Part Three: The Sky Is Falling (Hide Your Kids, Hide Your Wife)
“The news is reporting that an employee at Sonoma State University required a young woman who was working at a table during new student orientation to remove (or hide) the cross necklace that she was wearing, lest she offend someone.”
~ Jack Crabtree, 2013
The foremost question when considering any America-is-ending narrative is whether or not America is actually ending. One can theorize abstractly and endlessly about what this means, why it is the case, and what one should do. But the a priori question needs to be: Is America becoming an “anti-Christian” culture?
Jack, and many other conservative American Christians, believes that it is.
I very much disagree.
An Admission of Personal Bias
Before I articulate my disagreement, it seems right to be transparent about something: I really do not like end-of-the-world narratives. As soon as I hear one advanced, I instantly lose a good deal of respect for whoever advanced it.
This bias is because of my upbringing in conservative Christianity. In that world, I saw these narratives thrown about loosely and unintelligently. Bill Clinton was going to either cause the U.S. to “lose favor with God” or be the anti-Christ. Y2K was going to usher in an apocalypse. LGBT people were going to abuse all of our kids if allowed to teach in the public schools. Barack Obama was going to create Nazi Germany in the U.S.
To be fair, these narratives are not unique to conservative Christianity. For example, the 2012 end-of-the-world hype came from silly misinterpretations of the Aztec calendar. Those interpretations had little to do with either conservatism or Christianity.
Regardless of their origins, though, I have grown up with these narratives.
I have yet to see a single one fulfilled.
Bill Clinton was sleazy, corrupt, and homophobic but no anti-Christ. Y2K came and went with little fanfare. Straight people have a higher likelihood of abusing kids in public schools than LGBT people. Barack Obama currently has the lowest approval ratings of his presidential career and is under attack by all parties for being inept (Hitler, on the other hand, was not inept). 2012 ended up being nothing more than an average, mediocre year.
Consequently, when Jack proposes the end of America — and says that claim is “either realistic or alarmist” — my brain automatically goes with alarmist. Every other advancement of this idea has thus far been based on nothing more than fear or irrationality (or both). But it would be equally fearful and irrational to reject Jack’s claim merely because similar claims were false. So I need to move beyond my bias. So the first question is, why is this being written? What is Jack upset about?
We Have Nothing to Fear But Unfounded Fear
Determining what worries Jack about America’s trajectory is honestly difficult. On the one hand, he is clear: He is worried about the rise of a superior class, and how its values of Contrabiblicism and Leftism have subverted the Good and led to a Christophobic world.
But on the other hand: what does that mean? These are mere abstractions, theoretical possibilities.
In my mind, when one says something like, “The country of ___ is becoming an anti-Christian place,” this statement can mean a variety of things. These include, but are not limited to:
(1) The hearts of the majority of the citizens and leaders of that country are hardened against God.
(2) The general sociological landscape of a country is shifting from a shared language of Christianity to something other than a shared language of Christianity.
(3) The majority of the citizens and leaders of that country do not consider themselves Christians.
(4) The citizens and leaders of that country actively persecute Christians when they express their Christianity.
It is fundamentally important that you understand the differences between (1), (2), (3), and (4) if you are going to ask, “Is the U.S. becoming an anti-Christian?” If by that question you mean (1), then I must point out that your question does not make sense. Insofar as traditional Christian theology (and key here is Jack’s theology) posits that “You can enter God’s Kingdom only through the narrow gate” (Matthew 7:13), one cannot argue that a country is “becoming” anti-Christian. All people groups and all countries are, by definition, generally anti-Christian. If “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23), you cannot have a situation where one country has sinned and fallen short more than another country — or a situation where the people of a country at one point are more sinning and fallen than at another point.
(1) refers to a spiritual reality. And whether or not a society mentions God in its Constitution, upholds the “sanctity of marriage,” or believes education should be religiously Protestant has no bearing on the “Christianity” of that society.
If by “anti-Christian” you mean the status of individuals’ personal relationship with God, then no, the U.S. is not “becoming” more “anti-Christian.” It is as anti-Christian (or as pro-Christian) as it ever was and ever will be. (At least according to this theological perspective.)
If by “Is the U.S. becoming an anti-Christian?” you mean (2), that the general sociological landscape of a country is shifting from a shared language of Christianity to some other shared language, I must point out that is a highly nuanced issue and demands to be handled as such. It would be difficult to do it justice in a blog post — let alone a paper the size of Jack’s.
I personally believe that (2) is the best way to describe what is perhaps happening in the U.S. (though with significant qualifications). I also believe that Jack is trying to argue both (1) and (4) and falsely collapse them into the same category.
I will talk about this later in Part 6 of this series. But I will point out for the time being that (2) is not the way Jack talks about the U.S. becoming anti-Christian. I also need to point out that a country shifting from a shared language of Christianity to some other language does not necessarily imply (1), (3), or (4). These are vastly different categories of phenomena. So to refer to (2) as “becoming anti-Christian” is simplistic and naive.
The Actual State of Religious Beliefs in the U.S.
The next possible meaning for “the U.S. is becoming anti-Christian” is (3): The majority of the citizens and leaders of that country do not consider themselves Christians. The first observation here, of course, is that just because the majority of people in a country do not consider themselves Christians does not mean that they are “anti-Christian.” One can be a non-Christian and not hate or desire to persecute Christians.
The second, and more important, observation here is that — if (3) is the definition of “becoming anti-Christian” — the U.S. is not becoming anti-Christian. The actual demographics of our nation show that the U.S. is overwhelmingly Christian.
Let us look at recent Gallup polls.
It is true that American culture at large feels religion is losing influence. This is undeniable. But at the same time people want religion to have more influence. Consider the facts: “75% in the U.S. say it would be positive for society if more Americans were religious, but 77% believe religion is losing its influence on American life.”
This is obviously a curious phenomenon, that people want more religious influence but feel religion is losing its influence. But regardless of feelings, the large majority of people in the U.S. still identify as not just Christian, but Protestant: ‘77% of the adult population identify with a Christian religion, including 52% who are Protestants or some other non-Catholic Christian religion.”
We are, therefore, still mainly a Protestant Christian nation (demographically speaking). Indeed, more than nine in 10 Americans “who have a religious identity are affiliated with a Christian religion.”
And America is not just predominately Protestant Christian. America is also still a conservative nation. It is simply not the case that conservatives are on the way out and “Leftists” are now in vogue. “Conservatives” are in fact the single-largest ideological group in the United States. There are more conservatives than liberals: “40% of Americans interviewed in national Gallup Poll surveys describe their political views as conservative… 21% as liberal.” This represents an “increase for conservatism in the U.S. since 2008.”
Not only that, but people are actually getting more conservative in general: “While 42% of Americans say that their views on political issues have not changed in recent years, 39% say their views are now more conservative. Only “18% say they are more liberal.” Conservatives even have a strong Democrat presence. There are more conservative Democrats than there are liberal Republicans.
As far as loss of confidence in religion is concerned, the most significant blows religion has taken recently is due to scandals within organized religion:
“In 1973, ‘the church or organized religion’ was the most highly rated institution in Gallup’s confidence in institutions measure…That began to change in the mid- to late 1980s as confidence in organized religion first fell below 60%, possibly resulting from scandals during that time involving famed televangelist preachers Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart. Confidence in religion returned to 60% in 2001, only to be rocked the following year by charges of child molestation by Catholic priests and cover-up by some in the church.”
Note, however, that those scandals have not impacted attachment to organized religion (versus confidence):
“The decline in confidence does not necessarily indicate a decline in Americans’ personal attachment to religion. The percentage of Americans saying religion is very important in their lives has held fairly steady since the mid-1970s.”
What we are seeing in America is a rise in “The Nones” — people who no longer formally identify with either religion or atheism. This does not indicate anti-religion, though, rather that “some may have divergent opinions on the influence of ‘organized’ religion versus a more personal religion.”
The upshot of all this is simple: there is no groundswell to quell religion, let alone organized religion like you see in American Christianity. The demographic evidence does not support this thesis. Christianity is still holding strong. Protestant Christianity is holding strong. And conservatism is still holding strong.
“Okay, Ryan,” you might say. “Maybe ‘Christianity’ is still cool. But what about ‘real’ Christianity, like fundamentalism?” This is a legitimate question. Perhaps we are seeing a decline in fundamentalist Christian ideas.
But we aren’t.
Look at the numbers concerning Creationism. Creationism hasn’t taken a hit in over 30 years, and is almost a majority view: “Forty-six percent of Americans believe in the creationist view that God created humans in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years. The prevalence of this creationist view of the origin of humans is essentially unchanged from 30 years ago.”
In fact, belief in creationism has increased 2%.
In other words, there is no evidence of a substantial movement toward a secular and/or anti-Christian viewpoint in the U.S.
Furthermore, if there is any group towards which the United States is most “anti-,” it is atheists. Atheists are the most discriminated against group in politics:
“While more than nine in 10 Americans would vote for a presidential candidate who is black, a woman, Catholic, Hispanic, or Jewish, significantly smaller percentages would vote for one who is an atheist (54%).”
Add to all this the fact that some experts predict a religious renaissance is about to happen.
This renaissance theory proposes the U.S. might very well become a more religious nation. And considering the predominant religion of the nation is Christianity, it is not a stretch of the imagination to assume this could mean a more Christian nation.
So if by “the U.S. is becoming anti-Christian” you mean the majority of the citizens and leaders of that country do not consider themselves Christians, then no. No, the U.S. is not becoming anti-Christian. The evidence proves the opposite, and quite resoundingly so.
The Big Bang
The next possible meaning for “the U.S. is becoming anti-Christian” is (4): the citizens and leaders of that country actively persecute Christians when they express their Christianity.
If this is what one means by “the U.S. is becoming anti-Christian,” this is honestly the easiest thesis to prove. All you have to do is show examples of the U.S. persecuting Christians! You do not have to bother with theological debates, sociological analyses, or interpreting demographics.
You just give us some Google links where the U.S. is persecuting Christians.
Jack is clearly arguing (4) — and also less clearly arguing (1), and most confusingly seems to see (1) and (4) as the same thing. (We will get to that conflation later.) The problem with Jack arguing (4) is this: he seems to try very hard to not mention concrete examples.
Granted, Jack brings up some patterns, or “noteworthy trends.” As I mentioned in the previous post, he cites nine “trends” as “proof.” These are, roughly: (1) government corruption, (2) restrictions on Christians, (3) the government classifying Christians as terrorists, (4) injustice in the criminal system, (5) propaganda in political campaigns, (6) celebrating bad sexuality, (7) liberty to mock the Good, (8) absence of rational discourse, and (9) lack of personal moral integrity in the U.S.
Three points here:
First, most of these “noteworthy trends” — namely, (1), (4), (5), (6), (7), (8), and (9) — ok, so all but two of these “noteworthy trends” — have nothing to do with “anti-Christianity.” They are trends towards antagonizing all sorts of people, not just Christians.
Second, for any of these “trends” to be, as he says they are, “noteworthy,” they need to have some sort of uniqueness to contemporary society. Yet one would be hard-pressed to say any of these are unique to 2013 — and not found in, say, 1776. Government has always been corrupt. Hell, our country began with a bang: a bang from a gun when Aaron Burr, a U.S. Founding Father, shot and killed Alexander Hamilton, another Founding Father. Prior to that, Hamilton had an affair which other Founding Fathers swept under the rug or used for blackmailing.
Corruption much? Lack of personal moral integrity?
Like Jack, I too take a generally pessimistic view of humanity and our ability to be upstanding beings. For that very reason I fail to see how these “trends,” if you will, have anything to do with a new “development” in our society. These are universal constants of humanity, not unprecedented contemporary phenomena.
Third, these trends — like the rest of Jack’s paper — fail to point to anything concrete. They are abstractions about one person’s impression of “patterns.” They are not in any way evidence of Jack’s thesis.
The Four Examples of the Apocalypse
Fortunately, however, Jack does provide a handful of examples — two of which are buried in his footnotes. None of these examples include citations or names. Which is odd. If you are going to advance an argument as big as “It’s the end of the world,” you would think that one should provide clear and specific evidence for why this is the case. That would be the academic thing to do.
But at least we have a few examples. This is fortunate because it allows us to fill in the blanks and understand the sorts of things that have led Jack to become worried.
Jack provides evidence for only four of his claims. The first is the the U.S. government has begun to “block us from thinking and acting like followers of Jesus.” To support this claim, he mentions in a footnote that “the news is reporting that an employee at Sonoma State University required a young woman who was working at a table during new student orientation to remove (or hide) the cross necklace that she was wearing, lest she offend someone.”
No name, no citation.
The second is that “American culture [shows] animosity toward the Good.” To support this, he mentions — again in a footnote — that “a young Christian woman at a graduate school (in Kansas, I believe) was denied the degree she had earned in some branch of social work because she…believed that homosexuality was a sin.”
Again: no name, no citation. And he even stretches this citation-less example out: “This sort of scenario is ubiquitous in American culture today.”
The third is when Jack lists the nine “noteworthy” trends. He gives a specific example for Trend #2. To prove that “there is a growing tendency for government agencies to place significant restrictions on Christians,” he says, “There are reports that the army has censored Christian material on websites, prohibiting soldiers from viewing it.”
No names, no citations.
The fourth and final example is Trend #3: “Increasingly we see representatives of government agencies officially characterizing people within a Judaeo-Christian tradition as dangerous, potential terrorists, monsters, extremists, and other such labels.”
Like the other three examples — no names, no citations.
Frankly, this is bad scholarship. Preaching to the choir is not a healthy form of academics. If you advance as bold of a thesis as Jack does, you really ought to back it up with something more than, “the news [at some point was] reporting [something but I don’t remember when]…,” or “a young Christian woman at a graduate school [somewhere but I don’t actually know where],” “there are reports [but I can’t find them at the moment],” or “increasingly we see [people doing something, but I don’t have any proof of them doing that].”
That may seem harsh, but come on — that’s not how you advance this sort of narrative intelligently.
Falling Sky or Enthroned Privilege?
Whether you agree with me or not about Jack’s failure to cite necessary evidence for his thesis, the bigger question is whether or not the evidence he (sort of) cites actually supports his thesis.
We have four proofs that America is coming to an end and Christophobia is impending.
(1) An employee at Sonoma State University required a young woman who was working at a table during new student orientation to remove (or hide) the cross necklace that she was wearing.
(2) A young Christian woman at a graduate school was denied the degree she had earned in some branch of social work because she believed that homosexuality was a sin.
(3) The army has censored Christian material on websites, prohibiting soldiers from viewing it.
(4) Representatives of government agencies officially characterize people within a Judaeo-Christian tradition as dangerous, potential terrorists, monsters, extremists.
I took it upon myself to pinpoint what actual events Jack was referring to and find the news articles about those events. I could be wrong — Jack never mentioned any names — about the events I found, but I believe they are the events that Jack was thinking about. These are:
(1) Removal of cross necklace incident: Audrey Jarvis of Sonoma State University
(2) Denial of degree over homosexuality beliefs: Jennifer Keeton of Augusta State University
(3) Army censorship of Christian material: Blockage of the Southern Baptist Convention’s website
(4) Christians listed as terrorists: U.S. Army Reserve instructor’s Pennsylvania presentation listing Evangelical Christianity and Catholicism as examples of religious extremism
Let us look at these situations.
Audrey Jarvis, Sonoma State University
Audrey Jarvis is a student of Sonoma State University. While working at a student orientation with Associated Students (an organization independent from the actual university), she was asked by her supervisor (not a direct employee of the university) to remove or hide her cross because the supervisor thought it might be offensive to some people. The story was originally announced by Todd Starnes on Fox News. Fox highlighted Jarvis’ claims that “our faith was attacked,” “I know what’s going on in this country,” “Christianity is being attacked,” and “we need to band together as Christians.”
How this actually went down:
(1) The “supervisor” in question, Erick Dickson, was actually “not employed directly by the university, but rather by Associated Students, which is an independent organization.” Consequently, this is an example of one person’s bias (or at least hyper-sensitivity), not an example of university or systemic bias.
(2) What happened was explicitly “against SSU and California State University policies expressly prohibiting such actions.” Consequently, this is an example of how policies that we have put into place to officially protect freedom of religion are working.
(3) The university’s president was “very upset” and immediately said the supervisor was “completely wrong.” Consequently, the immediate popular opinion was in Jarvis’ favor.
(4) Not only did the university officially apologize, but the public response was against the university. Within a day the university “received 94 messages from angry people.” The event also received “widespread attention” from “media outlets from Fox News to the Washington Times.” Consequently, the cultural opinion was also in Jarvis’ favor. Even the comments sections of articles were flooded with statements like, “I am an atheist and I support Audrey Jarvis.”
(5) Jarvis’ own attorney said the university “took it seriously and took appropriate action.”
(6) Jarvis herself was “satisfied by the university’s response.” Consequently, this is an example of how culture does not tolerate religious persecution, even of Christians. Especially of Christians.
(7) Yet despite what actually happened, this story was used as propaganda by conservative Christian alarmists to make “Christian persecution” a “never ending story.”
The story of Audrey Jarvis is not an example of the end of America or of some insidious form of Christophobia. It is an example of one person doing something stupid that went against policies already in place to protect religious freedom. It is an example of how those policies specifically protected a Christian — in fact, more than protected, as that Christian got a religious exemption, ensuring permanent protection of her right to wear a cross.
If anything, the story of Audrey Jarvis is an example of conservative Christians themselves employing propaganda to perpetuate a persecution complex. Their rights were overwhelmingly protected and received significant media attention — to the point that they almost seem not merely protected, but privileged.
Jennifer Keeton, Augusta State University
Jennifer Keeton was a student at Augusta State University. She was pursuing a graduate degree to become a school counselor. She was outspoken about her particular understanding of Christianity, which she believed necessitated the idea that homosexuality is a lifestyle choice. More importantly, however, she believed this understanding necessitated a specific form of “therapy”: conversion therapy. Her university dismissed her from her program because of her insistence on the legitimacy of conversion therapy and her insistence that she would impose this legitimacy on her clients. She believed this dismissal was a violation of her freedom of speech. She sued the university on First Amendment grounds. She lost — in several courts.
How this went down:
(1) Jennifer Keeton sued August State University because they “silenced her convictions on homosexuality and gender identity.”
(2) The issue at question was not Keeton’s Christianity. It was something very specific: Keeton’s belief that homosexuality is “a lifestyle choice that can be reversed through ‘conversion therapy.“
(3) The secondary issue was Keeton’s inability to understand the therapist/client relationship in counseling. This relationship simply does not involve imposition of of the therapist’s personal beliefs on the client — regardless of those beliefs and who has them. It would be highly improper, for example, for an atheist therapist to tell a Christian client that the client’s religious beliefs are immoral. That violates a fundamental standard of professionality. Yet Keeton insisted she would “tell gay or lesbian counseling clients that their behaviors were morally wrong and must be changed.”
(4) Conversion therapy is in no way “Christian”; it is a highly questionable practice condemned by professionals that involves bizarre strategies like making clients “strip naked and attack effigies of their mothers with baseball bats.”
(5) Even a conservative Christian Republican governor banned conversion therapy, “citing a litany of potential ill effects” that included “depression, drug abuse and suicide.”
(6) Conversion therapy is frankly on its way out. The leading conservative Christian international organization advocating conversion therapy just folded, with their president saying this specific form of therapy “sets someone up for tremendous damage.”
(7) Not only was Keeton’s belief in conversion therapy problematic, it also went against the standards of professional ethics that Keeton would have to uphold. Namely, one must “resist imposing [one’s] moral viewpoint on counselees – in violation of the ACA Code of Ethics.”
(8) The standards, explicitly stated by the program Keeton enrolled in, are “taken from the ACA and the American School Counselor Association Ethical Standards” and “clearly stated that counselors must not impose their own values on their clients.”
(9) The university, too, is obligated to hold its students to these standards as part of its accreditation requirements. It must “hold its counseling graduate students ‘to the core principles of the American Counseling Association and the American School Counselor Association.'”
(10) Keeton should have been aware of what the guidelines were when she signed up for the program. This is standard: “every university counseling program has national guidelines on training and practice. Every student entering the counseling field should be aware of what is considered acceptable.”
(11) Keeton would have to professionally uphold these standards even if she disagreed with them, just like judges do with laws they disagree with. This was exactly what a unanimous three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit Court said, in agreement with the original district court: “The requirements of the counseling program—needed for its continued accreditation and compliance with the American Counseling Association’s Code of Ethics—are similar to the rules for judges, who must apply laws even if they consider them erroneous.”
(12) Keeton was ironically seeking preferential (aka “privileged”) treatment. “In seeking to evade the curricular requirement that she not impose her moral values on clients,” the appellate court wrote, “Keeton is looking for preferential, not equal, treatment.”
(13) The court thus properly ruled that the standards were “neutral and generally applicable to all students, regardless of their religious beliefs” — and in fact, Keeton’s religious beliefs had nothing to do with the enforcement of the standards. The standards were motivated not by anti-Christianity but “by a legitimate pedagogical interest in cultivating a professional demeanor.” Not to mention Keeton’s belief in “conversion therapy” has nothing to do with Christianity.
(14) This same standard of neutrality is further demonstrated as not anti-Christian because it is applied to force abortion providers to give women information about abortion alternatives. In ruling that “the government has the right to regulate certain professional conduct, as long as it does not single out a particular religion in doing so,” the court “compared Keeton’s situation to that of an abortion provider who was required by state regulation to give women information about abortion alternatives.”
The example of Jennifer Keeton is an example of a Christian attempting receive preferential treatment despite having signed a contract saying she would provide equal treatment. The preferential treatment she sought — permission to promote conversion therapy — has nothing to do with Christianity.
Also, I might be going out on a limb here, but I am comfortable claiming the following: if your mental health technique causes people to kill themselves, then your mental health technique is improper. And if your technique is causing people to kill themselves, then it is likely not grounded in anything actually “Christian.”
In conclusion: Public condemnation of conversion therapy does not signal the persecution of Christians anymore than public condemnation of lobotomies signaled the persecution of healthcare providers.
Blockage of the Southern Baptist Convention’s website
On several military bases, Southern Baptist soldiers attempted to access the Southern Baptist Convention website. They discovered that the website was blocked. Upon attempted access, the following warning message would pop up: “The site you have requested has been blocked by Team CONUS (C-TNOSC/RCERT-CONUS) due to hostile content.” “Team CONUS” is the internet security system employed by the computer network of the U.S. Department of Defense. As in the case of Audrey Jarvis, Todd Starnes of Fox News was once again the one to announce this “story,” promoting it as an example of the SBC being considered “hostile” by the U.S. Army.
How this actually went down:
(1) Like the Audrey Jarvis story, the SBC/Pentagon story did indeed originate with Todd Starnes of Fox News. He said the SBC website was blocked because of “hostile content,” and wondered what this content be. He wondered if it was because “the SBC is pro-life and opposed to same-sex marriage.”
(2) Starnes used this event to report about a “growing hostility toward evangelical Christians in the armed forces.”
(3) This alarmist storyline was quickly replicated elsewhere, like the Blaze. They brazenly asked: “Would the Pentagon really block access to the web site of the nation’s largest Protestant denomination? According to a new report from Fox News’ Todd Starnes: Yes.”
(4) The American Family Association also spun this into an anti-Christian narrative: “This is just another example of the Christian faith coming under attack in the military.”
(5) Then Christian News joined in the fear-mongering: “Suspicions began to arise among some that perhaps that the Pentagon had labeled Southern Baptists as a hate group.”
(6) The funny thing was, SBC itself was warning people to not “rush to judgment” that the military was “targeting” the SBC. They said that would be “premature.”
(7) The SBC was right. This was an example of ignorance about the internet. What exactly does “hostile content” mean? It is a technological term for malware. “Scanning for hostile content and blocking malicious URLs” is the job of internet security systems, not ideology police.
(8) Consequently, “the presence of malware” — not a conspiracy theory — is why the SBC website was blocked.
(9) Not only was this blocking unintentional and also exactly why we have internet security systems in the first place, the Department of Defense then went out of its way to express “strong support” for “religious rights,” including the right to “access religious websites like that of the SBC.”
(10) Once SBC fixed their own site, it was unblocked. End of story.
This is an example of Christians getting preferential treatment due to media attention. Other sites blocked for malware would not get this so promptly resolved, or receive a fraction of this sort of media attention. It is also, once again, an example of conservative Christians themselves employing propaganda to perpetuate a persecution complex.
U.S. Army Reserve instructor’s Pennsylvania presentation
A U.S. Army training instructor went to an Army Reserve unit based in Pennsylvania. During a briefing, the instructor gave a presentation that included examples of religious extremism: the Ku Klux Klan, Hamas, and al-Qaeda. The problem was that this instructor also included things like “Evangelical Christianity” and “Catholicism.” As in the case of Audrey Jarvis as well as the blockage of the SBC website, Todd Starnes of Fox News announced this story. When pressed, the instructor said the presentation material came from the Southern Poverty Law Center. The center, however, said this completely untrue and they have never classified Evangelical Christianity or Catholicism as religious extremism.
How this went down:
(1) The Blaze credited Todd Starnes of Fox News for reporting on how a U.S. Army training instructor “listed Evangelical Christianity, Catholicism and even ‘Islamophobia’ as examples of ‘religious extremism.'”
(By the way, are you seeing a theme here? Todd Starnes? Fox News? The Blaze? Alarmist propaganda about so-called “Christian persecution”?)
(2) Todd Starnes did indeed report that an instructor listed Evangelical Christianity and Catholicism “as examples of religious extremism.”
(3) But in this Starnes himself pointed out it was an “isolated incident” and “not condoned by the Army.” What happened did not “reflect [the Army’s policy or doctrine. It was produced by an individual without anyone in the chain of command’s knowledge or permission.” The case was dealt with swiftly, and “the presenter deleted the slide, and apologized.”
(4) Even the Blaze points out how quickly the case was dealt with, and that “the instructor deleted the slide and apologized.”
(5) Also, the other rumor — that the classification of evangelicals and Catholics came from the Southern Law Povery Center — is false. Todd Starnes mentions that a Southern Poverty Law Center spokesman said “they did not provide the military with any list about religious extremism,” that this was “100 percent false,” and that “the SPLC has never labeled Evangelical Christianity or Catholicism as extremist groups.”
(6) You can verify this yourself: the The SPLC does not list Evangelical Christianity and Catholicism as extremist groups.
This is therefore an example of a single individual making an ignorant and unintelligent presentation. It is not an example of anti-Christian bias in the military. It is not an example of Christians being classified as terrorists or extremists. It is, like the other examples, a moment of conservative Christians themselves employing propaganda to perpetuate a persecution complex.
Too Much Fox News?
So what does these four examples add up to in terms of proof?
To me they first and foremost prove one thing, and glaringly so: Jack Crabtree is getting too much of his news from Fox’s Todd Starnes and Glenn Beck’s Blaze.
That might sound mean, but I do not mean it as a personal attack. What I am trying to point out is these examples all originated with Fox, and then were all perpetuated by Glenn Beck’s pseudo-news agency the Blaze. Most of these examples cannot be found in legitimate news sources. They are not newsworthy not because of bias. They are not newsworthy because, well, there is absolutely nothing interesting about them.
What is newsworthy about the SBC website having malware and consequently being blocked an internet security system?
What is newsworthy about a woman being improperly asked at a university to hide a necklace and the university then saying “Oh yeah, that is totally improper, and the person who did that should immediately apologize”?
What is newsworthy about a woman agreeing to professional standards and then getting mad because she actually lied about agreeing with them and suddenly realizing she actually has to abide by the standards she agreed with?
What is newsworthy about some instructor making an uninformed presentation and then being properly reprimanded for it?
The only interesting aspect of these examples, from what I can gather, is that Fox News and the Blaze somehow wanted to promote them as examples of a rise in Christophobia, when in fact they merely demonstrate that Christians’ rights are being not only protected but privileged.
And for the purpose of Jack’s paper, the only interesting thing is that, for some reason, Jack bought into the propaganda of Fox News and the Blaze. He then chose to perpetuate this propaganda and these uninteresting stories as some form of “evidence” that America is coming to an end.
A Question of Gestalt
While I find these examples entirely unconvincing and undermining rather than proving Jack’s thesis, I must point something important out. Namely: My demonstration that Jack’s examples contradict his thesis will not convince Jack that his thesis is wrong.
Jack points out that his “evidence” is not conclusive evidence but rather “examples” of larger trends. Even if he is convinced of my critique of his evidence, he still believes he could cite other examples. He is interested not in the specifics but the general picture:
“How does one prove that he has rightly assessed the moral, spiritual disposition of a culture? If I could cite thousands of examples where some element of American culture showed animosity toward the Good, would that prove anything? I do not think so. We know that evil exists. We know that, at times, some people will manifest a striking hostility to the Good. One could easily chalk up each of the thousands of examples to an isolated instance of evil being evil. Hence, no number of such examples could prove that America itself has become hostile to the Good. How can one know that he has ‘seen’ the moral and spiritual condition of a culture? And how can one know that he has ‘seen’ its future?”
Jack argues that his understanding of America’s cultural collapse is grounded not in the four aforementioned examples but rather in “Gestalt.” Here is how Jack explains this:
“It seems to me that the moral ‘shape’ of a culture is like the appearance and shape of a person’s face. The appearance of a person’s face cannot be understood by analyzing it into its different parts and elements. You ‘see’ how a person’s face appears when that person’s face appears to you. To recognize a face is to ‘see’ a pattern, a gestalt. I cannot point out a pattern by drawing your attention to an element within the pattern. So, if I recognize someone by his appearance, can I ‘prove’ to you that I recognized him? If you challenge me, ‘I don’t think you recognized him,’ my only possible response must be, ‘Yes, I did. I know what he looks like and that was him.’ No other evidence can be offered except the raw fact that I saw what I saw. The moral ‘shape’ of a culture is a gestalt, just like the ‘shape’ of a person’s face. Either that gestalt is known, seen, and recognized for what it is, or it is not. Nothing can be done to prove to another that I have seen it.”
In other words, everything I just did in this part of my response to Jack served no purpose.
Jack just sees what he sees, and I cannot point out his sight was wrong. He sees America is ending and Christian persecution is on the rise. He just knows it. That is his Gestalt.
I have a very different Gestalt. When I look at these examples, what I see is that Christianity still receives extraordinarily preferential treatment, though perhaps the preferential treatment is slightly less preferential than before. I see that having your religion held on a pedestal — but maybe a smaller pedestal than before – does not constitute persecution. I see persecution as systematic mistreatment of person or group by another person or group.
In short, my Gestalt causes me to see Jack’s examples as examples of enthroned White Protestant Christian Privilege still being on thrones. Consequently, Jack’s justification for his end-of-the-world narrative does nothing to lessen my bias against these sorts of narratives.
But at this point we are arguing about something very different than empirical reality. We are arguing about the framework within which we perceive reality. We are talking about Gestalt — or “patterns.” And there is no way at the moment to look at empirical evidence and convince Jack that the framework from which he perceives that evidence — and thereby constructs patterns — is wrong.
Imagine if Jack did, in fact, “cite thousands of examples where some element of American culture showed animosity toward the Good.” Even if I demonstrated that all of those examples were not examples of animosity toward the Good, Jack would not be persuaded against his narrative. What is persuading Jack that his narrative is true is not empirical evidence but rather the narrative itself. He likes the narrative. While I would question whether one can believe a narrative if it goes against all the empirical evidence, I also understand Jack’s position.
This means, therefore, that deconstructing the examples themselves is insufficient. I must also deconstruct the narrative itself. To accomplish this, I must demonstrate (1) that the narrative itself is flawed and (2) provide an alternative narrative that actually makes sense of the empirical evidence.
The next task, therefore, is to demonstrate that Jack’s narrative itself is flawed. To this end I will bring to light what I believe to be two of the most important (yet unspoken) ideas underlying his narrative: a neoconservative theory of a ruling class, and a Marxist theory of cultural hegemony.
And I will swing at them like a child swings at a piñata.
To be continued.