I Love You but You Didn’t Do the Reading

The Thanksgiving break didn’t seem to slow down our educational culture wars. Here are a few stories from this past week you might have missed:

Queen Betsy loves ‘em, but a new research review in EdWeek shows little evidence that voucher programs are good for students.Bart reading bible

Seeing the future? CNN Money looks at Wisconsin after six years of restrictions on teachers’ unions.

At The Atlantic, Hal Boyd asks why it’s still okay to make fun of Mormons.

Why do so many evangelicals still support Roy Moore? David Brooks points to “siege mentality.”

The “college gap” widens. Economist Charles Clotfelder discusses his study of higher education. The takeaway: rich private schools are vastly different from struggling public ones.

Is the new bajillion-dollar Museum of the Bible going to succeed at avoiding controversy? Nope.

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  1. Why is it inconceivable to the press that many, maybe most Evangelicals actually believe the same kinds of things Roy Moore does about male-female relationships? The Evangelical establishment elite wants to deny this sort of thing every time, but it is plainly true if you have any familiarity with the theories of “biblical gender roles” that pervade the protestant right.

    Look at the Mary and Joseph defense of Roy Moore. While appearing to denounce him, SBC spokesman Russell Moore said there was nothing wrong with Joseph and Mary’s relationship, which is somehow totally different from Roy Moore dating very young women half his age.

    Given an opportunity to historicize the issue and talk about cultural change (and resistance to it) Russell Moore stuck with the fundamentalist and quasi-theonomic premise that nearly anything you see done by the “good guys” in the Bible is something you can and possibly should do today. Purity-obsessed men arranging marriages for very young women in the biblical texts sets up the theological justification for Christian patriarchy today, women as quasi-chattel, etc. People really believe this stuff — a lot of people.

    • When you say “many, maybe most Evangelicals actually believe the same kinds of things Roy Moore does about male-female relationships”, what do you mean by that? Do you mean what you said in your last paragraph, patriarchy, arranging marriages for very young women, and women as quasi chattel? Do you mean male-female relationships in general?

      • I mean they share the same premises, as reflected in Russell Moore saying there’s nothing at all wrong in the Joseph and Mary relationship. If that’s so, then why isn’t it OK today when someone like Roy Moore or Doug Wilson operates the same way?

        The idea that men rank higher than women in some divinely ordained, biblical pecking order with different roles in a marriage if not society itself is very common in Reformed and Evangelical Protestants. “Purity culture” is extremely widespread, and this involves a similar adaptation of perceived “biblical norms” that express divine intentions focused on female virginity. Women must even guard their “guard their hearts” from excessive emotional attachment to men they’re not going to marry. At extremes this involves fathers policing courtship and overseeing a process approaching and even involving an arranged marriage where the men are the main decision makers.

  2. Worthen is right about the presuppositionalism. She’s made that argument for a while, and it’s more fully expressed in her book on Evangelicalism. The idea comes from Dutch Calvinist circles and was primarily mediated to the United States by Cornelius Van Til, where it influenced the Schaeffers and their early supporter R. J. Rushdoony. Conservative Presbyterian and continental reformed denominations in North America have all been heavily influenced by Van Til. One of the key ideas in this tradition is that there is no neutrality on any issue, and the claims of value-neutrality by “Science” or “Liberalism” are myths; in fact both are said to operate on (in the most conservative view) atheistic and antithetical presuppositions no true Christian or theist can accept. This is an intellectual anti-intellectual, anti-modernist position that takes many forms but it is standard throughout American fundamentalist-evangelical circles. Few people within those traditions take the time to understand the origins of an idea like presuppositionalism, which goes deeper than Van Til. The historical provenance is important.

    Van Til’s division of humanity (really focusing on western society) into camps of “worldviews” based on foundational “divinized” (ultimate) values that are always religious in nature goes back to European conservative reactions to the French Revolution. The genre of “what went wrong with the western world” intellectual historiography started with people like de Maistre on the Catholic side but influenced Protestant counterparts as well, like Groen Van Prinsterer, a Dutch Reformed historian and anti-revolutionary politician who sounds very much like the Schaeffers and Rushdoony. Born a century after the generation of the French Revolution, Van Til was not original with his view of the world being divided into children of light and darkness, more or less. You can find the same ideas in Luther; it goes to the origins of modern Europe in its sectarian national-confessional formation and naturally owes much to biblical texts that have always lent themselves to radical us-vs-them political readings.

    Van Til’s somewhat more nuanced, updated version pits a broadly Christian/Protestant/Reformed “us” against a “them” adapted to modern “worldviews.” This comes from Prinsterer’s protege, Abraham Kuyper (a Dutch politician, prime minister, pastor, and journalist) and other Kuyper-influenced Dutch reformed thinkers like Bavinck, Stoker, and Vollenhoven. Also in this circle was Edmund Husserl’s student Herman Dooyeweerd, a contemporary influence on Van Til. Husserl is a candidate for the most important modern European philosopher whose best known student and successor was Martin Heidegger, who infamously joined the Nazi party while Husserl, a Jew, was frozen out of academe at the end of his life.

    Husserl’s take on the lack of any theoretical foundation for the sciences (all disciplines) as a civilizational crisis was a major preoccupation for Dooyeweerd that shaped Van Til’s concerns and ideas as well. This was and still is the big issue of continental philosophy that American conservatives still hang around European intellectuals’ necks, along with the wars and the holocaust. Anglo-American pragmatism and liberal democracy with a place for religious piety shoehorned in was supposed to be the solution to civilization hovering over a void of meaning and value.

    In the Dutch context from the 1890s to 1920s (Kuyper’s heyday; Van Til and Dooyeweerd’s youth), the great political problem was the decline of a colonial empire abroad, and the decline of the politically dominant protestant-reformed population in the Netherlands as well as the ascendance of liberal theology in the urban centers. By allying with other Protestant and Catholic conservatives the conservative Calvinists enjoyed a brief period of limited cultural hegemony in the Netherlands where they were able to establish free, publicly funded schools for recognized religious groups and a kind of separate-but-equal approach to cultural pluralism that they hoped would ensure their survival if not their hegemony. This project lives on quite consciously as a strategy and model for similar efforts in the United States in reformed-evangelical circles, such as those financially and culturally attached to Betsy DeVos and her family.

    Concerns about the segregatory impact of private schools are valid and shared even by people like DeVos. The tradition she comes from knows but generally prefers not to discuss how Kuyper’s ideas worked when they were exported to the former Dutch colony of South Africa, where they became the theopolitical justification for Apartheid. In the United States, R. J. Rushdoony developed the most extreme theocratic form of Calvinism and was/is far closer to the reformed-evangelical mainstream than most people realize. As the extremely sectarian, culture-warring theopolitical ideas of Van Til and others were mediated back into the popular religious culture of the United States in the Cold War through “gurus” like the Schaeffers, we got “Dominionism,” or a range of softened versions of Christian Reconstructionism that still reflect the same core Calvinist epistemology, sometimes with Dispensationalist ideas mixed in.

    The uniting idea in any kind of conservative reformed expression is this: outside the circle of the elect, people hold incommensurate worldviews rooted on wholly different, antithetical presuppositions. Ideas like Kuyper’s “common grace” allows some moderation and wiggle room with which to find common ground with others. But in more archly conservative usage the accent is on “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” Secular liberals and other demonized “worldview” groups are identified as radically antithetical, and their agenda with government schools is to propagate themselves and their views by taking and destroying the minds of young people. The application of these ideas tends to be a declaration of total culture war where religion is entirely politicized. Only conflict is possible with the political-religious other, but anyone who opposes that demonized enemy can be a friend, even if their religion and politics are not a match in principle or practice.

    • Even though presuppositionalism is rooted in Calvinism, it’s not just Calvinists that adopt this way of thinking, correct? There is a big divide between those that consider themselves Calvinists and those that don’t. But would they both share presuppositionalism for different reasons?

      Another interesting thing to note in this same article is the evangelical women listed as vocal critics of Moore (Kay Warren, Beth Moore, Nancy French) all have sexual abuse in their past. That wasn’t mentioned. I knew about Beth Moore, and after reading the article looked up info on Warren and French to see if they had been abused as well.

      • That’s correct. Presuppositionalism can be detached from Calvinism and adopted by other Protestants, but that’s because Calvinism can be derived from Luther and arguably some of Augustine. Calvinism has always appealed and made inroads into the other big branches of Protestantism. Catholics would have a huge problem with it, outside of an outlier subcategory like Jansenism. The Presuppositionalist premise of a divided humanity and a non universal church works best with sectarian Protestantism with a tendency toward isolation, self aggrandizement, and deep distrust of other groups and “the world.”

        Evangelical women I think do often have deep reservations about the misogyny that is normalized in their families and communities. Those who suffer abuse or have other reasons to be shocked into awareness of how pathological non-egalitarian religiosity is do tend to speak out, and they are probably the ones who will determine the future of Evangelicalism. Witness the #churchtoo movement now.

    • Thank you for the answer about presuppositionalism.

      IMHO, I don’t think Mary and Joseph have anything to do with Roy Moore. We do not have the same customs in our present culture as they did, and even then there are differences with the situation. To me, it’s not comparable.

      I don’t have a daughter, but if I did, I’d want her to go to college first and be able to stand on her own two feet before getting married.

      I do think the idea of men ranking higher can stem from biblical gender roles. It’s frightening for a woman to be in a position where she doesn’t have a voice. If that is what girls and women know, it’s a problem. I do agree that purity culture where men are decision makers, courtship, all of that does have a hold on evangelical culture. That does not run across the board to all evangelicals by any means, and otherwise I think depending on the person, it is either woven more or less into the fabric of their Christian life and takes different forms. Abuse can and does occur. Gothard and Phillips for example. The abuse of their position of authority led to tragic consequences. There are issues to address.

      Interesting to note your observations about Evangelical women. I hope you’re right.

      • Evangelicals like Roy Moore and Bill Gothard see Joseph as a biblical warrant and model for things like betrothal to much younger women whose value is in her purity — get them close to the source, make a deal with their fathers. Gothard actually wrote quite a lot about this stuff.

        What is the difference between a creepy pederast like Moore who trolls for teen girls to date at shopping malls so much the security guards ban him — and an Evangelical who believes the “biblical teachings” of Bill Gothard (also a pederast who imprisoned and molested young women) and arranges marriages for his daughters?

        The difference between Roy Moore and Russell Moore: One is a pederast who believes borderline pederastic patriarchal domination of women in the Bible is still OK. One believes it was OK and now isn’t. When and how that changed cannot be explained because fundamentalist-evangelical hermeneutics deny anything remotely historicist as “relativism” that will lead to liberalism, atheism, etc. This anti-intellectual idiocy therefore gives cover and comfort to extreme fundamentalists, misogynists, and pederasts who want to live in a “biblical” way.

    • Ok. I know enough from what I have read about Gothard in the past that I don’t agree with his teaching. I would see Moore, Gothard, Phillips, Duggar the same. I personally don’t know people who follow this teaching and arrange marriages for their daughters in the name of purity. I would say that this type of environment attracts pedophiles and misogynists, and that it is not surprising to see so many of them in positions of authority in this environment. I would not consider what Gothard has to say Biblical teaching. There are threads of this teaching that spread outside of this culture, unfortunately.

      So in your last paragraph, you’re saying Roy Moore doesn’t admit he is doing anything wrong since he believes borderline pederastic patriarchal domination is ok? In other words, you don’t think he isn’t lying when he is saying he didn’t do anything wrong because he doesn’t see what he did was wrong? Where directly do you think Roy Moore would have gotten his ideas about this?

      There are enough examples in the Bible of women not being treated right. Just because those examples are in the Bible, or that particular cultures treated or treat women in a certain way, it doesn’t mean that it is Biblical for men to follow this as an example. I personally do not see Christianity as misogynist or pederastic. Misapplied with this teaching, I can see how it can become that.

      • I mostly agree with you except it’s impossible to say what is the one true “biblical” teaching the bible literally endorses slavery and a patriarchal hierarchy of sexual dominance, even if behind that was a culture that was more egalitarian than Greco-Roman society and open to women, slaves and third or ambiguously gendered people (eunuchs). However it was not egalitarian in its thinking about these things; it used the language and logic of slavery to argue for spiritual freedom as bondage to God, and celibacy was valued in the expectation of an imminent apocalypse and an idea of paradise without sex or marriage. This is all the consequence of acute trauma in an oppressive imperial society where the only available language of freedom is the symbolism of slavery and death as spiritual manumission. Black, feminist, and post colonial Latin American theology has been increasingly attentive to these things, influencing even white Anglo-European “mainstream” Christian thought.

        I do believe people like Roy Moore are sincere and not lying; they believe they are in the right. His defenders in the homeschooling and biblical patriarchy movements are enclaves of support for men like a Philips, Gothard, and Wilson. They repopularize lots of old texts that support biblical patriarchy, and this is especially resonant with the romantic ideas of the Old South, like the Elsie Dinsmore novels (republished by Zondervan, a mainstream Evangelical press) where the child heroine marries her father’s friend in a courtship drama that mirrors what Philips, Gothard, and Moore think they are doing. It is a social system that encourages pederastic or near pederastic relations (which would be totally normal for a pack of chimps) so any men with a predilection for that behavior is liable to be masked and believe he’s normal.

        Sexual offenders almost always have s story that explains to them how they are normal and fine. If you read the victim and perpetrator narratives from Catholics, the story of major Mennonite theologian John Yoder, the Bob Jones Grace Report, the homeschoolers anonymous stories from Moscow, Idaho and similar things you will see this trend: the most bizarre and criminal behavior is done by men who believe they are holy and helping their victims.

      • I have more to say in response, and will respond when I can soon.

      • I am thankful for this blog and the opportunity to talk with people outside of my echo chamber. I find it enormously helpful, challenging, and enlightening. I have more to say about everything and clarifications to make, but I can easily hit a wall online since for me, there is a limit to what I am personally able to properly communicate here. I realized that I hit a wall. Dan, thank you for helping me make sense of things I didn’t quite understand before. I appreciate that.

    • Also, I will add that I do not have the extensive knowledge you have about this (not to mention the many other things I don’t know.) So though the Mary and Joseph thing sounded really strange to me when I heard it, I haven’t read any literature about it so I can’t claim to know the things you know. I just have more to learn.

      • I don’t have any great or special knowledge other than experience with northern evangelicals and southern fundamentalists, paying attention to what they say, write and read. I recall one independent DIY evangelical community church my family attended for years — it later came out the pastor preyed on women. In the early 80s Elizabeth Elliott was idolized as a foundation for what would later be called purity culture. The church’s anxiety over remarriage (of widowed women) or single mothers was played out in elaborate appropriations of Ruth-Boaz and Mary-Joseph to justify “good men” marrying “tainted women.”

      • I mean it was “unwed mothers” meaning women who had a child “out of wedlock” and widowed women/mothers who had to have their re/marriages biblically rationalized because they had obviously had sex with someone other than the man they married. This community consistently treated female sexuality as an incredibly threatening force that needs to be locked down in “purity” until marriage, or else women would be shunned. Related anxiety over “playboy” males was much much lower. Logically then gay people would be the most threatening of all because they could not be assimilated at all to a traditional Christian marriage. I think that logic drives a lot of homophobia, but men who feel entitled to control and dominate women fit right in.

      • I think church leadership positions can attract the wrong people sometimes since people tend to place blind trust in religious leaders. It allows them to get away with these behaviors. That’s tragic when those types of stories come out. The person people looked up to is not who they thought he was. Unfortunately, there is hypocrisy within the church, and that won’t change. I also think church people talk so much about their physical ailments to the exclusion of other problems, like we’re supposed to have the rest of our act together and not talk about other things for fear of being judged. Other than Suzie having surgery on her foot and Bob going to the cardiologist tomorrow, pray for them, everything else is great! That creates problems too. Church can become just an act.

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