American Anti-Intellectualism and the Theological Left

American Anti-Intellectualism and the Theological Left July 7, 2015

When I was a boy, the temptation to join the theological left was based on intellectualism. Fundamentalism was accused of appeals to “Mother’s prayers are following you” and a heart religion that viewed thinking with disdain. There was some truth to this accusation, though the theologians who wrote in The Fundamentals were not mentally lazy even when they were not persuasive.

1280px-Descent_of_the_Modernists,_E._J._Pace,_Christian_Cartoons,_1922Intellectuals read the New Testament in the Greek while the theological conservative was alleged to have read what they thought Paul read: the KJV. William Jennings Bryan would rail against intellectuals corrupting the pure and holy faith of the youth.

I am not sure if the fighting fundies ever fit the stereotypes, but I know in the 1970’s, ’80’s, and ’90’s we heard a great deal about it. It was a scandal how little mind we had, we were told. We were losing the culture because we had nothing to say to it.

This always seemed overblown to me. The church universal, including my Roman friends, kept making the case for Christ, but secular people seemed unimpressed. Whatever one thought of Francis Schaeffer, we sat on Saturdays thinking about art and culture due to his books while my non-Christian friends watched cartoons.

If there was too little Evangelical mind, part of the reason was that the professors had betrayed us. We supported colleges and then they left us behind . . . maybe for good reasons, but they never bothered to persuade us before they left. They might condescend to us, but they would not argue with us.

And so it is with some shock that I find that the Evangelical left, at least much of it, has abandoned reason. Arguments consist of special pleading, history is ignored, and exegesis is embarrassingly bad. I am always dubious when people today read the Greek of the New Testament better than, or in “new ways,” that the generation after the apostles missed.

Dialogue is becoming harder. Recently, I was in a discussion where my interlocutor asserted that no matter what I said or did, my views had to be motivated by hate or lack of reason. If I gave reasons, then they were mere cover ups to my hate or lack of reasons. This is getting worse.

One good test: see how often the Evangelical left claims that the ancient world was unaware of people “born that way.” This lets them claim that the concept was unknown to ancients and that now we know better. Of course, Plato had a character describe men and women “born that way” in Symposium. Plato is not an obscure writer and Symposium is not an obscure book.

And yet whatever argument is made, whatever counter-example is given, nothing will matter. In fact, if an argument is persuasive enough, the new anti-intellectual left will simply appeal to first principles or some sort of mystical knowledge. They just know they are right and are not going to discuss their truth with people who do not first concede it.

They practice the equivalent of the old “testimony” their liberal ancestors parodied in the fundamentalists. Don’t have anything to say? Losing an argument? Just appeal to your personal experience, pull emotional strings, and victory was secured.

And for the people who are doing this: it was wrong then, but it is also wrong now. Civilized people can discuss differences using reasons and following the rules of logic.

I find conservatives and apologists all over ready to talk out a problem and discuss the evidence. I see only rare cases on the Evangelical left where assumptions can be challenged. Have the right views or be silenced especially on issues where “arguments” might cause “pain” to the discussant.

One side can assert: “stop the hate,” but those accused of hate try to explain their point of view, they are accused of coldness.

We have gotten to the point that a man or woman with healthy and normal sexual desires can no longer argue the idea that there is a “healthy” or “normal.” It is “offensive” to even suggest that a person is not his desires or that there is any normal at all.

Arguments make it worse since arguing for what almost everyone thought twenty years ago causes “pain” in the listener. When in grad school, a Christian who hears His precious Faith attacked rightly has to accept that not everyone agrees. The Christian learns the beautiful rules of Logic (the Word that echoes the Savior’s name in John) and how to use them.

Christians cannot worship human intellect, but we must use it.

American reliance on experience, lay exegesis, and emotion was (rightly) criticized when the worst offenders were religious traditionalists, but is allowed in religious innovators. Bishop Spong never makes an argument, but his assertions looking for facts aren’t treated like an opinion piece, but as “scholarship.”

Experience is important . . . if you know Jesus, but don’t love Jesus, you don’t know Jesus:  to know Him is to love Him.  Americans like to get things done and settled and reason refuses easy answers or “ending the discussion.” Oddly, just as the revival of Christian philosophy taught Evangelicals that lesson, the left abandoned the argument.

Evidently pushing around Billy Sunday is more fun than losing a debate to Bill Craig.

Evangelicalism continues to grow, though not as a percentage of the American population, while the left shrinks in real and relative terms. Too much of the theological left, full of certitude and moral superiority, has stopped defending their point of view using the tools of reason.

America’s original sin was slavery, but her original error was emotionalism as a substitute for reason. Slavery still mars our politics and anti-intellectualism our discourse. Oddly, it is the theological left that, more and more, is in flight from reason.


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