Monday, April 14, 2008

Evangelical Atheism

Culture critic Mark Dery has written an excellent rant about "'evangelical' atheists" like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. Although delighted by their strategy, Dery is disappointed in their seeming ignorance about American evangelical christianity on more than a surface level. For Dery, the key to understanding why christianity still "works" in the U.S. is by examining it, in proper context, as another subculture.

As a subculture, American evangelical christians will continue to dismiss any argument (logically consistent or otherwise) from a non-evangelical christian as misguided. Much like the punk dismissing the person in the suit and tie as part of the system, the evangelical christian will only see the non-christian as part of a dangerous secular tyranny. Dawkins and Hitchens think if they can expose the illogical beliefs of Christianity it will - by the power of Castle Grayskull reason - be eliminated. Reason, therefore, is a necessary but not a sufficient criteria for understanding the rise of evangelical christians in America.

From Dery's essay, titled "Devil's Advocacy":

Yes, the Enlightenment tradition of reasoned debate and the scientific method's appeal to fact trump evangelical Christianity's "faith-based" obedience to scriptural "truth," its cowering fear of the Deeply Disapproving Daddy in the Sky. Those points being eagerly granted, how much more interesting to excavate the historical, class-based, and economic roots of American evangelical Christianity, to understand it in all its oxymoronic complexity as a conservative counterculture. There is a reductionistic, black-and-white binarism to Dawkins and Hitchens arguments that, irony of ironies, replicates the very same Manichean dualism beloved of American fundamentalism.

(And no, I'm not echoing the sophistic argument, made with her usual blunt-trauma subtlety by Ann Coulter and with somewhat more nuance, on the left, by Chris Hedges. I'm not arguing that a dogmatic atheism is a fundamentalism by any other name; rather, I'm arguing that using the sledgehammer of reason to smash to smithereens religion's preposterous epistemology and its hypocritical morality leaves half the job undone. Conservative Christianity has little to do with theology and everything to do with the culture wars; making sense of it requires not just a rationalist-materialist critique but an ethnographic/anthropological angle of attack

1 comment:

Rob said...

As I try to type a response to this post, I can't help but find that I keep going off onto rants of my own, and so to keep myself from making a page long response, I'll simply say 'you are correct, Dery. It would be impossible to convert evangelical christians to atheism by means of logic alone.' In my own experience, it's hard to even have logical discussions with them, let alone faith-changing debates, unless of course you preface each of your statements with the phrase, "Well, just hypothetically..."

And don't doubt my experience, my credentials include lifelong exposure to southern the power of Grayskull indeed.