The Bubble

The Evangelical Outpost, a major Christian blog, last week published a positive review of Nancy Pearcey‘s book Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from its Cultural Captivity. In it, Pearcey argues that true Christians must purge their thinking of evolution and all other secular ideas and philosophies:

Most Christians are more secular then they realize, and this must change if the Church is to have any sort of significant cultural impact… Christians must counter the affects [sic] of secularism by developing a comprehensive biblical worldview.

It’s no surprise that Pearcey, a young-earth creationist, believes it is vital for Christians to reject evolution. But her goals, and the goals of the movement to which she belongs, are broader than this. The modern religious right’s plan is not to defend their various beliefs in piecemeal fashion. Instead, they seek to create a self-contained world within the real world, one where all the channels of information present only the views they approve, and believers are never exposed to dissenting opinions.

Slacktivist, a far better kind of Christian, has an insightful article on this phenomenon, discussing the many “Christian worldview” groups. This phrase, as he explains, is code for the fundamentalist enclaves like Bob Jones University that seek to instill a rigid and all-encompassing dogma into their followers’ minds. The intent is to create believers who automatically distrust any information that does not come from “safe”, approved sources of religious indoctrination, but who will unquestioningly obey the leaders of the fundamentalist movement.

If we freethinkers believe in the marketplace of ideas, a thriving realm of debate where different viewpoints can freely clash and mingle, the dominionist right has a different vision. They do not want to be just another participant in the marketplace; they want to withdraw from that broader sphere and create their own marketplace, one where only their voices are heard. Like a memetic analogue of “bubble boy” syndrome, they want to enclose their followers in a protective bubble of sterilized information, allowing nothing that might disturb their preconceptions to pass through. (A commenter on the Evangelical Outpost clearly conveys this when he expresses desire for “a return to filtering our thoughts and conclusions about reality through God’s word”).

When fundamentalists wave the banner of “liberating Christianity from its cultural captivity”, what they really mean is that they want to “liberate” Christianity from the burdensome constraints of objective reality. They want to limit and restrict their followers’ thoughts, to the point where they create a legion of faithful believers who are perfectly immune to contrary evidence and argument. And once that is achieved, then the final stage of their plan:

Evangelicals, explains Pearcey, have traditionally thought of salvation only in terms of individual souls. The idea that we are to have a redeeming influence in every area of culture is new to many… People need to learn how to move beyond a merely privatized faith and apply biblical principles to areas like work, business, and politics.

Like most of the religious right today, Pearcey and her ideological comrades are not satisfied to see Christians having the freedom to practice their own faith. They want to dominate society and impose that faith on others who do not share it. The wish for Christians to have “a redeeming influence on every area of culture” is just a thinly disguised wish to eliminate all ideas that do not conform to their narrow and dogma-blinded vision.

How, then, can freethinkers overcome this strategy? How can we pierce the bubble of dogma and persuade believers to give us a fair hearing? An upcoming post will address that question.

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • David Crespo

    Terrifying. As is the case when dealing with all kinds of extremism, it is vital to ally with moderate Christians in denouncing the totalitarian aims of the Dominionist movement.

  • bestonnet

    For what little good the moderate Christians are actually willing to do.

  • Christopher

    This is how societies in previous eras remained stable – no information was released to the public that wasn’t approved by the powers that be, so one could ever dispute the “official” positions held by authorities. The information age has torn huge holes in the proverbial filter: allowing once-surpressed information and opinions to be heard.

    Any attempt to restore this bubble short of a global nuclear holocaust will be in vain – Pandora’s box is open and all attempts (short of the aforementioned nuclear holocaust) to undo the damage to the socio-religious structures hurt by it are futile!

  • Bletchley Park

    This is Mormonism described to a T! Tell members that it’s wrong to read books or seek information from sources the church doesn’t own and control. The church will comment with all kinds of “authority” but no expertise or logic, publishing literature on any subject imaginable–all so true believing Mormons can continue to live in their bubble world. They even have a whole university where people can major in philosophy and still be Mormons…can major in biology and still be Mormons.

    Whenever a person is told to not listen to those ideas or not read those books, you know the church is into power and control, not gaining and advancing knowledge and understanding.

  • Ingersoll’s Revenge

    Any attempt to restore this bubble short of a global nuclear holocaust will be in vain

    Ack, don’t give them any ideas! We currently have a fundamentalist Christian with his finger on the button!

  • HP

    It may be small consolation, but at least we know that reality doesn’t give a rat’s ass what anyone believes.

    In the long run, of course, the Evangelicals are fucked. Their bubble is unsustainable. I think a rational course of action would be to minimize the amount of damage they can do in the short run. In other words, a policy of containment — a Cold Culture War, if you will, until they “collapse under the weight of their own contradictions.”

  • http://elliptica.blogspot.com Lynet

    “Cold Culture War”. I like that. Maintain a strong presence and try not to let them gain too much influence, but we cannot stop them from existing in their own groups if that is what they choose to do.

  • bestonnet

    Christopher:

    Any attempt to restore this bubble short of a global nuclear holocaust will be in vain – Pandora’s box is open and all attempts (short of the aforementioned nuclear holocaust) to undo the damage to the socio-religious structures hurt by it are futile!

    Even that wouldn’t last forever.

    Though an oppressive global state might be able to do so (although it doesn’t look likely to happen any time soon).

    Ingersoll’s Revenge:

    Ack, don’t give them any ideas! We currently have a fundamentalist Christian with his finger on the button!

    I doubt we’re actually giving them ideas, more so thinking of what they could do if they got desperate.

    HP

    It may be small consolation, but at least we know that reality doesn’t give a rat’s ass what anyone believes.

    In the long run, of course, the Evangelicals are fucked. Their bubble is unsustainable. I think a rational course of action would be to minimize the amount of damage they can do in the short run. In other words, a policy of containment — a Cold Culture War, if you will, until they “collapse under the weight of their own contradictions.”

    All completely true (although I’m a bit impatient myself).

    Pushing things too far with religious fanatics often results in violence so we our best strategy is to do things gradually while minimising the damage done from their reactions (which may mean putting up with a little bit of crap where they are very powerful) and just waiting for secularisation to proceed and erode their power step by step.

    Lynet:

    “Cold Culture War”. I like that. Maintain a strong presence and try not to let them gain too much influence, but we cannot stop them from existing in their own groups if that is what they choose to do.

    Basically it, we need to avoid back peddling and slowly dismantle their special privileges, anything conceded to them is to be considered a temporary measure to be disposed of later.

  • http://gretachristina.typepad.com/ Greta Christina

    Boy. Talk about a sure sign of a bad argument. If your response to ideas you don’t agree with is to attempt to silence them — either in your own little world or in the world at large — that’s a sure sign that your own ideas aren’t very good.

    Whether it’s in the schoolyard or the marketplace of ideas, if your response to dissent is to say, “Shut up! That’s why!”, you’ve essentially conceded.

  • Brad

    Part one of Total Truth explains the concept of worldview and encourages Christians to critically examine their ways of thinking.

    By which is meant, rather than mindlessly absorbing secular values, Christians should instead mindlessly conform to dogma! Yay!

    (“ways of thinking” Hmm…)

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com OMGF

    One would think that the information age has served to destroy the bubble, and it has helped to some extent. But, that rise is being counter-acted by the proliferation of bogus information propagated by those very same people that wish to keep the bubble in place. How many Xian sites out there are there that proliferate erroneous information, and how many Xians go to those sites, read what is there and repeat it verbatim as if it were truth?

  • Justin

    I would think that, if these “bubbles” are not geographically isolated (like minority communities in the past) then they have no chance of maintaining ignorance of the wider world. As OMGF alluded to, the Internet can be a great tool for learning and exposure to different ideas.

    I hope this kind of isolation cannot be sustained anymore in the world. If it can, then we’re all in trouble.

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com OMGF

    I think the bigger point I was making though is that the internet can also be a tremendous tool for the dissemination of false information, and it’s very hard to tell the two apart from each other sometimes.

    I’ve recently been talking to a Xian that is upset about Palin’s treatment in the press. This Xian feels that Palin is being targeted because she’s a Xian and finds this state of affairs ‘tragic seeing as how this nation was formed according to Xian principles.’ (Paraphrased.)

    Of course, we know that this country was not formed on Xian principles, and there are many websites where one can research this and find out more about it. But, there are also many websites that promulgate false information, like Wallbuilders. For years David Barton (founder of wallbuilders) propagated false quotes that he claimed proved that this country was founded on Xian principles. It took lots of effort by lots of people to show that these quotes were fraudulent. He has since admitted that many of them are “questionable” (he does admit some are false) but he still makes eggregious errors on his site and presents them as fact. Anyone reading his site will be presented with “facts” that are contrary to history, but will buttress up one’s preconceived belief in the Xian underpinnings of this country. So, even though the internet has the power to poke holes in the bubble, unscrupulous individuals have learned to use the internet to disseminate their falsehoods in order to keep the bubble intact.

  • velkyn

    If some Christians want a totally “biblical worldview” (of course, limited by their own personal version of the Bible), then they should do the honest thing and reject modern medicine, computers, cars, any plant types created since, oh, 1500, etc.

    But as the hypocrites that they are, they will not and create some excuse to say that God wants them to have such things.

  • Brad

    As long as the internet is open and supplies contact with various thoughts, it doesn’t matter what’s true/false information. Atheism should follow from free-thinking, and so freethought should be the primary concern if we want to eventually promote atheism in an honest way.

  • Christopher

    Brad,

    “As long as the internet is open and supplies contact with various thoughts, it doesn’t matter what’s true/false information. Atheism should follow from free-thinking, and so freethought should be the primary concern if we want to eventually promote atheism in an honest way.”

    And that’s the whole point: so long as there are opinions that contradict those put out by the leaders of society and religion there’s no way they can ever re-establish their monopoly on information! It doesn’t matter how much “truth” there is in the conflicting information – all that matters is that there is conflicting information that can be easily accessed. That’s all it really takes to destroy their bubble…

  • Brad

    That’s all it really takes to destroy their bubble…

    I would phrase the metaphor a little bit differently: that’s all it takes for them to see their bubble. Once they see distinctions between inside and outside the lens, religiously-raised believers will be able question the arbitrary reasons that they’re in the bubble to begin with. (Community, tradition, faith, family/friends, feelings, social pressure, positive social activity, etc.) Obviously, some believers will keep to their bubble and try to defend it. Hopefully, though, they’ll decide to work their way out and start thinking about things “in the clear air” before confining themselves inside the bubbles they were put in.

  • Polly

    Freethinking is a continuum. There are those who break free of the religious bubble but are still stuck in some larger bubble. In fact, I sometimes think that I will forever be pinpricking my way out of bubbles for the rest of my life. I may even inadvertantly step into other bubbles.

    I know I’m in a bubble when I start rejecting some facts because they conflict with what I’m already presuming.

    Freedom is relative and not all atheists are freethinkers. Some just don’t believe in god but not because they’re skeptical or inquisitive in general. Some xians can be more free in their thinking than some atheists who are tethered to non-religious dogmas.
    It’s all about shedding one’s presuppositions, whatever they may be. And it’s a monumental task. I really do credit the INTERNET. Not just information, but discussion and the availability of real life people holding really different POV. It’s a godsend…hehehehe

  • mike

    There are those who break free of the religious bubble but are still stuck in some larger bubble. In fact, I sometimes think that I will forever be pinpricking my way out of bubbles for the rest of my life. I may even inadvertantly step into other bubbles.

    I really like that metaphor, Polly.. I think it’s easy to fall into the trap of saying: just because I’m now an atheist, I’m free of delusion. Losing religion shouldn’t be the end, but the beginning of the journey.

  • mikespeir

    Freethinking is a continuum. There are those who break free of the religious bubble but are still stuck in some larger bubble. In fact, I sometimes think that I will forever be pinpricking my way out of bubbles for the rest of my life. I may even inadvertantly step into other bubbles.

    I know mike above already said it, but this strikes me as particularly perspicacious, too. It ought to be enough to keep us somewhat humble so we never claim we’ve “arrived.” All of us are laboring under some misapprehensions, some way in which we’re not perceiving reality clearly. We’ve got to keep on keeping on bursting bubbles–often our own.

  • Brad

    Nice image, Polly.

    I know I’m in a bubble when I start rejecting some facts because they conflict with what I’m already presuming.

    Loads of apologists love to tell us atheists that everyone has faith, even us. (Obviously, this is true, but that doesn’t give faith any epistemic validity.) We can still be humble and admit this, but at the same time proud of the fact that we’re atheists and have planted our feet outside of what we identify as the wrong bubble.

    Here’s an example I like: Take your average layperson who believes that matter is made of atoms, or that biological life is made of cells, and ask that person, “Where’s the evidence for that?” Most people don’t know the evidential basis for even the most basic scientific ideas, and yet they believe them. This is somewhat appropriate, because not everyone can be experts in all of the world’s history and the sciences. However, such beliefs should be held provisionally and uncertainly. Furthermore, it is inappropriate to claim such beliefs with an air of authority and knowledge when you do not have those things.

  • Mathew Wilder

    Perhaps we ought to take Mencken’s advice, and stop arguing:

    “The liberation of the human mind has never been furthered by such learned dunderheads; it has been furthered by gay fellows who heaved dead cats into sanctuaries and then went roistering down the highways of the world, proving to all men that doubt, after all, was safe — that the god in the sanctuary was finite in his power, and hence a fraud. One horse-laugh is worth ten thousand syllogisms. It is not only more effective; it is also vastly more intelligent.”

    Prejudices, Fourth Series (1924)

  • Dennis

    Most Christians are more secular then than they realize

  • bestonnet

    A lot of the people counted as Christians probably don’t even think of themselves that way (they just put down the church they went too when they were little when asked about religion).

  • Brad

    I would agree, most Christians are practically secularists. But the bubble is no less real to them, it is just thinner. You still hear from many formerly casual Christians that deconversion is a hard and difficult process, despite their relative detachment from Christianity’s core.

  • Mike

    “Total Truth” was actually required reading in my PHYSICAL SCIENCE class at bible college. It’s no exaggeration to say that the first two-thirds of the semester were spent on anti-evolution tirades. I had just de-converted from Christianity a few months prior to taking the class(a fact known only to me at the time), so when we were required to write a paper defending the thesis that Christianity was the greatest single factor in the rise of Europe and the Scientific Revolution, I had a field day. I failed the paper(and dropped the class), but it was the best damn paper I could write.


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