The Pokey Finger of God

meditations on religion and culture

The Pokey Finger of God header image 2

Irrational Animus

October 9th, 2014 · No Comments · christianity, culture, media

In response to Damon Linker’s essay Why do so many liberals despise Christianity?:

First off, it’s ludicrous to posit that all, or even many, liberals hate Christianity, simply because there are so many liberal Christians. From what I can tell, for every annoying, conservative, evangelical Christian, there are two liberal, mainstream Christians who simply don’t get in people’s faces. When you paint with a broad brush, you can be sure to get sloppy results. But I don’t think this is an accident.

The whole point of an argument that starts with “liberals despise Christianity” is to further demonize a political group. This isn’t about convincing anyone to change their behavior, it’s about generating outrage. And frankly, Linker’s being a real chump about it. He’s not discussing stories he found while trolling mainstream news sites, but instead regurgitating well-chewed arguments from other conservative bloggers. Here, he discusses two such stories, ending both with a series of leading, rhetorical questions.

The first story is about Brian Palmer’s essay in Slate about missionary doctors in Africa. His complaints can be summarized in two points: he doesn’t like that they are underpaid or even unpaid; and he doesn’t like the evangelism component of their work. Linker doesn’t understand why either is a problem. Instead, he sees the whole essay as a generalized argument to promote secularized health care.

The second story references a small Christian college in Boston that stands to lose accreditation for its anti-gay policies. As much as Linker tries to reapply lipstick to this pig, it’s pretty clear that the school isn’t following a general rule to avoid discrimination, and would rather shut down than allow gays to do their gay thing around them. This, again, is being presented as horrible oppression by those dastardly atheistic liberals.

Let’s be clear: this isn’t an organized conspiracy against the good and true by the evil henchmen of the cruel world. I understand how someone from their mindset may not recognize just how offensive and inappropriate Christian evangelicalism is. They may not see how selective enforcement of racist or sexist laws from ancient traditions is outdated and out of place in the modern world. It’s likely that their embrace of victimhood is more a feature of their world view than anything anyone else may or may not do, but it still feels authentic to them.

What’s missing in Linker’s ledger of woe is any actual anti-Christian sentiment, activity, or even thought. While I agree that the stories both include Christian organizations on some level or another, at no place is anyone saying that folks shouldn’t believe in something or profess a particular . There isn’t a pogram of Christians being rounded up and shot. There’s not a special rule that only applies to Christians, or only to non-Christians. These are complaints about poor behavior on the part of some Christians, and Linker is confounding these into an attack against all things Christian — as if he could speak for every denomination.

From the first story, underpaid doctors and nurses is a problem because people who do work should get paid well. Clearly, this isn’t about religion, but economics. The fact that Linker doesn’t see this as a problem reflects his political biases, not his faith. The degree to which he fails to see this as a legitimate problem is shown in how he deflects this complaint as mere camouflage for the Slate writer’s obvious hatred of all things Christian.

Again, from the first story, is the point that Palmer expresses displeasure with evangelical doctors and nurses, but again this is not a stab at Christianity or Christians. This is a fundamental disagreement with the notion that doctors and nurses might (a) take time away from their work, to (b) insult and minimize the culture and traditions of (c) folks too poor and/or sick to escape this humiliation. Linker may feel that evangelism is the milk of loving kindness, and it’s sad that he can’t recognize this boorish behavior for what it is. If folks want to sell their flavor of faith to people who don’t share their language, customs, or world-view, then good luck to them, but they should sell it on its own merits, not as the stick behind the carrot of medicine.

The second story doesn’t even apply to Linker’s thesis very well. The only thing about it that make it even slightly relevant is that it’s a Christian college. The thing is, the accreditation rules apply to all schools, not just Christian ones. If a non-religious school decided to make rules about sexual behavior of any sort, they, too, would stand to lose their accreditation. Linker may feel that their religious connection justifies their actions, but that’s not how rules work. You don’t get to make justifications for bad behavior based on the flimsy foundation of faith, and pretend that your faith is being attacked when being told your behavior is inappropriate. Perhaps I should say that you shouldn’t: because I see evangelicals trying this tactic all the time, and it’s just as stupid every time I see it.

I know that victimhood is an easy rhetorical fallback position for Christian apologists, and it’s clear here that the intended recipients of this message are other conservative evangelicals in order to pump up the outrage-o-meter. But on behalf of all the liberal Christians I have known, especially those who were there for me when I was a child, I couldn’t read this and not point out that Linker’s Christianity isn’t all Christianity, nor is it even representative of all Christianity. And it’s really inappropriate for him to assume that people aren’t Christian because they don’t follow his political world view.

Tags: ··