You Can't Possibly Believe That
Or can you?
Here’s something that I think about probably every day.
For the sake of this thought experiment, imagine a person who holds all the following beliefs:
Christianity is the greatest and only eternal hope for any individual or society.
The Christian church must be deeply attentive to its own failures and shortcomings out of faithfulness to the gospel and usefulness to the world.
A disproportionate emphasis on the failures of the church in your mind and in your conversation is both unwise and untrue.
The sexual revolution has wrecked devastation on millions of people and spread toxic untruths about marriage, gender identity, and children.
Many American churches in particular have, over the years, taught and applied sexual ethics in a way that harmed people (especially women) and pushed them toward shame and hopelessness rather than justification and restoration.
Much, and perhaps most, of the discourse about “purity culture” in evangelicalism is part of a conscious effort to put the teachings of the church in line with the sexual revolution.
Authority is an intrinsic good and hierarchies are both natural and divinely instituted for human well-being.
The abuse of authority is a greater, more intense kind of sin than others.
Human tradition is valuable and should not be set aside lightly or on the basis solely of changing popular opinion.
Tradition is made for man, not man for tradition.
America’s history is filled with an astonishing amount of the good, true, and beautiful.
America’s history is also filled with much injustice, especially racially-based injustice.
Correcting that injustice requires material change to many laws and cultural institutions.
Endlessly amplifying people’s race-consciousness is a pathway toward resentment and estrangement, not justice.
Abortion is morally unjust.
Ending abortion must be pursued by morally just means.
Sexual abuse is a heinous sin.
A discrepancy between the “power” of two people does not automatically make all sexual contact between them abuse, since power differentials in some sense are inevitable.
It is possible for a political party to become intrinsically unjust through its platform.
The morally unjust status of one political party’s platform does not create a moral mandate to support a competing party. It can be just to abstain.
There is a culture war, and it matters.
Winning the culture war is not what matters most for people who believe what Christians believe.
There is such a thing as a Christian philosophy (or worldview).
The gospel is distinct from a Christian worldview.
Imagine someone who has all those views. Let me ask you a question: where would such a person belong in the landscape of contemporary American evangelicalism? The answer is harder than you might think.
A person who believes the items on this list will not be welcome by many networks and institutions. If you believe item #2, you will be unwelcome in groups that instinctively chafe at any discussion of problems within the church or any framing of such problems that appear to give secular society credit for pointing them out. If you believe item #3, you will be unwelcome in groups that want to pit individual Christians against institutional church. If you believe item #5, you will be accused in some circles of “giving in to culture” and adopting a “non-Christian framework.” If you believe item #6, you will be accused in other circles of being cruelly indifferent toward the sufferings of others, and of “erasing” their stories. If you believe item #13, some Christian writers will declare that you are woke. If you believe item #14, other Christian writers will call you complicit in white supremacy. If you believe item #17, you will feel glad when those guilty of sexual abuse face exposure and accountability. If you believe item #18, you will maintain a kind of slow-burning skepticism toward movements like #MeToo that seem to blur the line between mistreatment and regret. If you believe item #19, you will be called a partisan. If you believe item #20, you will be called Big Eva.
So let’s bring this home. Where does a person like this belong? Or, more to the point: How does a person like this belong? If the landscape of evangelical thinking has shifted so that these thoughts, which are perfectly complementary in logic, are incompatible institutionally, what will happen to those who happen to believe in all these things? I’m afraid the answer is obvious: They will either disappear entirely, due to lack of relational, institutional, and moral support, or they will change their views so as to recover that support. They will become weary of being in a theological no-man’s land. They will reason that in order to gain back friends and writing opportunities and representation, they will just need to pick some items and abandon the others. They will need to take a side, because there’s no benefit and no hopefulness in holding all these beliefs together.
I submit to you that the epistemological nature of the Internet is causing this to happen with warp speed. As our daily lives become dominated by practices that offer or withdraw neurological rewards, the high cost of careful thinking becomes more intolerable. This is how intelligent, honest, pious people nonetheless start to think and act like talk show personalities. It’s not that certain ideas are winning. It’s that the need for connection is winning. And in the ideological world created by algorithms, there is no connection possible for people who are trying to think carefully. There is only obscurity.