Donald Trump rose to power with the determined assistance of a movement that denies science, bashes government and prioritized loyalty over professional expertise. In the current crisis, we are all reaping what that movement has sown.
At least since the 19th century, when the proslavery theologian Robert Lewis Dabney attacked the physical sciences as “theories of unbelief,” hostility to science has characterized the more extreme forms of religious nationalism in the United States. Today, the hard core of climate deniers is concentrated among people who identify as religiously conservative Republicans. And some leaders of the Christian nationalist movement, like those allied with the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation, which has denounced environmental science as a “Cult of the Green Dragon,” cast environmentalism as an alternative — and false — theology.
This denial of science and critical thinking among religious ultraconservatives now haunts the American response to the coronavirus crisis.
By all accounts, President Trump’s tendency to trust his gut over the experts on issues like vaccines and climate change does not come from any deep-seated religious conviction. But he is perfectly in tune with the religious nationalists who form the core of his base. In his daily briefings from the White House, Mr. Trump actively disdains and contradicts the messages coming from his own experts and touts as yet unproven cures.
It is fair to point out that the failings of the Trump administration in the current pandemic are at least as attributable to its economic ideology as they are to its religious inclinations. When the so-called private sector is supposed to have the answer to every problem, it’s hard to deal effectively with the very public problem of a pandemic and its economic consequences. But if you examine the political roots of the life-threatening belief in the privatization of everything, you’ll see that Christian nationalism played a major role in creating and promoting the economic foundations of America’s incompetent response to the pandemic.
For decades, Christian nationalist leaders have lined up with the anti-government, anti-tax agenda not just as a matter of politics but also as a matter of theology. Ken Blackwell of the Family Research Council, one of the Christian right’s major activist groups, has gone so far as to cast food stamps and other forms of government assistance for essential services as contrary to the “biblical model.” Limited government, according to this line of thinking, is “godly government.”
When a strong centralized response is needed from the federal government, it doesn’t help to have an administration that has never believed in a federal government serving the public good. Ordinarily, the consequences of this kind of behavior don’t show up for some time. In the case of a pandemic, the consequences are too obvious to ignore.
When municipalities began encouraging social distancing of at least six feet and capping attendance numbers for public gatherings, alongside other decisions of closure or limitation, many churches quickly turned to congregant-free video broadcasting of worship services or even drive-in-movie style worship in their parking lots. Other congregations – to the chagrin of many, both Christian and not – continued meeting in-person as scheduled, emphatic that they were simply going to trust God.
“My goodness gracious, if the people of God cannot display wisdom, resilience and calm, then who will?”
For me, the theological problem here is imagining that we are in some way doing God a favor when gathering face-to-face in Jesus’ name, as we normally do, for worship, Bible study and discipleship groups. Something is hugely awry when for the public good (which includes our congregations since they, too, work and live “in public”) and over a temporary period, postponing physical gatherings jars us so. It is as if we believe a mystical, magic medicine is produced through our corporate worship or that God isn’t the infinitely capable caretaker that Scripture attests, which renders, then, 10 or 11 o’clock Sunday mornings as the only time that heaven is open for business.
Frankly, it makes us, as Christians, look seriously out to lunch (to put it kindly). Believe me, I understand that cognitive dissonance during trying times is very real. We may feel like we are living in a movie because what is real still doesn’t feel that it should be. We can’t see the forest for the trees. I get it. But this is no time for civil disobedience, but rather for us to turn with confidence to the God we say we believe in.
— James Ellis III, Director of Student Ministries at Trinity Western University in Langley, British Columbia, Canada, Baptist News Global, March 25, 2020
It’s [Coronavirus] very serious. This is a virus that spreads extremely quickly; it is so transmissible even by people who have no symptoms but who have gotten exposed and are carrying it around. … It’s a more serious disease than the flu, just in terms of its consequences. It is a respiratory illness; it gets to the lungs, and that is the greatest source of concern, and particularly for older people and people with chronic diseases.
“We estimate now that the mortality rate from this particular virus is probably in the neighborhood of 1 or 2%, and that is 10 times higher than influenza, so you can quickly see why we are taking this so seriously. … We are facing something we have not seen in my lifetime.
This is a great moment for Christians to be in this space of recognizing that we have a responsibility for those who particularly need that support, for those who are most vulnerable. In this case, it’s people with other medical issues or the elderly. It’s up to us to help protect them.
We are called to be strong and courageous. We are also called to be people of generosity, and of willingness to try to put ourselves out there to help others.”
Maybe Evangelical conspiracy theorists will listen to one of their own? Dare we hope? I like the fact that Collins focused on meeting the social/temporal needs of others. No appeal to believers to use the Coronavirus Pandemic as an “opportunity” to evangelize unbelievers.
Every time we turn around there is yet another deconversion story being proffered as the newest ex-evangelical smoking gun. The most recent—and arguably most influential—one has come from entertainers and YouTube sensations Rhett McLaughlin and Link Neal of the Good Mythical Morning channel and Ear Biscuits podcast.
Rhett and Link have grown their brand performing hilarious satirical songs and engaging in zany stunts such as duct-taping themselves together, playing wedgie-hangman, crushing glow sticks in a meat-grinder, and flinging bags of dog feces at one another’s faces. With guest appearances on The TODAY Show, Live with Kelly, and The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, their stars have been rising for the past few years, swelling their net worth to an estimated $23 million. They were also Christians, former missionaries, and Campus Crusade (now Cru) staff members.
When they each recorded videos walking fans through their spiritual-deconstruction stories in February, it shot through the internet like a bolt of lightning. Over the course of a few days, social-media newsfeeds became inundated with hot takes, responses, disagreements, and praise for the comedy duo. The comment sections of their Reddit, Facebook, and YouTube pages reveal that their stories inspired many atheists and touched the hearts of some folks who experienced similar deconversion journeys, describing the videos as “beautiful,” “candid,” and “vulnerable.”
Several people reached out to me personally, including pastors who reported that the faith of several kids in their youth groups was rocked by the broadcasts, leaving them shaken and doubting. After all, when someone is conversant in apologetics and theology, knows his Bible, and can anticipate my suspicions and objections, it’s difficult to simply pass him off as someone who never really understood Christianity. Blend that with Rhett and Link’s magnetic personalities, and it’s no wonder the faith of many Christians has been unsettled.
The stories themselves weren’t so different from others that have lit up social media over the past few years. For Rhett, it started with questions relating to science, the age of the earth, and evolution. It morphed into doubts surrounding biblical reliability, the historicity of the resurrection, and the general idea of hell and judgment. But as both Rhett and Link recounted, there was something brewing underneath the intellectual questions. They both felt a deep discomfort with biblical sexual ethics, which they perceived to oppress women and their LGBTQ+ friends.
This brings us to the salient question. How can two guys who make a living as YouTube personalities go from making possum corndogs one day to throwing 2,000 years of Christian history under the bus the next? Why were so many people rattled and even persuaded by them? Could it be that the cultural influences driving these deconstruction stories needs to be re-examined, rather than Christianity itself? [Or maybe, just maybe, the deconverted have pulled back the curtain only to find out that the Wizard is a mere man or a construct of the human imagination. Nah, it’s easier to blame deconversions on cultural influences instead. Keep telling yourself that, Ms. Childers.)
The sad reality is that, for the deconverted, disbelief isn’t sufficient. These apostles of unbelief are on a mission to help others deconstruct with the same evangelistic zeal they learned from their previous tribe.[Yes, we are. The difference being, of course, we have traveled both sides of the road. That’s what makes deconversion stories deadly to faith. We know where the dead bodies are buried.]
I’m not joyless, but at the moment I’m pretty angry, Mr. Sorensen. The orange nutjob you and your people elected as our current US president is transparently evil, and has set about ruining the country as fast as he can along with the equally evil senators your people have elected, and your equally evil congresspeople who fortunately don’t have a majority right now.
I’m angry that you want to deny civil rights to me and other women, in total disregard of our bodily autonomy. I’m angry that your people latch onto pseudoscience as a justification for denying us medical benefits (access to birth control and abortion) when other medical benefits are covered.
I’m angry that you want to deny civil rights to my LGBTQ+ friends, and everyone else in this country who flies under that wide label, because some Bronze Age tribe had issues with their members engaging in same-sex relations that might be considered spiritual acts by neighboring religions.
I’m angry that you consider cruel, torturous treatment of people attempting to enter this country, including and especially children, a good idea.
I’m angry that your religion encourages xenophobia in utter defiance of its own holy book, and you have the political might to spread xenophobia in our country.
I’m angry that you and your people consistently vote for, and encourage, the destruction of whatever fragile social service safety net is left in this country. People who are poor, old, disabled…they mean nothing to you, and you’d like nothing more than to punish them for their own existence, instead of supporting them and helping them become the best contributors to society that they can be.
So, yes, I’m angry, Mr. Sorensen. But it isn’t anger directed at your probably nonexistent deity, as much as you wish it were. It is anger directed at you and your co-religionists, who are doing your best to destroy the most lives you can in the shortest period of time. There are days when I truly wish there were a Hell. But when you ended up there, and asked Jesus when it was that you’d denied basic care to him, rather than answering you as the Bible story indicates I suspect he’d just cover his face with his hands. Sometimes even deities might run out of words in the face of utter, carefully cultivated, obtuseness.
Appearing on a radio show hosted by New York Roman Catholic Cardinal Timothy Dolan last week, Barr tore into church-state separation once more, this time blaming “militant secularists” for a host of problems.
“I feel today religion is being driven out of the marketplace of ideas, and there’s an organized, militant secular effort to drive religion out of our lives,” Barr said. “To me, the problem today is not that religious people are trying to impose their views on non-religious people. It’s the opposite. It’s that militant secularists are trying to impose their values on religious people, and they’re not accommodating the freedom of religion of people of faith.”
When you read something like this, you really can’t help but ask yourself a pertinent question: What planet does Barr live on?
For the past three years, the Trump administration has been laboring to turn religious freedom into an instrument of discrimination, a device to treat some people (LGBTQ folks, women, Muslims and other religious minorities, nonbelievers, etc.) as if they have second-class status.
This administration has repeatedly sought to deny people access to contraceptives because some bosses claim it offends their religious beliefs. It has backed religious discrimination in taxpayer-funded foster care and adoption programs. It has issued rules that put the most vulnerable members of our society – the poor, the homeless, those grappling with addictions – at risk by stripping away their protections in “faith-based” programs. It has traded in crude stereotypes against Muslims and undermined their right to travel to the U.S. It has argued that government has the right to display towering crosses, the central symbol of the Christian faith, on public property, and charge the taxpayer for it. It kicked transgender people out of the military because the Religious Right doesn’t like them. It supports immersing houses of worship in partisan politics. It has worked to end reproductive freedoms. It told the Supreme Court that taxpayers should be compelled to support religious groups and religious schools.
The administration did these things – yet we’re to believe that “militant secularists” are the problem? That “militant secularists” are the ones trying to force their views onto people?
Barr, like his boss Trump, is a master gaslighter. He repeatedly asserts that things are the opposite of the way they really are. In his strange world, up is down, black is white and you can’t believe the evidence of your own eyes.
Key to this is Barr’s use of words – and how he defines them. To Christian nationalists, “militant” is anyone who dares to stand up to them and expose their theocratic agenda for the freedom-crushing miasma that it is. And a “secularist” to Barr and his allies must be someone who hates religion.
I’m sure that you’ve experienced it before; that passionless, detached “meh” you receive in response after asking someone questions about their belief in God. Those crucial questions to philosophy, faith, and the meaning of life, which you ponder and return to over and again, are dismissed with the kind of disinterest typically experienced by a policy specialist at the IRS when they explain what they do for a living. As a committed believer, you happily engage someone with the kind of dialogue that stirs your mind to explore the most significant questions human beings can ask. But, to your surprise, the person is wholly indifferent to the topic. You ask, “Do you believe in God?” And they respond with a deflating grin and shrug-of-the-shoulders reminiscent of The Office’s Jim Halpert deadpanning Camera 2 after his buffoon manager, Michael Scott, asked him a ridiculous question.
Sometimes, the disinterest comes from the kind of person you would expect—an agnostic who, after years of oscillating between religious and areligious beliefs, has finally thrown their hands in the air and given up. Other times, the disinterest comes from the kind of person you would least expect—a self-described religious person who, for one reason or another, is utterly indifferent to the very foundations upon which their worldview was constructed. Either way, the result is the same. In our culture, there seems to be a growing apathy toward theism. In conjunction with declining religious service attendance and the rising of the religiously unaffiliated has come a new challenge to evangelism. It is no longer the pugnacious New Atheism at center stage, but something far less passionate—apatheism. This nonchalant attitude toward God is more challenging to evangelism than religious pluralism, agnosticism, and atheism. For this reason, the phenomenon should be taken seriously. Evangelicals ought to examine and understand it for the sake of the gospel. The more that we understand apatheism, the better equipped we are to engage it.
Apatheism—a portmanteau of apathy and theism—is, in part, the belief that God and questions related to his existence and character are irrelevant. These God questions (GQs) are the big ones: Does God exist? Can we know if God exists? If so, how does he reveal himself, and what is he like? What is the nature of his person and character? And what does God do? If God does not exist, then what does his non-existence mean? Apatheism is wholly indifferent to these questions.
So, why apatheism? Why is it that affections toward God today in Western society are so inert? It is difficult to imagine that a person could be so apathetic five centuries ago. Back then, questions about God’s province over salvation and moral duty dominated the public imagination. Everyone asked these questions because they believed that ultimate meaning is found beyond humanity and nature. Religion, especially the Christian faith, offered answers to questions of meaning, so GQs were very important. But something changed. Western society began to separate itself from religion or, at least, no longer aligned with a particular religion. This separation led to questioning whether or not God is involved in our lives (deism), if we can know God (agnosticism), or if he even exists (atheism). After a while, some people began to question the relevancy of GQs themselves, like Denis Diderot (1713–1784), who famously quipped, “It is very important not to mistake hemlock for parsley, but to believe or not believe in God is not important at all.” In short, apatheism has become possible because society has secularized.
Kyle Beshears is the teaching pastor of Mars Hill Church in Mobile, Alabama. While I don’t agree with his answers for apatheism, I did find his survey of indifference towards religion helpful. Your mileage may vary.
What do you have to lose by having faith and believing that Christ was born supernaturally as a result of a virgin birth to Mary, that Christ performed miracles, that Christ died by crucifixion and came back to life from the dead, and that Christ went back into heaven in a supernatural ascension into heaven? I don’t see any downside.
I get this kind of question on occasion. Usually when someone asks it they tie it to “Pascal’s Wager.”
The first question I would ask this person is: Are *you* able to believe something that you honestly do not think is true?
The question itself raises a much bigger issue: what does it mean to believe? Does anyone really and genuinely think that authentic faith means mouthing certain words that you don’t actually subscribe to in order to be let off the hook? Would God be convinced by that? Wouldn’t he, uh, see through it? I assume so. So what good would it do for me to say that I believe something I don’t actually believe?
And how can I force myself to think something is true when I don’t think it is? Belief isn’t mouthing words or lying to get off the hook.
The second question I would ask is, for me, the real zinger: Can it really be a simple case of either/or? Either you believe or not? In other words, is it really a case that if you choose to believe and you’re right, you may be saved, but if you’re wrong you will be damned? Doesn’t that assume there are only two options: believe in Christ for salvation or don’t and be damned?
That may have made sense for Pascal, who lived in a world where, for all practical purposes, there were TWO options. But what about our own world? We don’t have two options. We have scads of them. And it is literally impossible to take them all.
That is to say: If you want to make sure you cover your bases when it comes to salvation: WHICH religion do you follow? Suppose you decide, OK, I’ll take Pascal’s wager and decide (somehow) to believe in Christ? What if, it turns out, Christ is NOT the right option? Or even, say, the only/best option?
In concrete terms: what if you decide to believe in Christ and then it turns out the Muslims are right? You could be damned forever for choosing the wrong option. So how do you cover the Islamic option as well as the Christianity one? And … well … there are lots of religions to choose from.
Even within Christianity: I know some Christians who have an entire detailed list of what you have to believe to be saved. And I know other Christians who have a *different* list. It is impossible to believe both at once, since they are at odds with one another. On a most simple level, I know different Christians who believe that if you do not belong to *their* denomination, you will be damned; and even Christians who say that you have to be baptized in *their particular church* to be saved. So what’cha gonna do?
On this logic, do you become Mormon to cover your bases? And Catholic? And Southern Baptist? And a Jehovah’s Witness? And an Independent-Bible-Believing-Hell-Fire-and-Brimstone Fundamentalist? And …. ?
A bill to ban abortion introduced in the Ohio state legislature requires doctors to “reimplant an ectopic pregnancy” into a woman’s uterus – a procedure that does not exist in medical science – or face charges of “abortion murder”.
This is the second time practising obstetricians and gynecologists have tried to tell the Ohio legislators that the idea is currently medically impossible.
The move comes amid a wave of increasingly severe anti-abortion bills introduced across much of the country as conservative Republican politicians seek to ban abortion and force a legal showdown on abortion with the supreme court.
Ohio’s move on ectopic pregnancies – where an embryo implants on the mother’s fallopian tube rather than her uterus rendering the pregnancy unviable – is one of the most extreme bills to date.
“I don’t believe I’m typing this again but, that’s impossible,” wrote Ohio obstetrician and gynecologist Dr David Hackney on Twitter. “We’ll all be going to jail,” he said.
An ectopic pregnancy is a life-threatening condition, which can kill a woman if the embryonic tissue grows unchecked.
It also appears to punish doctors, women and children as young as 13 with “abortion murder” if they “perform or have an abortion”. This crime is punishable by life in prison. Another new crime, “aggravated abortion murder”, is punishable by death, according to the bill.
“There is no procedure to reimplant an ectopic pregnancy,” said Dr Chris Zahn, vice-president of practice activities at the American College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. “It is not possible to move an ectopic pregnancy from a fallopian tube, or anywhere else it might have implanted, to the uterus,” he said.
“Reimplantation is not physiologically possible. Women with ectopic pregnancies are at risk for catastrophic hemorrhage and death in the setting of an ectopic pregnancy, and treating the ectopic pregnancy can certainly save a mom’s life,” said Zahn.
There can be no doubt that Jesus of Nazareth has been the most influential person in the history of the world. The church founded on his name shaped the history of Western Civilization, and over two billion people worship him today. And yet, because of the nature of our sources, it is surprisingly difficult to know what he actually said and did.
Jesus is thought to have died around 30 CE. He is not referred to in any Greek or Roman sources of the first century, and only briefly in our major Jewish source of the period, the historian Josephus. The earliest Christian references are from the New Testament, but most of the twenty-seven books say nothing about his words and deeds.
The four Gospels are by far our most important sources and these certainly do contain significant historical information. But they are also theological reflections on the meaning of his life and death, less concerned to report bare facts than to reflect on their meaning. Historians work diligently to get behind these reflections to determine what Jesus actually said, did, and experienced.
It is clear that Jesus was raised in a small hamlet, Nazareth, in the northern part of Israel. He was born sometime around the turn of the Common Era (4 BCE ?) in a relatively large family with brothers and sisters. We know nothing definite of his life and activities as a boy and young man, other than what we can learn from archaeology and inference. Jews in this region spoke Aramaic; Nazareth was impoverished with a small population (a couple of hundred people?); houses were roughly constructed, small, and crowded; there was no synagogue building, school, or public building of any kind; people were uneducated, lived a hand-to-mouth existence, and as a rule did not travel.
We do know that as an adult (around 30 CE?) Jesus left Nazareth to participate in the movement of a prophet called John the Baptist who was urging his followers to undergo a ritual of water baptism for cleansing of their sins because God was soon to intervene in the world to destroy all that was opposed to him in order to bring a new kingdom on earth where evil would be destroyed and only good would prevail. Jesus left his home, family, and work to be baptized by John, and almost certainly became his follower.
Eventually Jesus split off to engage in his own itinerate preaching ministry. He gathered a small group of followers and soon chose twelve to be his inner circle. The Gospels contain numerous accounts of great miracles that he did: healing the sick, casting out demons, controlling the forces of natures, and raising the dead. It is not clear if such stories – commonly attributed to great Sons of God in antiquity – originated during his lifetime or only later. He spent a good deal of his time teaching, and, like most Jewish teachers at the time, had heated disagreements with others about the proper interpretation of the law of Moses.
This week, the businessman attended the third annual Flat Earth International Conference, held at an Embassy Suites hotel in suburban Dallas, Texas. Organizers told CNN that about 600 others went too. …. The event’s schedule resembled any corporate conference, with some fairly noticeable twists. Speakers gave presentations including “Space is Fake” and “Testing The Moon: A Globe Lie Perspective.” Awards for the year’s best flat Earth-related videos were handed out. And believers reveled in an opportunity to meet several of the movement’s most influential minds.
People in every pocket of this spherical planet are rejecting science and spreading the word that the Earth is flat.
There’s no clear study indicating how many people have been convinced — and flat Earthers like [David] Weiss will tell you without evidence there are millions more in the closet anyway, including Hollywood A-listers and commercial airline pilots — but online communities have hundreds of thousands of followers and YouTube is inundated with flat-Earth content creators, whose productions reach millions.
A YouGov survey of more than 8,000 American adults suggested last year that as many as one in six Americans are not entirely certain the world is round, while a 2019 Datafolha Institute survey of more than 2,000 Brazilian adults indicated that 7% of people in that country reject that concept, according to local media.
When [Robbie] Davidson first heard that people really do believe in a flat Earth, “I just laughed and said, ‘they’ve got to be the stupidest people ever.’ Who in their right mind could believe something so dumb?”
A couple of years later, Davidson was setting up the first international flat Earth conference. Like most of the speakers at the event CNN spoke to, he was convinced after he decided he couldn’t prove the Earth’s roundness.
For Davidson, a born-again Christian [a common trait among flat-eathers], the most logical explanation for the conspiracy of the millennium goes like this: “Let’s just say there is an adversary, there is a devil, there is a Satan. His whole job would be to try to convince the world that God doesn’t exist. He’s done an incredible job convincing people with the idea that we’re just on a random speck in an infinite universe.”
The reality, says Davidson, is that the flat Earth, sun, moon and stars are contained in a “Truman Show”-like dome. From there, pitfalls can be easily dismissed — like photos of the Earth from space, which flat Earthers believe are photoshopped. “This all goes away if they put a 24/7 camera feed on the moon,” he adds.
And Davidson quickly found a large online community believing the same thing. “I thought doing a conference would just take it to the next stage where the media and the world will look at it and say, ‘wait a minute — something must be going on. This is not just some internet fad, or a bunch of crazy people online. They’re now meeting in buildings.'”
He has a few things he wants to make clear to a flat-Earth novice.
Firstly, and most importantly — “none of us believe that we’re a flying pancake in space.” The community merely believes that space does not exist, the world sits still and the moon landing was faked. The jury is out on gravity — but as Davidson notes, no one has ever seen it.
Secondly — no, you won’t fall off the edge. While flat Earthers’ views of the world vary, most believe the planet is a circular disk with Antarctica acting as an ice wall barrier around the edge.
And thirdly, modern flat Earthers have little in common with the Flat Earth Society, a group that has existed for decades and has more than 200,000 followers on Facebook.
That organization, some speakers told CNN, is a government-controlled body designed to pump out misinformation and make the flat-Earth cause sound far-fetched to curious minds. Davidson calls their theories “completely ridiculous.”
Most [flat-earth] adherents say they’re just curious, as all good scientific minds should be. “We love science,” Davidson insists.
Still, most adherents demonstrate plenty of anti-scientific tendencies. It’s hard to find a flat Earther who doesn’t believe most other conspiracies under the sun; a flat-Earth conference is invariably also a gathering of anti-vaxxers, 9/11 truthers and Illuminati subscribers, to name a few.
It’s that hyper-skeptical mindset that helps flat earthers answer the big questions — like who’s hiding the true shape of the planet from us?
“The ruling elite, from the royal family to the Rockefellers, the Rothschilds … all of those groups that run the world, they’re in on it,” says Weiss.
Scientists have also noted that a social motive draws people to conspiracy theories — the desire to “maintain a positive view of the self and the groups we belong to,” as social psychologist Karen Douglas of the University of Kent says.
And few groups have as strong a community as flat Earthers.
“This (conference) is an outlet for a lot of people that might otherwise get ostracized by friends and family and co-workers. When they come here, they know it’s absolutely a safe space,” [Mark] Sargent says of this week’s event.
But perhaps the most important driver is an underlying need for power and control. “People want to feel safe and secure in the world,” Douglas says. And power comes from knowledge — no matter how questionable it may be.
“It seems that increasingly, people don’t trust scientists and experts, or their motives,” Douglas says. “More research needs to be done in this area, and I’m sure there are some positive consequences to believing in conspiracy theories, but early indications suggests that they are more harm than help.”
Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.
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Back in 2013, prominent conservative author George Weigel published “Evangelical Catholicism,” a manifesto for making the faith more like, well, evangelical Protestantism. In a shrewd review of the book, the great evangelical historian of American Christianity, Mark Noll, then teaching at Notre Dame, counted the ways. These include an embrace of biblicism, a call for personal evangelism, an emphasis on “friendship” with Jesus and even a celebration of adult baptism.
Thus did conservative Catholicism à la Weigel become inculturated with American evangelicalism (“inculturation” being the Catholic term for how the church engages with a particular culture, from 16th-century China to 21st-century Amazonia). And why not? Since the late 1970s, conservative Catholics and evangelicals have been allies in the culture war that has shaped American partisan politics.
Appearing shortly after the election of Pope Francis, Weigel’s book registers no concern that the Vatican and its episcopal appointees around the world would do anything to threaten the conservative “reform of the reform” of the Second Vatican Council undertaken by John Paul II and Benedict XVI.
Whoops. Six years into Francis’ papacy, the spirit of Vatican II is back big time, and, in response, the evangelical Catholicism of Weigel & Co. has become fundamentalist, in the original sense of the term.
Fundamentalism derives its name from a group of 90 essays titled “The Fundamentals” that were published between 1910 and 1915. Some of them argued for classic Christian doctrines like the Virgin Birth, Christ’s bodily resurrection and physical return, and his substitutionary atonement on the cross.
But that project was driven by opposition to Darwinian evolution, which had made considerable headway in the mainline Protestant denominations. “The Fundamentals” promulgated a novel doctrine of the Bible’s inerrancy, insisting on the literal truth of its two creation stories in a way that fetishized Protestant biblicism.
Like their Protestant predecessors, today’s fundamentalist Catholics find themselves embroiled in what they consider a war for the soul of their church. Anti-traditionally, they have combined their new biblicism with (their understanding of) Catholic teaching and discipline into the supreme religious authority, beyond the power of the pope’s teaching authority (magisterium) or church council to change.
Pope Francis’ modest reform agenda has thus become anathema to them. “There’s a breakdown of the central teaching authority of the Roman pontiff,” Cardinal Raymond Burke, their foremost American figure, recently told New York Times columnist Ross Douthat. “The successor of St. Peter exercises an essential office of teaching and discipline, and Pope Francis, in many respects, has refused to exercise that office.”
Exhibit A has been Francis’ decision to allow jurisdictions to permit Catholics who have divorced and remarried to take Communion, as if that were more of a scandal to the principle of the indissolubility of marriage than the fig leaf of annulment — and as if the Eastern Orthodox, whose claim to Christian antiquity is equal to Roman Catholicism’s, not only permits this, but allows second and third post-divorce marriages to take place in church.
In the just-concluded synod on the Amazon, the fundamentalists were scandalized by the call for married men to serve as priests in the Amazon region, as if Eastern Rite Catholic priests haven’t been married for centuries, and as if Pope Benedict this very decade didn’t authorize married Anglican priests who convert to serve as Catholic priests.
The fundamentalists were also scandalized by Francis’ reconvening a commission to study the history of women deacons in the church — a history well attested in the sources — presumably with an eye to authorizing the ordination of women as deacons sometime soon.
Most of all, the fundamentalists got their knickers in a twist over a two-foot-high indigenous carving of a naked pregnant woman, identified with an Incan figure called Pachamama, that was presented to the pope at the beginning of the synod and placed in a church in Rome (from which a young zealot removed it and threw it in the Tiber). In their view, it was a pagan idol, not an example of wholesome inculturation, as if portraying Pachamama as Our Lady of the Amazon was any more violative of Catholic belief than the assimilation of the Aztec Mother Goddess Tonantzin into the Virgin of Guadalupe.