I Love You but You Didn’t Do the Reading

Last week was so busy, our Monday news roundup had to wait until Tuesday. What did you miss? Wacky takes on coronavirus? Trump dumping charter schools? Darwin Day? Christian college closing? How about the new poll numbers about socialist “electability?” Read on!

From the Right: Kooky takes on the coronavirus:

Tough times at Texas State, at CHE.

Davis-Williams, who is black, said one of the conservative students mocked him by saying he didn’t “belong” there. He walked closer to respond, but the student hid behind campus police officers gathered at the scene.

That’s when an officer stopped Davis-Williams — and told him to quit walking in that direction.

Another Christian college shuts its doors, at OL.

Tom Ries, who took the post of interim president in early January, said Concordia’s enrollment plummeted from more than 8,000 four years ago to around 5,000 currently. He said the university has a “significant” debt load and faced significantly higher costs in the coming year.

The shutdown came suddenly. Just last Tuesday, Concordia staged a flashy event that raised $355,000 for its an innovative program with Portland Public Schools. The first some staff and faculty heard anything about a shutdown was when it was announced to them at 9 a.m. Monday. Students got the word an hour later.

Trump’s budget plan cuts funding for education, at Politico.

…and it specifically cuts federal funding for charter schools, at Curmudgucation.

The Trump budget completely axes federal support for charter schools, rolling the federal money for charters into a big fat all-purpose block grant, a big chunk of money retrieved from various programs that have been deemed redundant and ineffective. States will now get a big pile of money that they can spend on a loosely defined bunch of Education Stuff. If they want to spend some of that on charter schools, they can.

What does Trump’s proposed ed budget say? Review at Chalkbeat.

The Trump administration proposed a major reduction in federal education spending Monday that would eliminate nearly 30 standalone programs, including ones that support homeless students, rural students, English learners, and magnet schools.

Perhaps most surprisingly, the proposal would effectively axe a long-standing federal program that has catalyzed charter school growth across the country.

The department packaged this move as part of a bigger effort to give states more decision-making power.

How are charter-school leaders taking the news? Not well, at WaPo.

The hardest electoral positions? “Socialism” or “atheism,” says new Gallup poll.

gallup atheist electabilityWhere are the great TV shows about teachers? At WaPo.

Shows such as “Parks and Recreation,” “Scrubs,” “The Office,” and “Silicon Valley” balance humor with heart and genuine insight. Even through the absurdity, something about the work world these shows create rings true. Not so much with TV teachers.

Darwin Day was Feb. 12. National Center for Science Education collected a series of statements: Why Teach Evolution. You can see them all here.

Teaching and discussing evolution opens so many doors to scientific inquiry and understanding. The very heart of what science is, and is not, is captured in conversations about how we know evolution is happening at the micro and macro levels, the inability of science to consider the metaphysical as an explanation of events, and the nature of science as self-correcting in light of evidence.

When Trumpism Goes (Anti)-Viral

Sometimes it is difficult to argue that religious conservatives aren’t simply anti-science. When it comes to news about coronavirus, for example, conservatives from Trump on down are making kooky claims. Why?

Let’s back up a minute first. When it comes to big questions like evolution/creationism and climate change, conservatives have a hundred-year history as the anti-science side. However, as I’m arguing in my new book about creationism (cover art updates coming soon), it has never been a fair accusation. Religious conservatives have always loved capital-s Science. They just haven’t trusted the scientists who have usurped control over it.

With Trumpism ascendant, however, I’m wondering how long conservatives can maintain their fingertip-grasp on scientific legitimacy. Perhaps most religious conservatives would share my scorn for the latest batch of hooey coming from a few conservative preachers.

For example, who in their right mind could endorse Jim Bakker’s snake-oil claims? No thinking person—conservative or otherwise—would take Bakker’s claim about his magical “silver solution” seriously, even when he claims it eliminates coronaviruses.

And it will be tempting for thoughtful conservatives to pooh-pooh the exalted exhalations of preachers such as Omaha’s Hank Kunneman. On February 9, Kunneman prophesied that Trumpism had kept America safe from the coronavirus. As Kunneman said,

Listen to the words that I speak to you at this moment, says the Living God. Why do you fear, United States? For I have spoke to you before, and I speak to you again. I have extended and opened a window of mercy to this nation at this time. Therefore the virus that they speak of, the prognostication, the diagnosis—my mercy is the quarantine that shall be greater than what they have spoken to you, United States.

Because of the administration that stands in this land, who honors me, who honors the covenants of your forefathers and of the Constitution, and because they have aligned themselves with Israel, and because they have sided on the right side of life—life in the womb, life given outside of the womb—therefore I give life to this nation, and I give mercy. Do not fear this virus, says the Spirit of God.

I know plenty of intelligent conservatives who would shake their heads at this sort of anti-scientific mumbo-jumbo. Lots of conservative religious people will tell you that their religious beliefs do not put them at odds with science. They will say that there is no need to pretend that “Science” and “Religion” are opposed to one another. And for what it’s worth, I think they are right. There’s no need for conservatives to discredit science in order to prove their religious bona fides.

In Trump’s America, however, the mumbo-jumbo has taken over at the top. When it comes to things like coronavirus, Trump has unleashed the full deadweight of his anti-scientific worldview. Recently, he told a group of governors,

The virus that we’re talking about having to do, a lot of people think that goes away in April, with the heat, as the heat comes in, typically that will go away in April.

Trump’s current blast of anti-science is nothing new. Back when he was a private citizen, he was already fond of over-tweeting his aversion to scientific knowledge. When it came to Ebola, for example, Trump famously warned against readmitting exposed medical workers and a patient to the United States. Trump did not seem to care that the Ebola virus had already come to the US by 2014, with several safe labs studying it.

trump ebola 2014Heedless of science, convinced of his own superior knowledge, Trump might just be trashing the careful, difficult work of generations of religious conservatives. For a hundred years now, thoughtful conservatives have worked hard to overthrow popular misconceptions. Conservatives have labored to convince America that they are not anti-science even though they are pro-God. With a few tweets, Trump seems to have tipped the scales once again, tying conservatism and religion to a crude anti-scientific outlook.

Conspiracy and American Jihad

Michael Gerson is right. Feverish conspiracy theories have become “a kind of discrediting madness” among American conservatives. But it’s not only a problem on the right. Progressives are prone to embracing outlandish conspiracy theories, too. (*Paging Louise Mensch*) What are we supposed to do, then, whether we’re progressive or conservative, when we see evidence of a real, frightening conspiracy? Of prominent preachers calling for American jihad and civil war?

In general, it’s difficult for a historian like me to get too worked up by hyperbolic claims of conspiracy. It’s not that historians don’t see plenty of conspiracies in the archival record. Rather, as I’ve argued in these pages before, digging into archives shows us lots of evidence of real conspiracies. It is precisely the abundance of conspiracies that keeps us calm. There are so many conspiracies afoot, operating at cross-purposes and usually in bungling fractious competition with one another, that the ultimate goals of such conspiracies foil themselves.

When my progressive friends have warned of theocratic fundamentalist or creationist conspiracies, I’ve replied time and again that fundamentalists and creationists are among the most divided groups in America. The notion that they could combine to impose a Handmaid’s-Tale sort of theocracy simply doesn’t match the historical record.

I was flummoxed, then, by a recent Jim Bakker video.

Remember Jim Bakker? Of PTL Ministries? In a recent video circulated by Right Wing Watch, Bakker insisted that any impeachment of Trump would lead to a “civil war in the United States . . . Christians will finally come out of the shadows” to fight for what’s right.

Even for a mild-mannered historian like me, it’s hard not to be disturbed by such threats of American jihad. And it’s easy for secular people like me to see more evidence everywhere we look. We know, for example, that a whopping 81% of white evangelical voters voted for Trump. Those of us who study evangelical history might politely argue about the meaning of evangelical support for Trump, as John Fea and I did a while back, but it’s not too difficult to make a case that Bakker’s violent Trumpism might have plenty of support.

So should we freak out?

Not yet. Here’s why: Clearly, violent extremism is real and dangerous. Whether from Portland, the PTL, or campus radicals, we can’t afford to pooh-pooh the threat of real theo/political/racial violence. But in order to recognize and fight the danger of extremism we need to avoid the temptation of lumping together all those with whom we disagree.

Rather, we need to understand and encourage the diversity within every group. It is hard for secular progressives like me to truly understand, but no one will be more horrified by Bakker’s jihadist rhetoric than other evangelical Protestants. If we leap to assume that Bakker’s extremism represents the thinking of all white evangelicals, we turn our greatest potential anti-extremist evangelical allies into imagined pro-Bakker extremist enemies.

Are conspiracies real? Are Bakker’s fulminations dangerous? Yes, and hell yes.

The proper response, though, is not to score cheap points against conservative evangelicals by using Bakker’s words against them. The real goal should be to recruit anti-Bakker allies from among his many evangelical opponents.