September 15, 2011

Faith? Or Gullibility?

Leighton, as he often does, made a very insightful comment on the blog post about Rick Perry as some kind of "super christian" (my words, btw).
It's not just that the U.S. Christian experience doesn't require deep thinking. It also discourages even basic situational awareness and wariness of being manipulated, almost to the point where gullibility is considered a spiritual virtue.
The first part, we have talked about at length here. The deep thinking theologians of the past are gone from most American Christian's lives, to be replaced by Max Lucado and the Purpose Driven Life, or Prayer of Jabez. Those people may be genuine in their faith, I really don't know. But their approach is paper thin, and easily understood, which further leads to the idea that Christianity is easy and apparent.

But it is that second part that has me thinking. I know many, many, many people of faith, and consider myself one. But I have seen an increasing amount of this kind of gullibility masquerading as faith. We see it in our political figures all the time. But I think it has to do with the increasing emphasis on the "personal relationship" and a sharp decrease in both critical thinking and accountability. When it is all about the personal relationship, then when someone says, "God told me this" who can disagree? Who can say? And in fact, speaking to Leighton's point, questioning that is not a virtue, or about accountability, but rather discouraged. Those kind of pronouncements are meant to be greeted with nodding heads and "amens." Which has given us George Bush telling us that God told him to invade Iraq, and everyone in the GOP platform assuring us that God is their bestest buddy and the one from which they get all their insight and values. Like killing people. Or mocking the poor.

As a kid, I loved Louis L'Amour books, and probably read all of them multiple times. Cheesy, but fun, and in that vein, one of the characters was fond of saying, "Trust in the Lord, but keep your powder dry." The metaphor of taking care of what you could, while maintaining some faith in something bigger than yourself has always made sense to me. Because I don't want to dismiss completely the supernatural nor the issue of faith in the people around me. There are too many I respect who can speak to elements of that. But surely the critical thinking and groundedness has a place too.

Does God heal? I have no clue. I haven't ever seen it, but in the mode of our current language, any medical turnaround would be deemed God's healing. Any rational explanation is immediately dismissed. And in fact, as we have talked about here, faith is simply inserted in areas where the rational and logical explanation is unwelcome. Don't like evolution? That's ok. You can just insert faith instead and talk about what you believe or don't believe.

Does God communicate directly to people? I have no idea. He doesn't to me, but I am not so arrogant to assume that I am the norm. But I do know this. I can't even count the times that someone has said "God led me to this" that turned out to be a bad idea. But you can't question those callings or "words" from God, and seemingly, you can't even follow up after and just fess up that it wasn't God at all, but the little "me" that wanted to do that.

Because what passes for faith now is starting to really piss me off. It is the kind of faith that has millions of Christians sitting on their hands (or worse) while their representatives demonize the poor, celebrate the deaths of others, defend torture, and brag about destroying God's creation. If conservative Christianity can't see through that?


Smitty said...

I suppose this is a natural consequence of when one conflates religion with politics. I have nothing with which to back that notion up, however. Just a political science hypothesis.

Where I am coming from is this: political messaging must be broken-down into the easiest-to-digest concepts in order for voters, en masse, to buy-in to a platform. So when a party's platform is heavy into religious philosophy, invariably, the religious messages get boiled-down into the same simple sound bites as political messages; they are, for one party, one in the same. That simplicity even gets to ignore contradiction as a political platform then boils-down other messages to bring other groups under their tent.

So the simplicity of politicized religious messaging is used along-side politicized economic messaging, for instance, which in the Right's case are often contradictory philosophies. But it doesn't matter. They have merged, over time, from 2 separate-but-equal philosophies under the same tent into one uber-philosophy. What were 2 groups of people interested in the same candidate for 2 very different reasons are now 1 person. It's taken like 4 or 5 decades to get to this point, but look at the unique beast it has created: a person who can quote the bible AND argue for reduced government services to the poor without seeing the problem between those 2 statements!

Smitty said...

So to answer your question: neither faith nor gullibility. It's un-questioning loyalty to a half-century-old message.

Streak said...

But I think that is gullibility to believe so easily that such policies are somehow compatible with the faith they proclaim. But I think you make a good point about how merged the two have become.

leighton said...

Smitty, I have no doubt that political entanglement is at least a strong contributing factor. But as a possible counterexample, I grew up in an apolitical, occasionally anti-political religious group where people still behaved like this. It was insular but not hermetically sealed - they did have contact with other, (slightly) more mainstream religious groups through newsletters and shared hymns, so it's possible there was some influence, but probably not a huge amount. I think churches' strong political involvement probably explains a lot of how this became so mainstream in the last, what, decade or two? But I think there must be other causes or contributing factors as well, to help explain how this dynamic also plays out in churches that don't get involved in "the world" (by which they often mean U.S. politics).

Smitty said...


Yeah, my hypothesis is just that: an educated guess, with plenty of holes, and that's one of them. That this behavior is present in insular churches not as visibly or vocally involved in secular politics.

I wonder, too, if being insular in and of itself is a cause. Like these little mom-and-pop churches headed by an under-educated "pastor" in an empty storefront. A guy with no real religious schooling in theology to understand the dynamics of teaching myth and biblical trajectory. Instead, it's some dude with nothing else really going on in life who wakes up one day realizing he/she has "been called" to "teach the word" and begins the road of picking their favorite childhood verses to preach from. In a vaccuum. Supported by what they hear or see on Rush Limbaugh or Joel Osteen. See what I'm saying? "No perspective" I think can cause this too.

steves said...

I just question that this is anything new. Prior to the Protestant Reformation (and even after for quite a while), only the religious leaders were supposed to read the Bible. Churchgoers were just expected to take their word. This kind of mindset certainly doesn't encourage deep thinking.

In my opinion, the same people that don't want to think to hard on their religion are the same kind of people that don't think hard on anything else. I hat to sound pompous, but I just don't think that most people want to think all that deeply on most things and just want, like Smitty points out, simple sound bites.

Eric S said...
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Eric S said...

Your comment here is very thoughtful. I’m an evangelical and I agree with much of what you said although I suspect that our politics are different. Particularly, your point about appropriate modesty in attributing divine origin to solutions that comes to people after prayer. As you point out, some of the results seem to undermine that attribution fairly convincingly. “What the Bible says About God the Ruler,” by Jack Cottrell is a pretty good book that vindicates you on that point.

I would encourage you not to be too hard on Christians who don’t embrace evolution though. There are two equally important parts to evolution. Natural selection, which is very compelling, but the other side is life emergence. That is very much in doubt. If you have the patience for reading scientific papers you might check out some of the peer-reviewed papers of David Able. They point out clearly that life emergence is in substantial enough doubt that it simply can’t be given a pass. You don’t have to believe in a universe younger than 13.7 billion years to have doubts about life emergence. Evolution, if only half plausible, is hardly a necessary stipulation to be rightly judged thoughtful.

Streak said...

Eric, nice to have you reading the blog. I appreciate your tone and thoughtfulness here.

I will say that looking at Dr. Able's work, I am not terribly convinced, though most of what he writes about is out of my area of expertise. He is an ID proponent, however, and that is simply problematic for me. I think it starts with the assumption of God and works backward.

But that said, I get your point. My issue in this particular post about evolution was not about ID, but about those who have no real understanding of evolution, but who simply reject it out of hand--not because they have evidence to refute it, but because the simply don't want to believe it is true. That is the kind of bad thinking I am talking about here.

Eric S said...

I agree with your assessment that wishing it so is not good enough. Ideas require a life time of testing and revisiting, challenging. The question that is not examined hardly by anyone in our generation, if God did spend the better part of the last 14 billion years making a nice place for us to live, doesn’t it stand to reason that he could accurately communicate a reliable and durable message to us about how and why he did it? So much ink has been spilled on deconstructing the bible in the 19th and 20th centuries, that it doesn’t occur to most people to even ask, is it possible that inspiration is real? But I suppose believing that it is, is what makes me an evangelical.

If you have insomnia some time you might go back to that David Able blog. If he is an ID man I don’t think he would admit it. If I understand what he says, admittedly it might be different from what he thinks; I think he would say he is an evolutionist who simply has reason to be not immediately hopeful about solutions to life emergence.

He has some outfit that is trying to give a $50,000 a year research grant to someone who solves these problems. The prize is a million dollars total. It is dribbled out presumably so that if someone is clever enough to solve some of these problems, the prize will fund a life time of research.

The people who judge the papers are some of the top people at our best research Universities. I don’t think any of them would say they are ID or creation proponents. If I remember there are some 300 names on that list.