Tuesday, 2 November 2021

When secularists feel their hegemony is threatened - does it bother us that this doesn't happen very often?


This attempt at investigative journalism is alternately so bad and so sad that you won't know whether to laugh or cry.

A secular journalist encounters a church whose members don't believe they're meant to accept secularism as the goal and glory of human history. And, it frightens him. Really frightens him. The article is written in the tone of someone peeping out from under the blankets and hyper-ventilating, not often very coherently.

But whether it really should frighten us or not, the reader will never learn. Because, all we get in the article is a few sentences of vague and unclarified insinuation on one topic, before the journalist then moves onto the next topic and a new set of ambiguous insinuations, for paragraph after paragraph.

This, of course,is quite a common style today. After all, if 100 insinuations are made, then you only need 1% accuracy for there to be a problem, right? If we can blow enough smoke, then there must be fire, and it must have been someone else who started it (pay no attention to that matchbox in my other hand, focus on the thing I'm pointing to please!).

My point in making this post is not to defend Christ Church, Idaho, or any of its leaders. Because to make a defence of something, you have to have heard a case made against it. Biblically, that means something that is in a real sense analogous to, if not being, the "two or three witnesses" concept of Scripture. But vaguely suggesting that there is something weird or odd if a church member has a successful business, or if church elders are also involved in setting up other institutions that reflect their beliefs, or if people who work together in church also work together in other settings, or if a significant number of people in the town are Christians, or if other Christians admire it and some of them move there, etcetera, etcetera, or if Christians believe that the world was created in six days (that's six days, my friend, not seven, this is not a hard point to grasp, this is where the label "six-day creationist" comes from, and if ever you feel in danger of getting confused, you can refresh yourself by reading page 1 of the Bible, or just get to number 4 of the ten commandments, which a good number of journalists at least used to have heard of....), and people quoted who insinuate other vague things on the condition that they're not named (imagine how brave you have to be to say things like "the church already had a disproportionate presence in the downtown area" under condition of anonymity!), throwing together ill-defined terms and then moving on before asking any questions or any level of nuance - these are not "charges" or "allegations" in any normal sense. Youtube removed one of his videos recently - surely that settles it? It's just the scatter-gun/mud-throwing attempt to start a fire and then insist that the person you're pointing at must have been involved somehow.

As I say, making a counter-argument is not my point. I draw attention to this piece for another reason entirely. It's much more interesting to look at "in between the lines". What does it pre-suppose, what does it assume, what is the world-view of the person writing it?

Clearly, the writer is terrified of the idea that somewhere out there, there are people who are not doctrinaire secularists - or at least, not people who are secularists fully in practice, no matter what they are in theory. (Though as it is common to observe, it's odd that these sorts of articles are much rarer to find written about other religions. "Muslims believe that Islam is good and should be put into practice" somehow doesn't seem to be the sort of article they're interested in - but "Christians believe in Christianity and want to live it out beyond their own front doors" does get written and published in all seriousness as something concerning). The idea that anyone except secular government should establish or run institutions is one that he finds bizarre and horrifying, and worthy of an "investigation". Now, that doesn't tell me much about churches in Idaho. It does tell me quite a bit about the journalist, the Guardian, and what he assumes its readers find normal or weird- i.e. the sort of theological world that they inhabit. "Basic tenets of US life such as legal abortion," says the author. Right. Every small town American grew up enjoying mum's apple pie, baseball, and cutting the unborn up into small pieces. If anyone else says otherwise, they're probably a Christian Taliban! "Tells" of this kind are revealing far more about him than about his intended targets.

But it also says something about evangelical churches in the UK, doesn't it? I mean, why did he have to go so far in order to write such an article?

It's surely not Douglas Wilson's in-my-view unhelpful habit of detailing his every last opinion about all the minutae of governmental response to Covid (though, let us note that John MacArthur turned out to be right in his stance according to the law in his state, and the state paid his church damages...) that has aroused the reporter's ire. It's the fact that his church simply doesn't believe that Christianity is a 10.30-12.00 Sunday-only affair. This fact is apparently thought worthy of a detailed shock-and-awe-tone investigation, even though the reporter hasn't managed to find anything that his leading article shows he felt any personal confidence in making stick (and so he went for the scatter-gun "let me raise three dozen different issues and give each three lines' consideration each" approach instead). Yes, I think Pastor Wilson, especially for those of us more used to the culture of South-East England, can be an easier target for a Guardian journalist to attempt this with. People in that part of the world certainly do the American Gung-Ho style which grates with us Brits a lot more. But observing that people from Idaho aren't like us (surely superior, what ho!) Brits is far too easy an observation to make and then stick with, isn't it? Because as I say, the article says something about us. The chances of the Guardian writing a "we're shocked, Christians actually think that Christianity should influence society, that God is God over the world, that Jesus has authority on earth as well as in heaven, and that this makes a difference to how one should educate children, organise society, etc." article about us are very low, aren't they? How would you rate them?

Rather than thinking, as the Internet often pushes us to "what is my opinion about this or that church, thousands of miles away, in a place I've never been to, based upon lines I've read here or there at second or third hand?", shouldn't we be thinking "doesn't it sound a bit like, whatever else there is, there's something they must be doing right, which we're doing wrong?" The Bible doesn't have a verse "isn't it marvellous when the world doesn't hate you, even though it insists on point after point that good is evil and evil is good, and in theory you disagree with them". It has one that says "do not marvel that the world hates you". As I perceive it, the world, in general, hates UK evangelical churches in the abstract, only. In the specifics, it doesn't really mind us very much and leaves us alone, because we don't give the secular hegemonists any actual trouble. We leave their hegemony alone, and they leave us alone - how lovely! They survey the lie of the land, and basically, it's theirs, and their peace is largely undisturbed. So whilst there are the secular fanatics who can't live with the fact that somewhere out there there are pesky Christians who privately disagree with them, by and large, all's not too bad for them. But if journalist Jason Wilson finds that, somewhere thousands of miles away, there's a church that thinks that Christianity is actually meant to make a difference to things like children's education - then this is quite different, and he's so breathless that you wonder if you ought to start looking around for breathing equipment before he turns an even deeper shade of blue.

So, what we should take away from this article isn't "hey, I'm glad I'm a polite Englishman, and would never be so vulgar as to turn up in this sort of article." It's "why aren't the secular fundamentalists who write this sort of article in the Guardian remotely bothered about the things we're up to? Why did they have to look so far to find people whom doctrinaire secularists find troubling?" That really should worry us.

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