As I was thinking about what I should blog about next that would be relevant to current events, Murray Hogg wrote a comment on Facebook that motivated this post. Here’s what he wrote:
It’s kind of bizarre that only a few short years ago Evangelicals were obsessed with berating the emerging church as “postmodern” because of their (alleged) rejection of objective truth.
There’s definitely some bizarre epistemological shenanigans going on that leave these people at the mercy of science denial, conspiracy theories, and related phenomena.
Objective truth isn’t as popular as it used to be!
EDIT: Actually, objective truth is still popular amongst Evangelicals, but they’ve long since abandoned any sound methodology that would lead them to discover it.
This was in response to someone who responded to an image of a tweet with conspiracy theory and racist misinformation. This was the tweet:
The commenter that prompted Murray’s response was going on about the “Woke Left” burning down America’s cities and the higher prevalence of murder by blacks. As I myself had written earlier in that same comment thread, misinformation about BLM protests and the current dangerous conspiracy theories about the election and the pandemic are related.
As I reflected on this I realized it is nothing new. On the contrary, Evangelicals talking about absolute truth, a modern notion, has from the very dawn of the Enlightenment era gone hand in hand with a rejection of almost every method that has been developed to try to reach that truth. On occasion they have tried a different but related approach, rejecting the results of historical criticism, biological science, and so on.
We are not dealing with an anomaly at present in the attack on Democracy and the embrace of political conspiracy theories. We are dealing with the latest expression of a culture of duplicity and misinformation that is centuries old.
No one should misunderstand this as something to do with “Christianity” in general or “religion” in general. Christians and other religious people were actively involved in the development of the modern natural sciences. Liberal Protestants were active in developing, applying, and promoting the historical-critical methods of the Bible, as we still are.
This is important to note not least because it helps address questions such as whether the attack on the Capitol was perpetrated by “Christians.” Christians have never agreed on what it means to be a Christian. Literally, never. That is yet another reason how you can be sure that the conservative Evangelical rhetoric about “absolute truth” has always been a marketing ploy rather than a statement of fact or of genuine commitment. That “absolute truth” was from the outset visibly one small minority view of what Christian truth was and should be. Christians have been leading scientists and science deniers, abolitionists and white supremacists. I can certainly make a case for the latter in both those pairs being less true to the Bible and the teaching of Jesus. But that is an argument and reasonable deduction, things that those who’ve emphasized supposed “absolute truth” have always bristled at. Ken Ham is notorious for responding to scientific deduction with “Were you there?” (As though he was there!) At the same time he and other young-earth creationists have taken the postmodern stance of claiming to be discussing the same facts just through a different and purportedly superior lens. Yet they have never actually agreed about the facts, and the claim to have different lenses really meant they had a different “conclusion” they were determined from the outset to find a way to defend at any cost. That is not a different “lens” through which to view the same evidence. It is not akin to adopting a historical-critical vs. a literary approach to the same text. It is assuming that one’s assumptions are right and finding a way to argue for them at any cost. It is nothing other than ideological bias and motivated reasoning, things that conservative Christians have often accused everyone but themselves of being guilty of with no sense of irony.
The denial of the legitimacy of the “mainstream media” (meaning all journalistic outlets worldwide who report things from a perspective they don’t accept) is the natural successor to the rejection of mainstream scholarship and science. They also reject the mainstream/mainline churches. The entire worldview is based on the egotistical conviction of being among a small number who hold the right views in a world in which the majority are wrong. That emphasis may sound biblical, until you take a close look and realize that the narrow road of the faithful few does not refer to a small number accepting particular doctrines and ideas, but a small number being willing to live out and practice core ethical teaching.
In short, Christians are not and have never been pioneers in the realm of truth or standing for truth against falsehood. On the other hand, Conservative Christians have been and continue to be among the pioneers in the realm of false advertising, a trend that continues to the present day, with devastating consequences. This doesn’t offer anything encouraging or hopeful with regard to how we might combat it going forward. But if we are to have any hope of finding long-term solutions to the problems we’re facing, we must begin with an honest diagnosis of the problem. The current state of affairs sees us with an entire subculture that doesn’t want to accept reality as revealed by science, history, or journalism. But it wants to believe it is right. And so we end up with people turning to fringe radical propaganda while simultaneously believing that in doing so they are avoiding the influence of propaganda, which is what they have defined mainstream media (in Parler parlance the MSM) as being.
When someone has sold their soul, conscience, and intellect through maneuvers like these, what can be done to restore a healthy openness to reason based on shared evidence and shared principles of reasoning?
Of related interest: