Thursday, September 15, 2011

Liberals & Evangelicals - Part 1

I am always astonished to see religious and political liberals who are just now noticing evangelical and fundamentalist Christians and their influence. Where have they been all these years? I am a big fan of Rachel Maddow, but I have to shake my head every time she covers evangelicals and asks, do they really believe this stuff? Yes, yes they do.

Following political news has been a strange experience lately as I feel like I view the media coverage of various evangelical political figures through two sets of eyes. Maybe a better analogy is that I have one foot in two different worlds: one in that of my conservative Christian upbringing, and one in the secular liberalism that I chose. Like my fellow liberals I am often appalled at the statements and opinions of prominent conservative Christians, but unlike them, I am not surprised by them. They have been saying these same things for years, but few have been paying attention. It is only now that some of them are gaining real political power that their beliefs are getting notice.

Some people want to dismiss evangelicals as ridiculous, or na├»ve, or un-serious. This is a mistake; these people are completely earnest and they are not dumb. Their views may seem extreme, but they really mean them. They truly believe The Rapture is likely to happen in their lifetime. They mean it when they say that God has anointed America as a Christian nation and they are called to save it from the forces of darkness – they aren’t kidding. Treating fundamentalists as a joke or a fad will have serious negative consequences for liberalism because there are a lot of them out there, and they vote. Right now, they are successfully framing the debates. They are not just going to go away any time soon.

Evangelicals’ earnestness and commitment is beginning to have an effect in national politics. Old school beltway pundits wonder why it is that the Republicans are no longer willing to compromise. Yeah, um evangelicals hate compromise. They believe they are called to do God’s work in the world and that God requires them to follow the scripture. Compromise is disappointing God. Compromise is putting something else ahead of God and His commands. They are called to be apart from the world, not work with the secular world towards solution both sides can live with. This being the case, we need to stop letting them define morality for the majority of Americans.

It is time to really start paying attention to the religious right. We can no longer afford to dismiss them as a lunatic fringe. Religious liberals need to become a lot louder in their claims a vibrant spiritual life can be found a different way. We have got to stop letting them define which are good and bad religions, and what Christianity means. My struggles with Christianity are no secret, but it is the dominant religion of the United States and we need people to show that there is a meaningful way to worship Jesus Christ and the Abrahamic God with a focus on love and without dangerous literal interpretations. My fellow agnostics and atheists should be more vocal about how their humanistic belief leads them to a meaningful and ethical life instead of continuing to bash any and all forms of religion.

Our mockery and scorn for fundamentalists does not hurt or hinder them; it feels into their worldview that “the world” is out to get them. If the mainstream media does not like what they are doing, then it MUST be pleasing to God. Disbelief in their seriousness and effectiveness will not make them go away. We need loud counter-arguments to their claims. The evangelical movement has spent the last two generations gearing up for this. I believe religious fundamentalism is dangerous. If liberals want to keep the liberties earned and fought for over the last century, we had better start to pay attention and to advocate for a better way. Otherwise we could lose this debate before we even know it’s on.


  1. We have got to stop letting them define which are good and bad religions...

    Seems to me you've just done a bit of that here yourself.

    I fear our UU faith in science has sent far too many UU's on very bad paths including eugenics, while the fundamentalist/evangelicals faith in the bible may have steered them towards bad science, but a far better sense of the deeper truths of love and justice.

    Andrew Varnon wrote a piece on William Jennings Bryan called "Fundamentally Progressive". It was Bryan and the Scopes trial, and especially the Hollywood movie made later, that really set up this dumb evangelica/smart liberal scientist frame.

    If one goes back and reads Bryan though, and his opponents, you'll find Bryan a far more congenial and wiser sort of man.

    A quote from Varnon explains,

    "I may disagree with Bryan on whether or not evolution should be taught in the public schools, but on almost every other issue (save perhaps Prohibition), I find myself thinking, "I'd vote for him." In short, given our current state of politics, he sounds like the kind of guy I'd like to sit on a porch with and ask where it all went wrong.

    Bryan's opposition to evolution wasn't separate from his progressive politics. In fact, he saw Darwinism as being part and parcel of the rising laissez-faire capitalism in America. "Evolution is the merciless law by which the strong crowd out and kill off the weak," he said. That was contrary to the Bible, which he said taught the "law of love." And indeed, it was the social Darwinists who opposed and defeated Bryan in many of his progressive causes, although the battles he begun would later be won by his successors.

    Science changes. What's right, what's wrong, and the law of love endures.

  2. Well said, SA... While I didn't grow up in the Evangelical church, I did grow up cheek-by-jowel with it, and share your assessment that many mainstream liberals are woefully ignorant about its culture.

  3. Thanks, DSD.

    Bill - My issues with the evangelical movement go much deeper than evolution & climate change. It is not just science; it is about the role of women, LGBT, and anyone wanting to practice a non-Christian religion. One of my strongest objections to their philosophy is the desire to ignore facts, scientific and otherwise, in order to accomodate a narrow philosphy.

    I am not overly concerned with WJ Bryan, neither are most modern-day evangelicals. I am concerned about Dobson, Robertson, Palin, etc. They are the ones trying to effect change.

  4. What facts do you find Evangelicals ignoring?

    As far as WJBryan goes, the whole intelligent design argument has it's roots in that orignal Scopes trial. It's really never ended.

    Evangelicals have been at the forefront of some of the key reforms in the US starting with Abolition.

    For that matter, there were Evangelical Women preachers long long before Unitarians would abide any. That's a pretty recent development with my current Minister when of the was a bit of challange for the Church to call her in 1972.

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