Sunday, September 12, 2010

Evangelical Suspiciousness

Perhaps it is only a coincidence, that a young Christian I know turns out to be a 9/11 Truther, another has gone from being a mere tax protester to full-out Bilderberg/Trilateralist, and three young couples having babies have all joined the anti-vaccine movement. My first instinct was to question what the Christian schools many of them attended had been teaching, but I don't think that's it. The particular schools, in fact, would likely have provided counterweight to all those ideas. And these particular young people didn't attend Christian schools most of their years anyway.

But I wonder about the evangelical culture in general that they grew up in, if it does not encourage a sort of default suspicion of conventional wisdom. Or more likely, being in a very small minority as an evangelical in New Hampshire was in itself encouraging of that attitude, regardless of the specific attitudes taught. Or finally, is this a chicken-and-egg problem, where those who have an attitude of "things are not as they seem - there is special knowledge required" tend to be drawn to minority ideas in the culture.


james said...

Good question. There's been a (to my mind) unhealthy interest in details of the last days in evangelical circles for some decades now. All the popular scenarios involve governments that will persecute the faithful. If you're always on the lookout for impending persecution as a sign of the end times, you'll find plenty of villainies in the natural course of government, but you're liable to start imagining some that aren't there. You'll also cultivate non-MSM networks to keep yourself informed, and unfortunately quite a few of them are even less reliable than the usual sources.

Retriever said...

I've seen this a lot vis a vis children's emotional difficulties where the parents will try diet, homeschooling, homeopathic, anything rather than just get the kid a neuropsych eval and face the awful truth that they have a disability. We were urged to just pray harder when our own kid was going thru the lengthy process of evaluation, and it didn't make it any easier. Later on, as I taught kids that seemed to have similar difficulties (in Sunday School) it would be painful knowing that the parents were in denial and refused to get them help. One respects the parents wishes, and in some cases homeschooling is actually better, but not in others. It really bothers me when people reject treatments and therapies that might help their children because they are part of "godless" psychology....

Anna said...

I have noticed a similar thing in my little patch of New England as well - I know some people who are convinced that prophecies are in acrostic form in the Dead Sea Scrolls for instance. I do think there is merit to the theory of that evangelicals are in such a minority in NE anyway that they are more prone to other minority ideas.

Texan99 said...

I was just writing today at Grim's Hall about elaborate mystical systems that apparently have been built up for several decades now around blood types and theories of the alien origin of Rh-negative blood. I can't explain why you are seeing what looks like an uptick in this kind of thing, because it strikes me that it's a constant of the human condition. We are not essentially logical creatures. Logic is an aberration.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

I can't disagree, Texan. I don't think there's an uptick per se - I'm just surprised to see it in people I know to be rational, well-grounded folks. Even if they are young.

Erin said...

I'm not sure about the rest, but the anti-vaccine movement is pretty widespread down here (and by "down here" I mean MA). Many of my coworkers hold at least a strong skepticism about the need to give newborns vaccines such as Hep B. And although the rationale for the vaccine is deeper than this, they make a valid point: How many infants do you know having unprotected sex and sharing dirty needles? It doesn't help when the doctor's best counter-argument is, "You'll make your baby hate coming here if he has to come once a month for shots instead of getting 4 at once," and "You're putting your child in danger by putting him in the car more often!" I see the vaccine scare in as many of my earthy-crunchy liberal friends as evangelicals. It goes hand-in-hand with concern for the quality of American food (think "Food, Inc."). I'd be interested to know if it's happening in other regions of the country so evenly. Is this a new wave of Puritan skepticism or just a trend of our generation? The fact that "information" (note: not necessarily truth or scientifically-based data) is so readily available in today's society is probably a catalyst to these trends.

In any case, if I had to pick sides, I find myself searching out and questioning rationales for the status quo more often than blind acceptance. Partially peer influence I'm sure, and certainly from being a strong conservative in a sea of liberalism, but then again I always loved a good debate. And it was the Christian school and their viewpoints that were just enough off from mine that brought out my rebellious argumentative side. I'm sure Ben can relate.

akafred said...

-I'm just surprised to see it in people I know to be rational, well-grounded folks. Even if they are young.

I dunno AVI, 40 years ago it wasn't the Jesus Freaks saying: "Question authority!" "Don't trust anyone over 30!" "Drop out!" etc., etc. It was us future social workers, scientists, and accountants.

terri said...

I agree with Texan99 that it isn't anything new to human nature.

However, I think this trait gets amplified n Evangelical culture...and it isn't just in states like New Hampshire where Evangelicals are a minority. It's just as prevalent in the Bible Belt where Evangelicals should feel right at home.

My best guess is that it stems from Evangelicalism's attachment to Truth Through Revelation. It is a widespread part of an evangelical world view that there is "truth" and there is Truth...and all the Really Important Truths are truths attained through revelation and intuition.

It is so natural fro them to call upon their religious view that people can only know God and religious truth through a religious experience and God's intervention, that it begins to transfer over from the spiritual realm into the physical realm...leading to some interesting results.

I also think that the obsession with Revelation and End Times Prophecy tends to encourage a fierce resistance to government and the creation of conspiracy theories.

It's the downside of Total Depravity. When everybody is evil and sinful by default, then who can you trust? Who isn't motivated by self-interest and evil desires?...Especially those in power who are seen as making no claim to belief in God.

There are many themes in Evangelicalism that can do a lot of damage when they are magnified to greater proportions.

This is one of them.

Retriever said...

In evangelicals' defense, whether mild mannered or fiery, we are all vilified by a secular, hedonistic culture that makes no fine distinctions between fundies and agonized Christin intellectuals. Some people can shuck off societal scorn with ease, but others become mistrustful. Also, there are class and educational differences within the Chirch, and those who are getting hammered econo
Ically and socially are more likely to be mistrustful of authority. As I have myself followed a path of steady downward sociall mobility. I have become less sanguine aboutt experts and government and academia. For example.

Psychologically, consider that Jesus most urgently sought the lost. He rescues those of us afflicted, I'll, a used or just trapped in dysfunctional families. While one may have been rescued. RansoEd, healed, restored, forgiven by God's merciful grace, one may still be pretty much basket case I. Human terms. ' as they say in Monty Python, "I know I am". Ease excuse iPhone typos

terri said...


I didn't mean to make it sound like I was so anti-evangelical. So, sorry if I offended you or anyone else.

I was trying to express that there are some perfectly fine ideas that only cause trouble when they gain larger than normal prominence.

A single idea can become very powerful and begin to become The Only Idea that some of us have.

For instance, I mention Total Depravity in negative terms, but Total Depravity also has a positive effect. If everyone is equally sinful, than everyone is equally deserving of grace. No one gets to be a revered saint who is on a higher plane and more naturally good than other people.

Total Depravity works as a kind of equalizer and also puts people in a place that originates in humility and the recognition that we all are imperfect.

I've come to realize that there isn't a single belief/non-belief that I hold that won't have both positive and negative results in the way I work it out in my life.

Although I would like a Theory of Everything, it has proven to be quite elusive. ;-)

Retriever said...

Terri, no offense taken. My family are all agnoaics (except my son) and despise evangelicals. Despite the incredible love and kindness shown all of them with nary a proselytizing attempt over the years by members of my church...I haven't been around the weirder evangelical discussions. Noone I know talks about the rapture, for example. But my own mainstream church never brought God Alive for me or kept hope alive in me during my youth. I will always be grateful to the evangelical Christians who loved me until I could feel that it was God's love moving them towards me. And the business of all sinners in need of God's grace is hopeful to me as I know how far short I have fallen.

terri said...


Evangelicals do passion, enthusiasm, and reaching out very well.

And...even though I have moved away from Evangelicalism as a specific religious movement/theology...I can't scrub the "evangelical " part of my nature completely out. Even though my theology is a little different I still find myself reacting in very typical ways to things that come up in my life.

At the core of evangelicalism is the idea that you act out what you believe...and that is something that many churches and social groups are nto always good at inspiring.

So my beliefs may be a little different now, but I still have that niggling urge to find a way to do something about those beliefs.

I know that comes from my life as a former(?) evangelical.

And I'm happy to have it.

Glenn said...

I want to also make a quick comment on evangelicals and the end times prophecies. There are three different views of the future among Christians: premillennialism, postmillennialism, and amillennialism. Without getting into a lot of details I would like to say that it is really only the premillennialists that think in terms of the end times. An evangelical can hold to any one of those three views. To be up front I am a premillennialist but I don’t really think it makes me more prone to conspiracy theories since I don’t think I have bought into any yet (but who knows what next year will bring).

Having a strong premillennial view of the future (this implies a rapture of the church before Christ’s second coming, etc.) does not necessarily lead to a fierce resistance to the government. I would agree that it breeds a fierce resistance to anything that is viewed as moving toward a one world government but that is different than a national government (at least in our view). God himself instituted human government and Christians are commanded to be subordinate to that government (look up Romans 13 if you want proof). However this scriptural mandate does not give government carte blanche to be evil. There is a lot of consternation among Christians of many creeds that our government is doing some evil stuff (I have in-laws that are Roman Catholic and I don’t think they are any happier than the evangelicals).

Oh well, that seems to be too much and not enough so I will stop here for now. Thank you for the bully pulpit!


james said...

True, at least in theory evangelicals can come in all three flavors (plus agnostic about the details), but the cultures I've seen have been pretty solidly pre-mil. You could successfully convict me of not getting out enough, though.
I've been living in the Madison area for years, which is pretty intensely anti-evangelical and not too concerned with any sort of day of judgment that doesn't involve Gaia or the dictatorship of the proletariat. You'll find a boatload of conspiracy theories here too.

james said...

And by "here" I mean in the anti-evangelical communities. I think Texan99 may be right about it being a constant.

Texan99 said...

It strikes me that conspiracy theories are always with us, but the particular theories that can gain traction will change over time, depending on what forces or trends are scariest at the moment. Also, small groups with fiercely held but unpopular views of any kind are probably more exposed to the dangers of conspiracy fads. On the other hand, mainstream, secure, skeptical persons like myself probably are more prone to over-discount the danger of deliberate schemes.

I'm very willing to be persuaded that, say, corn oil and certain vaccines are an awful risk to health, but I tend to resist believing they're a product of anything much worse than ignorance.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Glenn, neither version of that comment printed. I have no idea why. (Conspiracy?) It was an excellent addition to the discussion, so I will give it a try here.

Hello Everyone,

I have been a lurker at AVI for quite a while but I believe that this is only the second time I have ever commented here. I found the comments to be interesting and I would like to chip in my two cents worth. I do not see the growth in conspiracy theories to be more prevalent among Christians than non-Christians (or evangelicals more than non-evangelicals). In fact I believe that conspiracy theories are becoming more and more common. I do think that the kind of conspiracy theories that people are prone to accepting does depend very much on an individual’s worldview.

It seems to me, and I am not a psychologist or psychiatrist, that a lot of this is being driven by a breakdown in trust in society in general. Citizens do not trust the government. Neighbors do not trust neighbors. Come to think of it, it seems to me that even trust within families has broken down. Particularly when people believe that their leaders are cynically manipulating them then they will believe all kinds of things.

You all have been discussing parents who are anti-vaccination and I think this is a good example. I personally believe in vaccinating children. I have two daughters who are 10 and 12 years old and they both have all of their vaccinations. That being said it does seem to me that there are many more required inoculations than their used to be and I am not always sure they are needed. I also know that these vaccinations are quite lucrative for the manufacturers. Wasn’t it the human papiloma virus vaccination where the lead researcher on the project came out and said it was dangerous and not particularly effective? The manufacturer still tried to get the state I live in to make the vaccination a requirement. When I think I’m being manipulated for my money it really makes me wonder what other “misinformation” I have been fed. I now distrust the drug companies and I am a lot more open to hearing the “other side.”


Assistant Village Idiot said...

Glenn's and Erin's comments have set me to research.

Erin said...

Glad to see I inspire scholarship in more people than just my students :)

Glen brings up another concern I (and many others) have with vaccines: mandates. HPV is one. I didn't get the first round of H1N1 (although I am getting the flu shot this year w/ the H2N3 or whatever). Chicken pox is now required for kids to enroll in public schools. From what I understand (again, haven't researched too much as I don't have kids yet to fret over vaccine lists), it causes an increased risk of shingles as adults. Do I want my kids getting polio? No. But if I had to choose between Chicken pox & shingles, I'd choose the former. But the government doesn't let me have that choice unless I can afford and then choose private or home schooling.

terri said...

Correct me if I am wrong, but I don't believe that the government forces anyone to be vaccinated.

I have a pair of friends who did not vaccinate their children. Even though they were in public school and vaccinations are required, they simply had to fill out some forms from their pediatrician and get a waiver for the school's records.

They were evangelical and "normal" in every other way, but had latched onto the whole anti-vaccination reasoning.

Maybe things are different here in Florida and other states don't provide loopholes for people who don;t want to be vaccinated?

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Glenn, there is also, believe it or not, partial trib, recorded by St. Jerome, but never gaining much traction. And there are still some people who are mid-trib, whether because of waffling or because of some reading of specific verses which skipped over. I have always tended toward I-have-no-ideaist, as none of the versions seems to nail down its case fully.

Isolated communities in Europe - which means eastern, mountain, rural - tend toward conspiracy theories for the very mistrust reasons Glenn cites. I suspect that this is true worldwide.

Erin said...

Terri, unless I'm understanding it wrong, vaccines such as chicken pox & Hep B are required for public school, including preschool & "child care" services (I'm guessing that would be corporate run day cares but maybe not in-home private ones).

terri said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
terri said...

Did a little more looking and it seems that vaccine exemptions vary from state to state, though most states offer a religious exemption.

The way it's worded in the Florida info I found makes it very loose. Once someone claims a religious exemption, there are to be no further questions asked. I'm guessing that's a CYA move prevent the local school from being sued.

However, other states require some sort of proof that you belong to a valid denomination of some sort that plainly says in its literature that vaccines are a religious no-no.

Other states specifically say that philosophical exemptions are not allowed. I'm guessing that must be language referring to the anti-vaccination movement.

It makes me wonder...did my friends lie and say they had religious objections?

It also makes me wonder, in an age where fewer people regularly attend church and identify with organized religion...what qualifies as a religious belief?

If a religious belief is held only by one person, does it count in the eyes of the law?