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Karl W. Giberson and Randall J. Stephens write: "The rejection of science seems to be part of a politically monolithic red-state fundamentalism, textbook evidence of an unyielding ignorance on the part of the religious. As one fundamentalist slogan puts it, 'The Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it.' But evangelical Christianity need not be defined by the simplistic theology, cultural isolationism and stubborn anti-intellectualism that most of the Republican candidates have embraced."

Texas Gov. Rick Perry speaks to the first general session of the 2010 Republican Party of Texas Convention in Dallas. (photo: LM Otero/AP)
Texas Gov. Rick Perry speaks to the first general session of the 2010 Republican Party of Texas Convention in Dallas. (photo: LM Otero/AP)

The Evangelical Rejection of Reason

By Karl W. Giberson and Randall J. Stephens, The New York Times

18 October 11


he Republican presidential field has become a showcase of evangelical anti-intellectualism. Herman Cain, Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann deny that climate change is real and caused by humans. Mr. Perry and Mrs. Bachmann dismiss evolution as an unproven theory. The two candidates who espouse the greatest support for science, Mitt Romney and Jon M. Huntsman Jr., happen to be Mormons, a faith regarded with mistrust by many Christians.

The rejection of science seems to be part of a politically monolithic red-state fundamentalism, textbook evidence of an unyielding ignorance on the part of the religious. As one fundamentalist slogan puts it, "The Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it." But evangelical Christianity need not be defined by the simplistic theology, cultural isolationism and stubborn anti-intellectualism that most of the Republican candidates have embraced.

Like other evangelicals, we accept the centrality of faith in Jesus Christ and look to the Bible as our sacred book, though we find it hard to recognize our religious tradition in the mainstream evangelical conversation. Evangelicalism at its best seeks a biblically grounded expression of Christianity that is intellectually engaged, humble and forward-looking. In contrast, fundamentalism is literalistic, overconfident and reactionary.

Fundamentalism appeals to evangelicals who have become convinced that their country has been overrun by a vast secular conspiracy; denial is the simplest and most attractive response to change. They have been scarred by the elimination of prayer in schools; the removal of nativity scenes from public places; the increasing legitimacy of abortion and homosexuality; the persistence of pornography and drug abuse; and acceptance of other religions and of atheism.

In response, many evangelicals created what amounts to a "parallel culture," nurtured by church, Sunday school, summer camps and colleges, as well as publishing houses, broadcasting networks, music festivals and counseling groups. Among evangelical leaders, Ken Ham, David Barton and James C. Dobson have been particularly effective orchestrators - and beneficiaries - of this subculture.

Mr. Ham built his organization, Answers in Genesis, on the premise that biblical truth trumps all other knowledge. His Creation Museum, in Petersburg, Ky., contrasts "God's Word," timeless and eternal, with the fleeting notions of "human reason." This is how he knows that the earth is 10,000 years old, that humans and dinosaurs lived together, and that women are subordinate to men. Evangelicals who disagree, like Francis S. Collins, the director of the National Institutes of Health, are excoriated on the group's Web site. (In a recent blog post, Mr. Ham called us "wolves" in sheep's clothing, masquerading as Christians while secretly trying to destroy faith in the Bible.)

Mr. Barton heads an organization called WallBuilders, dedicated to the proposition that the founders were evangelicals who intended America to be a Christian nation. He has emerged as a highly influential Republican leader, a favorite of Mr. Perry, Mrs. Bachmann and members of the Tea Party. Though his education consists of a B.A. in religious education from Oral Roberts University and his scholarly blunders have drawn criticism from evangelical historians like John Fea, Mr. Barton has seen his version of history reflected in everything from the Republican Party platform to the social science curriculum in Texas.

Mr. Dobson, through his group Focus on the Family, has insisted for decades that homosexuality is a choice and that gay people could "pray away" their unnatural and sinful orientation. A defender of spanking children and of traditional roles for the sexes, he has accused the American Psychological Association, which in 2000 disavowed reparative therapy to "cure" homosexuality, of caving in to gay pressure.

Charismatic leaders like these project a winsome personal testimony as brothers in Christ. Their audiences number in the tens of millions. They pepper their presentations with so many Bible verses that their messages appear to be straight out of Scripture; to many, they seem like prophets, anointed by God.

But in fact their rejection of knowledge amounts to what the evangelical historian Mark A. Noll, in his 1994 book, "The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind," described as an "intellectual disaster." He called on evangelicals to repent for their neglect of the mind, decrying the abandonment of the intellectual heritage of the Protestant Reformation. "The scandal of the evangelical mind," he wrote, "is that there is not much of an evangelical mind."

There are signs of change. Within the evangelical world, tensions have emerged between those who deny secular knowledge, and those who have kept up with it and integrated it with their faith. Almost all evangelical colleges employ faculty members with degrees from major research universities - a conduit for knowledge from the larger world. We find students arriving on campus tired of the culture-war approach to faith in which they were raised, and more interested in promoting social justice than opposing gay marriage.

Scholars like Dr. Collins and Mr. Noll, and publications like Books & Culture, Sojourners and The Christian Century, offer an alternative to the self-anointed leaders. They recognize that the Bible does not condemn evolution and says next to nothing about gay marriage. They understand that Christian theology can incorporate Darwin's insights and flourish in a pluralistic society.

Americans have always trusted in God, and even today atheism is little more than a quiet voice on the margins. Faith, working calmly in the lives of Americans from George Washington to Barack Obama, has motivated some of America's finest moments. But when the faith of so many Americans becomes an occasion to embrace discredited, ridiculous and even dangerous ideas, we must not be afraid to speak out, even if it means criticizing fellow Christians.

Karl W. Giberson is a former professor of physics, and Randall J. Stephens is an associate professor of history, both at Eastern Nazarene College. They are the authors of "The Anointed: Evangelical Truth in a Secular Age." your social media marketing partner


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+8 # fredboy 2011-10-18 11:05
Republicans voted to allow the continued destruction of coastal waters in Southwest Florida by--you guessed it--denying science. Thus a cool dip may likely result in nostrils filled with dangerous bacteria.

I believe the evangelical/fan atical/tea hysterical insistence on denying science will one day bite everyone on their asses--or, as in Southwest Florida, invade their obnoxious, ignorant bloodstreams.
+12 # fredboy 2011-10-18 11:07
My previous post makes perfect sense when one considers the fact that most evangelicals share sociopathic mass-extinction yearnings.
+11 # jwb110 2011-10-18 13:04
Quoting fredboy:
My previous post makes perfect sense when one considers the fact that most evangelicals share sociopathic mass-extinction yearnings.

Fredboy, you are on the money with that. The GOP/TP can use that sociopathic bent to wrangle the gutting of the EPA and enriching their corporate buddies.
What I never understood is why, even a group bent on getting to the end times, would sh#t all over one of the greatest gifts bestowed on them by a benevolent creator.
Thankless children they are.
+5 # ruttaro 2011-10-18 23:11
If an individual cannot stomach the idea that life is absurd and turns to religion for answers, that seems acceptable to me. Unfortunately, that is not what religion is about and the Republican's Tea Party marriage with fundamentalists is proof. No, to them individuals should not think, they should follow. Indeed, questioning is forbidden. Religion is about control. It always has been. That's why there is a thing called blasphemy and blasphemers are to be killed. No room for dissent, questioning, independent thought for that might lead to questioning the whole edifice erected for the benefit of the powerful. So a marriage of convenience took place long ago. The most powerful person in tribal society was the shamen since he was seen as "connected" to the gods. The chief (political authority) knew this was big and like the last scene in Casablanca, placed his arm around the Shamen and said, "Louis, this is the start of a beautiful friendship." It is not for nothing that Pharaohs were gods surrounded by priests, kings were crowned by cardinals, emperors by popes, and the Czar and Patriarch were almost indistinguishab le. And this is why the flag is found either in or outside of churches: He (up there) approves of this (down here). Political power wedded to religious control is represented as Republicans joined to fundamentalists . And there is lots of money to go around.
+8 # reader46 2011-10-18 11:51
Atheism is much "more than a quiet voice on the margins." Atheists perceive the folly of religious believers, and have a quiet voice not listened to by people like Giberson and Stephens.
+12 # pernsey 2011-10-18 12:14
Since the GOP decided they were anti abortion...the Christians for some reason will follow them beyond reason! Im a Christian, but I have a brain in my head to see foolishness and when Im being manipulated. Some of these people are like sheep being led to the slaughter, because they have lost the ability to reason or have any common sense. The GOP has turned Christianity into a joke for their own gain. Some of them really do seem crazy beyond reason, and about as unchristian as they can get.
+5 # Doubter 2011-10-18 19:02
To BELIEVE means to me, accepting something on faith, without the need for proof. I "believe" that automatically renders you vulnerable to all sorts of manipulation and to being led by (religious, political, financial) demagogues as if by a nose ring.

No matter where you read it
or who has said it,
unless it agrees with your own reason
and your common sense.
+11 # Jen X 2011-10-18 12:44
"As one fundamentalist slogan puts it, "The Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it.""

Wow... spoken like a true 3 year old in need of a nap. How utterly juvenile.

Perhaps their next slogan will be something akin to them putting their fingers in their ears and yelling, "La la la la la... I cannot hear you! La la la la la..."
+10 # kyzipster 2011-10-18 12:44
Great article and it's important to make this distinction among Christians but dismissing atheism as something on the margins is hardly evidence that the US is a nation of the faithful, which I believe is the implication here. It's not just atheists who refuse to participate in organized religion, many people who identify as agnostic and some people who may identify with the religion of their upbringing do not practice any faith or participate in organized religion.

Fundamentalist Christians have disproportionat e influence in the media and in politics because one of two political parties has embraced that culture and legitimized its POV. That is why they're no longer dismissed as lunatics on the fringe of society, that is why they are a threat to the rest of us.
+7 # CL38 2011-10-18 13:12
This is a post I saw recently that I'm reposing in two parts because what it says is so important:

Religious freedom that many others take as gospel was compromised from the start. The Puritans came here looking for another place where they could practice their religion freely. But central to their practice was oppressing others' religious practice! They had been thrown out of England and Holland and came here to oppress anew. So the much-vaunted "religious freedom" of the founders of the US was built on a base of intolerance hate, and use of religion as a weapon of control. The "religious freedom" was their freedom to judge, and harm others (and co-incidentally , destroy the native people and their "godless" religions) along with the practitioners of the other European religions.
+3 # Regina 2011-10-19 10:42
Roger Williams is the forgotten hero of American religious freedom. He left the Massachusetts colony because of rigid religious edits and founded Rhode Island, with a guarantee of religious freedom. Much later, after the Constitution was written and adopted, the First Amendment incorporated his basic idea. Of course, today we have to keep fighting for that freedom against all the intolerance out to subvert us now.
+5 # CL38 2011-10-18 13:13
Part 2 continued from below:

So the US was really founded on a base of extreme religious intolerance. Politicians, religious "leaders," and
other businessmen are not hypocrites. They are the hate-filled pigs they have always been. These are the same people who have intentionally always taught that sex is dirty and sinful. The anguish and guilt so many people feel are premeditated and further, are the desired outcome of all those who disparage sex. Guilty people, constantly apologizing for their humanity are more malleable and gullible. “Hey, if we got them to believe that lie (that sex was dirty) we can get them to accept almost anything,” say the televangelists and the politicians. “More power and profits for us. Ka-ching!” If our truly human drive to sexual pleasure and sexual communion is damaged, the resultant bad sex and abusive sex is the predictable outcome. This is the intent and the legacy of religious patriarchs and their secular minions and the hate and fear they disseminate.
+4 # CL38 2011-10-18 13:14
Part 3 continued from below:

In their world, only females are responsible for avoiding becoming impregnated. Males are just “doing what comes naturally to them,” sticking their penises in without needing to take responsibility for their contribution to a fetus. Instead of solely demonizing and sexualizing the pregnant girl or woman (watch the lustful leers of male anti-abortion protesters and the drooling religious leaders) we should understand pregnancy as the result of male refusal to use condoms. Males should additionally be expected and made to always help emotionally and financially support all the babies they do help make, in and out of committed relationships including marriage. Most religious leaders and secular exemplars have not educated their sons in this way. Few men have. As a result, the burden and onus is on the females, as if they become pregnant by themselves; by magic perhaps; or by God? Was that alleged act consensual?
+3 # kelly 2011-10-19 11:57
Dear CL38:
What's your point? I'm not disagreeing with your premises...what I mean is, what you're saying is basically a given. So what is the message? Are you preaching to the choir, explaing the situation to those who don't yet know the "skinny" or just trying to make a point and not concluding after having made a good opening? But check your premise. These truths, and I do concur that are especially painful for American citizens to swallow, follow in any society where people have fled one type of religious repression in order to worship in the way they desired. Whether it be in Israel, the United States, Spain, Norman England, Ireland, etc. It will follow. It is deplorable. The point I see is that along with the supression of other beliefs, the denial of basic scientific truths and teachings that is happening is the real issue. Not only is the economy in recession but our intelligence level is in regression. We could probably deal with the ople who are downtrodden always seem to find a way to rise up against the oppressors but retrograde education is something we might never recover from if the truth is ever lost.
+8 # Kayjay 2011-10-18 14:16
I just have one question to those devout evangelicals who dismiss reason and science which challenges their belief system. "Is this really what Jesus would do?," aka. WWJD. And... by the way, there is a separation between church and state in this nation.
+2 # RLF 2011-10-18 14:17
While there is a fundamentalist Christian skeptacism(sp) of science, there is a wider problem with skeptics of what is supposed to be fact. There is a problem with scientists not policing their own. Industry has hired guns in lab who will prove anything they are told to, no matter how foolish and lying the science (or not science at all). The fake scientists that said smoking wasn't dangerous are but one example of the kind of cranks that should have their license revoked or the general public will continue to see science as just another tool of large corporations.
+6 # brucezell 2011-10-18 14:25
Blind faith is not wanting to know the truth.

I'm proud to be an atheist!
+5 # dandevries 2011-10-18 15:50
Me too!
+1 # fredboy 2011-10-18 16:33
What they don't see far, far down the road is if religious "freedom" endangers the public health it will be curbed or banned. Mark my words.
+5 # reiverpacific 2011-10-18 18:05
I'll say it again -"Spirituality" is individual, sacred and nobody else's damn business.
Religion seems to me to be the desire to have and exercise power over as many others as possible, and leads to persecution of those who refuse the yoke.
Just refer to the recent article on the BBC, and just today on RSN, that the US is TOP of all industrialized nations in child abuse and neglect.
History and contemporary comparative example is enough to lay bare the compassionate from the "Old Testament" brutality and authoritarian reactionary attitudes up front and always destructive here and elsewhere (and the "Here" always seems to support the "Elsewheres").

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