What Is Pat Robertson Up To?

You heard it here last: Pat Robertson has come out against Alabama’s new anti-abortion law. It is not an isolated incident. As SAGLRROIYBYGTH recall, Robertson has also recently criticized radical creationism. We have to ask: What is Robertson doing?

Here’s what Robertson said:

I think Alabama has gone too far. They passed a law that would give a 99-year prison sentence to people who commit abortion. There’s no exception for rape or incest. It’s an extreme law. They wanna challenge Roe versus Wade, but my humble view is this is not the case we wanna bring to the Supreme Court because I think this one’ll lose.

On its face, this could be a simple strategy statement. Fight abortion rights? Sure—but do it in a way that will win. Given Robertson’s other recent culture-war positioning, however, I can’t help but wonder if there is something else going on.

Consider Robertson’s recent statements about young-earth creationism. Not only has he mocked young-earth beliefs as “nonsense” and “embarrassing,” but he has promised to add a class at his Regent University to help conservative Christians combat young-earth ideas.Ham v robertson

Is Robertson trying to situate himself as a reasonable Christian conservative, different from the hard-right folks? Is he willing to bet his culture-war credentials against radicals such as Answers In Genesis’s Ken Ham and Alabama’s Terri Collins? And, if so…do you think it will work? Can Pat Robertson create political space for a not-quite-so-radical Christian Right?

I Love You but You Didn’t Do the Reading

Dive in to the latest collection of stories from the interwebs of interest to SAGLRROILYBYGTH:

Pat Robertson mocks young-earth creationism on his 700 Club, at CN.

manning atlah

Westboro, NYC.

Westboro, NYC: Stories of child abuse from religious school leader, at HP.

People who attended the school describe its leaders as being rabidly homophobic. Manning would often talk about evil “faggots.” Teachers would echo those sentiments, describing gay people as demons who were doomed to go to hell. A message from Manning on the school’s website directs parents to “Stop the homosexual brainwashing of your children!”

Christians under attack, at AC.

Such ideological efforts have spawned not only attempted social ostracism, but a culture ripe for anti-Christian violence by the mentally unhinged.

Methodist colleges face LGBTQ dilemma: Should they stay or should they go? At CD.

Will Senator Warren’s college-debt plan lift her chances in 2020? Large majorities support the plan, even if they don’t support Warren. At TH.

Why are evangelical megachurches adopting Catholic traditions? At America.

old school Catholic practices are in. Yes, that celebrity Protestant pastor is wearing a stole with Our Lady of Guadalupe on it.

Synagogue shooting: Is the Orthodox Presbyterian Church to blame?

Did Common Core work? Not really, at Chalkbeat.

The Creationist Debate We Really Need

Finally! I hope Pat Robertson takes him up on it. Far more than the meaningless 2014 debate between Bill Nye and Ken Ham, a face-to-face discussion between different types of Christian creationists would pack a lot of punch.

Ham v robertsonHere’s what we know: As he has done in the past, aged Christian culture warrior Pat Robertson has publicly mocked young-earth creationism. On his apparently-still-a-thing TV show 700 Club, Robertson offered the following tidbit,

You know, this universe that we live in is about 14 billion years old and there’s no question about it. . . . And we have tremendous geological records and all the rest of it. And that 6,000-year stuff just doesn’t compute. But we, as Christians, we need to know the truth.

Robertson has also put his college where his creationism is. He has added a course in anti-young-earth-creationism for students at his Regent University. Is he still a creationist? Absolutely! Is he still conservative? Definitely! And does he oppose the idea that “real” Christians need to shut themselves off from modern science? Yes he does.

And that’s why Robertson’s version of creationism is such a deadly threat to radical young-earthers like Ken Ham. And Ham knows it.

So this morning Ken Ham challenged Pat Robertson to an intra-creationist debate. To this non-creationist observer, it seems like a much more important kind of debate than the one between Ham and Nye.

As SAGLRROILYBYGTH will recall, back in 2014 both Ken Ham and Bill Nye could afford to be affable and courteous. Neither of them had much chance of convincing people on the other side of the issue. That is, Ham’s young-earth creationists weren’t likely to be suddenly converted to a secular scientific mindset. And Nye’s “Science Guy” fans were not about to become radical young-earth creationists.

bill-nye-ken-ham-debate-wide

Snooze-a-riffic.

A Ham/Robertson debate would be much different. As I’m arguing in my new book about creationism (stay tuned for exciting news on that front soon), the real trench lines in America’s long culture war about creationism are not between secular Science Guys and radical young-earth creationists. Rather, the most bitter fights are between different types of Christian creationists, fighting to establish their specific vision of creationism as The Real Christian position.

That’s why Ken Ham is so terrified of Pat Robertson. Any credible conservative evangelical has the chance to steal Ham’s creationist followers. In the past, you may recall, Ham flatly refused to even meet with the conservative evangelical creationists at BioLogos.

Why? Because unlike Bill Nye, competing Christian creationists speak the same language as Ken Ham. They value the same Biblical precepts. They cherish the same theological commitments. If conservative Christians hear from competing creationists, they might realize that the young-earth emperor doesn’t really wear any clothes.

The Creation Debate We Need

Ken Ham, creationist debater extraordinaire, has again thrown down the gauntlet. This time, Ham has challenged conservative evangelist Pat Robertson. More than watching Ham battle Science Guy Bill Nye, America needs to hear this debate between conservative evangelical Protestant creationists.

Apparently, according to Mr. Ham and the folks at Right Wing Watch, Robertson has been taking pot-shots at young-earth creationism lately. On his television show The 700 Club, Robertson recently announced, “You have to be deaf, dumb and blind to think that this Earth that we live in only has 6,000 years of existence.”

As he has done recently with other conservative colleges such as Calvin and Bryan, Ham wondered pointedly if Robertson’s colleagues at Regent University really support Robertson’s old-earth position. Ham asked if the school followed Robertson in “compromis[ing] the Word of God with the pagan ideas of fallible men.”

Ham offered to debate these issues with Robertson. As Ham put it,

I wonder if Pat Robertson would be prepared to discuss these issues with me or one of our AiG scientists on the 700 Club? Or maybe in some sort of debate format at Regent University? We are certainly willing to do that…. I wonder if Pat Robertson, who is allowed to state these things so publicly through CBN will agree to have his statements publicly challenged and tested!

Both conservative religious folks and outsiders like me would benefit from such a debate. We outsiders would learn more about the issues that matter to creationists. None of us were particularly surprised by the arguments Bill Nye put forward. But many of us would be enlightened to hear the reasons for and against belief in a young earth, since both sides would be arguing from a relatively similar religious perspective. We outsiders could learn about the kaleidoscopic world of creationism. For some people, this might be the first time they heard that not every creationist embraces the idea of a young earth.

And evangelicals would benefit enormously. After all, belief in a young-earth as creationist orthodoxy is a very recent phenomenon. As historian Ron Numbers demonstrated so powerfully, until the second half of the twentieth century, belief in a young earth was restricted to a relatively small percentage of conservative evangelicals. At the time of the Scopes trial in 1925, for example, leading fundamentalists differed in their beliefs about the age of the earth. At that time, no one looked askance at anti-evolutionist leaders such as William Jennings Bryan who believed in an ancient earth. Only with the publication of Henry Morris’ and John Whitcomb’s creationist blockbuster The Genesis Flood did young-earth creationism become a dominant theme in conservative American evangelical thought.

Many young evangelicals these days don’t know this history. They often assume they must either accept the doctrine of a young earth or abandon their religion entirely. A debate between two conservative evangelical leaders would demonstrate the possibilities.

 

Year-End Quiz: Do You Speak Conservative?

It’s the end-of-the-year rush for every sort of retrospective.  Can you take the ILYBYGTH challenge?

Thanks to the folks at the Texas Freedom Network Insider, we have several lists of the most contumacious quotes from America’s conservative punditry.  One list describes the year in creationist/no-climate-change quotations, one from the anti-Islam contingent, and one from the continuing “War on Christmas” campaign.

Here’s the idea: The Insider compiled these quotes as a demonstration of the intellectual outrageousness of contemporary conservatism.  Here at ILYBYGTH, we have a different goal: Can we understand what these conservatives meant?  Can we see the point each speaker hoped to make?  Of course, we know that some quotations are just plain dumb.  This is not only true for conservatives, of course.  Every sort of political blabbermouth can say stupid stuff.  But in some cases, it seems that the quips that seem the most outrageous to liberal secular folks like me actually represent a coherent, compelling conservative worldview.

If you call yourself a conservative, can you explain these quotations in terms that might seem less outrageous to non-conservatives?

Or, if you think of yourself as non-conservative, can you try to put yourself deep enough into the conservative mindset to understand what each speaker was getting at?

So put down the pumpkin pie, stop donning your gay apparel, and try the quiz!

Quote #1: Pat Robertson on the definition of Islam:

I hardly think to call it a religion, it’s more of — well, it’s an economic and political system with a religious veneer.

Quote #2: Rafael Cruz, father of obstreperous Tea-Party favorite Ted Cruz, on the connection between evolution and communism:

You know most Americans have their head in the sand about evolution. I’ve met so many Christians that tell me ‘well, evolution is a scientific fact.’ Baloney! I am a scientist, there is nothing scientific about evolution. But you know something, Karl Marx said it, ‘I can use the teachings of Darwin to promote communism.’ Why? Because communism, or call it socialism if you think communism is too hard a word, necessitates for government to be your god and for government to be your god they need to destroy the concept of God. That’s why communism and evolution go hand in hand. Evolution is one of the strongest tools of Marxism because if they can convince you that you came from a monkey, it’s much easier to convince you that God does not exist.

Quote #3: Fox News’ Megyn Kelly, complaining about efforts to imply that Santa was not white:

Just because it makes you feel uncomfortable doesn’t mean it has to change. Jesus was a white man, too. It’s like we have, he’s a historical figure that’s a verifiable fact, as is Santa, I just want kids to know that. How do you revise it in the middle of the legacy in the story and change Santa from white to black?

How bout it?  Can you beat this year-end quiz?  What did these conservatives mean?  For folks like me, can you do the mental gymnastics to put yourself into a world in which these statements make sense?  Be sure to check out the fuller lists at the Texas Freedom Network Insider.

Happy 2013 and best wishes as we slide into 2014!

 

Pat Robertson and an Ancient Earth

On a recent episode of the 700 Club, [to see the specific section, fast-forward to 56:43] host Pat Robertson warned a viewer that “If you fight science, you are going to lose your children, and I believe in telling them the way it was.”

Pat Robertson on The 700 Club

Pat Robertson on The 700 Club

This extraordinary statement from one of the America’s leading televangelists can teach us a lot about the nature of religious conservatism and education.

A viewer had asked what to do about her children who came to doubt the Bible due to scientific evidence.  Robertson told her that a young earth was not part of the Bible.  Children, he argued, should be taught the truth about the age of the earth.  Robertson prefaced his remarks about the age of the earth by noting that people would try to “lynch” him for saying it.

The truth, Robertson insisted, was as follows:

“You go back in time, you’ve got radiocarbon dating. You got all these things, and you’ve got the carcasses of dinosaurs frozen in time out in the Dakotas. . . .  They’re out there. So, there was a time when these giant reptiles were on the Earth, and it was before the time of the Bible. So, don’t try and cover it up and make like everything was 6,000 years. That’s not the Bible.” 

To be clear, Robertson said nothing about evolution, human or otherwise.  What he did endorse was the mainstream scientific understanding that the earth has been around for far longer than 6000 years.

What does this matter for those of us outsiders trying to understand “fundamentalism” in American education?

First, it demonstrates the complexity of religious conservatism.  Those progressives who insist on a unified, monolithic, even conspiratorial “Religious Right” in education misunderstand the profoundly fractious nature of conservative religion in America.

Robertson understands it.  As he noted, some folks will likely want to “lynch” him for acknowledging the validity of the scientific evidence for an ancient earth.  One response from the leading young-earth group Answers In Genesis ferociously condemned Robertson’s “compromise.”  First, AiG writer Tommy Mitchell argued, the evidence for a young earth does not come only from one theologian, as Robertson implied.  The Bible itself, Mitchell insisted, must be read as advocating a literal young earth.  The scientific mainstream is simply misleading, and when religious leaders endorse mainstream mistakes, it only leads more young people away from true religion.

Second, for those evolution educators who hope to improve science education, Robertson’s statement demonstrates that many devout Bible Christians are open to the central idea of an ancient earth.  Most mainstream scientists and science educators will agree that we do not know the real origin of life.  But we do know that the earth is more than 6000 years old.  Perhaps Robertson’s statement will allow science educators to think more strategically.  Instead of calling creationists ignoramuses and child abusers, those who hope to improve science education can refer creationists to devout Christians like Robertson who agree on the facts of an ancient earth.