Friday, October 27, 2006

Steal this Bible!

You have to give this to the modern evangelical movement; it has learned the value of marketing. Evangelicals have learned that in order to compete with modern media culture, they have to adapt to it and excel at its methods. A prime example of how evangelicals have put this lesson to work is a new web and print based endeavor called the Crux Project. Here is part of the mission statement for Crux:
What is The Crux Project?

"Practice and thought might gradually forge many an art."
---Virgil


Quite simply, it is the lone voice in the wilderness, the avant-garde of the avant-garde, the bane of conventional wisdom, a thorn in the flesh of ideology, a last bastion of Truth, and the home of tough questions and even tougher answers. But that barely scratches the surface . . .

Crux is:

* where even "scientific fact" is routinely placed under the microscope
* about rejecting the "culture of cool" and the dictates of "what's hot"
* a refuge for that endangered species known as humanity
* a cry from the center in an increasingly decentered universe
* the cutting of a forgotten edge and the new wave of an ancient way
* the virtual dwelling place of a transcendent reality
* an intellectual counterpoint to the intelligentsia
* a landscape where the law is natural and the logic eternal

Crux is not:

* the lifestyles of the rich and famous
* a pusher of products or the promoter of projects
* a partisan play for power or influence
* a fashion guide for the tragically hip
* a home base for the perpetuation of the status quo
* a haven for the safe or the mouthpiece of the politically correct
* a separatist movement that hides from the dominant culture
* a poor imitation of existing websites

But The Crux Project is first and foremost an idea factory---one bent on challenging the damaging cultural myths that have undercut human dignity, all but destroyed the notions of virtue and morality, and slowly eroded respect for mystery and the transcendent.

From this home base, we plan to produce print magazines and radio shows, to host film screenings and focus groups---to launch a full-scale multimedia assault on all of the tastemakers, artists, scholars, and pundits who would have us live only for today and our own selfish desires.


Think of it as a "onward to the past" message. The language speaks of counter-cultural hipness and bravado, and anti-authoritarian individuality. From the first two paragraphs you would think that the project was about some kind of post-modern effort to deconstruct Western civilization, and in some sense it is about that. Not to move beyond modernity, but to move before it.

The language is transparently a pose, a marketing ploy to engage the youth demographic. When they say they are the "bane of conventional wisdom, a thorn in the flesh of ideology" what they really are about is the reassertion of an older conventional wisdom and a more rigid ideology than anything in operation today.

There is not a single reference to God or religion in this statement, but the underlying direction could not be clearer. Here are some passages from an article from the site titled "How American Politics Became Secularized":

Perhaps the greatest tragedy is that many evangelicals in the eighteenth and nineteenth century failed to recognize what was happening. Having embraced a two-story concept of truth, they assumed that political philosophy was a lower-story "science" that could be pursued apart from any distinctively Christian perspective. As a result, many evangelicals at the time simply adopted secular political philosophies—especially that of John Locke. Whatever Locke's personal religious faith was (which is endlessly debated), there can be no doubt that his political theory was at root secular, grounding civil society not in moral goods like Justice and Right but merely in individual self-interest.

How did evangelicals miss that? As George Marsden explains, "Locke's contract theory of government was, in practice, sufficiently like the Puritan concept of covenant that no one in the revolutionary era seems to have thought it significant to criticize its essentially secular theoretical base." By treating the lower story as philosophically neutral, Christians failed to recognize alien philosophies—and sometimes even adopted them without being unaware of it.

In our own day, this same secularization process explains why politics leaves so many people disillusioned and spiritually dissatisfied. "The liberalism of Hobbes and Locke is founded upon the relatively 'low' human goals of self-preservation and the desire for wealth," writes Stanley Kurtz—which accounts for "the chronic disenchantment at the heart of modernity." At the core, humans are moral beings, and we long to see our highest moral ideals expressed in our corporate life. Ultimately the secular version of civic life fails to satisfy the human longing to live together in moral communities, committed to Justice and Righteousness.


Now that is a very slick way of packaging a message that essentially says "the American experiment is a failure, it is time to re-establish Christian rule". The earlier, less media-savvy generation of Christian radicals wouldn't think it necessary to use code words like "our corporate life" to express their intentions, but then they weren't very successful in generating mind-share, were they?

The Crux Project is also publishing a quartery magazine called "Salvo" aimed at teens and young adults. Its mission statement reads:
Blasting holes in scientific naturalism, marveling at the intricate design of the universe, and promoting life in a culture of deaty.
Critiquing art, music, film, television, and literature, interrupting mass media influence, and questioning the sanity of our consumerist lifestyle.
Countering destructive ideologies, replacing revisionist fictions with undeniable facts, and paring away political correctness.
Debunking the cultural myths that have undercut human dignity, all but destroyed the notions of virtue and morality, and slowly eroded our appetite for transcendence.
Recovering the one worldview that actually works.

In yo' face, homey! Now all the insufferably arrogant know-it-all snobs on campus will be carrying a copy of "Salvo" instead of "Atlas Shrugged".

There is one more bit of posturing from the introductory letter from the editor that is just too transparently bogus to ignore:

And that goes for every issue of Salvo. We will continue to interrogate fallacious and destructive thinking no matter who advocates it or from whence it originates. We do so not out of allegiance to a particular political platform or some other interested party but from the belief that we are suffering, both as a culture and as individuals, from a vast and contagious plague of corrupt ideas and short-sighted desires. Indeed, for the sake of our spiritual, emotional, mental and even physical welfare, Salvo promises to follow wherever the facts may lead, even should they end up challenging a few of our most ingrained and trusted beliefs. We ask the same of you.

If anyone thinks that these people will follow facts wherever they lead, then they've just bought a ticket for a ride. A perusal of the contents of the first issue shows that it is an organ for pushing Intelligent Design and other faith based cultural projects of evangelical Christianity. No facts need apply. A perusal of the magazine's editorial advisory board turns up such names as William Dembski, Phillip E. Joshnson, Robert P. George, Frederica Matthews Green and other luminaries of the conservative Christian logosphere. Also of note is Hugh Hewitt, radio talk show host and champion of God-bloggers everywhere.

So why don't these people just state right up front the religious nature of their enterprise? Why not just say "we will be defending Biblical Revelation against secular materialism." Because it is a bait and switch. They want to attract secular young people and religious moderates, not committed Christians. Lure young people in with a pseudo-scientific pose of brave truth-seeking and iconoclastic rebellion from authority, and then start selling them on conspiracy theories and apocalyptic visions of a decaying secular world run by an atheistic scientific "priesthood". It's a very cynical, manipulative ploy. But you must admit that they have learned the ropes of the new media.

20 Comments:

Blogger Bret said...

Yup, most people seem to need to believe in something. Children who are brought up to be non-religious by non-religious parents are ripe pickings for such approaches.

October 27, 2006 10:47 PM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

They want to attract secular young people and religious moderates, not committed Christians. Lure young people in with a pseudo-scientific pose of brave truth-seeking and iconoclastic rebellion from authority, and then start selling them on conspiracy theories and apocalyptic visions of a decaying secular world run by an atheistic scientific "priesthood".

Wow, that is scary. All those years of science and social studies' lessons swept away in one fell swoop by the seductive lures of ...ta da...The Crux Project. Haven't you guys got some kind of talisman you can wear to ward off this kind of thing? Hmm, I guess not. Bummer.

Well, Duck, don't be too proud. Take a page from the enemy's playbook. You, Brit and Skipper should quit your day jobs and dedicate your lives to distributing this in hotel rooms and hospitals the world over. Beat them at their own game, as it were. It will be a life of privation and sacrifice, but duty calls and there will no doubt be a special place reserved for you in Hea...

Boy, this is confusing.

October 28, 2006 3:05 AM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

Bret:

We will see.

No matter what some bloggers say about the US being conformist, Americans are not orthodox.

This movement, which probably should review Air America's business plan, is all about orthodoxy.

October 28, 2006 6:35 AM  
Blogger Bret said...

Hey Skipper,

From the description so far, I also don't think it too likely the crux project will have much impact.

This one just doesn't worry me much.

October 28, 2006 7:19 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

Bret

You may have a point. The more successful non-believers tend to come from a religious upbringing, in my experience. It is good to develop antibodies to the religious meme at an early age.

October 28, 2006 10:12 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

A man could make money if he could figure a way to sell Crux Project short.

'Children who are brought up to be non-religious by non-religious parents are ripe pickings for such approaches.'

My wife was very concerned about this for our kids. So I sat 'em down and read 'em the Bible.

That fixed that.

I also read them Daniel Pinkwater's 'The Last Guru.'

The Crux Projectors probably should get to know Pinkwater, who is, to my mind, one of the finest living writers.

October 28, 2006 12:08 PM  
Blogger Duck said...

Peter,
I know that you dismiss any secular critique of religious sentiment as the paranoid fantasizing of adolescent minds, but do you ever actually read what some of these people write? Does it ever bother you that someone like Nancy Pearcey is calling into question the foundational principles of American democracy? Please read her article and tell me that there is nothing to worry about from such radical notions that our country was founded on false premises.

October 28, 2006 12:50 PM  
Blogger Bret said...

Duck,
There's nothing to worry about because she's a nutcase. Sure, she may have a few followers, but in a country of 300 M, she and people like her just aren't going to have much impact IMHO.

October 28, 2006 3:47 PM  
Blogger Duck said...

Bret
You don't seem to worry about anything. This is not a fringe movement, evangelicals are highly mobilized and actively propagating their views and influence through the use of government channels. Read this article by Garry Wills.

Dangerous nonsense doesn't go away of its own if people ignore it.

October 28, 2006 5:27 PM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

Duck:

I tend to agree with Bret on this. Not because it isn't dangerous nonsense, because it certainly is that.

I read somewhere (no cite, sorry) that there are something over 1,500 denominations in the US, using a very conservative means of counting.

All the ones worth worrying about, and I'm sure there are a fair number, are each dead certain they are absolutely correct.

But they all disagree, otherwise they wouldn't be in different denominations.

Getting them all together to agree on something long enough to make it happen would make herding cats seem a worthwhile exercise by comparison.

October 28, 2006 10:31 PM  
Blogger Bret said...

Duck,
You've moved the goal posts a bit on me here. I was saying folks like Nancy Pearcey don't bother me a bit because I don't think that there are all that many evangelicals who think the foundational principles of American democracy are a mistake (which, BTW, I think is a bit of a stretch to interpret what she writes as saying that). Do you not know any evangelicals? From your descriptions, I might expect them to have fangs or something. The ones I know aren't nearly as horrible as you make them out to be.

Anyway, I don't fear her and one reason for that is her views are not mainstream evangelical and, IMO, they're unlikely to get much traction. If the Crux Project has hundreds of thousands of members in a few years, then I might take notice. But even then, I've seen lots of cults form and grow to a certain point but then fail to get further traction: hare krishnas, scientology, etc. They prey on certain confused individuals, but then what? It's tough to take a group of such individuals and do much with them. It only becomes a serious threat if they start strapping bombs to themselves, but I really don't see the Evangelical and other christian movements tolerating that sort of thing. Anything's possible I suppose, but I consider the risk to be pretty small.

I'm more concerned about Rove & Co. because, by definition, they have a lot of traction (Bush is president after all). I don't know what to do about that other than vote a straight Dem ticket in a few days, but even there I have some misgivings because the Dems aren't all that great either. But, a split government is a government that tends not to trod on its constituents quite so much. The Dems may raise taxes, but I think the economy can withstand that okay.

October 28, 2006 10:40 PM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

All right, I read it--twice. Here is my serious, no-baiting response.

The reason I have been yanking your chain about this is because I really can't figure out why this stuff alarms you so much. Apart from her oversimplifications and dabbling in very mild conspiracy theory--actually more like an "asleep at the switch" theory (the poor naive Christians were too busy praying to understand the forces swirling around them), there is nothing particularly radical or new in what she is saying.

I try not to have too many definitive views on what the foundational principles of American democracy are, but can we not agree that has been a matter of ongoing controversy since Philadelphia and was even among the Founders? She is basically saying that public life should be grounded in common notions of objective morality derived from faith. While I accept that is anathema to you, that has been said many times before by many people and is probably believed by most Americans to some degree. It seems to me that much American history consists of that notion jostling with a secular libertarian impulse that is also shared by a majority of Americans. One or the other gets the upper hand for a while and the other sets a reaction in motion.

I suspect your problem is that you are being a good rational, logical Duckian and deducing all manner of practical consequences that you see flowing from exposing people to these Crux folks--all the way back to Cotton Mather. But it doesn't work that way, Duck. There have been lots of religious awakenings--generally focussed on specific issues like slavery or booze--and lots of periods where religion was on the wane. Your problem is exactly the same as hers--you see it all with Gog vs. Magog simplicity and fail to accept that both lines of thinking beat loudly in the average American breast, which doesn't particularly want either side to triumph unchallenged.

I can understand Skipper's concern about the Air Force--that is a real concrete issue that raises real concrete problems--but just where do you think this Crux stuff will take you and why? Your fallacy, much beloved by Duckians, is that of the ideologue who just assumes philosophy translates logically and with scientific consistency into action. Frankly, I don't see much difference between your thinking and the old-style nativism that thought Catholicism and Judaism were incompatible with American democracy because of their views on religious authority.

What is worrisome today is the polarization--both sides talk more and more as if the other poses an existential challenge that threatens the Republic. The intellectual establishment in America wants religion eradicated altogether, at least from public life and the realm of intellectual respectability. That's what all those Darwin trials you guys are addicted to are really all about. And both sides play the aggrieved minority card for all its worth. My real difference with you is that I see liberal secularism as the bully that has been throwing its weight around with increasing contempt for several generations now and inciting a very predictable, angry reaction. It doesn’t care much about the reaction because it has convinced itself it is all just one big liberating force for which it will be thanked by all someday. But you guys, so certain that you possess Truth and the other side is wallowing in superstitious mumbo-jumbo, will simply not accept this and just keep on throwing up spectres of religious bogeymen who want to take your wives' shoes away and force you to attend Vespers under threat of torture. And you keep ratcheting up the contemptuous rhetoric, which actually makes you midwives of things like the Crux Project.

I think it was Ramesh Ponnuru who wrote recently that if you looked at all the evangelical causes and added them up, you would conclude they are pretty much a call to return to the social morality of the 1950's. You may think that is a very bad idea, but the argument that the 1950's was a dark, funless theocracy is silly. But there is something else about the '50's, even if we discount the nostalgia factor. Evangelicals and modern enlightened liberals had lots of differences and lots of battles, but for the most part they didn't engage in the hard delegitimizing exercises we see today. The modern contempt for religion is appalling and the irony (I have a meter too)is that, as with smoking, it is increasing in virulence as religion recedes from public life and as more and more brights are raised with no exposure to it at all.

This is worrisome on lots of scores, but one big one that jumps into mind is that at I time when we are engaged in a very real battle with religious ferver that may last a very long time, secular America has decided to respond by launching an intellectual civil war based on the premise that religion is all one big seamless web and that Evangelical Americans are just an offshoot of jihadic thinking. You have lost any sense of what religion is and what religious truth means to the religious, and so, unable to afford it any respect in the public square, you have made it your sworn enemy. Sad. Dangerous.

October 29, 2006 4:30 AM  
Blogger David said...

Peter: I think that Evangelicals were more or less absent from politics in the 50s.

Nevertheless, I think you've hit on something. Here we have the source of both part of the Duckians unquestionable ineffable charm, and also of part of why they can be so effing annoying. The Ducks have no sense of their place in history or of how common they are.

History is full of small minorities living cheek by jowl with large Christian majorities. That always causes some unease in the minority, who are well aware -- to use a Canadianism -- of the danger of sleeping next to an elephant.

October 29, 2006 11:17 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

Peter,
Thanks for the lengthy reply. I asked for it, and you obliged.

What I think is radical in her essay is the idea that evangelicals were asleep at the switch at the time of our country's founding, not afterward. Most religious right horror stories in recent memory have been about how secular minded people corrupted America's founding principles sometime after the fact, most popularly with the school prayer decisions of the early 60s. So even though I disagree with these critiques of the secularization of America by the subversion of our founding principles, at least these critics and I share a philosophical loyalty to those founding principles. Pearcey's article calls our founding principles themselves into question. Maybe I'm a worrywart, but if you are going to worry about anything, you should worry about the foundation of your freedoms.

And Peter, I think you know me better than to caricature me like that. I have no complaint that Pearcey is an evangelical, I have a complaint with her effort to undermine our founding principles. I'd have the same complaint with any secularist who made similar claims.

You know that I just recently wrote that for Democrats to slander John Roberts fitness to serve as a Justice because of his Catholic faith is just as wrong as the Texas Republican party's slandering Ben Franks for his alleged atheism. I have never made religion my sworn enemy, only religious intolerance. Haven't you read any of my denunciations of Richard Dawkins for his intolerance?

October 29, 2006 12:11 PM  
Blogger Duck said...

David,
Small animals that sleep next to elephants need to make a lot of noise, otherwise they'll be squashed.

October 29, 2006 12:12 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

'the argument that the 1950's was a dark, funless theocracy is silly. But there is something else about the '50's, even if we discount the nostalgia factor. Evangelicals and modern enlightened liberals had lots of differences and lots of battles, but for the most part they didn't engage in the hard delegitimizing exercises we see today.'

That is not how the 1950s looked from Tennessee and Georgia. It was a dark, funless theocracy, and evangelicals controlled politics with a hugely successful delegitimizing exercise.

And enough violence to remind everybody just how dangerous it would be to object.

It may have been different in other parts of the country where there was a broader and deeper mix of religious viewpoints, but that's how it was when I grew up.

I think I may have mentioned before how frightened my father was for me when I marched with SCLC.

I tend to think that evangelicals make only short distance runs in politics because the sincere ones really don't give a hoot about what happens down here.

But their status is not trivial. The lieutenant governor of Hawaii, for example, states publicly that we are a Christian nation, and it's perfectly clear that if he were in a position to do so, we'd make religious practice the basis of civil law.

The governor, however, if Jewish.

Go figure.

October 29, 2006 1:04 PM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Duck:

Fair enough. I confess my bigotry--Ducks all look the same to me at times. I should take better care to understand they all have their distinct, individual fallacies and in no way consist of one big collective fallacy.

Actually, the same citicism has been made in several reviews of my new, wildly-popular right-wing religious polemic: Ducks! I actually wanted to call it: A Dissertation on the Perils of Politicks in which the Author shews how certain Misguided Subjects fall Prey to Wicked Fallacies through Misreadings of Plato the Greek and the Holy Writ of Our Lord, but for some reason my publisher insisted on just one word.

October 29, 2006 1:14 PM  
Blogger Duck said...

I can't wait! Can you send me an advance copy?

October 29, 2006 1:35 PM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

Peter:


Are you sitting down? Surrounded by fluffy cushions?

Good. I believe in safe blogging.


I think I'm going to have to pretty much agree with you on this one.

While religionists are far too inclined to form exclusionary moral communities (those who don't agree either are incapable of being moral, or deserve some form of punishment as a consequence of belief), but in the absence of a substantial sea change, the worst thing other-believers will have to put up with is theological verbal wall paper.

Yes, there are the Rushdooneys and Roy Moores, and the odd blogger who insists non-believers shouldn't be citizens, but I don't see them, or this Crux thing, getting any traction. And I would be surprise if the Texas GOP's atavistic appeal to tribalism, didn't cost them more than they gained.

In particular, where Peter says

This is worrisome on lots of scores, but one big one that jumps into mind is that at I time when we are engaged in a very real battle with religious ferver that may last a very long time, secular America has decided to respond by launching an intellectual civil war based on the premise that religion is all one big seamless web and that Evangelical Americans are just an offshoot of jihadic thinking.

he is exactly right.

For all that I find religionist claims to possess absolute truth or objective morality more than just a little self-congratulatory, it is still preferable to this kind of excrescence.

October 29, 2006 10:00 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

I find Myers' proselytizing for atheism both offputting and hopeless. Humans evolved to fall for deities.

But I see nothing wrong with any of his critique, which, after all, is directed to likeminded people. He is not out knocking on doors and passing out atheist pamphlets.

His description of the good Christians in the coffee shop at Morris is exactly the warning I have raised again and again against overintellectualized defenses of religion.

And he puts his finger on the only theological issue that means anything in today's America when he says:

'We are in a culture that blindly accepts the symbols of religion as a proxy for good—religiosity is a prerequisite for public service, precisely because so many people falsely assume that someone wearing a crucifix must be a good person, and better than someone without one.'

Or a crescent. Islam is the enemy, but appeasers like Bush and Judd cannot recognize it because they believe that any belief in any deity results in good behavior at some level.

That mistake is getting people killed every day.

October 30, 2006 8:50 AM  

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