CNN is featuring an article by Ralph Reed on the evangelical vote in Iowa, entitled “‘Evangelical Vote’ A Myth.” Reed argues that the evangelical voting block is a myth created by the media, since not all evangelicals vote the same way, and they don’t choose their candidates for the same reason.
I would be thrilled that someone actually said this in a national forum were I not so discouraged by the stereotypes and negativity that are all over the comments section. One gets used to atheists spewing vitriol on any and every “faith-based” story in the news, but I’ve never seen so many people upset that their preconceived notions were being challenged. Do these people even know any evangelicals? I want to ask, but I’m afraid that some of them have had bad experiences in one church, and they’re judging the rest of us based on that. To make the situation worse, CNN topped the story with a short slide show featuring comments from Christian voters whose comments sound exactly like what the atheists seem to fear most. Alas, one of my brethren goes so far as to reject the separation of church and state.
The separation of church and state is not our problem. This is the principle that guarantees us all freedom of worship whether or not those in power like our theology. What is the problem is the conviction that some of our fellow-Americans seem to have that faith is antithetical to reason and, therefore, should not be tolerated in public discourse. Having defined faith as blind obedience to arcane and outdated rules, they fail to see the vital role that it plays in civic life.
There is nothing blind about authentic, biblical faith. There is nothing genuine in a faith that never asks questions, and which never wrestles with its own motivations. I would argue that at least some of the people posting negative comments on CNN’s message board are guilty of blind faith themselves. They were told by a teacher or a professor or an author that there was no “scientific” or “historical” evidence for the faith of their parents or grandparents, so they happily chucked it away and never bothered to do their own investigating. They concluded that no one with any education or “sophistication” (yes, that word came up) believes in the God of the evangelicals. When I was studying for my M.A., a fellow grad student from another department had a weekly editorial in the school paper and was continually writing statements that began with, “As an educated person . . .” It was a university; we were all educated people, and plenty of us didn’t agree with him. His generalization were, therefore, ridiculous.
Let me say, as a college professor, that not every thing college professors say should be taken without question. I’m sure your professors gave you facts, but they also gave you interpretations. Interpretations are conclusions drawn from the facts. Interpretations are always subject to argument, and there are journals in every profession dedicated to carrying on those debates within fields. There is plenty of archeological evidence that supports biblical accounts, and plenty more that may or may not. The experts are still debating it. Likewise, scientific theories are continually subject to argument and debate. To make generalizations about what all educated people ought to believe is absurd, since not all educated people believe the same things even within their own disciplines.
I know there are atheists who really have thought through their worldview and reached it as reasonable conclusion, just as many Christians have reasoned their way to faith. What offends me most is the idea that is continually promoted in popular discourse that people of faith are ignorant or bigoted. It is worse during election season when people on a certain end of the political spectrum stir up antagonism against conservative candidates with the cry, “The Christians are coming, the Christians are coming.” Even if we were “coming,” GOOD FOR YOU. We have guided Western Civilization for most of the last two thousand years. We have built schools and hospitals, created art, made scientific discoveries, promoted democracy and abolished slavery, at least where we could get at it. We have reformed prisons, fed the homeless, voted in elections, argued for the dignity of women, and yes, campaigned for the separation of church and state. If you don’t know these things, then your history class lied to you, and you need to do some real research instead of trusting the chewed up and spit out pablum that is dished out in most high school history books.
So, I would challenge the mockers on the CNN post to consider what authorities they have put their confidence in because there surely are some. If they are trusting the opinions of experts or scholars, then I can offer experts and scholars to contradict them because that’s what scholars do. If they are trusting their own reason, then they are trusting something that every philosopher since Socrates has doubted. And if they are assuming that all evangelicals are exactly the same, then they are guilty of faulty generalization and no argument built on that has validity. Likewise, if they are regarding faith and reason as incompatible, they are guilty of a false dichotomy -pretending that two things are opposed to each other when they do not need to be.
One more thing, if you must attack religion in a public forum, try to avoid name-calling. It’s a sure indication that your argument has no substance.