Posts Tagged Ross Douthat

Tougher Questions for Dogmatic Secularists

Al Gore, prophet, secularismThe presidential election is nearly a year away, and the race to secure the GOP nomination is already in full swing. Yet despite a rather hum-drum assortment of candidates, media pundits everywhere are bewildered to once again behold that most quizzical of creatures: the conservative Christian.

Aside from the now-infamous “submission” question lobbed at Michele Bachmann during a recent debate, Ryan Lizza’s hatchet job on the Congresswoman serves as Exhibit A. Using a mix of hyperbole, misrepresentation, and pretentious grandstanding, Lizza drags Bachmann’s supposed politico-theological skeletons out of the closet in an attempt to “inform” the rest of us of this perplexing woman and her confounding beliefs.

The result? Another fault-ridden portrayal of the “extremists” who just so happen to make up about half of the country (anti-gay marriage, anti-evolution, anti-”science,” yadda yadda yadda). As usual, the folks who are supposed to be schooling us on what politicians really believe (“keepin ‘em honest!”) display an uncanny knack for being completely oblivious to Christian culture and digging only where they want and only when they’re in the mood to play “pretend.” (see Joe Carter’s full-throttle takedown of the piece here).

For Bill Keller, editor of The New York Times, Lizza’s piece is a different kind of Exhibit A. “Enlightening,” he calls it, for its illumination of Bachmann’s batty side, namely, her “spiritual and political mentors” who believe “homosexuality is an abomination” (gasp!) and who preach “the literal ‘inerrancy’ of the Bible” (as opposed to the inerrancy of An Inconvenient Truth).

“This year’s Republican primary season offers us an important opportunity to confront our scruples about the privacy of faith in public life — and to get over them,” says Keller. “We have an unusually large number of candidates, including putative front-runners, who belong to churches that are mysterious or suspect to many Americans [i.e. the editorial staff of The New York Times].”

We must press these candidates in the areas where they might go too far, Keller says. It’s fine and dandy if such folks believe in silly things like transubstantiation (a doctrine Keller calls “baggage”…seriously), but when they believe in the authority of the Bible and the supremacy of God in public life, ya’ll better hold on to your trousers, cause it’s time to defend our democracy:

…I do want to know if a candidate places fealty to the Bible, the Book of Mormon…or some other authority higher than the Constitution and laws of this country. It matters to me whether a president respects serious science and verifiable history — in short, belongs to what an official in a previous administration once scornfully described as “the reality-based community.” I do care if religious doctrine becomes an excuse to exclude my fellow citizens from the rights and protections our country promises. And I care a lot if a candidate is going to be a Trojan horse for a sect that believes it has divine instructions on how we should be governed.

Wait, “divine instructions” as in, like, divine instructions, or divine instructions as in a copy of the IPCC report?

(“Prophet Gore…Paging Prophet Gore…”)

Where was I? Oh yeah: those kooky, Bible-believing weirdos.

To help us unlock the “mysteries” of such peculiar people, Keller provides Read the rest of this entry »

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Claiming the Christian Label: Intellectual Ownership and the Spiritual Journey

Pew Research Center: U.S. Religious Knowledge Survey

Source: Pew Research Center

The internet has been buzzing about a recent Pew Research Poll in which participants were asked questions about their overall religious knowledge. The study’s most publicized conclusion was that atheists and agnostics know more about religion than most religious peoples (particularly Christians).

Here’s a description from the study’s Executive Summary:

Atheists and agnostics, Jews and Mormons are among the highest-scoring groups on a new survey of religious knowledge, outperforming evangelical Protestants, mainline Protestants and Catholics on questions about the core teachings, history and leading figures of major world religions.

The immediate reaction would be to poke fun of self-proclaimed Christians — and plenty of that is in order — but there’s also an assortment of valid critiques of the study. One of the best comes from Rabbi Brad Hirschfield, who properly emphasizes the difference between knowing God and knowing about God. I disagree with Hirschfield on a few points, but as I reviewed the Pew study for myself, I couldn’t help but wonder, “Is God really going to be that upset if Christians don’t know whether Shiva is part of Buddhism or Hinduism?”

There’s a valid point to be made on that level, namely that relationship with the one true God is overarching and all-important; all other knowledge is secondary. However, I am not persuaded that Christians shouldn’t also pursue knowledge about the one true God, or knowledge about any other gods, for that matter. Indeed, in some sense, the two pieces are necessarily interconnected. For example, how do we know if the God we are serving is legitimate? How do we know whether the Bible is really true? Or, even if we know the Bible is true, how do we know if the God(/god) we are serving actually lines up with the one in the Bible?

On some level, we need to go the next step in our spiritual decisionmaking, and that will usually include taking significant intellectual ownership. But what does the Pew study really say about the Church on this matter? Are we as Christians really not taking enough intellectual ownership in our Read the rest of this entry »

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