Evangelical Progressives and Fundaphobia

Over the past number of years, in conversation with friends and acquaintances involved in Christian Higher Education, the words “fundamentalism” or “fundamentalist” are often expressed, generally with disapproval.  These labels seem to be applied in a variety of discussions: theological, scientific, and political. Based not only on these encounters but also reading blogs and symposia contents associated with CHE, I sense that these sentiments may be widespread within that subculture.

The use of these labels does not suggest “loyal opposition” or “debating opponents”.  Instead, there seems to be a good vs. bad or intelligent vs. ignorant dichotomy in play.  I distinctly remember as a freshman at a Christian college that some of the faculty seemed to be bent upon dismantling what they perceived as arcane beliefs that many of the students brought with them from their relatively small rural churches.  Whatever was going on back then seems to have essentially become institutionalized some 50+ years later.

In recent times, ecclesiastically speaking, when movements such as the Emergent Church with its postmodern assumptions receive often hostile pushback from the traditionalists, they are usually referred to as “fundamentalists”. In science, the big issue has been evolution vs. creationism, the latter of which is of course touted by “fundamentalists”.  Surprisingly in this context, even advocates of Intelligent Design tend to be rejected; though in this case – maybe because most of them have PhDs – they do not usually get the fundamentalist label.

Politically, anything to the right of moderate – for example, the Tea Party – gets labeled as fundamentalist.  And when we look at the sub-disciplines of political progressivism, in most cases the anti-progressive stance does not appear to be considered a worthy or intellectually co-equal viewpoint.  Issues such as abortion, homosexuality, racism, capitalism and so on are just not deemed worth debating; perhaps the thinking is: how can one debate with a “fundamentalist”?

A very insightful recent book by black conservative Shelby Steele is entitled “Shame: How America’s Past Sins Have Polarized Our Country”; in it he traces how the politics of race in the past 50 or so years has morphed from honest differences of opinion into an imagined morality split; he refers to the progressive view as dealing with “poetic” rather than objective truth.  In the process, the progressives achieve moral superiority, while the opponents of their ideology are categorized not only as wrong, but evil.

A recent article which quoted extensively from a mea-culpa written by a soon-to-graduate McGill undergraduate concerning his role in suppressing dissent and enforcing a uniform worldview on campus is instructive.  Consider the student’s expression of regret:

There is something dark and vaguely cultish about this particular brand of politics. I’ve thought a lot about what exactly that is. I’ve pinned down four core features that make it so disturbing: dogmatism, groupthink, a crusader mentality, and anti-intellectualism. I’ll go into detail about each one of these. The following is as much a confession as it is an admonishment. I will not mention a single sin that I have not been fully and damnably guilty of in my time.

I think it’s fair to assume that the culture of nearly all of non-Christian higher education in the US and Canada is essentially identical to McGill.  But what about Christian schools?  Is there freedom of thought, or is there only progressive indoctrination?  Does non-progressive thought – theological, scientific, political – have a place on the dais?  Are outside speakers ever invited or symposiums ever held that do not express a progressive worldview?  I remember once asking a scientist friend of mine who was on the faculty of a Christian school if speakers were ever invited who supported Intelligent Design.  The answer of a few years ago was “no”.  Yet with the recent work of ID luminary Stephen Meyer on the Cambrian Explosion (“Darwin’s Doubt”), more and more secular neo-Darwinists are admitting that Meyer and similar have exposed an essentially fatal flaw in the theory.

And on social issues, consider homosexuality.  Do the counter-cultural opinions of non-progressives such as psychiatrist and intellectual Jeffrey Satinover ever get a hearing?  Consider this review of his 2004 essay, “The Trojan Couch: How the Mental Health Associations Misrepresent Science”. Dr. Satinover is Jewish – although pro-Christianity; maybe that disqualifies him from being invited.  He has also published an important book on the quantum mechanics of consciousness, as well as reflections on neo-Gnosticism and Jungism; you might suppose he’d be a very compelling campus presence.

And what of racial issues?  Is the thinking of black conservatives ever made available to students in CHE?  Not just Thomas Sowell and Walter E. Williams, but people such as Shelby Steele, Star Parker, Allen West, David Webb, Mason Weaver, Deneen Borelli, Derryck Green, Kira Davis, Carol Swain, Alfonzo Rachel, and even libertarian John McWhorter?  Do black students (as well as non-black) get exposure to such writers/speakers?   Do the Black Congressional Caucus, NAACP, the Muslim and black warlords who sold African slaves to Europeans, multiculturalism, as well as very importantly the culture of the Black underclass ever get a word of criticism?  Or is everything “racial” dovetailed into phrases such as White [guilt, racism, privilege] as it is on secular campuses?

Much of progressive thought is based upon false narratives (e.g., “hands up, don’t shoot”, “gay gene”, “illusion of design”, “Islam is a peaceful religion”, etc.); but is there ever exposure within CHE of this kind of deception? I recall back in the 1960s when I was teaching chemistry at a large eastern university, a fellow faculty member began an organization called “Science for the People”.  I was initially attracted to the zeal and emotion of the group, but once reading their literature I realized the endeavor was completely Marxist-based, with poorly-expressed rationale that I simply didn’t agree with.  I dropped out but others were drawn in.  Back then, to be a campus radical was peer-approved; yet the underlying narratives were ideological and unsubstantial.  However I was not equipped at that point in my life to provide exposure.  That leftism of yesterday is the basis for much of progressivism today, and exposure is important.

So the question is, what about your campus climate?  Is it welcoming and affirming for students with non-progressive worldviews?  Is your primary objective to transform them into progressives, or rather equip them to be critical thinkers, able to articulate and defend their views, even while exposing them in a neutral manner to other viewpoints?  Are you able and willing to teach the controversies objectively?  Can you separate the form from the content with people labeled “fundamentalists”?  Is there any sense in which the iconoclasm I observed in the 1950’s might be reversed in this generation to wean students away from the progressive indoctrination they have received pre-K to 12 (accelerated and intensified by Bill Gates’ Common Core)?  And are your students being prepared to deal with the increasingly hostile environment for Christians within secular academia?

Admittedly there is on the part of some so-called fundamentalists an angry and unhelpful attitude towards progressives, and basically, anyone who disagrees with their viewpoint.  And then there is pushback from progressives and their moderate friends with what can be described as “fundaphobia” and can also be just as unfriendly. However, though some “fundamentalists” are unable to formulate acceptable rationale for their positions, understand that there nevertheless is profound intellectual basis for much of non-progressive thought, and these viewpoints must somehow be given space to be expressed within CHE.  Perhaps we can move beyond ‘fundaphobia” to “fundatolerance”, if not “fundaphilia”.