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The case against evangelicals

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Frances Fitzgerald, the Pulitzer Prize-winning (“Fire in the Lake”) historian, has a new book out that takes aim at American evangelicals. “The Evangelicals” was reviewed in last weekend’s Wall Street Journal, in a surprisingly even-handed way, given the importance of evangelicals to the Republican Party, of which the Wall Street Journal is both a bastion and a mouthpiece. (The review is not available online without a subscription.)

Fitzgerald traces the evolution of the evangelical movement back to the 1800s, noting its rising influence in the late 1970s, when Jerry Falwell started the Moral Majority. Ronald Reagan—or, more correctly, his handlers—realized the importance of attracting these voters, even though Reagan himself, who was not a church-going man, looked down on them as intellectually feeble-minded. (Donald Trump does, too, but, as they say, politics makes strange bedfellows.)

Fitzgerald’s beef is the evangelicals’ nosing into politics; as the book’s reviewer says, Fitzgerald “has no sympathy for the movement’s positions on social matters: e.g. abortion and gay rights.” Fitzgerald herself views this as an illegitimate, unconstitutional and dangerous “right to carry religious objections” into the public arena, in such matters as business transactions (think of that baker who refused to do business with a gay couple). “Even government officials,” Fitzgerald writes, can improperly drag irrelevant religious ideologies into the performance of their duties (like that Kentucky clerk, Kim Davis, who said marrying gay people went against her Christian values, and refused to do it).

My own views on this coincide with Fitzgerald’s. My earliest memory of realizing how dangerous to me, personally, and to America these evangelicals are occurred about thirty years ago, when I heard a preacher on the radio promising to “drag them [non-believers] into the tent kicking and screaming.” That overt threat made me shudder. Then we saw how the evangelicals joined forces with an extreme right wing faction to create the modern Republican Party in all its foaming antipathy. With the rise of the tea party—largely congruent with evangelicals, although not exactly the same—we now have reached a point, with Trump’s election, where evangelicals have free reign in the halls of power, and are able to impose their views in many areas of social policy.

Many Americans are rightfully worried about this. We believe that America is, and should be (in accordance with our Founding Fathers’ vision) a secular nation, where people of all religions, or none, are free to flourish and pursue life, liberty and happiness. Some religions, perhaps most of them, happily refrain from forcing their views on everyone else. Buddhists are famously tolerant; so are Jews (excepting the ultra-orthodox); so are the more liberal Christian denominations.

Unfortunately, evangelicals are not so tolerant. What is it about evangelicals that makes them want to establish a theocracy in America? How can they be so dead-certain they’re right—even when so many of their most cherished beliefs are at odds with science? Scientists all over the world stand in unity that no human being ever encountered a dinosaur, because the two species—humans and dinosaurs—were separated by tens and even hundreds of millions of years. Yet evangelicals persist in the delusion that Adam and Eve and little Cain and Abel played with dinosaurs in the Garden of Eden. In fact, that’s exactly what you’ll see if you ever visit the Creation Museum, where there’s an exhibit of a pair of velociraptors playing peacefully right next to a little girl tending a fire. An explanatory panel at the exhibit reads “Remembering that time humans and dinosaurs were friends.”

Oy vey, as my sainted Grandma would have said. Honestly, what are we to make of evangelicals? Liberals want to get along with everybody, but we do believe that a certain amount of truth-recognition is necessary for us to cooperate in a functional society. Indeed, a common subscription to “the truth” is the kernel of humankind’s ability to form civil societies in the first place. When a large segment of society voluntarily abandons the truth, what they are doing, in effect, is abandoning the pretense that we can live together in harmony. And when this same segment elects a President who, similarly, makes war on truth, they are stating, in no uncertain terms, that they have no desire for harmony. Instead, they wield the evangelical sword, hoping to drag the rest of us “kicking and screaming into the tent.” This is why we resist.

  1. I have always said that fanatics of any sort are a danger to us all, and the American evangelicals scare me WAY more than any other extremists out there. They rail against so-called Sharia Law, but want to impose exactly the same conditions on Americans, especially women and minorities. And they have guns.

    Trump is a sociopath who just says and does whatever he wants to at any moment. But it’s his cronies or handlers or whatever you want to call them that are truly dangerous, because they have already set in place onerous legislation that targets anyone they are afraid of, or whom they wish to control.

    #Resist #Persist

  2. Dear Goddess of Wine, thanks for your comment. I believe that increasing numbers of Americans are seeing things the way you portrayed them. In this, I take comfort that the U.S.A. will do the right thing, and remain true to our historic values.

  3. Please explain the cognitive dissonance I experience when contemplating Wall St. Jews coalescing with Main St., Bible thumping, Evangelicals?

    I suspect this minute diversity centers around Republican support for $ and the moral majority’s obsession with God, Guns, and Gays, which often results in them voting against their own best interests.
    None the less, I fail to see the nexus upon which these groups find commonality. Perhaps, they should mandate a Voters IQ test below the Mason-Dixon Line.

  4. I think you’ve analyzed this very well. Politics makes for strange bedfellows.

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