A recent Atlantic Monthly features this article by Kurt Anderson: “Beleive: Conspiracy Theories, Fake News, Magical Thinking. How America Went Haywire.”
While the article mainly discusses politics, it does address underlying national trends which will have much to do with how people now react to (and often deny) science or any kind of proposed objectivity about reality. Much of it will be perceived and written off as no more than an anti-Trump screed by those inclined to stay safely in their own bubble, but what I found concerning about this particular article was how much potential hope the author misses by painting and relegating away various categories of people with his broad and hasty brush strokes. Anti-evolutionism, creationism, Christianity, and indeed religion in general are casually grouped together with all other fringe conspiracy enthusiasts. The author’s piece is not about religion in general, but he brings it up often enough (usually with opprobrium), that at least some more-in depth observation should be warranted. Especially when this failure causes him to irrationally abandon what should surely be a significant ally toward what he rightly promotes.
His article gives a lot of very insightful commentary on the proposed causes of our new (and yet old) flirtations with fringe thought and fantasy and how the advent of the internet brought a match to the tinder that had already been gathered and piled through the 60s and 70s. He “confesses” (my word – not his) his own childhood with irreligious but politically conservative parents whose tribe (one would think from reading this article) must be nearly extinct by now. And he has a lot of very valid concerns that I, a white Christian male, very solidly share in common: a concern for our pursuit (or appalling lack of pursuit) of truth.
By the end of the article I wanted to shout “amen” simultaneously while also shouting at him: “don’t you want allies?” It isn’t so much that his article is an anti-religious screed (I didn’t take it that way) so much as damnation by omission. Religion just isn’t on his horizon except in its unfortunate participations in his (and our) looming enemy that perhaps we can call the “fantasy-industial complex” (his turn of words, not mine). But I like it, for how well it describes and nails something that I hate: the casual disregard of truth, especially in the service of emotional, and community-damaging, even nation-damaging ideologies.
Here is what I propose as in the title of the thread: Why can’t we (as big a “we” as possible!) who still care for truth --the real truth that we claim to pursue even if sometimes haltingly or with impure motivations, lay down our own little tribal feuds and agree with each other on this: the truth matters. And I would insist right up front that any group of people so-allied should openly consist of those who disagree with each other about what that truth is. Some will be religious; some will be irreligious – maybe even anti-religious; but they all have this in common: they actually care about truth. And they agree that truth exists and falsehood exists and will continue to be what they are regardless of popular polls, platforms, or convictions. Truth is what it is, independently of our opinions about it. Christians used to take proud ownership of this conviction, with science as a starring brain-child of their sentiment. Even were we all liars, God would still be true. (Romans 3:4) And if non-believers right now want their enthusiasms more exclusively centered around science alone, so be it. At least they and the Christian believer have (or should have) an acknowledgment of reality in common. We don’t agree on what all is the truth, but we do agree there are truths! And that seemingly trivial common ground may not be so trivial any more.
Yes, a lot of religious folks may have given themselves over to servile fear and manipulation to believe any and all lies uttered against this or that alleged political “bogey man” – all tragically true enough; but there is a significant body of us who are devoutly religious and very sanely so. Do others think we don’t exist? Our pastor today said that clergy were among those leading the counter-protests in Charleston – but apparently you wouldn’t know that from many media reports (according to my pastor --I haven’t researched this). Apparently the only religious people the irreligious world ever allows itself to see are those among the other side sunk into their own racist mire. But there are so many here that know so much better! That is why I am extra thankful for the civil atheists who interact respectfully here tolerating our unapologetically Christian foundation because even while they presently choose not to share in that, they value other things in common with us enough to set aside anti-religious ideologies in the name of advancing truth. Thank you! I guess we each have our work cut out for us trying to evangelize truth again to our own respective tribes and everyone else. May Truth-lovers increase across all tribal boundaries!