Wednesday, October 19, 2011

On behalf of parallel cultures

One of my readers asked me to comment on this blog post from Jim Kidder that also discusses the World magazine series on the Barna poll:

World Magazine on the Barna Group Results

Jim quoted a piece from the New York Times, which notes that evangelical Christians have created a "parallel culture"
...that has become the de facto culture of home school curricula, evangelical churches and Christian colleges. This is the result of what Mark Noll called "The Intellectual Catastrophe of Fundamentalism." This is not Christianity as it is practiced in either the Catholic or Eastern churches and, in many ways, it is a Christianity that is unique to the United States. It is also a Christianity that I am profoundly uncomfortable with and am becoming more so every day.
I'm not entirely sure whether he's concerned about the very idea of a "parallel culture" itself or the quality of the evangelical culture. As for developing our own parallel cultures, I would point to the monastic culture (especially medieval monasteries) as an example from a different Christian faith tradition. A crucial difference between the medieval monastery and the modern evangelical culture is that the monastic culture was compelling and appealing to people. As I understand it (and I admit that I'm no historian), the monasteries were important sources of learning and scholarship, and to some extent helped to preserve learning through the "Dark Ages." I think especially of St. Columba's monastery on Iona, which was instrumental in Christianizing Scotland through the power of learning. (I'm going to stop talking about monasteries now before I reveal any more of my ignorance.)

In some sense, I think that having a separate cultural identity is inevitable for Christians. What pains me (and perhaps Jim too) is so often how inferior and unappealing the modern evangelical culture has become. When was the last time you saw a Christian movie that didn't make you wince? I remember hearing a friend lamely trying to think of something nice to say about The Omega Code. "It had really good special effects." Uh huh. And if I hear one more person praise one of these cinematic atrocities because it had a "good message," I just might scream.

One problem is that evangelical culture is mostly reactive. Our music sounds like the Top 40 pop songs. Shoot, we even have a Christian Top 40 radio show. The very act of making Christian movies is a bad mimic of the studio movie system. When it comes to science, when's the last time you heard ICR, AIG, CMI, or RTB comment on some new creationist research or creationist breakthrough? But when's the last time you heard one of those organizations provide a spin on someone else's evolutionary research?

And then there's the mindless fads. Bible Code anyone? Prayer of Jabez? Left Behind? The list goes on. Too much rubbish is being promoted purely because it sells. Whether or not it's edifying seems to be irrelevant.

Oh sure, I know there are exceptions to everything I've said, and I can't just condemn all of evangelical culture. (Truth be told, there are some parts that I quite like, but they're usually the iconoclastic corners of evangelicalism rather than the mainstream.) In general, though, evangelical culture is a pale mimic of the real thing. I think that's the common thread that runs through all the reasons that young people give for leaving evangelical Christianity.

I would hope that everyone would realize that I don't think the solution is to adopt the secular culture wholesale. That would indeed be stupid. What I want, and what this blog has always been about, is to improve what we have. Instead of constantly tossing potshots at evolutionary biology, we need to put up or shut up. If creationism is so much better than conventional science, where's our explanation of the pattern of radioisotopes? Or distant starlight? Or the near identity of the human and chimp genomes? And why aren't we working on answers to these questions? Why are people settling for just explaining the problems away with philosophical tricks or just distracting people from the problems by pretending like everyone else has much worse problems? Take the beam out of your own eye before you pick out the speck from someone else's. That was good advice 2000 years ago, and it's good advice today.

Now before someone else can say it, I'll ask myself, "Is there a beam in my eye?" I've been pondering that question a lot lately, and I've been taking a long, hard look at my own involvement in the creation/evolution debate. I don't mind saying that I'm reconsidering a lot of things, and there will probably be some important changes coming before the end of the year. Stay tuned, I guarantee it'll be fun!

Feedback? Email me at toddcharleswood [at] gmail [dot] com.