projection. According to sociologist Robert Altermeyer in his 2006 book The Authoritarians, people with “authoritarian personalities” (which is about 25 percent of the American population, the vast majority Evangelicals) won’t believe ideas that conflict with their worldviews—for example, that homosexuality has a biological basis—even in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. “The evidence of any biological determination simply bounces off their hardened position,” writes Altemeyer. “You might as well talk to a brick wall.”
They also have a way of holding in their heads two mutually opposing ideas without showing the slightest awareness that the two ideas are conflicting. In one survey given at the University of Manitoba, Altemeyer asked a group of students how they would feel if a law was passed making some kind of school prayer mandatory. The vast majority, including most Christians, said it was a bad law. The only exception was the fundamentalists, who thought it would be a great law. But when the exact same question was given to them again—only this time it was an Islamic country enforcing Islamic prayer—everyone thought it was a bad idea (including the fundamentalists, because it would be “unfair”).
What’s interesting is that when Altemeyer asked atheists how they would feel if a law was passed mandating that schoolchildren be taught, beginning in kindergarten, that “belief in God is unsupported by logic and science,” 100 percent of a sample of atheists in Manitoba and 70 percent of atheists in America thought this would be a BAD law. (And fundamentalists everywhere were like, “Wait, what?”).
There is one notable, beautiful exception to what seems to be a universal rule among legalistic Christians. The only thing that has been proven to change their minds about the causes of homosexuality is having friends who are gay.
And therein lies the problem, because the majority of legalistic Christians don’t know anyone who’s openly gay. They don’t read secular magazines. They don’t listen to secular music. They don’t associate with nonbelievers—or Methodists, or Catholics, or Jews, or Lutherans, etc., etc. And I’m encouraged by the fact that Christianity Today is publishing an article about the new wave of Evangelical homeschoolers, but it also worries me, because the moment a Christian organization shows evidence of becoming a little more mainstream, like when Pat Robertson says that the earth was created millions of years ago and that saying otherwise causes children to become atheists, that organization is marginalized as part of the godless liberal media and removed from the Christian discourse. And so you’re left with a whole-bunch of small-minded people all saying the same thing, in the same way, in an increasingly narrow circle of self-repeating ideas.
G. K. Chesterton had a word for that. He called it insanity.
I’ve written before about being a spy, and the longer I live in Kansas City the more it seems “espionage” is the only viable way of getting past those defenses. We have a common saying in the Evangelical subculture about “being Jesus to the world.” But at this point what we really need is Christians who can be the World for others who believe in Jesus.