Can’t seem to get it through my head

Can’t seem to get it through my head March 20, 2024

• “[White] Evangelical bestsellers reveal diverse — and sometimes dangerous — ideas about morality” — literature professor Christopher Douglass takes a deep dive into the Left Behind series, using the framework of Moral Foundations Theory.

Douglass’ piece at “The Conversation” links to his academic publication, for The Journal of American Culture,Evangelical literary tradition and moral foundations theory.” The most interesting bit of that, to me, was the end section in which he admits that Moral Foundations Theory may just be a crock:

But Moral Foundations Theory itself has come under criticism in the last decade for trying to (re)habilitate conservative tendencies as being ethical after all. MFT in some sense attempts to “both-sides” moral psychology by arguing that both liberals and conservatives are moral, but in different ways. …

Indeed, a simple thought experiment suggests the obviousness of this problem: MFT might regard Nazis as very good people, scoring high on authority, loyalty, and purity scales—just very good in ways different from, but not worse than, their victims.

Yeah, MFT is very John Goodman in The Big Lebowski: “I mean, say what you want about the tenets of National Socialism, Dude, at least it’s an ethos. …”

If hierarchical authority, in-group loyalty, and purity are treated as “moral foundations” equivalent to love and justice, allowing for a “conservative morality” that elevates the former at the expense of the latter, then I don’t think the words “moral” or “morality” have any business in this discussion. MFT ain’t about morality, but about alignment — as in Dungeons & Dragons. It may be very important to your evil wizard that he’s lawful evil, but that still doesn’t make him good.

A simpler, more accurate summary of the conservative morality foundational to the Left Behind series can be found, again, in Wilhoit’s Law: “Conservatism consists of exactly one proposition …There must be in-groups whom the law protects but does not bind, alongside out-groups whom the law binds but does not protect.”

In any case, I respect Christopher Douglass for diving into the literary cesspool of the Left Behind series and engaging those books with straight-faced, straitlaced academic seriousness and rigor. I can’t imagine trying to do that without indulging in lots of off-color jokes, bad puns, and theological tangents just to make things bearable for myself and my readers.

• On a related note, I am linking to this Texas Monthly piece by Ben Rowen — “A Wild Trip Into the World of Far-Right Novels” — because in order to write it Rowen had to read several “novels” from the self-described “right-wing fiction” publisher Defiance press of Conroe, Texas.

So let me just say, Ben, I know what you’re going through. I’m here if you need to talk to someone who understands.

• Also on a related note, I would be much more receptive to critiques of “The Incoherence of Post-Christian Morality” if they in any way acknowledged The Incoherence of Christian Morality[-ies], rather than being presented as a lamentation for some mythical lost age of Coherent Christian Morality.

If you want to presume that there is any identifiable, coherent, comprehensible thing that can be usefully labeled “Christian Morality,” then you’re going to need to overcome several formidable obstacles. Such as, for example, history from, oh, let’s say 313 through 2024. Or the irreconcilable diversity and disagreement over basic matters of morality that has existed and exists today among more than a billion Christians.

This is where we Christians are tempted into the fallacy — and sin of pride — of a True Scotsman argument, suggesting that none of that history or diversity or disagreement has any bearing on some curated core of real, true, authentic Christian morality which is self-evidently legitimate in a way that every other competing Christian morality is not.

(Part of the problem here, too, is that “coherence” isn’t an especially helpful way of sorting through this. That leads us back to Walter Sobchak and Gary Gygax. “I mean, say what you want about the clerics of Talos, Dude, at least …”)

• Here are a couple of items from early December that seem newly relevant because they are not from now but from early December.

In late February 2024, “the Alabama Supreme Court has ruled that frozen embryos can be considered children under state law.” And for the past two weeks, Republicans have been awkwardly backpedaling, trying to explain why this is what they were trying to sow, but not what they wanted to reap.

But the GOP’s attacks on IVF didn’t start with that ruling. And they weren’t fringe or hidden either. So here are a few links from before that Alabama edict:

Receipts. Just in case anyone has too short a memory to remember what Republicans were saying two months ago, or to remember what they’ve been arguing for the past 40 years.

• Some of you saw the title of this post and thought to yourselves, “Aha, it looks like he’s still on this weird kick of trying to revive interest in Green’s 1987 indie power-pop masterpiece, Elaine MacKenzie.”

And you would be right about that.

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