Are Christians Extra Post-Truth?

HT: HD, SD

Do you buy it?

I know a lot of SAGLRROILYBYGTH, unlike me, hail from evangelical intellectual backgrounds. And a lot of us have read and pondered Molly Worthen’s recent argument that evangelical Protestantism has midwived a “post-truth” culture. Is she right? Or is this merely true of every American intellectual subculture?

First, some of the usual disclaimers: I’m not neutral. I’m a big fan of Professor Worthen’s work. Her book about the twentieth-century history of the evangelical intellectual tradition is an absolute must-read for anyone interested in the history of American religion, politics, and culture.

I leaned on it heavily in my book about evangelical and fundamentalist higher education. Molly even kindly agreed to read and comment on my manuscript, helping me sharpen up my argument. So I’m biased.apostles of reason

But I think I can put that to one side to consider her latest broadside. What does she say? It’s worth your time to read the whole thing. To get our discussion going, however, here’s her argument in a nutshell:

Evangelicals like Rachel Held Evans were “taught to distrust information coming from the scientific or media elite because these sources did not hold a ‘biblical worldview.’”

At evangelical colleges, Worthen points out, faculty members have often been surprisingly free to teach evolution and biblical skepticism. Yet the deeply embedded evangelical suspicion of mainstream knowledge has led many of them to do “a little bit of a dance with parents.”

Evangelicals, Worthen argues, have long taught themselves to look askance at mainstream sources of information. When it comes to recent harrumphs over “post-truth” politics and charges of “fake news,” she writes, evangelicals find “nothing new.”

What do you think?

To my mind, Professor Worthen’s insight is valuable. Evangelical Christians have been taught for so long to be skeptical of mainstream truthiness that they certainly seem uniquely primed to jump on the post-truth bandwagon. And, as I’ve argued elsewhere, many of Trump’s post-truth themes have long been trump-eted (sorry) on the campuses of evangelical colleges and universities.

But I’m also a little stumped. Couldn’t we say similar things about ANY intellectual subculture? Since the Sixties, for example, left-leaning intellectuals have insisted on the untrustworthiness of mainstream news sources. It all came from “The Man,” after all.

So when I hear of a well-meaning neo-hippie doubting the truthiness of vaccinations, isn’t it the same thing as an evangelical doubting the truthiness of climate change? When I hear of an organcy Trader-Joe shopper turning up his nose at genetically modified crops, isn’t it the same thing as a fundamentalist pooh-poohing evolutionary science?

Is there anything here unique to the evangelical intellectual tradition? Aren’t we all just as guilty of creating a post-truth society?

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Is the War between Science and Religion Over?

Here’s one we missed: among the year-end top-ten lists was Paul Wallace’s list of “Top Ten Peacemakers in the Science-Religion Wars” at Religion Dispatches.

Looking back at 2011, Wallace offered this cheering prediction:

“This year has marked, I believe, the beginning of the end of the war between science and religion. Creationism cannot last. The New Atheists are now getting old. And between these camps the middle ground continues to expand.”

Wallace’s article lists ten leading voices from the broad middle ground.  Included are evangelical scientist Karl Giberson and irenic atheist Chris Stedman.

We missed Wallace’s list at the time.  Looking back at the progress of 2012 so far, it doesn’t seem as if the culture wars have abated noticeably.  But perhaps we need to look more at trends than headlines.  As one of Wallace’s top-ten peacemakers, Rachel Held Evans, put it,

“My generation of evangelicals is ready to call a truce on the culture wars. It seems like our parents, our pastors, and the media won’t let us do that. We are ready to be done with the whole evolution-creation debate. We are ready to move on.”

The goal at ILYBYGTH has always been to promote a true and lasting peace in these culture wars, not merely an angry and demilitarized standoff.  A more profound and sympathetic understanding of Fundamentalist America among us outsiders could lead to a greater willingness to work together.  Or at least to an ability to understand what the other side is saying.

Was Wallace right?  Has 2012 produced a new crop of peace-makers?  It is not too difficult, after all, to stretch beyond Wallace’s list to point out other hopeful signs of a new generation of writers and activists willing to reach across the cultural trenches to work with the other side.  Just a few that have attracted wide notice lately:

Starting long before Pat Buchanan’s famous 1992 invocation of the “culture-wars,” it has seemed that the boldest headlines have been made by those who attack their opponents relentlessly.  Perhaps we can see here a broadening of interest in the peaceable middle, those who want to speak civilly and productively with those on the opposite sides of these culture-war trenches.  One can always hope.