Jesus Teaching Evolution

We’ve been hearing a lot in the last few days about 47% of Americans: Governor Romney’s comments about the 47% who don’t pay federal income taxes, or the 47% whom he assumes won’t vote for him. 

I’m more interested in the 46% of adult Americans who believe humans were created in “pretty much their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so.”  For believers in evolution like me, that number is hard to understand.  How can so many adults–almost half of whom hold college degrees–believe in this kind of young-earth creationism? 

As we’ve discussed here recently, this is not merely a question of shoddy science education.  Mere exposure to evolutionary science does not promise to increase the number of believers in evolution.  The important element seems to be the messenger of evolutionary science, not just the message. 

A brief autobiography this morning by evolutionary creationist educational writer Abigail McFarthing seems to confirm this notion.  McFarthing describes her upbringing as a youngster homeschooled into the tenets of young-earth creationism.  As she writes,

“In ninth grade, I went to public high school armed and ready for the fight I had been trained to expect. When my biology teacher taught evolution and required us to write an essay, I hi-jacked the essay topic and turned it into an apologetic for six-day creation. Because I was in ‘conflict mode,’ I was not ready to consider the arguments for evolution, or the possibility that Christians could actually accept it.” 

It was not until McFarthing attended the evangelical Wheaton College that she was brought out of conflict mode.  As she studied to become a high-school teacher, one of her evangelical Christian professors insisted, “‘Jesus is not going to be standing at the gateway of heaven . . . holding a clipboard in his hand and asking, “Did you believe in six-day creation? Did you believe in evolution?” He’s going to be asking the one question that matters: “Did you believe in ME?”‘” 

The goal of McFarthing’s new homeschooling curriculum is not to train students away from their conservative evangelical faith.  Rather, she describes her goal as “resilience.”  She wants young people to realize that they can be Christian and accept the evidence for evolution. 

I’m not advocating McFarthing’s curriculum.  I do not think that her evolutionary creationism will fit in public schools, nor does she suggest that it should.  The interesting point here is McFarthing’s story.  It seems to add one more bit of evidence to a growing pile.  The way to educate people about evolution is not simply to bash them over the head with scientific evidence.  As we noted recently, evidence alone does not convince.  Rather, for people like McFarthing, the messenger is more important than the message.

Art Attack in the Culture Wars

“Holy Rollin Poultry on a Cross” (2012), used with permission of Dreg Studios

Jon McNaughton’s art is a favorite of the Tea Party set.  Brandt Hardin paints from the other side of the culture war trenches.  He has painted and written about such current topics as Chick-fil-A and traditional marriage, Tennessee’s continuing struggle with evolution/creation, and the power of Mitt’s money in conservative politics.

“Forty-six and 2” (2012), used with permission of Dreg Studios

As we noted about McNaughton, perhaps his popularity with conservatives is bolstered by an implicit appreciation for realistic art, for art that avoids distortion and irony.  If so, Hardin’s pop-surrealistic style provides a stylistic, as well as a cultural, counterpoint.

“Mitt Romney’s Magic Mormon Underwear” (2012), used with permission of Dreg Studios

In the News: Paul Ryan and a WASP-free White House

Governor Romney’s announcement of Paul Ryan as his Vice-Presidential running mate has been heralded by some conservatives as a triumph.  Ryan is known for his commitment to restricting abortion and defending traditional families.  He is also the GOP’s leading voice for budget-cutting, even to the point of earning some censure from Catholic leaders.   But the pick has been seen as a play to conservatives, or, as we say here at ILYBYGTH, to voters from Fundamentalist America.

One unusual aspect of Romney’s decision is that it guarantees a WASP-free White House for at least four more years.  Of course, there’s nothing new about a WASP-free White House.  Barack Obama is African American Protestant, while Joe Biden is Catholic.  But no matter who wins in November, with LDS (Morman) Romney and staunchly Catholic Ryan, there will be no White, Anglo-Saxon Protestant in this race.

This matters for a couple of reasons.  First, it shows the way Fundamentalist America is changing.  Sixty years ago, asking conservatives to line up behind a non-Protestant candidate was political suicide.  In 1928 and nearly in 1960, it was tricky even for the Democrats to run a Catholic candidate.  These days, many different types of conservatives celebrate the Romney-Ryan ticket.  Ryan is seen as the “conservative” choice, not the “Catholic” choice.  Just as with the Protestant-free US Supreme Court, the fact that conservatives don’t seem to care about the non-WASPiness of this election tells us something about the changing nature of American culture.

It would be easy to be cynical about this.  We could attack Fundamentalist America for being hypocritical.  Here is how this argument would go: conservatives demand respect for “traditional values,” but they don’t ever clarify what those values are.  Since such things change within even one lifetime, the defense of “traditional values” is meaningless.  What last year’s traditionalist defends as a necessary part of American life, next year’s traditionalist insists was never part of traditionalist thinking.  In this case, traditionalist conservatives could be taken to task for shifting their “traditional values” without ever admitting it.  Sixty years ago, Catholics and LDS members were seen by many as outsiders, owing loyalty to a foreign potentate, in the case of Catholics.

A more sympathetic interpretation, however, is that this change from WASP to a more big-tent conservatism shows the healthy ways Fundamentalist America can change.  Fundamentalist America, in this line of thinking, is not the dinosaur it is made out to be.  It is a dynamic, thoughtful, fully contemporary way to be American.  As American culture broadens to welcome former outsiders such as Catholics and African Americans, so too does Fundamentalist America.

Fundamentalist America: A Lock for the GOP?

Casual observers might assume that every Fundamentalist vote is a lock for the GOP.  After all, at least since Reagan took the evangelical vote away from the evangelical Jimmy Carter, the Republican Party has cultivated an image as the staunch defender of life, family, and traditional values.

Reagan at the 1983 NAE Convention.

 

So even though the presumptive GOP nominee is a leader of the LDS Church, it is a general electoral rule of thumb that Bible voters will go for Romney in 2012.

But will they?

An article in this week’s Economist tries to pick apart the “evangelical vote.”  The article offers some interesting numbers.  Here are a few to consider:  in 2008, 65% of (self-identified) white evangelicals called themselves Republicans.  A recent poll put that number at 70%.  Self-identified white evangelicals made up 44% of Republican primary voters in 2008, compared to “over half” in the first 16 GOP primaries in 2012.  That’s a strong vote of support.

But look at the other side of those numbers.  In 2008, almost one-quarter of evangelical voters voted for Barack Obama.  Part of that support comes from a closer look at the meaning of “evangelical.”  President Obama, according to the Economist article (citing a Pew Research Center poll), enjoys a 93-point lead over Governor Romney among African American voters.  And those voters, after all, include a large percentage who are evangelicals.

The numbers get even dicier when we expand our understanding of “Fundamentalist America” beyond the boundaries of evangelical Protestantism.  Many conservative Catholic voters line up these days with conservative Protestants to vote for a vision of traditional Christian values.  And the conservative Catholic vote includes large numbers of Latino voters.  Such voters may vote for the GOP as the pro-life, pro-family, pro-Jesus party.  But many Latinos might be turned off by the Republicans’ growing support for harsh anti-immigration laws, many of which seem to target Latinos specifically.  As the Economist article points out, President Obama leads Governor Romney by 67% to 27% among surveyed Latino voters.

Could these numbers harken a shake-up of the relationship between Fundamentalist America and the two major parties?  For those who know their history, it would not be the first time.  After all, before the 1980 presidential elections, white evangelicals often portrayed themselves as above party politics.  They claimed to vote for candidates who best embodied the values of Bible-believing America.  And before the 1930s, African American voters reliably voted Republican, the Party of Lincoln.

Could we be on the verge of another party shake-up?  Could the Democratic Party attract young and non-white conservative Christians by appealing to social justice issues?  Could the GOP fumble by alienating non-white Fundamentalists and young social-justice evangelicals?  Even more interesting, could we be on the verge of a vast party realignment, of the kind that has revolutionized party politics a few times in the past?  In the mid-1800s, the new Republican Party built a powerful coalition out of the remnants of the Whig Party, the American Party, and abolitionists.  In the 1930s, the Democratic Party built another blockbuster with a Solid (white) South, urban “ethnic” voters, the union vote, and non-whites.

These powerful electoral coalitions don’t need to be logical.  But a new party that combined today’s Democratic Party’s tradition of social justice, plus the GOP’s tradition of traditional Christian values, could capture this broad middle from Fundamentalist America.