I was reading Neil Carter’s excellent post, “Will Evangelicals Ever Learn to Embrace Evolution?” and something occurred to me:
Not only has denial of evolutionary theory become one of the hills that fundagelical Christianity has chosen to die on (the other is control of human sexuality via opposition to abortion access and LGBTQ equality), making it an in-group marker belief, not only is it a cheap marker belief, but it is a marker belief that really encapsulates neatly Christian culture’s total lack of discipline and follow-through (if not that of our culture in general’s).
A marker belief is a way to differentiate one group from another. It’s a quick, easy way to tell who is in the group and who is out of it. If you’ve ever seen a woman from an Amish or Pentecostal community, you’ve seen in-group markers in action, but marker beliefs may or may not result in an outward sign visible to the eye. In Christianity, the 41,000 reported denominations of the religion have to differentiate themselves somehow–and they do it with marker beliefs. Trinitarianism vs. Oneness, water baptism vs. sprinkling, saints or no saints, tongues or no tongues or sometimes tongues, holidays or no holidays, Saturday or Sunday worship: the list goes on and on of the different beliefs. If there weren’t any differences between denominations then there’d be very little reason for that group to exist as a separate entity.
And when one group brushes up against another group, unless they’re on their best behavior there’s likely going to be some wrangling–hopefully good-natured, but maybe a little less so as each group realizes that the other group isn’t budging. But the verses are so clear, so very clear! Except the other group doesn’t agree. And that wrangling goes into each group’s identity and builds up over time, each member convinced that those on the other side simply don’t understand the Bible verses–or, more sinisterly, are deliberately ignoring or distorting them because of some sinful desire or other.
In the past, in-group marker beliefs were big, sweeping, and could get someone hurt. In some places they still are. Protestantism is, itself, a series of marker beliefs differentiating itself from Catholicism. Holding Protestant ideas was dangerous; the Catholic Church regularly persecuted those who dissented, sometimes even murdering them. Later on, Protestants themselves branched into groups holding their own marker beliefs, each group persecuting the others whenever possible and lording their dominance around just as the Catholics had earlier.
But what I see in Christian culture now is a real unwillingness to take on beliefs that will require a lot of sacrifice or that might genuinely cost them in any tangible way. I almost wonder if they’re saying, sotto voce, that they know that it’s nonsense and aren’t willing to stick out their necks for nonsense anymore. Still, it’s almost comical how outraged they get when their behaviors get them in trouble. It’s like they want to hold the marker belief, but are completely unwilling to face any consequences whatsoever for holding it:
* OKCupid discovers that talking about religion backfires bigtime; commenters go absolutely berserk with butthurt rage and indignation. Being godly in every single way and Jesus-fying even one’s search for romance is mandatory, until it costs Christians replies to their hollas at total strangers.
* Ken Ham wants to discriminate against non-fundamentalist Christians in his hiring practices for his stupid science-denial theme park, but doesn’t want to lose his tax breaks–so he’s actually suing the state of Kentucky, claiming he’s being discriminated against for being forced to follow the same rules as literally every other outfit getting tax breaks. Discrimination is godly! Unless it costs someone money. Then it’s discrimination not to let him discriminate. (Does Kanye West know about this?) This case is less about Creationism than it is about discriminatory hiring practices, which is why it’s on my list here.
* “Meet the new victims of so-called ‘Marriage Equality,'” whines World News Daily, forgetting all about the victims of their bizarre crusade against LGBTQ people. Christians have a major hard-on for “traditional marriage,” by which they mean straights-only marriage, but they still want to work in the marriage industry. Much like that idiotic nurse who opposed contraception but still wanted to work for a clinic that helped women obtain contraception, it’s hard to see these sorts of lawsuits and explosions of rage from bigoted Christians without wondering what on earth they’re rabbiting on about. If you can’t follow your state’s laws about non-discrimination in the workplace, then don’t start a business there. Find a state that allows discrimination. But these overzealous bigots want to have a business there; they just also want to discriminate illegally. When they are not allowed special exemptions from all the rules that everybody else has to follow, then they cry “religious freedom” in their quest for legal discrimination. If someone holds a marker belief like “LGBTQ people don’t deserve the same civil rights non-LGBTQ Americans take for granted,” then of course putting that belief into practice will be costly in some cases.
* On that note, it’s “intolerant” to force bigoted business owners to publicly hang signs proclaiming their desire to discriminate against LGBTQ customers, proclaims one bigoted Christian who wants to enjoy being a bigot and discriminate against people he demonizes and thinks are subhuman sinners, but also thinks it’s meeeeeeeeean to have that desire be publicly announced so that these business owners never even have to deal with demonized, subhuman sinners. The whole point of this sanctimonious showboating is to discriminate, and what’s the use of discrimination if you can’t lord your holiness and superiority over the people you want to discriminate against? What’s the fun of it if you can’t see their poor little faces fall when they get told they can’t be served like anybody else? What’s the point if you can’t see them walk out the door all dejected-like? What’s the use in being a sanctimonious bigot-for-Jesus if you can’t feel smugly justified in turning a few people down for your exalted attention? Gosh, you can’t have businesses post signs like that; it might cost them customers among the straight, Godly people they want to serve. They know that there aren’t a whole lot of same-sex couples clamoring for wedding-related services in the first place, but they also know that a solid majority of Americans–especially young people–support marriage equality and would certainly find somewhere else to patronize for their cakes and flowers and photography if such signs were posted. They want the bigotry, just not the loss of that much business for it. I can’t imagine why, if they really think that bigotry is what their god wants, they’d be ashamed to proclaim to the very skies their compliance with that god’s desires.
* Last year, a Christian bigotry group announced that they were going to hold their breaths till they turned blue to strong-arm their god into magically making equal marriage stop happening, in the form of a fast. In Christian parlance, denying oneself food in a fast is like showing up in person at the office of your local congresscritter–it’s a serious expression of desire to the Christian god, and he is supposedly far more likely to do what his children demand in response. Immediately, however, the rationalizations about just what the word “fast” meant began to flow. It became obvious that none of these bigots actually wanted to abstain entirely from food or were intending to do so. They wanted the display of having done so–numerous news reports blossomed at the time, as well as photos of beaming Assholes-for-Jesus wearing their prettiest Jesus Smiles as they discussed how they intended to temper-tantrum their way back to the Good Ole Days where LGBTQ people hid in terror of TRUE CHRISTIANS™’ tender godly love and knew their place and weren’t uppity. I don’t imagine most of them actually did starve themselves for forty days, though. Maybe that’s why their tantrum failed. Yes, that must be it.
I could go on and on and on and on, but you get the idea, I hope. Their statewide prayer meetings and homophobe rallies draw smaller and smaller crowds; their boycotts seem to result mostly in increased sales for the companies they’re boycotting so vehemently (and quite a lot of mockery); their attempts to destroy traffic don’t seem to do much at all to interfere with other motorists’ use of taxpayer-funded roads; their extremist national-level political candidates are best summarized by the phrase “a confederacy of dunces”.
It’s really hard to read these sorts of stories and not come away from them thinking that overall, a great many Christians really want to hold extremist and distinctly non-mainstream views–but they don’t actually want to face any blowback or hardship as a result of holding their views. This ain’t new, either; back in my own Christian days I noted a certain lack of follow-through from my peers. Not much has changed. In that regard such Christians don’t seem a lot different from any other group holding those sorts of views–but isn’t that the point and the problem here? Why isn’t “Jesus” making these Christians willing to endure anything for their views? Why are they so singularly incapable of follow-through for their beliefs? Why are they so upset about losing tangible benefits like tax breaks and first dates, if they really think that what they’re doing is the right thing in the eyes of their god? Hell, why can’t they at least even own their beliefs and be proud of them (in the case of the outrage over the sign amendment) if they think those beliefs are mandated by a real live living god? I’d really expect them to be all “forget this, you don’t gotta force me to hang a sign, I’ll put up the biggest one I can get my HANDS on!” rather than whining about persecution and intolerance over the idea.
But the problem is that bigotry is starting to become expensive, and they know it and don’t like it.
That’s one of the reasons why fundagelicals still cling to Creationism as a marker belief. It’s an incredibly inexpensive one, as they go. With a few exceptions like the story of Ken Ham above, an adult who holds Creationist views will, at most, receive social disapproval for holding that view. A Creationist Christian won’t normally lose a job over it, or a friend or spouse. That adult can still get a flu shot and try to lower their impact on the environment while holding those beliefs, and still consider him- or her self a Creationist. A child indoctrinated with that belief might have a much tougher time, but children don’t normally voluntarily choose that belief without their parents pushing them toward it. And the pushback that Creationists get allows them to feel special and persecuted, spurring them to new lows to sneak their pseudoscience into public schools. These Christians don’t yet realize just how costly this belief could become for their areas, but that realization is starting to dimly occur to some of them.
The same dissonance goes double for being anti-abortion. It’s a cheap belief to hold in our country because the right to access a safe, legal abortion is part of our national law. A “pro-life” fundagelical woman can still feel perfectly justified in obtaining an abortion for herself should she need one; there’s a reason why “the only moral abortion is MY abortion” is a saying. I once chatted with a clinic escort who estimated that fundagelical Christians made up a good half of the women in her clinic’s waiting room at any given time. The people fighting so hard for “precious babies” always find a way to rationalize their own transgressions against their moral codes, and whenever the matter comes to a vote–as in the frequent attempts to sneak “personhood” amendments into state law which would definitively impact ALL women’s lives, not just those of heathen slutbunnies skipping merrily into women’s clinics to use abortions as contraception because they have no idea what’s going on in their bodies and want to escape their rightful divine punishment for having unapproved sex (as the false narrative frequently claims)–even the most misogynistic, oppressive, sex-negative, ignorance-celebrating states repeatedly reject those measures. When push comes to shove, very few zealots actually want to live in a society where the law gives fetuses more rights than actual people get. That belief, put into action, would simply become too costly.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that it is a bad thing that regressive Christians are so bad about follow-through. It’s good that Christians are starting to make some real connections between what they say and what happens to them socially and culturally, and between their stated beliefs and the effort required to put boots on those beliefs. As it stands, they’re only just now starting to connect their behaviors with their membership numbers and public standing. Many of them are still kicking against the pricks, as the Bible verse goes, and are lording that exact shrinking membership and faltering public standing as signs that they’re doing everything perfectly right in their (coincidentally equally bigoted and discriminatory) god’s eyes and that the end of the world is coming.
But you can also see, reading between the lines, their outrage and disappointment that they’re no longer members of the Cool Kids’ Club. Though American congresspeople are still frantically trying to appease this dwindling bloc, Americans as a whole no longer really give a shit what fundagelicals think or want or do–unless those fundagelicals force them to care, which backfires every single time by making those selfsame fundagelicals look even worse than if they hadn’t thrust themselves into and onto mainstream Americans’ attention. Right now their leaders are finding ways to spin-doctor this phenomenon as a good thing, but that’s not going to last forever. Sooner or later these leaders are going to realize that they cannot survive as a group doing what they’re doing, and they’re going to find some way to reconcile themselves to social progress.
Though I have peers who privately express fears that that way is going to involve violence, I don’t think it will for the most part. Christians have been showing us for years that they’re not willing to really stick their necks out for their beliefs.
In the end, I agree with Neil entirely:
It doesn’t really matter which reworking of Adam and Eve will win out. What I’m fairly certain of is that somehow it will happen. It will because it must. They don’t really have a choice. Churches will have to evolve on this matter or they will die by virtue of complete irrelevance. The ones who cling to the old literalism will take their views with them to the grave. Perhaps like the snake handlers some of them will keep an alternate reality alive among networks of tiny churches scattered across the Appalachian foothills or in the deepest pine forests of rural Mississippi and Alabama. But the rest of the world will move on and the churches that find a way to make the Bible fit with modern science will make it into the next generation.
These Christians will adapt, or their way of life will die out entirely.
Either way, humanity wins.
Eyes on the prize, friends. It’s going to happen, slowly but surely.