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Christian Right Diverse, Polite, and Thoughtful

While I’m a huge fan of Christopher Hitchens as a writer, let’s face it, the man can be a jackass. And while I largely share his views on organized religion, I find his condescension rather mean-spirited. So when he penned a column for Slate articulating “What I’ve learned from debating religious people around the world,” I was expecting the worst. And was thus pleasantly surprised.

eternal-reward-pointsI haven’t yet run into an argument that has made me want to change my mind. After all, a believing religious person, however brilliant or however good in debate, is compelled to stick fairly closely to a “script” that is known in advance, and known to me, too. However, I have discovered that the so-called Christian right is much less monolithic, and very much more polite and hospitable, than I would once have thought, or than most liberals believe. I haven’t been asked to Bob Jones University yet, but I have been invited to Jerry Falwell’s old Liberty University campus in Virginia, even though we haven’t yet agreed on the terms.

[…]

Usually, when I ask some Calvinist whether he is really a Calvinist (in the sense, say, of believing that I will end up in hell), there is a slight reluctance to say yes, and a slight wince from his congregation. I have come to the conclusion that this has something to do with the justly famed tradition of Southern hospitality: You can’t very easily invite somebody to your church and then to supper and inform him that he’s marked for perdition. More to the point, though, you soon discover that many of those attending are not so sure about all the doctrines, either, just as you very swiftly find out that a vast number of Catholics don’t truly believe more than about half of what their church instructs them to think. Every now and then I read reports of polls that tell me that more Americans believe in the virgin birth or the devil than believe in Darwinism: I’d be pretty sure that at least some of these are unwilling to confess their doubts to someone who calls them up on their kitchen phone.

To be sure, he gets in a barb here and there.  But what he’s discovered is that people of faith are often, if not usually, decent, intelligent folks with minds of their own.

Hitchens interprets this as a sign that religious faith is losing out to secularism, which he and I both consider “a wholly good development” and “part of the pluralism and polycentrism that distinguish the sort of society that we have to defend against all enemies, foreign and domestic.”  But I differ with him a bit in assessing the degree to which religiosity is withering versus simply evolving.   For a variety of cultural and psychological reasons, most Americans continue to be religious believers.  But they’re also children (or, perhaps more accurately, great-great grandchildren) of the Enlightenment and the Reformation.  So they hold onto the parts they believe or find comfort in and adapt the rest to fit the world they live in.

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About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He earned a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.

Comments

  1. yetanotherjohn says:

    Or perhaps he has been conversing with the Christians who heed the “judge not, least ye be judged” passage.

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  2. floyd says:

    The confirmed secularist will always walk away from this argument, smug in his sophistry.
    In the end, he is only a modern day Pharisee, enthralled by his own “superior” doctrine.

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  3. An Interested Party says:

    In the end, he is only a modern day Pharisee, enthralled by his own “superior” doctrine.

    Such a characterization could describe many modern-day secularists and religious people alike…

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  4. Eric says:

    I’m sorry, Floyd, I guess it’s not quite clear to me how smug Hitchens is when he says,

    However, I have discovered that the so-called Christian right is much less monolithic, and very much more polite and hospitable, than I would once have thought, or than most liberals believe

    versus when Floyd says

    The confirmed secularist will always walk away from this argument, smug in his sophistry. In the end, he is only a modern day Pharisee, enthralled by his own “superior” doctrine.

    Think you could explain the difference between your obviously superior logic and Hitchens apparent sophistry?

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  5. DL says:

    “So they hold onto the parts they believe or find comfort in and adapt the rest to fit the world they live in.”

    I’d call that Swiss Cheese Christianity. Nothing like buying into part of God. It merely is a poor way to be “gods unto ourselves.”

    Hitchens spends his entire life fighting a God he claims doesn’t exist. Real smart. If he keeps it up he’ll convert yet.

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  6. Brett says:

    I’d call that Swiss Cheese Christianity. Nothing like buying into part of God. It merely is a poor way to be “gods unto ourselves.”

    Don’t pretend that the most conservative and fundamentalist elements don’t do this as well – witness their contortions to get around statements like “faith without works is dead”, as well as the Old Testament punishments and morality.

    Hitchens spends his entire life fighting a God he claims doesn’t exist. Real smart. If he keeps it up he’ll convert yet.

    Perhaps because he thinks secularism is important and something he really ought to get people – particularly religious people – thinking about? It’s not as if this statement isn’t loaded with hypocrisy, seeing as how Christian groups frequently send out missionaries designed specifically to pester people on their beliefs.

    The confirmed secularist will always walk away from this argument, smug in his sophistry.

    It’s not sophistry if he’s actually making a reasoned argument, and he is. Most of religion is fundamentally belief based on essentially nothing but subjective experiences. Members of one religion deny another’s subjective experiences, even when there is no proof of their own.

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  7. Steve Plunk says:

    Not only are Christians polite but they also believe in science! Shocking but true.

    I do find more and more the left claiming Christians are anti science or just don’t believe in science at all. Over the years many Christian scientists have explained how easy it is to be both a serious scientist and a Christian. AGW advocates are the same way, if you don’t believe 100% of the theory or have reservations then obviously you hate science.

    Let’s face it, the left is intolerant.

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  8. Chris says:

    Well, being a Christian myself, I am glad both that Hitchens has this impression and that he has been intellectually honest enough to acknowledge something positive about people he considers opponents. There are a lot of people (on both sides) who wouldn’t.

    The only quible I have (other than his being an atheist, of course ;))is in the cause he gives, “I have come to the conclusion that this has something to do with the justly famed tradition of Southern hospitality: You can’t very easily invite somebody to your church and then to supper and inform him that he’s marked for perdition.” Personally, when I have similar feelings, its almost always more a matter of seeing someone I care about on an ultimately self-harming trajectory.

    I’m also somewhat puzzled. Given what I’ve heard from him in debates, aren’t “religious folk” responsible for every evil committed in the last two thousand years (Stalin’s death camps included)? Are we off the hook now?

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  9. An Interested Party says:

    I do find more and more the left claiming Christians Christian Fundamentalists (especially those who peddle in ideas like Intelligent Design) are anti science or just don’t believe in science at all.

    Happy to fix that strawman for you…psst, by the way, if you want to talk of intolerance, look how the far right treats moderate Republicans, so-called RINOs…once again, happy to be of help…

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  10. I think you are a little too preoccupied with the “far right,” though YMMV. I think Mr. Hitchens is acknowledging that he too has been guilty of the sloppy, casual generalization of some of the looniness of the “far right” to anyone right of center and that he graciously choses to amend this flaw in his reasoning, as any man of intergity would do.

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  11. G.A.Phillips says:

    Happy to fix that strawman for you…psst, by the way, if you want to talk of intolerance, look how the far right treats moderate Republicans, so-called RINOs…once again, happy to be of help…

    Is cause we are sick of people without morals or principles running a country that was not designed to be run by such. Hell I’m not spiritually mature, 30 plus years as a liberal lifestyler, but mostly when I try to treat others as they treat others only to make an example It’s satire, but most often it is to no avail, And I mostly end up feeling like a dick.But it so hard not to hit post, most of the time, but this is a flaw of not being spiritually mature and human.

    And another question from this my friend:Do you think Jesus was tolerant?Or even our forefathers? A sadly misrepresented word this tolerance thing.

    Think you could explain the difference between your obviously superior logic and Hitchens apparent sophistry?

    Um, I think Floyd learned his from God and Hitchens learned his from man.

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  12. Eric says:

    Is cause we are sick of people without morals or principles running a country that was not designed to be run by such.

    LOL. You couldn’t be more wrong here, G.A. Our form of government was expressly set up by the Framers in order to counteract undesireable tendencies of human beings. We call it “checks and balances”–you may have heard of it. You may want to actually try reading The Federalist papers instead of relying on your 5th grade conception of what our government is. The notion that our government–any government–can only be run by moral or principled actors (Cheney, Rumsfeld anyone?) is a right-wing pipe dream along with the notion that, geez, in “the old days” people respected each other more, there was less crime, children knew their place, et cetera. Spare us the misremembering the fictional past.

    And another question from this my friend:Do you think Jesus was tolerant?Or even our forefathers? A sadly misrepresented word this tolerance thing.

    Jesus wasn’t merely tolerant, G.A. He accepted the repented whore and fed the dirty poor. And, yes, this “tolerance thing” has been sadly misrepresented–by the intolerant religious right who feel that people (read: minority groups) should simply accept being looked down there nose at by their supposedly moral superiors.

    Um, I think Floyd learned his from God and Hitchens learned his from man.

    So, are you saying that Floyd learned to be smug from god? Well, isn’t this the very problem of the religious right? Who, on the one hand, with smug, self-satisfaction claim that they’re right and everyone else is wrong, but on the other demand that everyone treat them with respect? LOL.

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  13. An Interested Party says:

    I think you are a little too preoccupied with the “far right,”…

    Not really…I was merely using a familiar example of intolerance…as for “sloppy, casual generalization”, I would humbly suggest that you look at your own guilt in using similar thinking to describe the government or “the left”…perhaps after some self-examination, you could amend that flaw in your own reasoning…that is, if you are a man of integrity…

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