Were the Fundamentalists Right All Along?

Is it time for atheists to celebrate? ThinkProgress calls a recent federal court decision a “major win” for them. In that decision, Oregon’s Judge Ancer Haggerty declared that Secular Humanism deserved to be counted as a religion.

But isn’t that what fundamentalists have been saying for decades? Is this decision really a long-term win for conservative religious folks, who have long argued that secular humanism is a religion? If SH is a religion, it can’t be promoted in public schools. Will fundamentalists be able to use this court decision to demand SH-free textbooks and state standards?

SH SchaefferI take a detailed look at this anti-SH school campaign in my upcoming book. The notion that SH functioned as a religion was popularized among fundamentalists by evangelical intellectual Francis Schaeffer. In his 1982 book A Christian Manifesto, Schaeffer defined SH as a religion that made the terrible error of denying God and making humanity the “measure of all things.”

Mel and Norma Gabler, the school watchdogs who pushed Texas’ schools in profoundly conservative directions during the 1970s and 1980s, denounced SH as a “religion with an anti-biblical, anti-God bent.” Beginning with John Dewey in the 1930s, the Gablers believed, humanists had taken over schools and pushed leftist, amoral ideas on generations of schoolchildren. SH was not a neutral arbiter between religions, the Gablers argued, but rather a pernicious religion of its own. As such, it should not be allowed to do its damning work in public schools.SH Gablers

Tim LaHaye agreed. The blockbuster fundamentalist author argued in his Battle for the Public Schools (1983) that SH taught kids in public schools to be “anti-God, antimoral, antifamily, anti-free enterprise and anti-American.” By 1980, LaHaye wrote, humanism had achieved a “stranglehold” on the US government. As LaHaye put it,

Public education today is a self-serving institution controlled by elitists of an atheistic, humanist viewpoint; they are more interested in indoctrinating their charges against the recognition of God, absolute moral values, and a belief in the American dream than they are in teaching them to read, write, and do arithmetic. I call these people humanist educrats.

SH LaHayeThis claim among fundamentalists has become ubiquitous over the years. Conservatives insist that public schools are only interested in freezing out real religion. False religions, especially SH, receive special treatment. Kids in public schools, fundamentalists insist, are not actually in a neutral environment. They are, instead, effectively in an SH madrasah.

So here’s the $64,000 question: will last week’s federal court ruling fuel this fundamentalist fire? In coming years, will fundamentalist activist groups be able to prove their claims about SH and schools by citing Judge Haggerty’s argument?

It will help to look at the specifics of the case. In this case, an SH prisoner complained that he was being treated unfairly. He had demanded similar privileges for his SH group to those given to a list of religious groups. If Catholics, Shias, Sikhs and Druids could have special meeting times, Secular Humanists should too.

The judge agreed. In Haggerty’s words, “Secular Humanism is a religion for Establishment Clause purposes.” That is, as far as the Constitution is concerned, the government cannot favor any one religion over another. Judge Haggerty pointedly noted that his decision was in line with earlier court decisions that differentiated between Secular Humanism in general and organized groups of Secular Humanists who demanded equal treatment. It does not matter if SH in general is a religion. Those who claim equal privileges to religious groups deserve them.

So, in short, the judge did not decide that SH was or was not a religion. His decision was based on the notion that any religion or non-religion deserves equal treatment by the government. But here’s my hunch: For the coming few decades, fundamentalist pundits will refer to this case as proof that SH is a religion. They will ignore the niceties of Judge Haggerty’s decision. We might even see a re-do of the Mozert v. Hawkins County case from the 1980s. In that case, fundamentalist parents insisted that school textbooks pushed the religion of SH on their trusting children.

A new generation of fundamentalist activists might take heart from this decision. It is proof, fundamentalists might conclude, that they’ve been right all along.

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Who “Gets” Left Behind

I remember reading the novels.  I read them in the gym of the high school I taught in.  Sometimes students would ask me about them, and I’d say they were about the end of the world.  But I also sometimes wondered if people would think I was a fundamentalist, an end-of-the-worlder, a kook.  Now that the new movie is out, friend of ILYBYGTH Daniel Silliman has offered a thoughtful essay about what it means to be a fan of Left Behind.

For those of you who haven’t heard, the Left Behind series blew a lot of minds when it came out in the 1990s.  Fundamentalist writer Tim LaHaye and his colleague Jerry Jenkins set out to present another gripping fictional story of the end of the world.  But not just any end of the world.  Left Behind told the story of the way many American fundamentalists have come to interpret the Bible’s eschatology.

Clarence Larkin's theological charts were very popular among the first generation of fundamentalists in the 1920s.

Clarence Larkin’s theological charts were very popular among the first generation of fundamentalists in the 1920s.

Since around the beginning of the twentieth century, many (but by no means all!) fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals have embraced the theology of dispensational premillennialism.  This interpretation of the Bible sets out a series of ages, or “dispensations.”  Our current Age is set to expire sometime soon.  When it does, this theology predicts, Jesus will lift all true believers to meet him “in the air.”  This event will be known as the “rapture.”  After the rapture, those who have been left behind will suffer through seven years of tribulation before Jesus returns in glory.  Once Jesus and his angelic hosts have defeated the Antichrist on the field of Armageddon, a thousand years of peace and love will follow on earth, the millennium.

That’s a quick and dirty summary, but for our purposes, it will do.  Tim LaHaye was not the first prophecy writer to fictionalize this story.  As many evangelicals of a certain age will remember, an older generation of films such as A Thief in the Night told a similar story, in a similarly dramatic fashion.

But LaHaye’s Left Behind series took this Bible apocalypse into the mainstream.  Millions of people read the books.  And evangelical sorta-star Kirk Cameron made a series of movies to bring the message to even more fans.  And now, for some reason, there’s a new movie version, this time starring Nicholas Cage.

For nerds like me, the interesting question is not whether the new film is good or bad.  (Although I couldn’t find a single review that said it was good.  Just bad, really bad, and “God-awful.”)  Instead, I want to know what it can tell us about American religion.  Specifically, I want to know why so many people gobble up these fundamentalist bedtime stories.  Is America really that sympathetic to fundamentalism?  Does some part of our national psyche still yearn for this sort of stern hellfire morality play?

Daniel Silliman tackles this question of audience.  Take a few minutes to read his whole essay.  In short, he demonstrates that we can’t really assume much about America based on its seeming never-ending appetite for Biblical apocalypses.  Just because millions of people read these books, we can’t assume we know if those readers bought into the fundamentalist end-of-the-world story.

Left Behind

Some people, Silliman notes, will watch this movie ironically.  That is, they will rush out to see the movie to see just how silly those Christians will get this time around.  Like the infamous Snakes on a Plane, many movies become popular because of their badness.

But Silliman also gives some examples of people who seem to embrace the film precisely because they embrace the theological message.  Just because the story seems outrageous to me doesn’t mean that other viewers are not watching it with very different attitudes.

In other words, we must be careful about assuming too much from this film.  If it flops, we will not be able to say that America has turned its back on fundamentalist theology.  And if it’s a huge box-office success, we won’t be able to say that America is still a fundamentalist fief.

Learning by Discipline

What should schools do with students who behave badly?  Who assault other students?  Who treat teachers disrespectfully?

A new announcement about school discipline from Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Attorney General Eric Holder might drive some conservative pundits to distraction.  Discipline, the two leading officials of the Obama Administration announced yesterday, must be more sensitive to student background and more responsive to individual situations.  Blanket zero-tolerance policies, they proclaimed, lead to worse school discipline, not better.

Those zero-tolerance policies, however, grew out of a groundswell of popular conservative opinion throughout the 1980s and 1990s.  Conservative commentators and activists long complained that schools treated students too gingerly.  Good old-fashioned discipline, some conservative writers insisted, would help return schools to their proper role.  Instead of being places where polite students and teachers cower and wince at the domineering swagger of loud-mouthed punks, schools should be calm and orderly places where infractions of the rules are not tolerated.

Some studies have demonstrated the central importance of a reinvigorated school discipline to many conservative parents in the 1980s.  One Stanford study[1] of two new fundamentalist schools in the 1970s and 1980s found that leaders put bad discipline in public schools as one of their top reasons for opening their own school, right up there with “secular humanism,” “evolution teaching,” and the fact that “kids weren’t learning.”  In a fundamentalist school that opened in September 1974 with a grand total of eleven students, one teacher informed the Stanford researcher that most parents assumed that the fundamentalist school was “solving discipline problems the public schools could not.”

Another study, this one from Temple University in Philadelphia,[2] found that parents listed poor discipline as one of their top reasons for abandoning public schools in favor of private Christian ones.  Nearly 65% of switching parents listed “discipline” as a leading reason for changing schools.  By way of comparison, just over 68% of parents listed “secular humanism” as a primary reason for their switch.

It may come as no surprise that some conservative parents choose Christian schools out of fear of disorderly public schools.  Leading conservative religious writers throughout the 1980s insisted that public schools had utterly abandoned all attempt at imposing discipline.  Jerry Combee, for example, warned readers in a 1979 book,

Without Biblical discipline the public schools have grown into jungles where, of no surprise to Christian educators, the old Satanic nature ‘as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour’ (I Peter 5:8).  Students do well to stay alive, much less learn.

Similarly, in his 1983 book The Battle for The Public Schools, blockbuster fundamentalist author Tim LaHaye insisted that one of the vital reforms that could save education was a return of traditional discipline.  As LaHaye put it, “We must return discipline, authority, and respect to public schools”

In 1986, conservative Texas school watchdogs Mel and Norma Gabler asked readers, “Why has discipline become so bad that policemen must patrol the halls of many schools?”  The Gablers’ answer was simple:

We were taught that if you plant potatoes, you get potatoes.  If you plant rebellion and immorality in children’s minds by teaching them that only they can decide what is right and wrong, that parents are old-fashioned, and that the Judeo-Christian Bible is a book of fairy tales, then what can you expect?  Garbage in—garbage out!

These conservative critiques of the sorry nature of school discipline were not limited to conservatives of a primarily religious background.  After his turn as Education Secretary under Ronald Reagan, William J. Bennett lamented the sorry state of school discipline.  In his 1994 book Index of Leading Cultural Indicators, Bennett cited a fraudulent but evocative historical comparison:

In 1940, teachers identified talking out of turn; chewing gum; making noise; running in the halls; cutting in line; dress code infractions; and littering [as “top problems”].  When asked the same question in 1990, teachers identified drug abuse; alcohol abuse; pregnancy; suicide; rape; robbery; and assault.

Due at least in part to this widespread sense that American public schools had reached a nadir of weak discipline, many states and school districts imposed variants of “zero-tolerance” policies.  According to these policies, student infractions would be met with an escalating series of ever-harsher punishments, including out-of-school suspensions and reports to police.  Politicians could claim that they were taking action to ensure a no-nonsense disciplinary attitude in America’s schools.

Yesterday’s announcement by Arne Duncan and Eric Holder represents the Obama administration’s repudiation of that zero-tolerance approach.  Though “zero-tolerance” may sound good, Duncan told an assembled crowd at Frederick Douglass High School in Baltimore, “Too many schools resort too quickly to exclusionary discipline, even for minor misbehavior.”  According to the Baltimore Sun, Duncan described a new federal approach that would de-emphasize suspensions and put more emphasis on creating nurturing in-school environments.  Attorney General Holder agreed.  Principals, not police, should be responsible for school discipline, Holder insisted.

Will conservatives care about this shift in school disciplinary policies?  If history is any guide, I’m guessing that conservatives will paint this new policy as yet another soft-headed, over-complicated liberal approach to a simple problem.  Folks such as Eric Holder and Arne Duncan may worry that zero-tolerance policies unfairly target racial minorities, but I’ll be surprised if conservative educational activists don’t complain that such social-science talk only obscures a far more obvious point.

If students misbehave in school, conservatives will likely insist, they should not be allowed to be in school.


[1] Peter Stephen Lewis, “Private Education and the Subcultures of Dissent: Alternative/Free Schools (1965-1975) and ChristianFundamentalistSchools (1965-1990),” PhD dissertation, StanfordUniversity, 1991.

[2] Martha E. MacCullough, “Factors Which Led Christian School Parents to LeavePublic   School,” Ed.D. dissertation, TempleUniversity, 1984.

Required Reading: Meet Tim LaHaye

Do you know Tim LaHaye?

LaHaye

LaHaye

If you’re interested in conservative educational thinking in the United States, you should.

Steve Fouse at AliveReligion recently offered a helpful introduction to LaHaye’s enormous influence among conservative and fundamentalist circles.

As Fouse points out, arguments about conservatism that seek to explain away its popularity miss the boat on LaHaye.  Fouse takes Thomas Frank to task for making such oversimplistic assumptions.  Fouse prefers the explanations of historians such as Darren Dochuk.  Dochuk’s more complex perspective fits better the career of a fundamentalist Renaissance Man like LaHaye.

Fouse notes LaHaye’s wide-ranging interests, from LaHaye’s role in the Institute for Creation Research, to his best-selling apocalyptic novels, to his evangelical sex guides.

Fouse mentions LaHaye’s central interest in educational issues, from sex ed to creationism.  If anything, Fouse downplays the influence LaHaye has had in late twentieth-century educational conservatism.

Fouse could have mentioned, for instance, LaHaye’s role in arguing for increased phonics instruction.  In his 1983 book The Battle for the Public Schools, LaHaye argued that abandoning phonics could be part of a massive conspiracy to “reduce the standard of living in our country so that someday the citizens of America will voluntarily merge with the Soviet Union and other countries in a one-world socialist state”   (46).   Disappearing phonics instruction showed the extent to which Christian America had been undermined.  It served as a canary in the secular coalmine.  “Some modern educators,” LaHaye insisted, “use look-and-say instead of phonics because the material enables them to secularize our once God-conscious school system” (50).

Similarly, Fouse did not mention LaHaye’s ardent activism in favor of more traditionalism in US History instruction.  In LaHaye’s 1987 Faith of Our Founding Fathers, LaHaye argued that the nation had endured a “Deliberate Rape of History” (5). Between 1954 and 1976, LaHaye insisted, a generation of “left-wing scholars for hire” worked for secularizing organizations such as the Carnegie Foundation (6).  Such authors systematically distorted the truth of America’s Christian heritage.  Thus, in order to find the true history of America’s founding, readers needed to look to older books, written by those “closest to the events they describe” (6). LaHaye insisted on the Christian beliefs of the Founding Fathers, demonstrating that “most were deeply religious, all had a great respect for the Christian traditions of the colonies, and all were significantly influenced in their thinking by the Bible, moral values, and their church” (30).

Thanks to Steve for offering his post about this important figure.  All of us who hope to understand conservatism in American education should check it out.


 

“Awash with the intolerance of enthusiasm:” Michael Ruse Takes on the New Atheists

I don’t think I’d like to be Richard Dawkins in a dunk tank.  The provocative and prolific New Atheist, though, seems to relish his role as cultural provocateur.  Dawkins is well known for his biting and vicious jabs against faith.  One of his most famous books derides “The God Delusion.”  In 1996, Dawkins told one audience, “faith is one of the world’s great evils, comparable to the smallpox virus but harder to eradicate.”  Elsewhere, Dawkins opined, “I think there’s really something very evil about faith.”

A recent article by philosopher of science and anti-creationist Michael Ruse takes Dawkins to task for being so fanatically religious in his atheism.  Ruse argues that the virulent anti-religion of Dawkins and his followers awkwardly conceals “the enthusiasm of the true believer, and this encourages a set of unnerving attributes: intolerance, hero-worship, moral certainty and the self-righteous condemnation of unbelievers.”

Ruse himself claims to be more atheist than Dawkins, more Darwinian.  Ruse has fought tirelessly against creationism in schools and culture.  Yet he insists that Dawkins’ brand of in-your-face atheism misses the point.  Instead of condemning religion as fit only for the ignorant or insane, as Dawkins likes to do, Ruse insists, “I think my religious friends are mistaken, but I don’t think they are stupid or crazy or ill or evil simply because they are religious.”

Though Ruse claims this is not a personal issue, his feelings have clearly been hurt.  Dawkins and allies such as Jerry Coyne have made it personal.  As Ruse complains,

“I, and others of my ilk, am reviled in terms far harsher than those kept for the real opponents like the Creationists. We are labelled ‘accommodationists’ for our willingness to give religion a space not occupied by science.”    

Ruse makes a powerful argument that the “enthusiasm” of the New Atheists resembles nothing so much as religious sectarianism.  But he strangely conflates the New Atheism of Dawkins and his allies with a far broader Humanist movement.  There are certainly connections, but it does not make sense to use the two terms interchangeably.

And, as Ruse must certainly be aware, his diatribe will likely be most celebrated by the very creationists he and Dawkins both condemn.  The notion that humanism itself is a religion has long been a central strategic point of conservative religious activists.  For example, in the early 1980s, evangelical Protestant theologian Francis Schaeffer condemned “humanism” as a set of ideas that placed humanity at the center of all things, and made humans the “measure of all things.” Fundamentalist school activists Mel and Norma Gabler similarly denounced humanism as “a religion with an anti-biblical, anti-God bent.”  And as blockbuster fundamentalist author Tim LaHaye insisted in his 1983 book The Battle for the Public Schools:

“Don’t be deceived into thinking that humanism is merely a philosophy.  That is a masquerade humanists have utilized for over three centuries to deceive millions in the Western world.  And don’t be duped into thinking that because religious people believe in God, those who do not believe in God are not religious.”(pg. 75).

My hunch is that Ruse would not relish the intellectual company.  All the more since such arguments about the essential religiosity of humanism have long been at the core of conservative strategies to transform public schooling.  Most famously in the 1980s case Mozert v. Hawkins County, religious conservatives had initial strategic success portraying humanism as a religion.

If humanism counts as religion, the argument went, then public schools have no Constitutional business promoting it.  Textbooks with an evolutionary perspective, books that promote a notion of material origins of humanity, schoolbooks that teach the primary importance of human reason, such things smack of government instruction in the religion of humanism.

Strange bedfellows.

As Professor Ruse notes in his essay, his anti-creationist credentials are impeccable.  Yet just as sectarian disputes among religious folks have provided some of the most profound and influential arguments against religion in general, so the clash between these atheistic Darwinists will likely provide the very best reasons to include more creationist-friendly ideas in public schools.

 

 

Reds Under the Bed? Christians Under the Couch!

Conspiracy sells.  Just ask Dan Brown.  But unwarranted anxiety about conspiracy also poisons our shared public life.

Source: The Guardian

Conspiracy hunting used to be a sport dominated by conservatives.  Think Joe McCarthy waving his sweaty lists of communist infiltrators.  In recent years, though, politicians and commentators have found a new subversive threat: the Religious Right.  A new book by former GOP functionary Mike Lofgren, for instance, warns of the ways his Republican Party was infiltrated and taken over by “stealthily fundamentalist” religious conservatives.

This kind of “paranoid style” has a long history in American public life.  Witches were fiendishly difficult to detect in seventeenth-century New England.  Scheming Catholics worried nineteenth-century WASPs.  Communists emerged as the primary subversive threat in America’s twentieth century.

Leaders of the Religious Right have often worked up convincing conspiracies of their own.  As historian William Trollinger has described, this tradition started with the first generation of American fundamentalists in the 1920s.  One of the most prominent leaders of that Scopes generation, William Bell Riley, finally blamed evolutionary theory on a far-reaching plot of “Jewish Communists.”

In 1926, as I describe in my 1920s book (now in paperback!), one of the new grassroots fundamentalist organizations, the Bible Crusaders, announced the root of the evolution problem.  “Thirty years ago,” the Bible Crusaders revealed,

“five men met in Boston and formed a conspiracy which we believe to be of German origin, to secretly and persistently work to overthrow the fundamentals of the Christian religion in this country.”

A generation later, writing in the magazine of Chicago’s Moody Bible Institute, one evangelical writer shared his experience with the famous progressive educator John Dewey.  This writer told a cautionary tale of secularist conspiracy, with a story of Dewey’s eighty-fifth birthday party in 1944.  Our evangelical witness had been invited to the celebration, the other guests unaware of his theological commitment.  Celebrating the life of the prominent progressive educator, the guests proudly recalled their efforts to transform America’s schools from Christian institutions to secular training centers.  “A generation has passed since that birthday gathering,” reported the evangelical spy to the MBI readership,

“and the plan has been immeasurably advanced by a series of court decisions that have de-theized the public schools.  As a result, American state-supported schools are as officially secular and materialistic as are their counterparts in Communist countries.  Are we awakening?”

Such warnings shouted by Christian conservatives have occasionally attracted enormous audiences outside of religious circles.  In the 1970s, Hal Lindsey’s Late Great Planet Earth became a runaway bestseller.  With his co-author Carole Carlson, Lindsey spun a premillennial dispensationalist reading of the Bible into a riveting tale of international conspiracy.  In the premillennial dispensational interpretation, popular among some conservative evangelical Protestants, the Antichrist will return in the guise of a savior, combining governments into a massive superstate.  What seems like secular salvation is quickly revealed as the ultimate cosmic conspiracy, dedicated to binding all of humanity to a Satanic anti-religion.

Image source: Wikipedia

These themes saw another burst of popularity in the late 1990s, when Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins repeated Lindsey’s feat.  LaHaye’s and Jenkins’ Left Behind series fictionalized Lindsey’s tale, again turning a conspiratorial interpretation of the apocalypse into beach reading for millions of Americans.

These Christian conspiracies have not been without cultural cost.  Though LaHaye and Jenkins carefully included a righteous Roman Catholic Pope among their fictionalized true Christians, other Christian conspiracy theorists, like William Bell Riley, have been too quick to implicate anyone outside of their circle of conservative evangelical Protestantism.

The dangers from conspiracy theorizing are not limited to the conspiracies imagined by conservative Christians.  Overheated accusations about the threat from subversive groups have long posed a profound danger to our public life, as any blacklisted Hollywood writer or interned Japanese-American could attest.  The threat is not limited to false conspiracies.  Satan may not have inspired Salem’s witch troubles, but historian Ellen Schrecker has argued that the communist-hunters of the 1950s often targeted real communist conspirators, if in a clumsy and overly aggressive way.

Similarly, Lofgren’s ominous warnings are not spun of whole cloth.  Lofgren warns vaguely of the “ties” of many leading Republican politicians to extreme positions such as Christian Dominionism.  This theology, associated most closely with the late Rousas John Rushdoony, wants to establish Christian fundamentalist control over American political life.  As Lofgren emphasizes, such thinkers approve the need to act “stealthily.”

Lofgren did not make this up.  Dominionism exists.  Prominent Republican politicians such as Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann really do work with groups who support such notions.  But the way Lofgren and other commentators discuss such threats from the Christian Right distort the public discussion over the role of religion in the public sphere.  As with warnings about President Obama’s connections to the “terrorist professor” Bill Ayers, this kind of conspiratorial rhetoric encourages a no-holds-barred approach to politics.

After all, as Lofgren intones, the “‘lying for Jesus’ strategy that fundamentalists often adopt” gives anti-fundamentalists a reason to punch below the belt in their culture-war battles.  If they did not, the warning goes, they would be helpless before the wiles of the Christian Right.  This is the primary danger of such breathless exposes as Lofgren’s.  They build a shaky and fantastic argument upon a foundation of authentic examples in order to convince the convinced.  Activists swallow the outlandish examples without demur.  Such true believers do not consider the real complexities of their opponents, but rather paint a simplistic and terrifying image to shock and motivate their own side.

As with the real communist movement, the real world of American conservative Christianity is not such a simple place.  Nor is it so headline-grabbingly power hungry.  Consider a recent leadership poll by the National Association of Evangelicals.  This organization, an umbrella group for conservative evangelical Protestants, asked just over one hundred of its leaders if the United States constituted a “Christian Nation.”  Sixty-eight percent said no.  One respondent told the NAE, “I hope others will learn to love Christ as I do, but that will happen more authentically through the Church and individual Christians sharing the Good News and demonstrating the person of Christ through our words and actions.”

This kind of statement from a conservative Christian does not sell books.  What does sell is a cherry-picked catalog of statements by Christian leaders revealing their plans to take over American politics and public life.  It was easy enough in Cold War America to discover evidence of a world-wide subversive communist movement.  But as America learned from Senator McCarthy’s outlandish claims, there is a danger in stripping down the image of subversives to cartoonish bogeymen.

I am not a conservative Christian myself.  I do not hope to apologize for the excesses of some conservative Christians.  Indeed, I believe denunciations of the schemes of conservative Christians have some basis in fact.  But when they serve only to encourage anti-fundamentalists to fight dirty, they do more harm than good.  When such conspiracy-hunters ignore the complexities and ambiguities of their targets, they attack more than their real enemies.  They smear innocent bystanders and poison the political life of the nation.

Forget the Zombies, It’s a Bible Apocalypse

Kirk Cameron as Buck Williams

Ask Kirk Cameron.  One of the most compelling parts of a Biblical worldview is its clear explanation of the future.  And that future isn’t too rosy, at least for those outside of the charmed circle of Biblical Christianity.

How are those of us outside this circle to understand this prophetic tradition?  We might start by trying to understand the ways some conservative Protestants read the Bible.  After all, if one believes in an inerrant Bible, one is encouraged to interpret its words in the most obvious sense.  The dangers, in this tradition of Bible interpretation, come when readers exalt their own understanding higher than the words of Scripture.

And the most obvious interpretation of some Biblical books, such as Daniel and Revelation,  is that they are prophecies of what is to come.

One of Clarence Larkin’s dispensational charts (1919)

Through a few quirks of history—though, of course, no Bible Christian would likely consider them accidental—one interpretation of these prophecies has come to exert an outsized influence on conservative evangelical Protestant belief in 20th­­- and 21st-century America.  This interpretation, burdened with the cumbersome name “dispensational premillennialism,” has become the dominant form of understanding Bible prophecy among the subset of evangelicals who call themselves small-f fundamentalists.

For those like me–outside of this tradition but trying to understand it–it is well worth our time to read some of the terrific academic histories out there.  The late Paul Boyer, of my alma mater, wrote a wonderful introduction to prophecy belief for outsiders.  Writing from closer to the tradition, Timothy Weber also offered a great guide to the history of this theology.  George Marsden also included a helpful introduction in his now-classic history of fundamentalism and American culture.

However, none of these terrific academic studies has reached the kind of audience that the prophecies themselves have claimed.  Just as the Bible’s continuing popularity must tell us something about the nature of popular religious belief in Fundamentalist America, so the popularity of rapture theology must hold some lessons.

In 1970, Hal Lindsey authored a runaway bestseller explaining this interpretation of the end days.  The Late Great Planet Earth sold millions of copies.  The book explained the themes of dispensational premillennial theology in an engaging and convincing way.  Lindsey and co-author Carole Carlson mapped the predictions of Daniel and Revelation onto world events of the 1970s.  As had generations of prophecy writers before him, Lindsey insisted that the world was entering the last days described to John in his Revelation.

A generation later, Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins repeated this feat with their Left Behind series.  Beginning in the late 1990s, this fictionalized apocalypse told the story of end times, as understood by dispensational premillennialists.  The series sold millions of copies, and soon spun off an empire of related products, including a kids’ version and the movie starring Kirk Cameron.

What does the wild popularity of these books and their apocalyptic messages tell us about Fundamentalist America?  One danger would be to assume that all of the millions of readers embraced the theology of rapture and Biblical apocalypse.  It seems unlikely that all the readers of these books included themselves in the roll of Bible believers.  Just as the popularity of Harry Potter does not imply an increase in the belief in magic, so the popularity of these books does not necessarily mean a huge bump in belief in this apocalyptic tradition.  Nevertheless, conservative evangelical Protestants since the 1920s have argued for the importance of this particular way of understanding the Bible.  These books helped cement that understanding in the popular imagination.

For many readers, whether or not they buy into the entire theology, The Late Great Planet Earth and the Left Behind books tell THE Biblical story of the last days, not just one interpretation.

For those of us hoping to understand the nature of Fundamentalist America, the books are worth reading.  As long as we avoid the trap of thinking that these books are the last word in what conservative religious people really think, this vision of the nature of reality can go a long way to decoding some traditional shibboleths of the Fundamentalist tradition, such as the dangers of the United Nations and the importance of a strong Israel.

In each case, the politics of today and tomorrow have been explained thousands of years in advance.  As Revelation explains, the Antichrist will appear as the savior of humanity.  He will unite nations into one humanitarian global government.  All will appear obviously to the good.  For dispensational premillennialists, this prophecy provides fodder for an unyielding campaign against internationalism.  In the United States, this tradition has fueled an intense animosity toward organizations such as the League of Nations and the United Nations.  Again, we must not assume too much.  Not every conservative anti-internationalist has based his or her opposition on Biblical prophecy.  But among those who do, that opposition takes on more weight than simple policy considerations.  The fight against internationalization becomes, for some Bible believers, a literal cosmic battle of Good vs. Evil.  Understanding those roots will guide us in understanding the sometimes-puzzling international policies of some religious conservatives.

As reporter Buck Williams of the Left Behind series might explain, doubt and skepticism must end with the Rapture.  After that, the only option left for a dedicated Tribulation Force is to fight tooth and nail against the scheming Evil of Carpathia and His Global Community.

Further reading:

  • Timothy Weber, Living in the Shadow of the Second Coming: American Premillennialism, 1875-1925 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1979);
  • Paul Boyer, When Time Shall Be No More: Prophecy Belief in Modern American Culture (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1992);
  • George M. Marsden, Fundamentalism and American Culture, 2nd ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006);
  • Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins, The Left Behind Series (Tyndale House, 1995-2007);
  • Hal Lindsey and C.C. Carlson, The Late Great Planet Earth (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1970).

Leftist Bias in the Academy?

Conservatives have long complained that American higher education faculty displayed an intellectually crippling ideological bias.  This has been called “anti-intellectualism,” but a more precise term would be something like “anti-professoriate.”  In a recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, the non-conservative sociologist Christian Smith of Notre Dame’s Center for Social Research argues that conservatives may be right.

The accusation of academic bias has been so durable in the intellectual world of Fundamentalist America that one is tempted to dismiss it as sour grapes.  For instance, in the 1920s, Presbyterian orthodox leader J. Gresham Machen finally left his beloved Princeton Seminary to start his own school, driven out, he claimed, by his colleagues’ growing intolerance of Machen’s Biblical orthodoxy.  Less intellectually gifted 1920s fundamentalists made similar charges, in more colorful language.  For example, Texas fundamentalist minister J. Frank Norris insisted in 1921 that the problem with America all started when some influential young Americans studied “in Chicago University where they got the forty-second echo of some beer-guzzling German Professor of Rationalism.”

Around the time of the Scopes Trial, a cartoon in the Wall Street Journal captured this anti-professoriate feeling among fundamentalists:

 

Education in the Higher Branches

More recently, in the early 1960s, conservative California State Superintendent of Education Max Rafferty found the main culprit of America’s decline in the progressive, leftist orthodoxy promulgated in America’s institutions of higher education.  Rafferty insisted that colleges had created a new landscape of “temples . . . great universities which marble the land.”  These temples no longer pursued true intellectual endeavor, Rafferty claimed, but only passed along a deadened orthodoxy, “turning out swarms of neophytes each year to preach the gospel of Group Adaptation.  Their secret crypts and inner sanctums are the graduate schools.”

In the twenty-first century, small-f fundamentalist blockbust author Tim LaHaye agreed.  University faculties, LaHaye argued, had placed themselves hopelessly in thrall to the false idols of the cultural Left.  After his huge publishing success with the Left Behind series, LaHaye set out to create a new biblical hero.  In Babylon Rising (2003), LaHaye described the adventures of biblical archeologist Michael Murphy.  In Murphy, LaHaye hoped to create a “true hero for our times,” one who united unwavering biblical faith with scholarly acumen and a dose of two-fisted machismo.  In one telling scene, Murphy is confronted by his smarmy secular dean.  This little episode tells us a lot about continuing fundamentalist attitudes toward the professoriate.

“Hold it, Murphy!”

A bony hand grabbed Murphy by his backpack as he left the hall. “Dean Fallworth.  What a fine example you set for the students by monitoring my lecture.”

“Can it, Professor Murphy.”  Fallworth was as tall as Murphy but cursed with a library-stack pallor that would make some mummies look healthy by comparison.  “You call that a lecture?  I call it a disgrace.  Why, the only thing separating you from a Sunday tent preacher is the fact that you didn’t pass the plate for a collection.” 

“I will gratefully accept any donation you wish to make, Dean.  Did you need a syllabus, by the way?”

“No, Mr. Murphy, I have everything I need to get the university board to begin accreditation hearings for this evangelical clambake you’re calling a class.”

“Temper,” Murphy mumbled to himself.  “Dean, if you feel my work is unprofessional in any way, then please help me to improve my teaching skills, but if you want to bash Christians, I don’t have to stand here for that.”

“Do you know what they’re already calling this silly circus around the campus?  Bible for Bubbleheads, Jesus for Jocks, and the Gut from Galilee.”

Murphy couldn’t help but laugh.  “I like that last one.  I’m intending this to be a quite intellectually stimulating course, Dean, but I confess I did not post an I.Q. requirement for taking it.  The knowledge will be there, I promise you, but I will likely fall short of your apparent requirement that the only acceptable instructional method is to bore your students to an early ossuary.”

“Mark my words, Murphy.  Your hopes of this course surviving and your hopes of tenure at this university are as dead as whatever was in that bone box of yours.”

“Ossuary, Dean.  Ossuary.  We’re at a university, let’s try to use multisyllabic words.  If it doesn’t turn out to be legitimate, maybe I can get it for you cheap and you can keep your buttons in it.  Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a new artifact to begin work on.”

In this vision of the world of higher education, only fundamentalists have remained true to the original mission.  Fundamentalist intellectuals, this line of reasoning goes, have retained their sense of inquiry and intellectual honesty.  They have not been seduced by the showy appeals of false science, such as evolution.  They have not been lulled by a peaceful-sounding pluralism that in practice degrades human dignity.  And they have not been willing to accept the hidebound leftist, secularist, evolutionist orthodoxy required of the mainstream academic.

Christian Smith’s recent article argues that this leftist orthodoxy is not merely a figment of conservatives’ imaginations.  His article bemoans the attacks on sociologist Mark Regnerus.  Regnerus published an academic article in which he concluded that children raised by same-sex parents have more emotional disorders as adults.  According to Smith, Regnerus followed the guidelines of academic research and publishing.  His conclusions may or may not be correct, but his work followed the traditions of peer review and editing.  Regnerus’ conclusions may be disagreeable to some, but his research methods stand above reproach.

Yet, according to Smith, the attacks on Regnerus demonstrate the problems with today’s left-leaning academy.  As Smith argues,

“The temptation to use academe to advance a political agenda is too often indulged in sociology, especially by activist faculty in certain fields, like marriage, family, sex, and gender. The crucial line between broadening education and indoctrinating propaganda can grow very thin, sometimes nonexistent. Research programs that advance narrow agendas compatible with particular ideologies are privileged. Survey textbooks in some fields routinely frame their arguments in a way that validates any form of intimate relationship as a family, when the larger social discussion of what a family is and should be is still continuing and worth having. Reviewers for peer-reviewed journals identify “problems” with papers whose findings do not comport with their own beliefs. Job candidates and faculty up for tenure whose political and social views are not ‘correct’ are sometimes weeded out through a subtle (or obvious), ideologically governed process of evaluation, which is publicly justified on more-legitimate grounds—’scholarly weaknesses’ or ‘not fitting in well’ with the department.” 

As we have argued elsewhere, this bias is often wrapped in a near-total ignorance about life in Fundamentalist America.  One of the main reasons for this blog has been to introduce the ideas and culture of Fundamentalist America to outsiders who don’t know much about it.  Like Smith, we do not have to actively defend conservative ideas in order to protest against this sort of myopic academic bias.  Rather, we can promote a true diversity of ideas in higher education.  We can push for a true university, one in which the universe of ideas can be discussed calmly, without fear of the vindictive witch-hunts Smith describes.

In order to do so, we need to actively separate the jumble of issues.  The question is not whether children of same-sex parents have a tougher time in life.  The question is whether we will allow that conclusion to be reached in academic journals.  The question is whether researchers will be free to follow their data wherever it may lead, or whether, as Smith concludes, academic life will be governed by a crippling and unnecessary Stalin-lite motto: “Play it politically safe, avoid controversial questions, publish the right conclusions.”

 

Required Reading: Louis Menand and the Left-Leaning Ivory Tower

Louis Menand,  The Marketplace of Ideas: Reform and Resistance in the
American University.
  New York:  W.W. Norton, 2010.

Fundamentalists have long argued that America’s colleges and universities had been captured by a sinister left wing.  Now they have some evidence to back up their complaints.

Most often, those accusations branded mainstream American univeristies as hopelessly lost to pernicious non-fundamentalist ideas.  For example, Texas fundamentalist minister J. Frank Norris insisted in 1921 that the problem with America all started when some influential young Americans studied “in Chicago University where they got the forty-second echo of some beer-guzzling German Professor of Rationalism.”

This hostility among fundamentalists toward the professoriate was noted by one cartoonist in the Wall Street Journal around the time of the Scopes Trial in 1925.  In this cartoon, hillbilly fundamentalists sic their legislative dogs on a hapless professor.

In the run-up to that Scopes Trial, the greatest fundamentalist scientist of the 1920s, George McCready Price, informed William Jennings Bryan confidentially that evolutionists had fallen prey to a debilitating group-think.  Because they only listened to one another, Price insisted, such evolutionists had become “out of date,–behind the times,–and don’t know it.”

This outright hostility toward the academic classes continued throughout the twentieth century.  For instance, one pamphlet from the American Legion in 1930 warned that too many college professors saw their jobs as indoctrinating each new generation of young, impressionable minds.  In this author’s opinion, college professors did not try to authentically educate their students, but only saw their jobs as a chance to make new “teachers of communism and atheism out of them.”

In the early 1960s, conservative California State Superintendent of Education Max Rafferty found the main culprit of America’s decline in the progressive, leftist orthodoxy promulgated in America’s institutions of higher education.  Rafferty insisted that colleges had created a new landscape of “temples . . . great universities which marble the land.”  These temples no longer pursued true intellectual endeavor, Rafferty claimed, but only passed along a deadened orthodoxy, “turning out swarms of neophytes each year to preach the gospel of Group Adaptation.  Their secret crypts and inner sanctums are the graduate schools.”

More recently, fundamentalist blockbuster author Tim LaHaye agreed.  In the twenty-first century, LaHaye believed, university faculties had placed themselves hopelessly in thrall to the false idols of the cultural Left.  After his huge publishing success with the Left Behind series, LaHaye set out to create a new biblical hero.  In Babylon Rising (2003), LaHaye described the adventures of biblical archeologist Michael Murphy.  In Murphy, LaHaye hoped to create a “true hero for our times,” one who united unwavering biblical faith with scholarly acumen and a dose of two-fisted machismo.  In one telling scene, Murphy is confronted by his smarmy secular dean.  This little episode tells us a lot about continuing fundamentalist attitudes toward the professoriate.

“Hold it, Murphy!”

A bony hand grabbed Murphy by his backpack as he left the hall. “Dean Fallworth.  What a fine example you set for the students by monitoring my lecture.”

“Can it, Professor Murphy.”  Fallworth was as tall as Murphy but cursed with a library-stack pallor that would make some mummies look healthy by comparison.  “You call that a lecture?  I call it a disgrace.  Why, the only thing separating you from a Sunday tent preacher is the fact that you didn’t pass the plate for a collection.”
“I will gratefully accept any donation you wish to make, Dean.  Did you need a syllabus, by the way?”

“No, Mr. Murphy, I have everything I need to get the university board to begin accreditation hearings for this evangelical clambake you’re calling a class.”

“Temper,” Murphy mumbled to himself.  “Dean, if you feel my work is unprofessional in any way, then please help me to improve my teaching skills, but if you want to bash Christians, I don’t have to stand here for that.”

“Do you know what they’re already calling this silly circus around the campus?  Bible for Bubbleheads, Jesus for Jocks, and the Gut from Galilee.”

Murphy couldn’t help but laugh.  “I like that last one.  I’m intending this to be a quite intellectually stimulating course, Dean, but I confess I did not post an I.Q. requirement for taking it.  The knowledge will be there, I promise you, but I will likely fall short of your apparent requirement that the only acceptable instructional method is to bore your students to an early ossuary.”

“Mark my words, Murphy.  Your hopes of this course surviving and your hopes of tenure at this university are as dead as whatever was in that bone box of yours.”

“Ossuary, Dean.  Ossuary.  We’re at a university, let’s try to use multisyllabic words.  If it doesn’t turn out to be legitimate, maybe I can get it for you cheap and you can keep your buttons in it.  Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a new artifact to begin work on.”

In this vision of the world of higher education, only fundamentalists have remained true to the original mission.  Fundamentalist intellectuals, this line of reasoning goes, have retained their sense of inquiry and intellectual honesty.  They have not been seduced by the showy appeals of false science, such as evolution.  They have not been lulled by a peaceful-sounding pluralism that in practice degrades human dignity.  And they have not been willing to accept the hidebound leftist, secularist, evolutionist orthodoxy required of the mainstream academic.

This trope has remained so ubiquitous among fundamentalist activists that is tempting to dismiss it as sour grapes.  In this sour-grapes line of thinking, fundamentalists attack the intellectual pretensions of college professors since those professors show universal disdain for the Biblical belief of fundamentalists.  Fundamentalist attacks, this argument goes, actually prove the intelligence and perspicacity of college professors.

Louis Menand’s new book suggests otherwise.  Menand, best known for his Pulitzer-Prize-winning Metaphysical Club, now takes aim at the sclerotic intellectual culture of American higher education.  Menand is no fundamentalist.  Nor does he have an axe to grind against the left-leaning cultural politics of today’s universities.  However, he does agree with fundamentalist critics that the professoriate encourages group thinking and intellectual conformity rather than innovative ideas and iconoclasm.

Unlike fundamentalist critics of higher education, Menand does not blame evolution, socialism, or secularism for this state of affairs.  Rather, Menand’s critique is more prosaic.  In order to become a tenure-track professor in the humanities, Menand points out, aspiring professors must endure years, even decades, of powerless apprenticeship.  Those who survive this ordeal do so not by bucking the intellectual party line but rather by honing their ability to locate and placate the institutionally powerful.

In Menand’s view, this leads to a dangerous state of affairs in which “The academic profession is not reproducing itself so much as cloning itself” (153).  Until and unless research universities find a new way to train the next generations of faculty, Menand frets, the trend toward intellectual conformity will accelerate.  [UPDATE: For a full review of Menand’s book, be sure to check out the H-Education list review commissioned by Jon Anuik:  https://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=33892 Thanks, Jon, for this notice.  –Editor]

Fundamentalists won’t be surprised.  For generations they have dismissed the protestations of the kept intellectuals at America’s universities.  Menand’s book should serve to give them support from outside their own ranks for their deeply held distrust of pointy-headed professors.

Agnotology and Education

Late-night comics must miss the days of Cheney and Rumsfeld.  Dick Cheney shot people and literally had no heartbeat due to a special kind of pacemaker. Donald Rumsfeld offered rhetorical gems during press
conferences, none better than the following from 2002:

[T]here are known knowns; there are things we know we know.
We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some
things we do not know.
But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don’t know we don’t know.

Along these lines, although with pithier prose, historian of science Robert Proctor  has suggested a promising line of study, about the things we don’t know and the ways we don’t know them.  He calls the field agnotology, or the study
of ignorance.  Others have suggested different terms, such as agnoiology.  (See Tim Lacy’s discussion of the history on the US Intellectual History blog for more.)

In a recent collection of essays co-edited with Londa Schiebinger, Proctor laid out a three-part structure of agnotology.  In Proctor’s view, it will be helpful to differentiate between types of ignorance:

ignorance as native state (or resource), ignorance as lost realm (or selective choice), and

ignorance as a deliberately engineered and strategic ploy (or active construct).

Proctor and some of the other essay contributors are especially interested in the ways that ignorance can be a strategic ploy.  Proctor, for instance, describes the ways tobacco companies constructed plausible ignorance about the negative health impacts of smoking.  Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway, in their contribution “Challenging Knowledge: How Climate Science Became a Victim of the Cold War,” explore the conspiratorial history of the George Marshall Institute and its quest to create ignorance about the causes of global climate change.

It seems to me the study of ignorance has another productive application in our thinking about the cultural and intellectual role of institutional education.  Notions of education usually include the implicit claim to be combating ignorance.  But in fact, some kinds of ignorance have long been part and parcel of educational goals.  In general, this has taken the form of certain types of information from which young people must be shielded.  This has a long and storied legacy.  Anthony Comstock, for example, made his career on protecting youth, women, and other “vulnerable” classes of people from exposure to lewd information.

In American schools, a Calvinist hangover has implicitly shaped ideologies of mandatory ignorance, especially for the young.  Pre-1857 editions of McGuffey’s Third Reader included a short anonymous selection that typified this tradition.  In the short dialogue, “Knowledge is Power,” the first speaker asserts confidently, “Knowledge is an excellent thing.”

An old man replies, “It may be a blessing or a curse.  Knowledge is only an increase of power, and power may be a bad as well as a good thing.”  The old man goes on to give examples that overwhelm the initial reluctance of his optimistic interlocutor: A horse without a bridle can wreck a barn. A pond without dams can flood a field.  A ship well steered goes faster, but if steered wrong, “the more sail she carries, the further will she go out of her course.”

The younger man is convinced.  Without tight control, such things can cause damage.  “‘Well, then,’ continued the old man, ‘if you see these things so clearly, I hope you can see, too, that knowledge to be a good thing, must be rightly applied.  God’s grace in the heart will render the knowledge of the head a blessing; but without this, it may prove to us no better than a curse.”

This short bit captures the powerful drive toward ignorance that long ruled the Reformed tradition in the United States.  Knowledge, in this view, was not a simple good.  It must be carefully examined and weighed before being pursued.  By itself, knowledge could be the sinful knowledge first banned for Adam and Eve.  It could be the knowledge of pernicious doubt and skepticism.  To become wise, in this tradition, meant remaining ignorant of such fields.

This tradition of mandatory ignorance has been enormously influential on American thinking about education and youth.  Throughout the twentieth and into the twenty-first century, the notion that ignorance must be actively promoted and defended among young people has proven culturally and politically powerful far beyond the circles of religious conservatives.  Knowledge about sex, violence, and—among certain circles—scientific topics such as evolution has been seen as an intellectual poison.  Building and defending walls of ignorance around such notions has been asserted as the primary aim of education.

For instance, in the 1920s, when the culture wars over the teaching of evolution first heated up, anti-evolutionists insisted that any chink in the armor of ignorance protecting young people would be worse than death.  In 1923, anti-evolution evangelist T.T. Martin demanded relentless defense of the ignorance of young people.  “Ramming poison down the throats of our children is nothing,” Martin accused, “compared with damning their souls with the teaching of Evolution.”

Other anti-evolutionists in the 1920s argued that this ignorance should only extend through children’s formative years.  By the time they reached college age, many thought, they could be safely allowed to know.  For instance, Alfred Fairhurst, a fundamentalist educator active in the 1920s controversies, had always argued that “in the colleges and universities [evolution] ought to be taught honestly and fully to the select few who have the ability to comprehend it in all its bearings.”

Similar arguments were made throughout the twentieth century about the importance of ignorance about sex for young people.  One of the most prolific fundamentalist writers about education and ignorance has been Tim LaHaye.  In his 1983 Battle for the Public School, LaHaye decried the fact that explicit knowledge about sex had been “jammed down the throats of our children.”  LaHaye described one passage of a sex-ed book:

thescene of intercourse portrays a naked father astride his equally naked wife,
intent on three areas of contact: lips, breasts/chest, penis/vagina.  The genital area offers an ‘inner’ diagram,
so that the child can perceive the mother’s vagina and uterus; the father has
inserted his penis into the vagina and is emitting sperm cells.

Such knowledge, LaHaye insisted, exemplified “this reckless policy of inflaming young minds with adult information.”  For LaHaye as for Protestant fundamentalists of the 1920s, this was not an undifferentiated insistence on ignorance, but rather a belief that certain types of ignorance must be maintained for young
people specifically.  As many conservative Protestants did not—and do not—object to the teaching of evolution
to older students, so LaHaye famously celebrated sex knowledge for some audiences.  In his 1976 book, The Act of Marriage, LaHaye promoted frank, explicit knowledge of sex for adult married couples.

This distinction between young unmarried people and married couples runs throughout current conservative Protestant thinking about sex education.  Ministries such as Joe Beam’s Family Dynamics promote knowledge about sex, but only within a traditional marriage.

For such Christian conservatives, knowledge as such is not dangerous, but the boundaries around knowledge must be vigorously defended.

The notion that young people must be protected from certain types of knowledge has powerful influence beyond the ranks of Protestant fundamentalists.  Recently, the US Supreme Court ruled in Brown v.
Entertainment Merchants Association
(2010) that the state of California could not ban violent video games for those under eighteen years of age.  The Court agreed that such a ban violated the game-makers’ First Amendment right to free speech.

Justice Clarence Thomas made a curious rejoinder.  In his dissenting opinion, he argued that California could ban violent video games because the founding generation believed in and rigidly enforced parents’ ability to severely curtail the outer bounds of knowledge accessible to their children.

Thomas argued that the founding generation demanded strong control over what young people could know.
He stated, “Adults [in the founding era] carefully controlled what they published for children.  Stories written for children were dedicated to moral instruction and were relatively austere, lacking details that might titillate children’s minds.”

Like LaHaye and the 1920s anti-evolutionists, Thomas insisted on the educational tradition of promoting, defending, and enforcing ignorance.  Certain topics, especially concerning sex, violence, and religiously charged notions such as evolution, must not be broached with young people.  There is an inherent danger, according to this line of thinking, in the merest exposure of young people to such forms of knowledge.  In this view, schools join parents as gatekeepers of such forbidden forms of knowledge.  The role of the school, parent, and society, is to become active purveyors of constructed ignorance for young people.