There is a new book out The Anointed: Evangelical Truth in a Secular Age that shows the intense anti-expert populism of contemporary religion. Evangelicals today (and many Orthodox Jews) reject experts in history, education, philosophy,literature, psychology, and sociology. They think that each person can decide for themselves based on their religious education and common sense. Hence, they demonize the experts as subjective and not needed. They create religious versions of psychology, philosophy, or history that have little to do with the actual fields. Ministers and Rabbis are credited with the ability to decide science, philosophy or history.
There is a general distrust of university credentials, academic study, or expertise. They do not even grasp basic vocabulary or method. Some do not even understanding what they read, willfully misreading, or not realizing that their feeble attempt at intellectualism is really populist anti-intellectualism.Evangelicals (and Orthodox) have a post modern spin on truth as personal or to be decided based on faith. Whereas the issue in the 1950’s was pro-college or anti-college, now the issue is how to get the needed college degree without attaining a higher education or just enough of a higher education to pretend that one can be the expert.
The Anointed: Evangelical Truth in a Secular Age, by Randall J. Stephens and Karl W. Giberson. The book is an exploration of intellectual authority within evangelicalism, a seemingly insular world in which, according to Stephens and Giberson, the teachings of dubiously credentialed leaders are favored over the word of secular experts in the arts and sciences. We invited Stephens and Giberson, who each have roots in evangelicalism, to answer a few questions about evangelical truth and its place in American life.
Q: Recent observers, including Ryan Lizza in The New Yorker, regard statements like Michele Bachmann’s endorsement of evangelical historian and philosopher Francis Schaeffer as anomalous or bizarre. But you argue that huge numbers of Americans embrace ideas like these. Can you explain how beliefs that appear extreme to outside observers can seem mainstream to their Evangelical adherents?
Many of the extreme and puzzling beliefs of evangelicals—like dinosaurs being contemporary with humans—are beliefs that they are raised with. Trusted but uninformed authorities in evangelical churches and religious schools present these ideas to laypeople and ministers so often and so convincingly that many grow up accepting them as obviously true.
Q: In The Anointed, you discuss knowledge authorities in diverse fields—history, evolutionary science, and psychology, among other domains. What threads connect these figures?
There are two threads that run through our Anointed authorities. The first is an appealing “Christianizing” of the ideas. David Barton “Christianizes” American history; Ken Ham “Christianizes” the science of our origins; James Dobson “Christianizes” social science, including the definition of the family. The “Christianizing” of these ideas, by default, undermines the credibility of secular ideas that might challenge the positions promoted by the Anointed leaders.
The second thread is old-fashioned American anti-intellectual populism. Barton, Ham, Dobson, and other Anointed leaders tend to make no effort to engage the fields they claim to represent. Barton never subjects his claims about American history to peer review in a journal. Ken Ham and James Dobson do no scientific research. In the secular world ideas get vetted in the academy through peer review in technical journals; then they appear in serious but more popular outlets; and then finally they might get discussed on the radio. The ideas of the Anointed cut out all these middlemen and appear immediately on the radio or television.
Q: What does the embrace of figures like the ones you describe in The Anointed mean for America?
The resulting widespread distrust of the scientific community—often portrayed as atheistic, anti-religious, ideological—undermines the credibility of everything the scientific community says, including its conclusions about climate change, the dangers of fracking, the importance of ecosystems, the need for vaccinating children, and so on. Read the Rest Here.
Here is a promo video for a guide to help one make sure one remains above the experts.