Friday, April 9, 2010

How You Can Tell If You're an RBH

Jim Wallis at God's Politics blog grieves the regrettable nastiness of our current political rhetoric and offers readers a chance to sign a "Covenant for Civility" which I encourage our readers to check out.

Wallis writes:

Just a few months ago, a deeply concerned, veteran member of Congress called me to express real despair about the alarming level of disrespect, personal attacks, and even hateful rhetoric that was occurring among her colleagues - reflecting a degeneration of public debate in our national culture. This month, another member of Congress called to express real fear about threats of violence he and other elected officials had experienced against themselves and their family members. Political debate, even vigorous debate, is a healthy thing for a democracy; but to question the integrity, patriotism, and even faith of those with whom we disagree is destructive to democratic discourse, and to threaten or even imply the possibility of violence toward those whose politics or worldview differs from ours is a sign of moral danger, and indeed, a sign of democracy's unraveling.

I join with Wallis in lamenting the deplorable ugliness of much of our politics, but if we're going to change it we have to recognize what has engendered it. In my opinion, much of the ugliness is due to the refusal of many on the left to accurately characterize their conservative opposition. The attempt to distort in the public mind exactly what it is that conservatives believe goes back at least to the Robert Bork confirmation hearings in the 1990s and continues through contemporary depictions of the tea-partiers. Those who disagree with liberal philosophy and policy are often disparaged as "extremists" or, worse, "right-wing" extremists. And it goes without saying, of course, that extremists are ipso facto racists, bigots, and homophobes. After a couple of decades of listening to this sort of slander it begins to grow tedious.

One can only endure being called a lout for so long before one realizes that he is conversing with people who are either dishonest or who think only in stereotypes, and at that point dialogue just breaks down. Anyway, here's a little test to see if you fit the description, widely circulated on the left, of a right-wing, racist, bigot, homophobe (RBH) extremist.

You know you are such a creature if:

You believe that the Constitution matters and that it means what it says, not what creative jurists think it should say.

You think that people who come to this country should do so through proper legal channels, that we should control who comes in, and that we should give preference to those who have skills to contribute.

You believe that we should value life and that laws should err on the side of protecting it.

You think it is reckless and foolish to spend excessively more than we have - even if what we spend it on is a good thing - and to burden our children with a mountain of crushing debt.

You want the 47% of the households in this country which don't pay any income taxes to get out of the wagon every now and then and help push.

You believe that the best way to create jobs is to make it easier for businesses to make money and that the worst way is to shackle businesses with high taxes and onerous regulations.

You believe that everyone should be treated equally under the law. There should be no favoritism shown to anyone on the basis of race and that all people in any field of endeavor should be held to the same standard to which we hold those of the majority race.

You believe that the science regarding climate change has been politicized and is far from conclusive, particularly as it concerns both the causes and effects of global warming.

You believe that after thousands of years of settled opinion about marriage we don't need to tinker with it now.

You believe that much of the major media slants toward the political left and that this bias causes them to give a distorted, often unfair, view of politics and policy.

You hold religious convictions which you take seriously and which inform your views on everything else in your life.

You believe that terrorists are not criminals but deadly enemies who should not be accorded the same rights we give American citizens.

You believe that the problems in education are generally exacerbated rather than ameliorated by government bureaucracy.

You believe that the United States has been a force for good in the world, that we should continue to be, and that a necessary condition for remaining so is maintaining a powerful military.

You believe that big, bloated government is like a millstone around a society's neck, and that that government is best which is loath to extend its power unless a clear consensus exists that it is in the common interest to do so.

You believe that people of sound mind and body who are made dependent upon government for their needs and wants are generally hurt more than they are helped.

You take seriously your rights and obligations as a citizen to be involved in the affairs of your government and to hold your representatives accountable for the quality of service they render.

To the extent that you agree with these seventeen characteristics of "right-wing extremists," I'm afraid you are, in the eyes of many in our media and on the political left, a raging, hateful RBH and should be embarrassed to show your face in public.


Rod Dreher on Bruce Waltke

Rod Dreher at BeliefNet has an interesting post on the case of Bruce Waltke a theologian at Reformed Theological Seminary Orlando who has recently resigned his position due to controversial statements he made in a video on BioLogos, a blog started by Francis Collins to promote theistic evolution.

Dreher writes:

Shocking news from the world of Protestant theology: Bruce Waltke, arguably the pre-eminent Old Testament scholar in the field, has resigned from the Reformed Theological Seminary Orlando. Why? It's not clear, but this comes right after he was excoriated by other conservative Protestant figures for statements made in a video posted to the BioLogos website.... According to an eyebrow-raising statement on the BioLogos site, Waltke stated in a video commentary that had been posted to the site that the church needed to come to terms with the fact of evolution, explaining that "if the data is overwhelmingly in favor of evolution, to deny that reality will make us a cult...some odd group that is not really interacting with the world.

And rightly so, because we are not using our gifts and trusting God's Providence that brought us to this point of our awareness." He said that refusing to deal with science as it is will marginalize Christians.

Everything Waltke is quoted as saying here seems true enough, but it raises the question whether the data really is "overwhelmingly in favor of evolution" and the even deeper question of what Waltke means by the term "evolution." There's much empirical data to support belief in common descent, but common descent is not what most people mean by evolution. The word is usually used to refer to the progression from simpler to more complex forms of life driven by purely mechanical processes with no input at any point along the way by an intelligent agent.

This is more accurately called Darwinian evolution and it's very hard to see how this view could be compatible with a Christian worldview.

Moreover, for this claim there is actually no empirical evidence, nor can there be. It's impossible to demonstrate or test the assertion that no intelligent agent was involved in calibrating the values of physics or in generating the information upon which life is based. Yet Darwinism assumes the truth of that assertion. It is therefore not a scientific claim, it's simply a religious affirmation of a faith commitment.

Dreher adds the following comments:

[E]ven though I would agree that Waltke's controversial remarks were overstated, it is all but incomprehensible that in 2010, any American scholar, particularly one of his academic distinction, could be so harshly bullied for stating an opinion consonant with current scientific orthodoxy. Doesn't Waltke at least have the right to be wrong about something like this? Don't mistake me, I believe that any and every religion, and religious institution, has the right, and indeed the obligation, to set standards and to enforce them. But is this really the hill these Reformed folks want to die on?

To be sure, the intolerance goes both ways, as Dr. Richard Sternberg can attest. Still, Waltke was not questioning basic Christian dogmas, only asserting the importance of religion reconciling itself with science. As 2010 Templeton laureate and eminent scientist Francisco Ayala recently said, he's had university students who, when they learn about evolutionary science, come to believe quite wrongly that they have to choose between science and their faith. However well meaning, the people who have apparently pushed Waltke out of the seminary over this are not protecting the integrity of the faith; they're badly compromising it.

I share Dreher's concern about bullying as well as his concern about picking our fights carefully, but I also wonder about his characterization that this was not a matter of "questioning basic Christian dogmas, only asserting the importance of religion reconciling itself with science." Is it really a question of reconciling religion with science or is it a question of capitulating to a pervasive naturalistic zeitgeist? Is it the empirical facts about the history of life that the people at Reformed Theological Seminary are resisting or is it the interpretative framework into which those facts are placed that raises their concern? I think these are relevant and important questions.

Dreher concludes with this:

I spoke with an ex-Evangelical friend about this today, telling her how mysterious Waltke's bullying was to me. She said it's not the least bit surprising to her. "You didn't grow up with it, so you have no idea how central Biblical literalism on this stuff is," she said. "It's all about Biblical inerrancy. If Genesis is not literally true in every respect, in their minds the whole thing falls apart. They can't give an inch on this."

Maybe so. The concern his friend expresses reminded me of the words of Augustine commenting on the difficulties of interpreting Genesis:

"In matters that are so obscure and far beyond our vision, we find in Holy Scripture passages which can be interpreted in very different ways without prejudice to the faith we have received. In such cases, we should not rush in headlong and so firmly take our stand on one side that, if further progress in the search for truth justly undermines our position, we too fall with it."

In the end, though, I think Dreher is a bit too hard on Reformed Theological Seminary. After all, if the seminary has a statement of faith, and if Waltke has wandered beyond its limits and refuses to conform himself to it, whether the statement is reasonable or not, whether it contains hills they'd be better off not fighting over or not, it's probably appropriate that they part company.