No True Christian gets involved in the culture wars

16 05 2008

The Guardian reports on the recent publication of The Evangelical Manifesto, a document which seeks to redefine Evangelical Protestantism against both fundamentalism and mainline liberalism. In the words of the document itself:

Evangelicalism must be defined theologically and not politically; confessionally and not culturally. Above all else, it is a commitment and devotion to the person and work of Jesus Christ, his teaching and way of life, and an enduring dedication to his lordship above all other earthly powers, allegiances and loyalties. As such, it should not be limited to tribal or national boundaries, or be confused with, or reduced to political categories such as “conservative” and “liberal,” or to psychological categories such as “reactionary” or “progressive.”

For The Guardian‘s Alan Wolfe, the authors’ rejection of liberalism is not surprising. But

Their harsh words toward fundamentalism are. Fundamentalism “tends to romanticize the past, some now-lost moment in time, and to radicalise the present, with styles of reaction that are personally and publicly militant to the point where they are sub-Christian.” Jerry Falwell is dead. One wonders, were he still alive, how he would react to other religious conservatives calling him “sub-Christian.”

On the Baptist Press website, at least one evangelical, Albert Mohler, explained why he didn’t sign the document: basically, while agreeing with it on many points, he found it too “inclusivist” (in his words, “the door is not adequately closed” to inclusivism) and theologically weak:

Do all of the signatories announced on May 7 affirm that sinners must come to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ in order to be saved? This is one of the most crucial questions for evangelical identity.

A summary of the Manifesto is available here. The authors appear to hail from the conservative end of the Evangelical spectrum (regardless of whether they want to wear that label), which, for what it’s worth, sounds promising.

UPDATE: Jim Wallis, a liberal Evangelical, puts in his spoke about the Manifesto and its coverage in the media. (HT: Ninglun) I do have an issue with one thing Wallis says:

Let me make a prediction. In the future, we will see new alliances and campaigns led by people of faith on a wide range of moral issues – such as poverty, the environment, pandemic diseases, torture, and human rights, and a much wider and deeper focus on the dignity and sanctity of life, including war and peace and even the death penalty along with unborn children – that will involve people of faith across the political spectrum and will shake up politics. The social movements that really change politics are precisely that – public engagement defined by religious and moral commitment that defies normal political categories.

Perhaps it’s just the fact that he’s speaking to a particular audience, but his vision of grand alliances on moral issues that transcend political divides and will change politics does not seem to include the non-religious. Given that non-believers comprise a growing constituency in the United States, Wallis’ (apparent) hidden assumption that they aren’t concerned about moral questions is a disappointing rehash of the tired old you-can’t-be-moral-without-God-belief meme. (I’ll be happy to stand corrected if Wallis has made statements to the contrary elsewhere.)

Advertisements

Actions

Information

19 responses

16 05 2008
ninglun

There is also a theological liberalism the makers of the manifesto would have in mind, especially in the history of US theology. The line it takes is not dissimilar to Sojourners, a group I have much sympathy for, as you may have noticed. See The Manifesto and the Media (by Jim Wallis). I may have something more to say on my own blog soon, and about a really odd phenomenon I have found in our own Sutherland Shire, one of a very different complexion.

16 05 2008
ozatheist

I don’t think you’ll have any worry about being corrected (re Wallis’s you-can’t-be-moral-without-God-belief assumption) I’m yet to meet an evangelical christian who doesn’t think that. It is very few christians who can see ‘out side the box’ and acknowledge they are not the only ones who should be shaping politics and morals.

16 05 2008
AV

Actually, in this interview he appears to be talking out of both sides of his mouth. He affirms that:

It’s important for religious people to say that religion does not have a monopoly on morality. There are people in this nation who aren’t affiliated religiously but who care deeply about moral values and about the moral crisis of the country, and they need to be part of this conversation too. Martin Luther King Jr. had a way of [including everyone]-it wasn’t just the Baptists who were marching in the streets; it was Catholics and Jews and people of no faith. I think we can speak a moral vocabulary that isn’t exclusively religious and is inclusive of people who aren’t sure about religion or just are not in fact affiliated.

But in the previous question, he rails against “secular fundamentalists” and argues that the separation of church and state does not mean “banishing faith and values from public life”–as if values are the exclusive domain of religious people. He also claims that the “best” social movements are the ones that have a “spiritual foundation” (which I gather is code for “faith-based”), so I assume he would disagree with you that the shaping of politics and morals should not be the sole province of religious people.

16 05 2008
ninglun

Wallis’ (apparent) hidden assumption that they aren’t concerned about moral questions… I don’t think he makes that assumption at all, but his immediate audience are US Christians, and he is self-identified as an Evangelical. I have heard him “live” and read quite a bit of his stuff; I don’t dot all his “i’s” or cross all his “t’s”, as he is more evangelical than I am, but it does encourage me that a very large part of what he says does synch with what any concerned and thoughtful person might think on quite a range of social and human rights issues.

His views are faith-based in principle, but very much evidence-based in practice. As someone who may not share his faith, AV, or shares it rather less than I may, you perhaps could take what he might propose on particular issues on their merits — on issues such as the War on Terror or social inequity– and see how far you might coincide with that. Put aside your dislike of how for him, and many others, faith has been part of how those views were shaped. Should he really confine his faith to Sundays at 11am and make all other judgements on totally different grounds every other hour of the week? Naturally he is not enthusiastic about atheism; he believes quite firmly in God. Does that mean we must reject everything else he says? I am merely saying that if you and he agree on X as social policy that should be enough for practical purposes. How he or you got to the position I might support I find a bit academic; his way may convince some, your others. There is bound to be a whole swathe of shared evidence and interpretation in the mix too.

By the same token I would hope Wallis and his admirers treat you in the same way. I can’t see Jim Wallis setting up inquisitions or trying atheists on the rack or having them burnt at the stake in the immediate future. I can see him being prepared to support atheists who support his social vision, even while not agreeing with their atheism. I do not see him as wanting to impose religious beliefs on everyone; it is his own constituency that he is most directly addressing, those that share the concerns the manifesto articulated over against the Religious Right.

His argument that the “best” social movements are the ones that have a “spiritual foundation” is quite vague; it would have to include the Dalai Lama for starters… But in US history it has quite often been true, and that is where he is making his pitch, reclaiming that history from the Religious Right and reasserting it where it has been suppressed or forgotten. Mind you I really do think he is simplistic about that tradition, downplaying the disasters like Prohibition for a start. However, I suspect he is doing everyone a favour in the long run by taking the axe to the views of the televangelists and wingnuts who have represented for so many of us what US religion is all about. Further, he does not see rampant capitalism as divinely ordained, and that has to be a plus in the US context.

It is also true that many of the worst social movements have had religious origins, even if some spectacularly bad ones have also had anti-religious origins. I won’t labour that point, but it is true that the greatest avoidable losses of life last century were the work of consciously anti-religious movements, though perhaps in these days some are trying to rebalance that…

16 05 2008
THR

The very fact that this manifesto got coverage in the Guardian, a publication so thoroughly reviled by the Conservative side of the culture wars, will ensure that its message will be ignored, whatever its merits. It does seem to be an improvement on Falwell, at any rate.

In any case, the Guardian is an ‘Islamist daily newspaper’:

http://decentpedia.blogspot.com/2007/09/guardian.html

16 05 2008
AV

Ninglun, there is a much higher proportion of strawman in that last comment than I would normally have expected from you. I don’t recall expressing exactly where I agree or disagree with Jim Wallis on social policy X. Nor do I recall saying that I reject everything he says because of his bigotry towards non-theists and secularists. Nor do I take issue with Wallis taking on the Religious Right (indeed, more power to him). Nor do I take issue with the authors of the Manifesto seeking to shift Evangelicalism more in Wallis’ direction (more power to them). And where I do take issue with Wallis, you’ll find I quoted the man himself.

It is also true that many of the worst social movements have had religious origins, even if some spectacularly bad ones have also had anti-religious origins. I won’t labour that point, but it is true that the greatest avoidable losses of life last century were the work of consciously anti-religious movements, though perhaps in these days some are trying to rebalance that…

Sorry, but this is one I can’t allow to go through to the keeper. Those anti-religious movements were anti-religious insofar as religion was seen as being in competition with the doctrine of the ruling party. Anti-religion is not an atheist axiom. Nor is it an axiom, even, of the separation of church and state.

17 05 2008
ninglun

Surely bigotry is a rather loaded word in this case, AV? Wallis’s lack of enthusiasm about atheism is not surprising, is it?

17 05 2008
Bruce

I don’t think a lack of enthusiasm is the issue. I think it’s more that some of the rhetoric is getting close to the anti-atheist equivalent of “the Jews killed Jesus”.

The whole atheism-inspired-atrocities-of-the-20th-century meme is getting a bit tired and has is gradually becoming more prominent among more moderate circles who should know better.

Based on the quote Arthur cites, I’m personally not quite ready to claim bigotry, but this and other little points he’s made make me quite suspicious. I certainly wouldn’t be surprised if he was genuinely a bigot and I think given the reasonable suspicion, that atheists are entitled to press him for assurances before forming an alliance with him.

His progressive stance alone shouldn’t be what sways progressive atheist supporters. He has to demonstrate good will.

18 05 2008
Clark

While I have not read the Evangelical Manifesto, I would like to respond to the statement that “No true Christians fights the culture war.” A true Christian is one that confesses Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. A true Christian has placed his trust in Jesus as the propitiation God set forth in order to bring redemption to man. Some Christians fight the culture war, others do not. Some true Christians are evangelical protestants, OTHERS ARE NOT. It is neither culture, nor denomination, nor any other thing besides the blood of Christ that determines what a “true” Christian is.

“And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened… And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.” Rev. 20: 12, 15

18 05 2008
ninglun

Clark, go and read it!

Bruce: Based on the quote Arthur cites, I’m personally not quite ready to claim bigotry, but this and other little points he’s made make me quite suspicious. I certainly wouldn’t be surprised if he was genuinely a bigot and I think given the reasonable suspicion, that atheists are entitled to press him for assurances before forming an alliance with him.

His progressive stance alone shouldn’t be what sways progressive atheist supporters. He has to demonstrate good will.

I do take your points, but would still say that “bigotry” is a loaded term; Wallis is up front an Evangelical Christian, and makes no apology for that, and the main target of his remarks is US Evangelical Christianity. At the same time, as I mention on my own allusion to all this, the Manifesto quite clearly says:

As an open declaration, An Evangelical Manifesto addresses not only Evangelicals and other Christians but other American citizens and people of all other faiths in America, including those who say they have no faith. It therefore stands as an example of how different faith communities may address each other in public life, without any compromise of their own faith but with a clear commitment to the common good of the societies in which we all live together.

I still regard this as a very positive movement, especially for the USA.

I do have a confession though: I didn’t watch Richard Dawkins taking his somewhat schoolmasterly sledgehammer to a series of gnats on Compass recently, because I find him, um, bigoted… Also I have seen it all before and am not likely to need rescuing from most of the various phenomena he was apparently addressing…

18 05 2008
Bruce

I do have a confession though: I didn’t watch Richard Dawkins taking his somewhat schoolmasterly sledgehammer to a series of gnats on Compass recently, because I find him, um, bigoted…

I’ve seen bits and piece (i.e. not much) of The Enemies of Reason if that’s what’s been on Compass (I don’t know – haven’t watched) and while some of what I’ve seen has been important (i.e. homeopathy taking research money away from genuine medicine in Unis) a lot of it is just a tad redundant.

Maybe someone else would get a bit more out of it, although I suspect that true believers aren’t going to be swayed by his approach and the generally unaware may not be educated by him. A bit like he needs to do a prior knowledge exercise with his class rather than assumed knowledge.

Perhaps boarding school has given him wrong ideas of what constitutes good teaching?

If you want to see bigoted though, I think Dawkins isn’t your man. Some of his allies that he has hooked up with I think have lead him astray in areas that by his own admission he isn’t particularly knowledgeable about (i.e. he defers to them uncritically at times when he shouldn’t).

I don’t think he appreciates the full diversity of Christendom, although he acknowledges that it’s there. I’ve seen him describe Islam as one great undifferentiated group. This probably has something to do with familiarity and knowledge (and a bit of over-confident assumption not in step with best practice Enlightenment skepticism).

In any case, Wallis is a leader of his Christians group, Dawkins isn’t the same to atheists. People have signed up with Wallis in an organised manner whereas the closest Dawkins comes is his institute which is more geared to deal with snake oil salesmen and isn’t an atheist organisation per se. As far as Dawkins and organised atheism, the closest is the scarlet letter campaign which to be honest he just facilitates and indirectly at most (other people decide what gets on the list, he just hosts the damn thing).

The two aren’t really comparable. Indeed, I can’t think of atheism having anything equating to Wallis at all. Herding cats and all that.

Also I have seen it all before and am not likely to need rescuing from most of the various phenomena he was apparently addressing…

Ditto. I’d rather see a different take or some new acts of shonkery given the treatment.

Dawkins currently has a ground swell of fans, especially from the US due to persecution of atheists, but I think eventually they are going to want to hear from someone else. I think the popularity has more to do with the audience than the specifics of the message and that Dawkins is oblivious to this.

The dead give away is when people repeat him or others with the same message, incorrectly. I’ve seen the rational response squad host discussion where they’ve mangled Dawkins et al, demonstrating that the message hasn’t sunk in. A bit like people who fake reading the month’s book at their local book club, instead reciting from reviews they’ve read or from word of mouth.

Dawkins is currently a very popular (as opposed to previously being just popular) author amongst atheists, he’s not an organised leader. Wallis is a genuine leader of Christians. The two aren’t comparable.

18 05 2008
Bruce

Oh. And Clark, I don’t think that Arthur was making any literal statement about “No True Christian”. I think he was making an allusion to the Scotsman Fallacy (i.e. “No True Scotsman”).

19 05 2008
arthurvandelay

Ninglun:

Surely bigotry is a rather loaded word in this case, AV? Wallis’s lack of enthusiasm about atheism is not surprising, is it?

Wallis’s religious beliefs may explain his attitude to atheists and secularists (and while there is undoubtedly a large degree of overlap there, the two groups are not the same), but it doesn’t excuse it, nor does it mean he can’t be called on it.

Bruce:

Oh. And Clark, I don’t think that Arthur was making any literal statement about “No True Christian”. I think he was making an allusion to the Scotsman Fallacy (i.e. “No True Scotsman”).

Yep.

But I do want to reiterate something I said towards the end of my post, and which appears to have gone unnoticed: the Manifesto sounds promising as an indication of a desire within evangelical circles to shift away from the Right.

Re: Dawkins, I don’t have much to add to what Bruce has said already. He’s never been one to suffer fools gladly, nor is he prepared to accept the notion that claims made on the basis of religious dogma deserve special exemption from critical scrutiny, simply because they appeal to faith. Of the “Four Horsemen,” I’d say he’s certainly to the left of Hitchens and Harris–in 2003 he called the decision to go to war in Iraq a “victory for Bin Laden,” painting the war as an Islamophobic, Arab-phobic act of revenge for the 9/11 attacks:

This is worse than bizarre. It is pure racism and/or religious prejudice. Nobody has made even a faintly plausible case that Iraq had anything to do with the atrocity. It was Arabs that hit the World Trade Centre, right? So let’s go and kick Arab ass. Those 9/11 terrorists were Muslims, right? And Eye-raqis are Muslims, right? That does it. We’re gonna go in there and show them some hardware. Shock and awe? You bet.

The God Delusion is an important and valuable book, but I think it has tended to obscure the fact that Dawkins, as a scientist and a popular science writer, has a far more positive pro-science agenda which shines through in his “back catalogue” (though it is evident in the Preface to TGD also).

19 05 2008
Bruce

And he (Dawkins) did it (criticise Iraq invasion as prejudiced) without mentioning with fallacy of the undistributed middle. I feel… Cheated. 😉

19 05 2008
AV

Re: Dawkins, I don’t have much to add to what Bruce has said already. He’s never been one to suffer fools gladly, [. . .]

The pronoun reference in the second of these sentences is ambiguous, but that’s okay: what I say here applies just as much to Bruce as it does to Dawkins. 🙂

19 05 2008
ninglun

I do want to reiterate something I said towards the end of my post, and which appears to have gone unnoticed: the Manifesto sounds promising as an indication of a desire within evangelical circles to shift away from the Right. Noted. 🙂

Also, a quote from Jim Wallis in 2006:

There are no more enthusiastic and self-confident pep talks from the White House now. There is only a totally failed strategy, an insurgency fueled by an occupation, and a civil war that has put young Americans in the crossfire of religious and political hatred. And there is only death, for Americans and for Iraqis. American deaths now number nearly 3,000, and the killing of Iraqis seems to get worse by the week. We must also deal with how American morality has been destroyed by this war; its collateral damage now includes our international standing and respect. And let’s be clear: according to The New York Times, a National Intelligence Estimate warned that the war in Iraq has increased, not lessened, the threat from terrorism. My children and yours are far less safe, not more, because of Iraq.

Most alarming to many of us was the way George Bush brought his faith into this war. The only thing worse than ignoring the facts is investing your ideological blindness with religious certainty. Religion is meant to provide deep reflection, not easy certainty. But George Bush’s religion didn’t lead to reflection, humility, or repentance in Iraq; only to the never-questioned resolve of a zealot. Not only did he ignore the deep concerns of former military leaders and foreign policy experts, this self-described man of faith consistently defied the strong opposition to the war in Iraq from so many religious leaders, at home and around the world. But while Bush’s religion didn’t cause him to change the course of his war in Iraq, the American people finally have. And now it is up to us, the Congress, and even the White House to stop the course…

I guess you, I, and Dawkins may come together around that.

20 05 2008
arthurvandelay

I wonder what Wallis and other signatories to the Manifesto would make of these guys.

20 05 2008
Chris S

I find the phrase “Evangelicalism must be defined theologically and not politically” kind of amusing particularly seeing how Jesus was killed for his political actions (even though these may have come from theological ideas). Any way didn’t Jesus say “follow me” or act like me rather than you must believe a particular set of doctrines like mine?

Hey ozathiest re: “you can’t be moral without God”. I too have not found many evangelicals who’d disagree with this. I would, but I’m not sure if I’m evangelical (and don’t care much either).

Surely the point of the good samaritan story was that someone who didn’t know God was being moral, and the story of the sheep and the goats was that people who didn’t know God acted morally and those who did know God didn’t. Anyway – something you might like throw back at any evangelicals who hold the bible as their ultimate authority.

26 07 2008
Acrimony and tranquility: This is an atheist blog, but not a blog about atheism « The Thinkers’ Podium

[…] dedication to pluralism is sincere (which if you entertain cynicism, perhaps it may not be). IMHO, Jim Wallis would be wise to attend to this concern as I genuinely think that he is lacking in this respect […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s




%d bloggers like this: