Required Reading: Matthew Lee Anderson on Non-Culture War Conservatism

“Why do the angry people get all the attention?” 

That was one of those audience questions that has stuck with me.  It was at a talk about the history of American creationism I gave a while ago to an audience of (mostly) committed students of biological evolution.  I had included one of my go-to bits from the aggressive atheist Richard Dawkins.  I often explain my purpose in studying conservative religion in American public life as a quest to deflate Dawkins’ 1986 warning: Anyone who does not believe in evolution, Dawkins insisted, must be “ignorant, stupid or insane (or wicked, but I’d rather not consider that).”  Though I don’t believe in creationism, I think many people who are not ignorant, stupid, or insane do believe it.  Our talk turned after that to the prominence of mean-spirited, angry culture warriors.  Why do such voices get all the attention, when most of us, whatever our beliefs, would prefer a respectful dialogue?  

Yesterday at Mere Orthodoxy, Matthew Lee Anderson posted another in his series on what it would take for conservative religious Americans to create a post-culture war persona.    

Anderson suggests “four moves” that would move the public engagement of conservative religious Americans in healthier directions:

1) Recover a robust doctrine of creation that is isn’t afraid to be doctrinal.

2) Emphasize the moral imagination and attempt to construct arguments that both appeal to and buttress it.

3) Remember that the church does not simply engage the culture, including politics, but is a culture and so has her own political order.

4) Reframe American exceptionalism around America’s responsibilities rather rather than its virtues. 

As Anderson admits, some of these moves might just be restatements of the goals of the last two generations of culturally engaged evangelicalism.  Carl Henry’s call in 1947 for a “progressive Fundamentalism with a social message” comes to mind.  But for those of us from the outside, those of us trying to understand conservative religion in American public life in order to take away some of the power of all the “angry voices,” understanding Anderson’s moves (and his supporting reading lists) might be a good place to start.