So, Christian, you denounced the alt-Right? Not good enough!

by Norm 18. August 2017 10:28

We have been hearing ritual denunciations of the white nationalist movement from all corners of the Religious Right, this week. Famous Christian author and pastor Erwin McManus, in an interview, phrased it this way: 

“It is inescapable that the Evangelical church is seen as married to the present administration in Washington.  Silence in this moment would be perceived as agreement and adherence to white supremacist ideologies. There is no neutral ground here.  You either speak against racism or you add credence to their views.”

When asked specifically how the church ought to respond, he said, “They must openly, emphatically, and clearly denounce White Supremacy and any ideology associated with Nazism.”

Several other pastors and Christian leaders have made similar statements, renouncing racism and pointing out its incongruity with the gospel. 

But is this enough?

I don’t think so.  Generic “love, not hate” sermons might be sufficient for other, less egregious evils.  But not for this.  Besides, discourse in America is already saturated with anti-Nazi slogans and knee-jerk animosity toward the alt-Right.  The secular Left and Right have got that part covered.  Adding one more voice to this choir accomplishes little. Christian opposition MUST go deeper than that.  Enough virtue-signaling with banal denunciations.  The Religious Right should be doing the harder work of intellectually dismantling the white nationalist project. 

“What’s the point?” some may ask.  “Isn’t it better if we show how much we hate the alt-Right and refuse to listen to anything they have to say?”

Get thou behind me, Satan!  How can mere hatred justify such sloth?

No, Christians must be at the intellectual forefront of this fight, for three important reasons:

First, we should recognize that unthinking, reactionary hatred is mere tribalism.  It’s easy to describe ourselves as the good guys (the “lovers”) and demonize our enemy (the “haters”).  But, no matter how convinced we are of these moral judgments about ourselves, mere tribalism proves to be an insufficient safeguard against evil.  Telling young people to cover their ears and shout whenever someone like Richard Spencer speaks may protect them for a time, but the shield breaks easily.

Things only get worse when we attempt to shield ourselves further.  For instance, we could decide, as a society, to fully suppress white supremacist speech, making it illegal (as they do in Germany).  But with this outward victory comes an inward defeat.  One can imagine Emperor Palpatine encouraging us to vanquish evil in a fit of anger and pride, gleefully hoping that we will abandon one of our core values (freedom of Speech) in the process.

Second, Christians need to understand that there is a real danger that white nationalism could be brought into the Republican tent, officially or unofficially.  Ritual denunciations are not enough to counter this threat.  Only a comprehensive and comprehensible statement of intellectual distinction can prevent the stain of “white nationalism” from soiling the kind of nationalism to which American conservatives have traditionally held.  Correctly labeling white nationalism as “alt-Right” is a good first step toward making proper distinctions.  The movement is indeed an “alternative” to the traditional American Right, and not part of it. 

This is a good place to mention one quick aside.  President Trump recently used the term “alt-Left” to describe Antifa groups, seemingly in an attempt to morally equate the violence coming from both sides of the political aisle.  This was understandably appealing to some on the Right, who have been waiting for a leader to fight back against bias in media outrage at the Left vs. the Right.  But conservatives should reject Trump’s new label.  Antifa is not “alt-Left”.  Their ideology is not some alien thing trying to supplant traditional Leftism.  No, Antifa is taking the usual Leftist position to an extreme.  They are “far-Left”.  If we use the term “alt-Left” to describe what is really a “far-Left” movement, we risk turning the prefix “alt” into a synonym for “radical”.  White nationalists are not a radical version of American conservatives.  They are a fundamentally and categorically different thing, as I will explain below.

Third, Christians should realize that we have the right answer to this problem.  The average American is in a vulnerable position when they take the alt-Right head-on.  Consider the following hypothetical encounter between a white nationalist (WN) and a naive American (NA) as an example:

WN: “Do you believe all people should be treated equally?”

NA: “Yes.

WN: “And do you believe that minority groups can achieve a deep and special meaning in their lives by identifying strongly with their race, and celebrating their race’s accomplishments as their own?”

NA: “Sure!  They have a lot to be proud of.  That’s why we have things like Black History Month!”

WN: “Should these accomplishments be taken from them just because some people of their race have done horrible things?”

NA: “Of course not!  They can embrace the good and reject the bad.”

WN: “Then why do you want to deny this source of deep identity and meaning to white people, at precisely the time when they are losing their jobs and facing high suicide rates?”

This argument is persuasive.  Nay, it is convincing once certain premises accepted across American culture are taken for granted.  The obvious retort (“because history!”) was precluded during the argument, and the far-Left response, “Western Civilization has nothing but oppression to offer!” is a position that most Americans instinctively reject.  For the average American, it seems, danger lurks as soon as one merely opens the door for discussion.  That is a scary thing.  An even scarier thing is that some Americans have already been convinced.

Christians needn’t fear this conversation.  Christians should deeply and instinctively recognize this kind of evil, because we have struggled against it throughout our entire history.  Now is the time to articulate what we know: white nationalism is, at its core, deeply, and horribly pagan

The roots of European pagan religion lie in war and conquest.  As author David Goldman put it, “the religion of the ancient world is a carnival-parade of new gods introduced by winners to replace the failed gods of the losers”.  It is an unfortunate fact of history that, as Christianity conquered Europe, the God of Christianity, to some extent, became the large float at the end of this parade.   Rather than radically transforming the Hellenic cosmos into a more Hebraic one, Christendom occasionally adsorbed the Jewish Messiah into a denuded pagan pantheon.

This left an ugly, pagan underbelly within European civilization.  While Protestant Christians like to remember the progress of Renaissance, Reformation, and Enlightenment as an escape from “pagan” darkness, we should remember that, in many ways, Europe was returning to its pagan roots during this period.  I’m not just talking about the renewed interest in pagan antiquity.  I mean that European tribes fought each other with renewed vigor over the right to be known as the “chosen people” of God.  Then God died (to use Nietzsche’s phrase) in Europe, and the burgeoning paganism was released from the shackles of Christianity.  Nation-states grasped for pre-Christian or post-Christian sources of identity.  Some devoted themselves to secularized idealisms, with varying levels of success.  Others reached for their pre-Christian blood-ties as the source of their national identity. 

The German Nazi Party invented a story about the superiority of its own blonde race and proceeded to purge Germany of any elements that they believed would “dilute” the superior “Aryan” stock.  This led of course to some of the worst atrocities the world has ever seen, most notably against the Jewish people.  The contemporary white nationalist movement in America is in this same vein.  While they have largely abandoned the defunct “Aryan” designation for a more generic “white” one, the white nationalists, like the Nazis, assert that their preferred race deserves credit for all of the successes of Western civilization throughout the world.  And, like the Nazis, these neo-Nazis have nothing but contempt for the Jews.

Both Nazi and neo-Nazi ideology return to a pagan source of identity: “blood and soil”.  More importantly, however, their ideology abandons wholesale the Hebraic (Jewish/Christian) contribution to Western culture.  Even many Christians often overlook the fact that many of the foundational ideals of Western culture spring directly from the Hebraic tradition.  Ideals like liberty, equality, individual rights, etc., stem from Judaism, being rooted in the covenantal relationship between Jehovah and his people.  And these ideals were spread throughout the Western world by Christianity.  In place of these Judeo-Christian ideals, the white nationalist substitutes pagan self-worship.  He abandons the ideals of the West which are the source of its great cultural achievements (high culture, art, music, architecture, etc.).  He then focuses on the greatness of those achievements, taking pride in himself for being the kind of person to whom he believes this greatness is owed: a “white” person.

Pagan self-worship will never lead to greatness.  The great men of Western history - Moses, Socrates, Virgil, Augustine, Milton, Jefferson, etc. - were great, not because they cared about greatness, but because they were embodying, in some way, the ideals of the West.  Men who worship greatness, or who spend time attributing past greatness to themselves, never amount to anything.

For this reason, I believe there is danger in Trump’s campaign slogan “Make America Great Again”.  It is too lacking in content.  Reagan’s “shining city on a hill” was better because the biblical reference supplied the content: America is great because it is set apart among nations to be committed to its founding ideals.  “Make America Great Again”, on the other hand, gives no hint regarding what it is that makes America great.  The slogan merely makes us desire the greatness itself.  The ambiguity opens the door for white nationalists to seize upon the slogan and claim it as their own.  The real Right, the American Right should boldly proclaim the content of American greatness: our wholehearted commitment to America’s founding ideals - those same Judaic ideals the white nationalists so despise!

Perhaps the most noticeable difference between the traditional American Right and the new, white nationalist alt-Right is the attitude toward the Jewish people.  America’s philo-Semitic Religious Right is unique in history.  It owes this uniqueness to a variety of factors, including the similarity of the stories of Jewish and Puritan exile as well as dogmas like dual-covenant theology.  But, more importantly in this regard, the American colonists who settled in America founded their townships upon ideals and creeds (or capitalism, in some cases), not race.  This idealistic founding would eventually culminate in the cross-denominational creed that created the American nation: the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights...”.  It is this creedal, non-racial identity that makes America, and the American Right, uniquely philo-Semitic.  Without a racial identity, the jealousy of the Jewish people at the heart of most anti-Semitism becomes impossible.

The alt-Right is repulsed by our creed.  “All men are created equal” is the central principle of the American republic, which all good Americans wish to conserve, and the alt-Right hates it.  They are not conservative.  They are not Republican. As long as the American Right continues to loudly and unequivocally proclaim this creed, the pagan hordes will be kept outside its walls.  As long as all Americans remain vocally committed to our Judeo-Christian values, America will remain the most philo-semitic non-Jewish nation in the world, and we will continue to be great.  This is our true identity.  Race has nothing to do with it.

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The Anecdotal Fallacy

by Brian 29. August 2015 22:58

Personal bias can hinder our ability to reason through social, political and religious issues. Though the dishonest and unreflective always seem to find a happy union, it is a challenge for the honest man to divorce his feelings from the analysis of certain controversial matters. I recently read a story of police abuse, and I was moved by what happened to the couple in the story. The testimony began with an important disclaimer: “What you are about to read is not a philosophical argument. It’s personal testimony.”  Why mention this? The answer is obvious: A personal statement is not a rational argument, yet in some cases; individual testimonies and anecdotal accounts often become the basis of implicit arguments. This false inference happens not only with prickly political subjects but in apologetics and philosophical discourse. How we deal with personal testimony and anecdotal experience versus cold facts is important. When it comes to sympathy, it should not be so lacking we ignore the former nor so generous we discount the latter.

At eighteen I worked at a fast-food restaurant as a backup manager. I closed the store late one night and was heading home on my motorcycle. It was freezing out, and I was still in my uniform and did not have a jacket. I lived only a few minutes away so I figured I could get home quick and warm up. There was no one on the road that night as I pulled out of the parking lot and rolled through a stop sign. A police patrol officer stopped me. A young white guy got out of his car and collected my driver’s license and registration.  I was fully compliant and respectful. The officer noted how cold I was with a grin on his face as he sat in his warm car. About ten minutes went by, and he finally got out to issue me a ticket. By this point, I was shaking noticeably.  He then told me I could go, but then stopped me at the last moment. He returned to his vehicle to write a protracted second ticket for a burned out light over my license plate. I finally made it home without hypothermia, but this heartless officer abused his power. That night for me began a long and negative opinion of law enforcement. I drew a compelling inference from this one experience: Cops were power-hungry jerks. Thirty years and many positive experiences later helped me to shed this sophomoric view.

Recent events have conjured disturbing examples of this sort fallacious reasoning. I’m not referring to activists who benefit from the declining relationship between law enforcement and the citizens they protect. Nor am I thinking of the race-baiting profiteers who want to see this as a disproportionately white on black issue. I am not even referring to the ignorant who post unhelpful memes of angry white officers juxtaposed with seemingly innocent black children. Rather it is otherwise reasonable people who jump on the bandwagon after reading a testimonial that caught my attention. As I said, I read the testimony, and it was powerful. But should sympathy deter us from the most basic questions? Is it the case law enforcement is abusing their power more today than ever?  Is this abuse systemic and racially-motivated? The honest answer is that we do not know based solely on what the media tells us or what personal testimonies convey. To claim otherwise would be to commit the anecdotal fallacy.

Here is what we do know: We have a few cases where blacks are killed during interaction with law enforcement. In some of these, there is police abuse. In others, the actions taken by law enforcement are justified. We have a handful of personal statements since the raising of awareness. We have a few high-profile cases over the past year. Time magazine lists 14 since Zimmerman shot Trevon Martin in 2012. The justice department, over a six-year period, recorded about 4,800 arrest-related deaths out of a whopping 98 million arrests (less than 0.005%). Of the 800 incidents per year, how many are the result of what a fair interpretation of the law would deem an abuse of power? And of those, how many were racially motivated? We don’t know! Nor do we know if this is a worsening or improving situation. What is the baseline? What if there is adequate punishment for abuses of power? How do we know the problem is worse for law enforcement than it is for other professions where the citizen’s life is on the line? In other words, is this a systemic problem with human nature or is it one of a particular occupation? At over 200K per year deaths from medical malpractice; are doctors killing blacks disproportionately by giving them secondary care? Are firefighters responding to fires in black homes slower than whites? Do military leaders send blacks into more dangerous scenarios than whites due to racial bias? The bottom line is we do not know if abuse of power in the US, racially motivated or not, has been worsening, getting better or staying the same. Based on my own experience and those that I’ve spoken with, the level of racial hatred has become far better over the years. But of course to make an argument solely on this evidence would be to commit the very same anecdotal fallacy.

I am using this recent issue as an example of how highly-charged matters are susceptible to an improper inference from personal testimony and anecdotal evidence. Of course, there are plenty of other scenarios one could point to including ones falling into evangelism and apologetics. A neighbor says: “I had a bad experience in church once” and therefore “all Christians are judgmental.” Or a coworker says, “I heard this preacher try to make a mockery of science” therefore “faith and science will never reconcile.” Even though these arguments are obviously weak and commit the anecdotal fallacy; this does not mean we jump right to pointing out their error. We ought to first listen with a sympathetic ear and have an honest conversation, and be being willing to consider possibilities suggested by their poor argument. Perhaps they are on to something, or maybe not. Level-headed discourse with a desire to listen to others combined with a fair and objective inclusion of the facts is more likely to develop agreement and understanding. All of this said, however, posting irrational innuendos and memes on Facebook merely creates an environment where the anecdotal fallacy flourishes.

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Nigh on Science

by Brian 1. October 2014 11:47

I understand Bill Nye (The Science Guy) spoke in Tallahassee the other day and I unfortunately didn't get to see him.[i] I think I would have enjoyed the show as he is an entertaining spokesperson for science. Supposedly during his presentation he told the audience creationism is an obstacle to scientific innovation. The example he gave had creationists shrugging-off a possible asteroid impact while scientists diligently solve the problem. I guess destruction-by-asteroid didn’t fit the eschatology of his hypothetical creationists. I couldn’t verify any of this online but I did find these words from Nye:

"If we raise a generation of students who don't believe in the process of science, who think everything that we've come to know about nature and the universe can be dismissed by a few sentences translated into English from some ancient text, you're not going to continue to innovate,"[ii]

Now if all Nye is saying is scientific innovation is hindered when we don’t believe in the process of science (whatever that means) then of course he hasn’t said anything enlightening. But when we include his statement about ancient texts we see an implication. Nye is using rhetoric to conflate religion and science in such a way as to suggest the former is a cause for dismissal of the later.  In other words, religion leads to a trivialization of science. Nye is not the only contemporary pop-scientist to make such allegations. Neil deGrasse of the new Cosmos series has tried this.[iii] Lawrence Krauss has also joined in.[iv] Not everyone in the media is so antagonistic. Dr. Michio Kaku said: “They [science and religion] can be in harmony, but only if rational people on both sides engage in honest debate.” I agree, but Nye’s view seems to be more popular than Kaku’s. In this post I will try to address Nye’s perspective.[v]

Christians devalue science, its processes and deliverances…

In other words: Christians are more likely to be unappreciative of science, how it works, what it tangibly produces and what it has to say about reality. Now this seems plainly false to me. There is no evidence to show the Christian worldview necessitates a devaluation of science or precludes the acceptance of good scientific methodologies. Christianity does not make one forget the fact science has been fruitful. And, as a Christian I appreciate science. A friend of mine suggested we might be in the minority. Perhaps, but I have not often encountered an anti-science attitude within my Christian circles. No doubt some churches are perpetuating an anti-intellectual, anti-science mindset. But a lot of churches and Christian schools are drifting away from Scopes-era fundamentalism. It would be difficult to defend the thesis Christian apologetics over the last 30 years hasn’t seen significant growth. Apologetics employs history, philosophy and science. More and more Christians are equipping themselves with the knowledge and skills necessary to articulate their position on a variety of topics where science has input. This doesn’t seem like something Christians would engage in if they placed little value on science.

Christians use their religion as an excuse to stop inquiry or to continue down paths science has deemed unproductive…

In other words: Science is progressing, revealing more and more about reality. But Christians get in the way, denying or ignoring the proclamations of science. Christians want to explore contrary paths or just dig in and do nothing. Science says the world is 4.54 billion years old. Pastors teach it is only a few thousand years old. Science says all the broad strokes of evolutionary theory are settled. Creationists waste time on intelligent design. To Nye, when Christians profess things contrary to the current scientific consensus, scientific progress and innovation are hindered. To be fair, people on both sides of this debate tend to be divisive and simplistic. Things are often so polarized; what could be a fruitful discussion ends up as a mere fight between religion and science.  But if we are going to, as Dr. Kaku said, engage in honest debate, perhaps Nye should consider these facts:

  • It was the Christian worldview that furnished a conceptual framework for the birth of science.[vi] Does Nye recognize many of the greatest scientists from history were Christians?
     
  • There are plenty of productive, innovative and inquisitive scientists with a Christian worldview today. Would Nye agree with this?
     
  • Most people, with or without religious faith, do not significantly contribute to scientific innovation. Would Nye acknowledge there are far more relevant factors as to why people are not inquisitive, innovative or scientifically productive?
     
  • There are numerous lifestyles and worldviews causing and perpetuating a lack of initiative and inquisitiveness. Nihilism, hedonism, narcissism, laziness, and addictions all seem contrary to innovative science. Where is Nye on these more relevant hindrances?
     
  • One atheist I know spends most of his time playing video games. Would Nye claim this guy is hindering scientific inquiry and innovation?
     
  • Very few areas of science overlap the metaphysical views shaped by our faith. The primary fields of science where most conflicts arise are evolutionary biology, climatology, and geology. But the full scope of science is much larger than these. Can Nye tell us how Christians hinder innovation in particle physics, plastics or integrated circuit design?
     
  • Many who agree with Nye are Darwinists and view the entire eclectic theory of evolution as a comprehensive and mostly settled paradigm. To them, anyone who wants to consider an alternative is hindering innovation by wasting time and effort. But even a first-year philosophy of science student knows irrevocable-truth is not a deliverance of science. Theories are confirmed or disconfirmed. But this requires challenging them. Does Nye believe Darwinian theories are beyond questioning and testing?
     
  • Nye would say design-causation is not a valid consideration for science. Clearly, this is false as it would negate all of the activities and accomplishments of many scientists in fields like forensics and archaeology. Is Nye prepared to tell the forensic scientist his inference to a design-cause is not based on real science?
     
  • The kind of metaphysics Nye likely holds leads to a rigid view of unguided evolutionary processes. It’s the only game in town for the materialist. Many Christians are open to a spectrum of guided (design) and unguided (material) processes. Can Nye tell us how this more flexible metaphysical view is more of a hindrance to scientific inquiry than the more rigid bias of the materialist?
     
  • Resisting one theoretical avenue and pursuing others based on one’s metaphysical bias is part and parcel of the history of science. When the theory of an expanding universe began to take hold during the mid-20th century, scientists who held a materialist-metaphysic rejected the new science precisely because it smacks of creationism. Would Nye accuse them of being a hindrance to scientific inquiry and progress? Or were they entitled to challenge the expanding universe theories regardless of their underlying motives?

I'm sure the Science Guy is a bright one, but his comments are polemical and nigh-science. It wasn’t long ago Stephen J Gould claimed science and religion had nothing to say to one another, even if authoritative in their respective domains. His principle of NOMA (Non-overlapping Magisteria) has since been rejected by many pop-scientists. Instead, those like Nye, Dawkins and Hawking claim their field, science, is the only authority. Hawking in his recent book The Grand Design wrote:

“What is the nature of Reality? Where did all of this come from? Did the Universe need a creator? … Traditionally these are questions for philosophy, but philosophy is dead. Philosophy has not kept up with modern developments in science, particularly physics. Scientists have become the bearers of the torch of discovery in our quest for knowledge.”

So philosophy is dead. Theology is dead. Only science remains. So what Nye and others are really trying to do is promote scientism – the view science is the only source of knowledge. Ironically, the question of whether or not scientism ought to be accepted cannot be settled by science. It is a philosophical question, not a scientific one. Though the walls of self-refutation are closing in here, I won’t go there today. In conclusion; science, philosophy, and theology must have a consonant relationship with one another as they try to explain the same reality from different viewpoints. Gould’s NOMA goes too far and stifles the conversation. But the scientism of pop-science is untenable and perpetuates hostility. Good theology, good philosophy, and good science will harmonize if experts in their respective domains are allowed to collaborate without being demonized. As a popular spokesperson for science, Nye can either help facilitate this or continue to drive the wedge.  

 


[i] AN EVENING WITH BILL NYE, Tuesday, September 16, 2014 @ 6:00 pm – 10:00 pm, Location: Ruby Diamond Concert Hall, Tallahassee, FL

[iii] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6oxTMUTOz0w “revelation replaced investigation”

[v] Nye didn’t specifically call out Christianity in the online statement but the criticisms from pop-science often interchange Christianity, creationism, faith, religion, etc.  Given Nye said specifically “translated into English,” he was likely referring to Christianity. Krauss has specifically called out Christianity in his criticisms. De Grasse has called out those who believe in creation.

About the author

I am a Christian, husband, father of two daughters, an owner of ISC, lead architect of MapDotNet, armchair apologist and philosopher, writer of hand-crafted electronic music, and a kid around anything that flies (rockets, planes, copters, boomerangs, hot air baloons, lawn furniture)

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