Saturday, November 11, 2006

Evangelicals, Threatening? It's Not So Mysterious

In tomorrow's New York Times Book Review, John Wilson, editor of the evangelical Christian magazine Books & Culture, addresses the issue of how worried non-evangelicals should be about the cultural threat posed by extreme right-wing Christians. His answer: "Not very." And he goes on to make some worthwhile points, pointing out that the evangelical community is divided on some issues and that many people spend part of their lives in the evangelical camp only to drift or move away at some point. In other words, evangelicals are not a monolithic power center, and even their hold over individual Christians is often exaggerated.

Fair enough. But the rhetorical question that some editor affixed to Wilson's article in the print edition of the article actually answers itself, and in the process undermines much of Wilson's argument. The question reads:
In today's freewheeling marketplace of ideas, why are evangelicals seen as a dangerous threat?
The obvious answer: Because committed evangelical Christians hate the fact that America is a freewheeling marketplace of ideas. They believe in one truth (over which Christians of their ilk have a monopoly), one source of knowledge (the Bible, interpreted as only they interpret it), and one way of life (which their religious leaders define as essential for all). If leaders drawn from the right wing of the evangelical movement ever came to power in this country--and in recent years they've gotten uncomfortably close--they would certainly try to shut down the freewheeling marketplace of ideas that the rest of us revel in.

I'm almost an absolutist when it comes to the first amendment. By all means, let the Christians of the right proselytize freely. They are (and should be) free to argue on behalf of their rigid, our-way-or-the-highway approaches to faith, morality, politics, culture, even science. But people like John Wilson shouldn't be puzzled over why the rest of us find their teachings threatening. Like the communists and fascists of old--and many other totalitarian groups--they want to use the freedoms created and protected by liberal democracy to destroy both liberalism and democracy. A threat? Yes, I'd say so.

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