The god problem on Easter Sunday

On a normal Sunday I don’t turn my computer on. Sundays are for worship: reading the entire New York Times and, in season, football.

But today, today, while doing my Sunday thing, reading the New York Times and listening (at this moment) to Thomas Tallis (not for religious reasons), the god problem smacked me right in the face.

I am sharing that smack with you, with this notice: you may not consider it a great idea for me to be trashing fundamentalist religion during the Easter-Passover season, but what the hell. (Ha ha. Cue: you’re supposed to give a little cynical smile right there. Or not. In my world, you are free to do what you like. Just so you don’t do it in the street and frighten my horses.)

Here’s Molly Worthen’s Sunday Review piece, The Evangelical Roots of Our Post-Truth Society – The New York Times that brings me to my computer keyboard today.

Here’s how it begins:

THE arrival of the “post-truth” political climate came as a shock to many Americans. [I’m not shocked because I’m not in a “post-truth” political climate. Maybe Molly is, but I’m not.] But to the Christian writer Rachel Held Evans, charges of “fake news” are nothing new. “The deep distrust of the media, of scientific consensus — those were prevalent narratives growing up,” she told me.

Although Ms. Evans, 35, no longer calls herself an evangelical, she attended Bryan College, an evangelical school in Dayton, Tenn. She was taught to distrust information coming from the scientific or media elite because these sources did not hold a “biblical worldview.”

“It was presented as a cohesive worldview that you could maintain if you studied the Bible,” she told me. “Part of that was that climate change isn’t real, that evolution is a myth made up by scientists who hate God, and capitalism is God’s ideal for society.”

Ah, Bryan College in Dayton, Tennessee.

It was only last month when I told you about my visit to Dayton, during a summer when the lawyers I worked for were in L.A. for the O.J. Simpson trial. I did not tell you about my visit to Bryan College.

Rising across the main road leading into Dayton is a beautifully wooded hill. On that hill sits Bryan College, inspired by and named after William Jennings Bryan, the more-or-less key counsel–no, that’s not quite right: the star counsel–who famously (a) blew it on the witness stand under Clarence Darrow’s brilliant questioning, and (b) died five days after the verdict, not in the courtroom, as Inherit The Wind dramatized, but at the home where he and his wife were staying, after eating way too much chicken (I think it was). Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about Bryan’s death:

In the days following the Scopes trial Bryan traveled hundreds of miles, delivering speeches in multiple towns. On Sunday, July 26, 1925, he returned from Chattanooga, Tennessee, to his home in Dayton. After attending church services he ate a large meal, then died during a nap that afternoon, five days after the trial’s conclusion. When someone remarked to Darrow that Bryan died from a “broken heart”, Darrow responded, “Broken heart, hell, he died of a busted belly!”[70]

So Bryan College–described with dark humor by the non-evangelical woman whose inn I stayed at when I was in Dayton, as, “oh yeah, the Cult,” graduating “missionaries and church organists”–stands as a monument to the religiously based ignorance Bryan himself regressed into toward the end of his life. (By the way, Bryan, who ran for the presidency several times, was a “populist.” Does this ring a bell with anyone out there? People?)

I myself did not drive over to the college to memorialize Bryan. I did so because Bryan College apparently controls the rights to all Scopes trial documentation, including the full transcript of the trial. Given how it shames Dayton’s population and Bryan, I can’t fathom why the college would pride themselves on selling it. Maybe it’s because they (over)charge something like $30 bucks for the hardcover.

Anyway, I made my way through the college to its bookstore. As I passed through a highly polished hallway, this is what I saw: pretty students with very smiley faces and a peculiar glow about them, as if they all dusted their faces with Bare Minerals, years before the product was on the market. All the women wore quite a lot of makeup. Sort of Stepford wivish. And the young women were all dressed in longish skirts and blouses, unusually formal for college students, and the young men were wearing denims and neatly pressed shirts. Some wore ties. The look and coloration of a ’60’s TV show.

I bought the transcript and got out of there asap.

Molly Worthen’s article does a good job of describing how Christian religious schooling manages to wash out millennia of human knowledge. A few excerpts, with my spare bolding:

Dean Nelson, who runs the journalism program at Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego, told me that he doesn’t see “how you can teach ‘Christian journalism’ any more than you can teach ‘Christian mathematics.’ ” But he acknowledged that “many of the students’ parents were raised on Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck and distrust the mainstream news media. So it’s a little bit of a dance with parents who are expecting us to perpetuate that distrust and raise up this tribe of ‘Christian journalists.’ ”

The conservative Christian worldview is not just a posture of mistrust toward the secular world’s “fake news.” It is a network of institutions and experts versed in shadow versions of climate change science, biology and other fields, like Nathaniel Jeanson, a research biologist at the creationist ministry Answers in Genesis, in Petersburg, Ky.

Dr. Jeanson is as important an asset for the ministry as its life-size replica of Noah’s Ark in Williamstown, Ky. He believes the earth was created in six days — and he has a Ph.D. in cell and developmental biology from Harvard…

Home-schooled until high school, Dr. Jeanson grew up going to “Worldview Weekend” Christian conferences. As an undergraduate at the University of Wisconsin, Parkside, he dutifully studied evolutionary biology during the day and read creationist literature at night.

…Dr. Jeanson calls himself a “presuppositionalist evidentialist” — which we might define as someone who accepts evidence when it happens to affirm his nonnegotiable presuppositions. “When it comes to questions of absolute truth, those are things I’ve settled in my own mind and heart,” he told me. “I couldn’t call myself a Christian if I hadn’t.”

I could call him brainwashed.

So there you are. And then, just to punch up the fact of the Times turning over its Easter Sunday Review section to deplorable points of view, I came across this in Peter Wehner’s opinion piece, The Quiet Power of Humility – The New York Times. It deserves my “secular counterpart” contemptuous bolding, while Peter Wehner himself deserves to be tarred and feathered for using this quote:

Humility is a sign of self-confidence…

This is a challenge for people of every faith and people of no faith, but as Robert Putnam and David Campbell write in “American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us,” Christians and other religious Americans, while generally better neighbors and “more conscientious citizens than their secular counterparts,” also tend to be “less tolerant of dissent than secular Americans.”



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