April 1, 2014

Beyond the Angle of Repose?

If you don't know, the angle of repose refers to the " the maximum angle at which an object can rest on an inclined plane without sliding down."  Or, in general use, it is the principle that determines how steeply you can pile gravel or rock or dirt where it will stay in a conical shape.  Beyond that angle, the pile collapses as the material slides down.

Anyway.  I was thinking about that a lot of late as I have been moving flagstone and crushed limestone into my back yard.  And, more relevant to the rest of the world, I have been thinking about how some events over the past decade or so have clarified my views on the evangelical world.  My relationships with evangelicalism has not been great since my high school days, but for much of that time, it reminds me of a pile of gravel with the occasional trickle.  Tension, for sure, but the shape held.

But over the past fifteen years, I have watched evangelicals support torture, deny climate change, and attacks on the poor and hungry.  I have watched evangelicals join the GOP call for people not to be insured.  The evangelical shape, if you will, has become incompatible with Christianity's internal logic.
Torture and war reveal much of that, but all you have to do is look to the last few years to see the crumbling of the Evangelical mission.  As David Michael McFarlane noted, "Fundamentalists have banded behind a fast food chain, racist reality TV star and discriminatory legislation in their attempt to police LGBTQ persons."   They will defend a racist Paula Deen, and jump to attack recipients of food stamps.  This last week, we watched World Vision welcome gay couples and then reject them a few days later.  Why?  As Rachel Held Evans put it, "The Evangelical Machine kicked into gear," and proceeded to hostage aid to poor children in order to bully World Vision out of their tolerant stance.  As Evan Hurst noted, "When given an explicit choice to love children or hate gay people, they chose the latter, and they chose it loudly."

Rachel Held Evans believes that evangelicals are winning the culture war and losing an entire generation of young people.  I think the damage is even deeper, but agree with her that "When Christians declare that they would rather withhold aid from people who need it than serve alongside gays and lesbians helping to provide that aid, something is wrong."  They are moving past the angle of repose and headed to destruction.  Add to that the tribal defense of Hobby Lobby's anti-contraceptive stance, and you have the real possibility of evangelicals and conservatives both losing young women for the foreseeable future.  After all, Hobby Lobby will gladly use Chinese labor (and tolerate forced abortions) to produce very cheap goods.  If a promiscuous woman with multiple abortions in her past wants to purchase those goods, Hobby Lobby will gladly cash that check.  They will even pay her marginal wages to move those cheap goods.  But they will not provide her with good healthcare.  Because that would be un-Christian.



Noah Smith said...

Huh. My comment went away. Either I (accidentally) offended you or electrons are acting up again. I'm sure it's the latter.

At any rate, it wasn't an especially brilliant reply, and far be it from me to sound like a Christian apologist...but:

I disagree in part with Ms. Evans. I don't think they are winning the culture war. I think they are losing the culture war, and their strict adherence to their pyrrhic battle is what is "losing an entire generation of young people," a point with which I agree with Ms. Evans.

And I agree with you: the damage is deeper. I think the damage is to the entire Christian "brand," especially since "mainstream" Christians most likely don't agree with the fringe...but don't do or say much about it. I get that church is supposed to be a place where we reflect of goodness and fellowship, and people generally want positive messages on their Sundays in a pew, not vitriol. But man, when there's something out there tearing apart the fabric of the collective...seems like you might want to say out loud (especially via leadership at the higher levels) that the fringe is the fringe.

Oh well. Turn the other cheek and all that.

Streak said...

No offense here, that is for sure. :)

I think you make a good point. Evans is looking at it pretty much from inside the evangelical culture. She was once part of this culture war, and that probably gives her a different perspective. I agree that they are not actually winning, but they do appear to be winning individual battles--the World Vision issue, for example.

The church tends to be, like all institutions, rather conservative. I often forget that. And I think we are seeing a pretty conservative institution struggling to deal with pretty big changes--as your "fabric of the collective" notes.

Noah Smith said...

I found this and had a solid chuckle. File this under "irony."

leighton said...

Category irony, subcategory utterly predictable. Christian leaders like that do a better job recruiting for atheism than I ever could. Which is good, because recruiting is really boring.

I could have sworn RHE quit the evangelical church on Twitter a while back after some indefensible comment or behavior being defended. Can't remember the details. I don't mean that as a criticism - goodness knows addiction to an institution is harder to kick than a lot of substance abuse. In any case, it's a good article as usual.