Wednesday night court evangelical roundup

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What have Trump’s evangelicals been saying since our last update?

It looks likes COVID-19 was present at Robert Jeffress’s Sunday morning political rally at First Baptist-Dallas.

Newt Gingrich is on the Eric Metaxas Show today talking about his new book Trump and the American Future. Gingrich says that 2020 will be the most consequential election since 1860. Gingrich has been using this line (or something similar) for a long time. He probably does not remember that he said the exact same thing about the 2016 election (go to the 1:55 mark of this video). And before that he said the exact same thing about the 2012 election. In 2008, he said the outcome of the election “will change the entire rest of our lives.” In 1994, he said that the midterm elections “were the most consequential nonpresidential election of the 20th century.” Every election is consequential. How long are we going to listen to Gingirch before we call this what it is: fear-mongering. Metaxas, an evangelical Christian, is facilitating this.

Midway through the interview, Metaxas’s binary thinking kicks-in. He continues to see everything through a culture-war rhetoric. In his Manichean world view, there are only two options: “Marxism” or something he calls “a Judeo-Christian American Western ethic.” Either Metaxas is incapable of nuance or else he is catering to the black-and-white thinking of his audience. I would put my money on the later.

Let’s remember that Western Civilization brought the idea of human rights and freedom to the world. Western Civilization birthed the ideals that ended slavery in much of the world. It also failed to provide human rights and liberty to people of color. We are still living with the results of these failures. It is called systemic racism. Two things can be true at the same time, but as Metaxas and the folks at Salem Radio know well, complexity does not lead to good ratings.

The discussion moves again to monuments. As I said yesterday, when people tear down monuments indiscriminately it only provides fodder for the paranoid style we see in this Metaxas-Gingrich interview. Metaxas once again says that the tearing down of statues is part of a spiritual assault against God. At one point, he applies this thinking to “all monuments.” Gingrich connects the tearing down of monuments to the decline of Western Civilization.  Gingrich has been saying the same thing for over thirty years.

In other court evangelical news, Richard Land needs to stop pontificating about early American history. This “New England writ-large” way of thinking about colonial America not only fails to recognize the intolerance and racism of Puritan society, but it also reads Winthrop’s “City on a Hill” speech through the lens of Ronald Reagan’s 1989 farewell address to the nation. Here is Land:

By the way, if you want some good history about New England as a “city on a hill,” I recommend:

Fox’s Laura Ingraham is quoting from Tom Paine’s The Crisis. I am not sure Paine, who was a revolutionary who championed women’s rights, anti-slavery and the working class, would appreciate being invoked by a Fox News host. Let’s remember that John Adams thought Paine’s Common Sense was so radical that he called it “a poor, ignorant, malicious, short-sighted, crapulous mass.” In an 1805 letter, Adams wrote:

I know not whether any man in the world has had more influence on its inhabitants of affairs than Thomas Paine. There can be no severer satire on the age. For such a mongrel between pig and puppy, begot by a wild boar on a bitch wolf, never before in any age of the world was suffered by the poltroonery of mankind to run through a career of mischief. Call it then the Age of Paine….

Court evangelical Ralph Reed retweeted Ingraham today:

Paula White is talking about idolatry (she doesn’t mention nationalism as an idol) and some pretty strange theology:

James Robison somehow managed to turn an encouraging word to his followers suffering from COVID-19 into a screed in defense of Confederate monuments, Donald Trump, and Christian nationalism. Satan, in the form of “the Left,” needs to be removed from the United States! Watch it here.

The CDC and Tony Fauci are warning against July 4 gatherings. But Liberty University’s Falkirk Center is not:

I don’t know whether to laugh or cry when court evangelicals talk about “truth.” This is from the Falkirk Center’s Facebook page:

Much of the modern day church has fallen victim to the woke mob’s revised Christianity- where “compassion” has replaced truth as the more important moral aim. While we are called to speak the truth in love, we are not called to entertain lies simply because it may make someone feel better. Too many Christians have compromised on this in order to be culturally relevant and to be seen as favorable and kind. We must weed out this self-glorifying corruption in the Church and speak boldly for what we know to be true.

Here is the Falkirk Center’s Jenna Ellis:

Hi Jenna: Let me encourage you to pick-up a copy of this book.  🙂

Trump wonder-boy Charlie Kirk thinks four centuries of systemic racism can be fixed in eight years.

Until next time…

The Author’s Corner with Matthew Bowman

41wkagDrU8L._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_Matthew Bowman is associate professor of history at Henderson State University. This interview is based on his new book, Christian: The Politics of a Word in America  (Harvard University Press, 2018).

JF: What led you to write Christian: The Politics of a Word in America?

MB: I wrote the book because of Anne Rice, if you can believe it; she wrote a piece a few years back in which she announced that though she considered herself a follower of Jesus, she did not want to be called a “Christian” because it was commonly understood that Christians were anti- any number of things: women, Democrats, LGBT people, and so on. This struck me as fascinating, because I didn’t think she was alone: a lot of people seem to have come to similar conclusions in the past twenty years, and a wide range of surveys bear that out. Why is it, I wondered, that the Religious Right and millennials who leave Christian churches over their social politics have essentially come to an agreement that “Christianity” is about social conservatism?

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Christian: The Politics of a Word in America?

MB: The book looks at the ways the word “Christian” has been used in American politics since the end of the Civil War, and particularly follows the process by which white Protestants in particular have come to identify Christianity with something called “Western civilization” as defined in the twentieth century, a fascinating story that involves war, Cold War, psychology, and children’s textbooks. It’s that link, I think, that has allowed the Religious Right to identify the religion with traditionalist social politics, although I also explore a great number of dissenting voices, and point out ultimately that “Christian” is an essentially contested concept, one which might be best defined as a collection of concepts and ideas that can be marshalled to serve any number of definitions, theologies, or social orders.

JF: Why do we need to read Christian: The Politics of a Word in America?

MB: I think this sort of book is essential these days both for historical reasons but also contemporary politics. Of course it’s desirable to have a nuanced and detailed understanding of the American past, but I think questions like those this book raises also show how that understanding can serve a social and civic function: most people seem to agree that the polarization taking hold of American politics and culture these days is a bad thing, and one of the things I hope this book does is show that the history of American Christianity is profoundly resistant to that sort of polarization.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?

MB: Like many past Author’s Corner authors, in college I found myself deeply confused about the culture and society I found myself in and was relieved, genuinely, when history I began reading helped explain it to me. I was a librarian in college, and sometimes my supervisor would find me kneeling in the stacks next to a cart of books thumbing through one or another; this, actually, is how I discovered Ann Braude’s Radical Spirits, one of the first monographs I ever read.

JF: What is your next project?

MB: I’m working on a cultural history of Betty and Barney Hill, the first people in the United States to claim abduction by a UFO, in the sense that we define “abduction” today: little gray men, profound trauma, lost time, medical probing, and so on. The Hills are interesting in their own right: when they were abducted in 1961, they were an interracial couple, practicing Unitarians, and civil rights activists, and all these identities intersected uncomfortably with their new status of “abductees.” I think this story will tell us a lot about race, sexuality, and the rise of the New Age movement in the United States.

JF: Thanks, Matt!

Did Fake News Come From Liberty or Harvard?

Truth

David Brooks’s recent column defending Western Civilization is bound to get the descendants of the New Left and the defenders of multiculturalism very angry.  But I think he ends the column with a very fair point:

These days, the whole idea of Western civ is assumed to be reactionary and oppressive. All I can say is, if you think that was reactionary and oppressive, wait until you get a load of the world that comes after it.

Casey Williams, a Ph.D student in literature at Duke, doesn’t necessary defend Western Civilization in his recent op-ed in The New York Times, but he does seem to put the blame for our so-called “post-truth” society on those academics who have spent their careers undermining the very idea of truth.

As Darryl Hart writes at Old Life in a jab at Molly Worthen’s recent piece about how evangelicals contributed to our “post-truth society: “Want to know where fake news came from? Looks like it was Harvard not Liberty University.”

Here is a taste of Williams’s piece:

We’re used to this pattern by now: The president dresses up useful lies as “alternative facts” and decries uncomfortable realities as “fake news.” Stoking conservative passion and liberal fury, Trump stirs up confusion about the veracity of settled knowledge and, through sheer assertion, elevates belief to the status of truth.

Trump’s playbook should be familiar to any student of critical theory and philosophy. It often feels like Trump has stolen our ideas and weaponized them.

For decades, critical social scientists and humanists have chipped away at the idea of truth. We’ve deconstructed facts, insisted that knowledge is situated and denied the existence of objectivity. The bedrock claim of critical philosophy, going back to Kant, is simple: We can never have certain knowledge about the world in its entirety. Claiming to know the truth is therefore a kind of assertion of power.

These ideas animate the work of influential thinkers like Nietzsche, Foucault and Derrida, and they’ve become axiomatic for many scholars in literary studies, cultural anthropology and sociology.

From these premises, philosophers and theorists have derived a number of related insights. One is that facts are socially constructed. People who produce facts — scientists, reporters, witnesses — do so from a particular social position (maybe they’re white, male and live in America) that influences how they perceive, interpret and judge the world. They rely on non-neutral methods (microscopes, cameras, eyeballs) and use non-neutral symbols (words, numbers, images) to communicate facts to people who receive, interpret and deploy them from their own social positions.

Call it what you want: relativism, constructivism, deconstruction, postmodernism, critique. The idea is the same: Truth is not found, but made, and making truth means exercising power.

The reductive version is simpler and easier to abuse: Fact is fiction, and anything goes. It’s this version of critical social theory that the populist right has seized on and that Trump has made into a powerful weapon.

Read Williams’s entire piece here.

 

 

This Explains a Lot

A taste from this piece at Quartz:

The human race has collectively spent a perplexing amount of time watching Adam Sandler on Netflix.

Together, Netflix’s 99 million users worldwide have devoted more than half a billion hours of their lives to Adam Sandler’s lowbrow humor since the December 2015 debut of The Ridiculous 6, Netflix’s first original film featuring the US comedian, the company said yesterday. Never mind that his recent projects have bombed in theaters and been torn apart by critics.

Five hundred million hours may not sound extraordinary compared to the 1 billion hours of YouTube people watch per day. But it equates to about three movies for each Netflix subscriber—or, an astonishing 57,000 years worth of continuous viewing.

Actually, I have watched The WaterboyHappy Gilmore40 First Dates, and Billy Madison more than I care to admit.

 

 

This is Racism

Here is Chris Cuomo’s interview this morning with Iowa congressman Steve King:

Here is a transcript of the last minute or so:

CUOMO: There are a lot of people teaching hatred in their families who are white, Irish, Italian, who are Muslim. A lot of people preach hate. There’s hate in a lot of different groups. I get you have Muslim extremism that there’s a concern in this country about it. But I asked you something else. These people are either all equal or they are not in your view. A Muslim American, an Italian American, German American like you and your blood, your roots. They are either all equal or they are not in your mind. What is the answer? 

KING: I’d say they’re all created in the image of God and they’re equal in his eyes. If they’re citizens of the United States they’re equal in the eyes of the law. Individuals will contribute differently, not equally to this civilization and society. Certain groups of people will do more from a productive side than other groups of people will. That’s just a statistical fact. 

CUOMO: It’s not as a function of race. It’s a function of opportunity and education. You’re not more likely as a Muslim American to contribute to American society. It’s about your education and your opportunity, not what your blood is. 

KING: Chris? 

CUOMO: Yes. 

KING: It’s the culture, not the blood. If you can go anywhere in the world and adopt these babies and put them into households that were already assimilated in America, those babies will grow up as American as any other baby with as much patriotism and love of country as any other baby. 

It’s not about race. It’s never been about race. In fact the struggles across this planet, we describe them as race, they’re not race. They’re culture based. It’s a clash of culture, not the race. Sometimes that race is used as an identifier. 

This idea that some cultures and races are inferior to others and are thus incapable of making meaningful contributions to American society has a long history in the United States.

Here is Ben Franklin in 1751 writing about the influx of Germans in Pennsylvania:

Those who come hither are generally of the most ignorant Stupid Sort of their own Nation…and as few of the English understand the German Language, and so cannot address them either from the Press or Pulpit, ’tis almost impossible to remove any prejudices they once entertain…Not being used to Liberty, they know not how to make a modest use of it…I remember when they modestly declined intermeddling in our Elections, but now they come in droves, and carry all before them, except in one or two Counties…In short unless the stream of their importation could be turned from this to other colonies, as you very judiciously propose, they will soon so out number us, that all the advantages we have will not in My Opinion be able to preserve our language, and even our Government will become precarious.

Here is King again. This time he is promoting something similar to the racial hierarchies that motivated the 1924 Immigration Restriction Act:

I noticed that King did not include Southern Europeans in his definition of “Western Civilization.”  Yup.  My ancestors have been there.

Italians

1888

Why doesn’t King just take his remarks to their logical conclusion by naming those groups that will be less “productive” members of American society.

No, John Kasich. I Don’t Think You Are Allowed To Do That

Apparently GOP Presidential candidate John Kasich wants to create a new government agency to promote Judeo-Christian values.

http://player.theplatform.com/p/2E2eJC/nbcNewsOffsite?guid=a_shorttake_peter_151117

Kasich is going to take a lot of heat for this idea, as he should.  If I understand him correctly, he wants the United States government to be a missionary agency to convert people to Judeo-Christian beliefs.  The assumption, of course, is that the United States is founded solely on Judeo-Christian principles and is a Judeo-Christian nation.  I have argued that the United States has always understood itself this way.  This belief has informed both domestic and foreign policy for most of American history.  So Kasich definitely has American history on his side here. Although I can’t think of an example in which the U.S. government was so overt about spreading religious beliefs abroad. There has never been any kind of government agency devoted to this purpose.  Such an agency would be a clear violation of the first Amendment’s establishment clause.

As I listen to Kasich talk about this, I don’t think he understands that the Judeo-Christian heritage is not the only source of American liberal ideas.  The Enlightenment played a significant role in the kinds of liberty and freedom that Kasich wants to promote around the world.  Again, Americans have been in the business of promoting liberal ideas around the world for a long time.  Why does he feel it is necessary to focus specifically on an agency committed to spreading “Judeo-Christian” values? All of the stuff he mentions in this video: freedom, liberty, women’s rights, religious freedom have very complex roots.

It is also ironic that Kasich wants to transport Judeo-Christian values around the world at a particular historical moment in the United States when many pundits–even conservative Christian pundits–have suggested that America is no longer a Christian nation.  These Christians are now seeking religious liberty (an ideal that has always been defended by religious minorities) for their beliefs against what they believe to be a series of threats from “secular progressives” who have captured the culture of their country.

If Kasich wants to engage in an ideological war against ISIS, he is better off just arguing on the basis of Western liberal values and forget about bringing religion into it.

Looking For an Adjunct History Instructor for Fall 2015

The Messiah College History Department, which I chair, is looking for someone to teach two sections of Western Civilization (preferably Western Civ I: Before 1500) in the Fall 2015 semester.  The ideal candidate will have a Ph.D in history, but an ABD or M.A. with some teaching experience in Western Civilization or European History could work.  I also prefer someone who can teach during the regular academic day (as opposed to evening) on a MWF or T-TH schedule.  Having said that, I will consider one of these courses being an evening class if the right candidate emerges.

There may also be opportunities for this person to teach Western Civ in our J-Term session and in the Spring 2016.

As many of you know, Messiah College is a Christian College.  Faculty should be willing, in good conscience, to sign the Apostles Creed and support the mission of the college.
If you are interested, or have any questions, please contact me at jfea(at)messiah(dot)edu and attach a current vita.   I am looking to fill these slots as soon as possible.  
Also, please feel free to share this with friends or other potential applicants.
Thanks,

What Might a Non-Progressive History of Western Civilization Look Like?

Twenty years ago the late Christopher Lasch chronicled America’s addiction to progress and provided an alternative vision of American life.  The book was called The True and Only Heaven: Progress and its Critics.  It was a masterpiece of scholarship and cultural criticism and it got a lot of liberal progressives very angry.

I have read The True and Only Heaven several times.  It is a book I return to quite often.  In fact, a couple of things have come up in the last few days that have led me to once again reflect on Lasch’s prophetic tome.

Yesterday I posted about and endorsed Catholic University’s decision to ban co-ed dorms. I thought I would get some backlash from a few of my more progressive readers, but so far my e-mail account, Facebook wall, and blog comments page have been void of criticism–either of me or Catholic University.

But while my progressive readers have been quiet, most progressives in the blogosphere have not.  The Left’s outrage over this decision, and the attempt by a George Washington University law professor to sue Catholic University, are deeply rooted in a progressive vision of American history.  While some progressives might be upset with the whole concept of same-sex dorms, what is particularly scandalous to them is the fact that a university that had previously allowed co-ed dorms has now decided to eliminate them.  This is so scandalous because it is perceived as a step backward–an unenlightened decision that contradicts what some believe to be progress.  To suggest, based on religious tradition, that young men and women are different enough to be housed in separate spaces, or that their  moral convictions might be strengthened by such a move, is antithetical to a progressive mindset that perceives morality in less traditional ways.

I thought about Lasch again when I read William Lind and William Piper’s provocative essay in The American Conservative.  The authors lay out what they call an “alternative” history of the West.  What might the story of Western Civilization look like, they ask, if the narrative was driven by faith, reason, and the failure of progress, especially in the 20th century?

Lind and Piper’s “alternative history” is not without its problems, and Georgetown political philosopher Patrick Deneen notes a few of them, but I think such a historiographical project is worth doing and I am appreciative to Lind and Piper for giving it a shot.  Lasch would be happy.

Goodbye Western Civ?

According to a recent study by the National Association of Scholars, the traditional survey course in Western Civilization is vanishing from the general education curriculum at American colleges and universities.  The study is based on the seventy-five “top” colleges and universities as ranked by U.S. News & World Report in 2009.  Here is a summary of the report:

1. Western Civilization survey courses have virtually disappeared from general education requirements.
 

2. Even for history majors, Western Civilization surveys are rarely required.
 

3. American history survey requirements for history majors are rare.
 

4. Surveys of American history are not included in general education requirements.
 

5. World history is on the rise

The NAS laments this loss of Western Civ:

Clearly, many of those who will eventually assume positions of opinion leadership in our society as teachers in our schools, or as participants in public life, are no longer learning about their civilization’s great story, its triumphs, its vicissitudes, and its singular role in transforming the human condition. What is the future of a civilization whose heirs have largely become blinded to its history? And what can we do to revive the study of Western Civilization?
 

The widespread emphasis on “multiculturalism” is an inadequate answer. That’s because, in practice, multiculturalism leaves students ill-equipped to understand the context of their own lives or the world around them. Western Civilization is so interconnected with and influential in the rest of the world that students who are left with scant knowledge of it can achieve at best only a superficial understanding of the larger picture.
 

Reviving the Western Civilization survey in the form that served earlier generations probably is neither feasible nor desirable. Historical scholarship, including knowledge of the West’s interactions with other civilizations and cultures, has progressed. An up-to-date survey would have to take account of this new scholarship.
 

But a historical overview of the Western ascent toward freedom, scientific and technology mastery, and world power, is no less essential to the current generation than it was to those past. 

Recommendations include: 

  • Establishing a presidential committee to “examine the current place of Western Civilization” in the curriculum
  • The American Historical Association and Organization of American Historians should devote time and energy to exploring this issue.
  • State legislatures should hold hearings on the place of Western Civ and American history in colleges and universities.
  • Undergraduate general requirements should restore the Western Civ requirement.
  • The Western Civ course needs to be reinvented to synthesize new scholarship in the area of globalization and the “claims of ‘world history’.”
  • Western Civ courses should be a prerequisite for upper-level courses in other liberal arts fields.
  • History majors should be required to take a two-semester survey in Western Civ.
  • Students should not place out of Western Civ unless they score a 5 on the AP European history exam.
  • Graduate students in history programs should all have “demonstrated competence in Western Civilizations regardless of their specializations.”
  • History departments should require all faculty members to teach Western Civ.

While some of these recommendation seem a bit over-the-top and overly conservative, I agree, in principal, with many of them and would argue for keeping Western Civ and/or American history in the general education curriculum for many of the reasons espoused in this report.  I do agree that either the “traditional” Western Civ needs to deal more fully with the West’s interaction with the rest of the world or have students learn about non-western history and culture through another required course.

Here at Messiah College, I think we have navigated this well.  All general educations students must take either a Western Civilization or American History survey course.  They also have the option of taking another Western Civ or American history course to fulfill a social science requirement.  All students are required to take a course in “non-western studies,” a requirement that can be fulfilled by taking our “World Civilization” survey course.

Our history majors are required to take, at the survey level, one semester of Western Civ, one semester of World Civ, and two semesters of American history survey.

I recommend the NAS report to professors, department chairs, and administrators. (Also take a look at the Inside Higher Ed report on it).  While it is very unlikely that any college or university will adopt all the recommendations in the report, it does make for a good discussion piece.