Category Archives: History of Religion

Science Wars Myth


The idea of inevitable conflict between science and religion was decisively challenged by John Hedley Brooke in his classic Science and religion: Some historical perspectives (Cambridge, 1991). Almost two decades on, Science and religion: New Historical perspectives revisits this argument and asks how historians can now impose order on the complex and contingent histories of religious engagements with science.

Bringing together leading scholars, this new volume explores the history and changing meanings of the categories ‘science’ and ‘religion’; the role of publishing and education in forging and spreading ideas; the connection between knowledge, power, and intellectual imperialism; and the reasons for the confrontation between evolution and creationism among American Christians and in the Islamic world. A major contribution to the historiography of science and religion, this book makes the most recent scholarship on this much misunderstood debate widely accessible. (Dixon et. al. 2010, Front Material, in Science and Religion: New Historical Perspectives)

I propose, then, to present to you this evening an outline of the great sacred struggle for the liberty of Science-a struggle which has been going on for so many centuries. A tough contest this has been! A war continued longer-with battles fiercer, with sieges more persistent, with strategy more vigorous than in any of the comparatively petty warfares of Alexander, or Cxsar, or Napoleon … In all modern history, interference with Science in the supposed interest of religion-no matter how conscientious such interference may have been-has resulted in the direst evils both to Religion and Science, and invariably.
—Andrew Dickson White, “The Battle-Fields of Science” (1869)

The antagonism we thus witness between Religion and Science is the continuation of a struggle that commenced when Christianity began to attain political power … The history of Science is not a mere record of isolated discoveries; it is a narrative of the conflict of two contending powers, the expansive force of the human intellect on one side, and the compression arising from traditionary faith and human interests on the other.
—John William Draper, History of the Conflict between Religion and Science (1874)

The greatest myth in the history of science and religion holds that they have been in a state of constant conflict. No one bears more responsibility for promoting this notion than two nineteenth-century American polemicists: Andrew Dickson White (1832-1918) and John William Draper (1811-1882). White, the young president of Cornell University, became a believer in the warfare between science and religion after religious critics branded him an infidel for, as he put it, trying to create in Ithaca “[a]n asylum for Science—where truth shall be sought for truth’s sake, not stretched or cut exactly to fit Revealed Religion.” On a winter’s evening in December 1869 he strode to the podium in the great hall of Cooper Union in New York City, ready to smite his enemies with history, to give them “a lesson which they will remember.” In a melodramatic lecture titled “The Battle-Fields of Science” the historian surveyed “some of the hardest-fought battle-fields” of the “great war” between science and religion. He told of Giordano Bruno’s being “burned alive as a monster of impiety,” of Galileo’s having been “tortured tured and humiliated as the worst of unbelievers,” and much more, ending with the latest scientific martyrs, Cornell University and its beleaguered president. As White must have anticipated, his lecture sparked even more controversy, prompting, according to one observer, “instantaneous outcry and opposition.” Over the next quarter century White expanded his talk into a huge two-volume work, A History of the Warfare of Science ence with Theology in Christendom (1896), widely translated and frequently reprinted down to the present. In it, as Elizabeth Cady Stanton gleefully noted, he showed “that the Bible has been the greatest block in the way of progress.”‘ (Galileo Goes to Jail and Other Myths about Science and Religion (Kindle Locations 39-49). Kindle Edition.)

Draper was equally exercised when he wrote his History of the Conflict between Religion and Science (1874). An accomplished physician, chemist, and historian, Draper largely excused Protestantism and Eastern Orthodoxy of crimes against science while excoriating Roman Catholicism. He did so, he wrote, “partly because its adherents compose the majority of Christendom, partly because its demands are the most pretentious, and partly because it has commonly sought to enforce those demands by the civil power.” In addition to chronicling the church’s age-old opposition to scientific progress, he ridiculed the recently promulgated doctrine of papal infallibility, which he attributed to men “of sin and shame.” He never publicly mentioned, however, what may have agitated him the most: his antipathy toward his own sister, Elizabeth, who had converted to Catholicism and who for a time lived with the Drapers. When one of the Draper children, eight-year-old William, lay near death, Aunt Elizabeth hid his favorite book, a Protestant devotional tract-and did not return it until after the boy had passed away. The grieving father angrily kicked her out of his house, no doubt blaming the Vatican for her un-Christian and dogmatic behavior. Draper’s tale of “ferocious theologians” hounding the pioneers of science “with a Bible in one hand and a fiery fagot in the other,” as one critic characterized his account, understandably provoked numerous counterattacks. The American convert to Catholicism Orestes Brownson, who described the book as “a tissue of lies from beginning to end,” could scarcely contain his fury. “A thousand highway-robberies or a thousand cold-blooded murders,” he fumed, “would be but a light social offence in comparison with the publication of one such book as this before us..” (Galileo Goes to Jail and Other Myths about Science and Religion (Kindle Locations 49-59). Kindle Edition.)

(….) Discussions of the relationship between “science” and “religion” originated in the early nineteenth century, when students of nature first began referring to their work as science rather than as natural philosophy (or natural history). Before that time there were occasional expressions of concern about the tension between faith and reason, but no one pitted religion against science or vice versa.’ By the 1820s, however, books and articles featuring the phrase “science and religion” in their titles were starting to appear. One of the first, if not the first, English-language books with the words in their titles came out in 1823: Thomas Dick’s popular The Christian Philosopher; or, The Connection of Science and Philosophy with Religion. By midcentury “science and religion” was becoming a literary trope, and during the 1850s and 1860s several American colleges and seminaries established professorships devoted to demonstrating (and preserving) the harmony of science and revealed religion.4 (Galileo Goes to Jail and Other Myths about Science and Religion (Kindle Locations 59-64). Kindle Edition.)

Although a few freethinkers, most notoriously Thomas Cooper of South Carolina College, denounced religion as “the great enemy of Science,” antebellum Americans, especially the clergy, worried far more about the threat of science to orthodox Christianity than about religious barriers to science. By the middle third of the nineteenth century some observers were beginning to suspect that “every new conquest achieved by science, involved the loss of a domain to religion.” Especially disturbing were scientific challenges to the first chapters of the Bible. During the three decades between about 1810 and 1840 men of science pushed successfully to replace the supernatural creation of the solar system with the nebular hypothesis, to expand the history of life on earth from 6,000 to millions of years, and to shrink Noah’s flood to a regional event in the Near East. Many Christians readily adjusted their reading of the Bible to accommodate such findings, but some biblical literalists thought that the geologists of the day were taking too many liberties with God’s word. The Reverend Gardiner Spring, for example, resented scientific efforts to explain creation, which he regarded as “a great miracle,” incapable of being accounted for scientifically. “The collision is not between the Bible & Nature,” he declared, “but between the Bible & natural philosophers.”‘ (Galileo Goes to Jail and Other Myths about Science and Religion (Kindle Locations 64-71). Kindle Edition.)

At the time it was not uncommon for men of science to engage in biblical exegesis while denying theologians and clergymen the right to monitor science. This practice, along with the increasing marginalization of theologians from the scientific enterprise, Charles Hodge, the most eminent Calvinist theologian in midcentury America. Although he continued to venerate men of science who disclosed “the wonderful works of God,” by the late 1850s he was growing increasingly frustrated by their tendency to treat theologians who expressed themselves on scientific subjects as “trespassers” who should mind their own business. He attributed the growing “alienation” between men of science and men of the cloth in part to the former’s “assumption of superiority” and their practice of stigmatizing their religious critics “as narrow-minded, bigots, old women, Bible worshippers, etc.” He resented the lack of respect frequently shown to religious men, who were instructed by their scientific colleagues to quit meddling in science, while they themselves belittled religious beliefs and values. At times Hodge worried that science, devoid of religion, was becoming downright “satanic.” He had no doubt that religion was in a “fight for its life against a large class of scientific men.”6 (Galileo Goes to Jail and Other Myths about Science and Religion (Kindle Locations 71-78). Kindle Edition.)

The spread of “infidel” science—from geology and cosmogonies to biology and anthropology—caused many Christians, both conservatives and liberals, to feel under attack. According to the southern intellectual George Frederick Holmes, “The struggle between science and religion, between philosophy and faith, has been protracted through centuries; but it is only within recent years that the breach has become so open and avowed as to be declared by many to be irreconcilable.” Worse yet, even the working classes were joining the fray. As one British writer noted in 1852, “Science is no longer a lifeless abstraction floating above the heads of the multitude. It has descended to earth. It mingles with men. It penetrates our mines. It enters our workshops. It speeds along with the iron courser of the rail.”7 (Galileo Goes to Jail and Other Myths about Science and Religion (Kindle Locations 78-82). Kindle Edition.)

The debates over Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species (1859), in which the British naturalist sought “to overthrow the dogma of separate creations” and extend the domain of natural law throughout the organic world, signaled a shift in emphasis. Increasingly, scientists, as they were coming to be called, expressed pressed resentment at playing handmaiden to religion. One after another called not only for scientific freedom but also for the subordination of religion—and the rewriting of history with religion as the villain. The most infamous outburst came from the Irish physicist John Tyndall (1820-1893), who in his 1874 Belfast address as president of the British Association for the Advancement of Science thundered: (Galileo Goes to Jail and Other Myths about Science and Religion (Kindle Locations 82-86). Kindle Edition.)

The impregnable position of science may be described in a few words. We claim, and we shall wrest from theology, the entire domain of cosmological theory. All schemes and systems which thus infringe upon the domain of science must, in so far as they do this, submit to its control, and relinquish all thought of controlling it. Acting otherwise proved disastrous in the past, and it is simply fatuous to-day. (Galileo Goes to Jail and Other Myths about Science and Religion (Kindle Locations 86-89). Kindle Edition.)

Two years later Tyndall wrote a laudatory preface to a British edition of White’s The Warfare of Science. With such endorsements, the conflict thesis was well on its way toward becoming the historical dogma of the day, at least among intellectuals seeking freedom from religion.’ (Galileo Goes to Jail and Other Myths about Science and Religion (Kindle Locations 89-90). Kindle Edition.)

Historians of science have known for years that White’s and Draper’s accounts are more propaganda than history.’ (An opposing ing myth, that Christianity alone gave birth to modern science, is disposed of in Myth 9.) Yet the message has rarely escaped the ivory tower. The secular public, if it thinks about such issues at all, knows that organized religion has always opposed scientific progress (witness the attacks on Galileo, Darwin, and Scopes). The religious public knows that science has taken the leading role in corroding faith (through naturalism and antibiblicism). As a first step toward correcting these misperceptions we must dispel the hoary myths that continue to pass as historical truths. No scientist, to our knowledge, ever lost his life because of his scientific views, though, as we shall see in Myth 7, the Italian Inquisition did incinerate the sixteenth-century Copernican Giordano Bruno for his heretical theological notions. (Galileo Goes to Jail and Other Myths about Science and Religion (Kindle Locations 90-95). Kindle Edition.)

Unlike the master mythmakers White and Draper, the contributors to this volume have no obvious scientific or theological axes to grind. Nearly half, twelve of twenty-five, self-identify as agnostic or atheist (that is, unbelievers in religion). Among the remaining thirteen there are five mainstream Protestants, two evangelical Protestants, one Roman Catholic, one Jew, one Muslim, one Buddhist—and two whose beliefs fit no conventional category (including one pious Spinozist). Over half of the unbelievers, including me, grew up in devout Christian homes—some as fundamentalists or evangelicals—but subsequently lost their faith. I’m not sure exactly what to make of this fact, but I suspect it tells us something about why we care so much about setting the record straight. (Galileo Goes to Jail and Other Myths about Science and Religion (Kindle Locations 95-99). Kindle Edition.)

A final word about our use of the word myth: Although some of the myths we puncture may have helped to give meaning to the lives of those embracing them, we do not employ the term in its sophisticated academic sense but rather use it as done in everyday conversation—to designate a claim that is false. (Galileo Goes to Jail and Other Myths about Science and Religion (Kindle Locations 99-101). Kindle Edition.)


Reason and intellect may take a man to the doorsteps of the domain of faith, but only revelation and the mercy of Allah will enable him to enter it. (Hamdani, Ibrahim 1989, 36, in Three Faiths One God: A Jewish, Christian, Muslim Encounter)

The vision to be set forth in this presentation is of the unity or coherence of humankind’s religious history. (Wilfred Cantwell Smith 1981, 3, in Towards a World Theology)

Observing minds and discriminating souls know religion when they find it in the lives of their fellows. Religion requires no definition; we all know its social, intellectual, moral, and spiritual fruits. And this all grows out of the fact that religion is the property of the human race; it is not a child of culture. True, one’s perception of religion is still human and therefore subject to the bondage of ignorance, the slavery of superstition, the deceptions of sophistication, and the delusions of false philosophy. (1119: 6)

The impact of agnostic science will turn out to have been child’s play compared to the challenge to Christian theology of the faith of other men…. The era of religious isolationism is about to be as much at an end as that of political isolationism already is…. The time will soon be with us when a theologian who attempts to work out his position unaware that he does so as a member of a world society in which other theologians equally intelligent, equally devout, equally moral, are Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, and unaware that his readers are likely perhaps to be Buddhists or to have Muslim husbands or Hindu colleagues—such a theologian is as out of date as is one who attempts to construct an intellectual position unaware that Aristotle has thought about the world or that existentialists have raised new orientations, or unaware that the earth is a minor planet in a galaxy that is vast only by terrestrial standards. Philosophy and science have impinged so far on theological thought more effectively than has comparative religion, but this will not last. (Smith 1982, 7,8,9, in Religious Diversity)

The only basis on which it [Islam] distinguishes between humans is on the basis of their moral personality—their ability, that is, to acquire taqwa, or God-consciousness—and it is in terms of their moral praxis that individuals will be judged and recompensed in the Hereafter. What matters in and to the Qur’an, then, is not sex/gender, but an individual’s ‘faith and deeds’. (Barlas, Asma. Amina Wadud’s hermeneutics of the Qur’an. In Modern Muslim Intellectuals and the Qur’an (editor Suha Taji-Farouki). Oxford: Oxford University Press; 2004; p. 114.)

Tasdiq is to recognize a truth, to appropriate it, to affirm it, to confirm it, to actualize it. And the truth, in each case, is personalist and sincere…. [F]aith is then the recognition of divine truth at the personal level. Faith is the ability to recognize truth as true for oneself, and to trust it. Especially in the Islamic case, with its primarily moral orientation, this includes, or makes primary, the recognition of the authenticity, a moral authority, of the divine commands. Thus there is a recognition of the obligatoriness of moral obligations; and the acceptance of their obligatoriness as applying to oneself, with the personal commitment then to carrying them out.

Again: it is the personal making of what is cosmically true come true on earth–the actualization of truth (the truth about man).

More mystically, it is the discovery of truth (the personal truth) of the Islamic injunctions: the process of personal verification of them, whereby, by living them out, one proves them and finds that they do indeed become true, both for oneself and for society and world in which one lives.

Tasdiq is the inner appropriation and outward implementation of truth. It is the process of making or finding true in actual human life, in one’s own personal spirit and overt behavior, what God–or Realityintends for man.

And with many a passage strongly insisting that faith is more than knowledge, that it is a question of how one responds to the truth, one may also render the proposition ‘faith is tasdiq‘ as ‘Faith is the ability to trust, and to act in terms of, what one knows to be true’. (Smith 1981: 150-151)

(….) Faith, then, is the positive response to God’s initiative. It is not merely knowledge: it includes knowledge, but is something else as well. That something additional, the men of kalam came to agree, is tasdiq. Huwa (that is al-tasdiq) amr za’id ‘ala al-‘ilm.

We turn, then, from faith to tasdiq… We can now see that it designates not belief, but knowledge; and not merely knowledge, but knowledge of the truth plus something else. (Neither of these two componentsneither that of knowing the truth, nor that of the something additionalis found in the current Western translations …). (Smith 1981: 155)

(….) What, then, is tasdiq? Clearly, it lies in the realm of activist sincerity. Sidq … designates truth at the personalist level, of recognition and integrity: the second form of the very designates an activating of this.

Fundamental for understanding one of the prime meanings of tasdiq in this connection is a remark such as the following of al-Tabari:

al-qwam kanu sadaqu bi-alsinatihim wa-lam yusaddiqu qawwlahum bi-fi lihim.

Obviously this is not ‘to believe’ but rather to confirm, to actualize the truth. They ‘… spoke the truth with their tongues, but did not corroborate what they were saying with their deeds’. Or one might use such verbs as ‘authenticate’ or ‘validate’. An older usage in English would legitimately appear here if one translated by: ‘… they were not faithful to what they were saying, in their deeds’. (Smith 1981: 156)

The actualizing aspect of tasdiq is illuminated, again, in the oft-cited statement, al-iman ma waqara fi alqalb, wa-saddaqahu al-amal. ‘Faith is that about which the heart is firm, and that deeds validate (authenticate, corroborate).’

Again, and more theologically, the fact that God Himself is called mu’min is also explained, by al-Baghdadi, as His being actively faithful in this sense:

wa-Allah mu’min li-annahu yusaddiqu wa’dahu bi-al-tahqiq.

(It would be ludicrous to translate either iman or tasdiq as ‘believing’ in any of these cases–and I feel, in any cases at all).

The difference, then, between knowledge and tasdiq lies in the sincerity and in the opperationalist addenda denoted by the latter term. Knowledge is the perception of the truth outside oneself; tasdiq is the personal appropriation of that perception. It is the inner reordering of oneself so as to act in terms of it; the interiorization and implementation of the truth in dynamic sincerity. Tasdiq means not ‘to believe’ but
rather to recognize a truth and to existentialize it. (Smith 1981: 156)

(….) All this is especially relevant to, and leads to a consideration of, the second of the two fundamental orientations that we averred to be characteristic of Islamic life and significant for its faithnamely, the moral. For the truth to which the Muslim must respond is largely a moral truth. The knowledge conferred by revelation is largely a knowledge of moral requirements, of commands, of duties: awamir, ahkam, fara’id. In the moral life especially, as all of us recognize, knowledge is not yet virtue. The recognition of that something out to be done is not yet the recognition that I ought to do it, not yet the resolve to do it, not yet my personal decision to act. Involved in the moral life is a particular quality or act, more than and other than knowledge and its awareness of objective truth, a quality that brings one to the point of committing oneself to act in terms of what one has recognized as right. This is tasdiq, and to have it is to have faith. (Smith 1981: 157-158)

(….) One of the compelling expositions of the matter comes in the fuller elaboration of a statement by the later writer al-Kastalt …: ‘Al-tasdiq does not mean knowing the truth …; no, it is rather a yielding to what is known and a letting oneself be led by it, setting aside recalcitrance and stubborness, and constructing one’s actions in accordance with it’. (This is a beautiful example of a passage that Christian [or Buddhist, or Jewish] theology could be happy and proud to take over word for word ….) (Smith 1981: 158)

Galileo Goes to Jail

Falsehood is not a matter of narration technique but something premeditated as a perversion of truth…. The shadow of a hair’s turning, premeditated for an untrue purpose, the slightest twisting or perversion of that which is principle—these constitute falseness. But the fetish of factualized truth, fossilized truth, the iron band of so-called unchanging truth, holds one blindly in a closed circle of cold fact. One can be technically right as to fact and everlastingly wrong in the truth. (Urantia Book 48:6.33)

~ ~ ~

Among some astronomers and even more astrologers, Copernicus’ claim won converts. But in 1615, the Roman Catholic Church declared the idea a heresy and in 1632 condemned the scientist Galileo Galilei to life in prison for disseminating it.
— Ken Zimmerman, RWER : More on what’s missing, 9/1/2020

[T]he great Galileo, at the age of fourscore, groaned away his days in the dungeons of the Inquisition, because he had demonstrated by irrefragable proofs the motion of the earth.
— Voltaire, “Descartes and Newton” (1728)

[T]he celebrated Galileo … was put in the inquisition for six years, and put to the torture, for saying, that the earth moved.

— Giuseppe Baretti, The Italian Library (1757)

[T]o say that Galileo was tortured is not a reckless claim, but it is simply to repeat what the sentence says. To specify that he was tortured about his intention is not a risky deduction, but it is, again, to report what that text says. These are observation-reports, reports, not magical intuitions; proved facts, not cabalistic introspections.

— Italo Mereu, History of Intolerance in Europe (1979)

The trial ended on June 22, 1633, with a harsher sentence than Galileo had been led to expect. The verdict found him guilty of a category of heresy intermediate between the most and the least serious, called “vehement suspicion of heresy.” The objectionable beliefs were the astronomical thesis that the earth moves and the methodological principle that the Bible is not a scientific authority. He was forced to recite a humiliating “abjuration” retracting these beliefs. But the Dialogue was banned. (Galileo Goes to Jail and Other Myths about Science and Religion (Kindle Locations 757-760). Kindle Edition.)

The lengthy sentencing document also recounted the proceedings since 1613, summarized the 1633 charges, and noted Galileo’s defense and confession. In addition, it provided two other extremely important details. The first described an interrogation: “Because we did not think you had said the whole truth about your intention, we deemed it necessary to proceed against you by a rigorous examination. Here you answered in a Catholic manner, though without prejudice to the above-mentioned things confessed by you and deduced against you about your intention.” The second imposed an additional penalty: “We condemn you to formal imprisonment in this Holy Office at our pleasure.” (Kindle Locations 760-764)

The lengthy sentencing document also recounted the proceedings since 1613, summarized the 1633 charges, and noted Galileo’s defense and confession. (….) The text of the Inquisition’s sentence and Galileo’s abjuration were the only trial documents publicized at the time. Indeed, the Inquisition sent copies to all provincial inquisitors and papal nuncios, requesting them to disseminate the information. Thus news of Galileo’s fate circulated widely in books, newspapers, and one-page flyers. This unprecedented publicity resulted from the express orders of Pope Urban, who wanted Galileo’s case to serve as a negative lesson to all Catholics and to strengthen his own image as an intransigent defender of the faith. (Kindle Locations 760-767)

(….) The impression that Galileo had been imprisoned and tortured remained plausible as long as the principal evidence available about Galileo’s trial came from these documents, the sentence and abjuration. The story remained unchanged until—after about 150 years for the prison thesis and about 250 years for the torture thesis—relevant documents came to light showing that Galileo had suffered neither. (Galileo Goes to Jail and Other Myths about Science and Religion (Kindle Locations 775-777). Kindle Edition.)

The new information about imprisonment comes from correspondence in 1633, primarily from the Tuscan ambassador to Rome (Francesco Niccolini) to the Tuscan secretary of state in Florence, and secondarily that to and from Galileo himself. The Tuscan officials were especially interested in Galileo because he was employed as the chief mathematician and philosopher to the grand duke of Tuscany, had dedicated the Dialogue to him, and had successfully sought his help in publishing the book in Florence. Thus the Tuscan government treated the trial like an affair of state, with Niccolini constantly discussing the situation directly with the pope at their regular meetings and sending reports to Florence. Moreover, Galileo was on very friendly terms with Niccolini and his wife. (Kindle Locations 777-781)

(….) With the possible exception of three days (June 21-24, 1633), Galileo was never held in prison, either during the trial (as was universal custom) or afterward (as the sentence decreed). Even for those three days he likely lodged in the prosecutor’s apartment, not in a cell. The explanation for such unprecedentedly benign treatment is not completely clear but includes the following factors: the protection of the Medici, Galileo’s celebrity status, and the love-hate attitude of Pope Urban, an erstwhile admirer. (Kindle Locations 792-795)

(….) In view of the available evidence, the most tenable position is that Galileo underwent an interrogation with the threat of torture but did not undergo actual torture or even territio realis. Although he remained under house arrest during the 1633 trial and for the subsequent nine years of his life, he never went to prison. We should keep in mind, however, that for 150 years after the trial the publicly available evidence indicated that Galileo had been imprisoned, and for 250 years the evidence indicated that he had been tortured. The myths of Galileo’s torture and imprisonment are thus genuine myths: ideas that are in fact false but once seemed true—and continue to be accepted as true by poorly educated persons and careless scholars. (Kindle Locations 839-843)

~ ~ ~

Simple stories are poor vehicles for complex nuanced historical truth. The Catholic Church like all human institutions — is full of justifiable blame for the errors of evil and sin, even iniquity, but let the blame be laid on firm evidentiary foundations and not half-truths of simple stories careless with fact and truth, lest we be guilty of twisting hairs and casting shadows of half-truth for untrue purposes.

In Guns We Trust

This extremist right-wing evangelical fundamentalist religion is on full display in many glossy gun magazines. Next to a picture of a wooden cross and Charlie Daniels standing between Marty and Cindy Daniel proudly displaying their Daniel’s Defense AR-15, is written, “Faith, family and firearms—the important things in life (Marty & Cindy Daniel. The Fiddler’s Firearm. USA: Guns & Ammo; 2017 Mar.).” As writer Warren Cassidy of the NRA told Osha Gray Davidson,

You would get a better understanding if you approached us as if you were approaching one of the great religions of the world. — Bellesiles 2000, 7, In Davidson, Under Fire, 44; Guns & Ammo, November 1998, 64-78

The further away we get from God, the worse off we get. Raise up a child the way it should go, and when he is older he won’t depart from it. There is no discipline today…. A child is very blessed to have a disciplinarian family. I was raised in a disciplinarian home. My mama could use a switch like an Olympic fencer. Charlie Daniels Interview, The Fiddler’s Firearm, Guns & Ammo, March 30, 2017.

Beating one’s children is considered discipline within this twisted culture of biblicist evangelical Christian fundamentalism. It is important that we understand the true nature and extent of the religious right’s culture war. This is not just an extremist movement preaching a gun-rights theology, but it’s intricately bound up with both religious fundamentalism, market fundamentalism, and political extremism. Racism, Islamophobia, Xenophobia, White Supremacist and Christian Nationalism go hand in hand with this twisted gospel of paranoid fear based evangelical fundamentalism. Within this fundamentalist culture black lives simply don’t matter:

The problems people have with police could be avoided if they would just do what the officer told them to do. If the officer says put your hands on the hood, then put your hands on the hood. If the officer tells ya to get out of the car, then get out of the car. [If an] officer tells you he wants to see your driver’s license and registration card, very gingerly take them out. That is all you have to do. And, basically, all they are going to do is their job…. People escalate these things into problems, and it ends up being a shooting match. You cannot blame a policeman for protecting his life.

— Charlie Daniels Interview, The Fiddler’s Firearm, Guns & Ammo, March 30, 2017.

It is hard to see how a black man lying on the ground with a police officer’s knee on his neck is a “shooting match.” It is hard to see how a black man when asked to show his license and registration by a police officer and is then shot to death while trying to comply with the officer’s request is a “shooting match.” It is even harder to imagine how Daniels can view a police officer shooting in the back a fleeing black man as a “shooting match” without recognizing the blatant racism. Charlie Daniels reveals the callousness of white racism in that he is deaf, dumb, and blind to the fundamental problem of racism in America. Instead, he blames the victims excusing any and all behavior and accountability of the police brutality regardless of how negligent or out right racist and malicious the violence perpetrated against blacks. Charlie Daniels words are witness to the depth of racism in America today and the entire world sees what Charlie Daniels is a willfully ignorant racist when he turns a deaf, dumb, and blind eye to police brutality against black men, women, and children while blaming the many victims.

Cosmic Child Abuse

I don’t judge you. I leave that to a wrathful, angry God to do.

— Ned Flanders to his wayward neighbor, Homer Simpson

“The Cross isn’t a form of cosmic child abuse — a vengeful Father, punishing his Son for an offense he has not even committed. Understandably, both people inside and outside of the Church have found this twisted version of events morally dubious and a huge barrier to faith.”

When I penned this statement, as part of the text of The Lost Message of Jesus, I had no idea of the debate that it would ignite or the controversy it would stir…. Though the sheer bluntness of my imagery shocked some, I contend that, in truth, it represents nothing more than a stark unmasking of what I understand to be the violent, pre-Christian thinking behind the popular theory of penal substitutionary atonement … [that] I readily concede, is currently regarded as orthodoxy within modern evangelicalism…. I believe it to be biblically, culturally and pastorally deficient and even dangerous. (Chalke 2008: 34-35)

(….) I grieve over the depth of the damage that has been, and is being, done through the distortion, misrepresentation and misunderstanding of the purpose of the cross under the label of “penal” substitution…. N.T. [Wright] states, for instance, “it … is deeply, profoundly, and disturbingly unbiblical.” In my opinion, he is right once more…. I believe it is better to abandon the use of the term [“penal” substitution] altogether and restate the truth in fresh ways. (Chalke 2008: 35)

(….) Inadequate doctrines of atonement lead to distorted understandings of God and humanity and result in an immature engagement in community and wider society.

But if erroneous theology leads to dysfunctional missiology, is there any connection between the public’s almost universal perception of certain elements of the church as judgmental, guilt-inducing, censorious, finger-wagging, bigoted, and self-righteous and aspects of its theology of the cross? And if, as historian and scholar David Bebbington claims, one of the four pillars of evangelicalism (which together are known as the Bebbington Quadrilateral) is “crucicentrism”, or cross-centredness, why is it that our culture now views the death of Christ as no more than some kind of ancient myth or irrelevant religious event? Perhaps one factor is that our thinking about the cross has become distorted and thus our presentation of it is inadequate to engage the hearts and minds of our contemporaries both within and beyond the church. (Chalke 2008: 36)

(….) Though often represented as a much older formulation, penal substitutionary theory, as it is understood and taught in many evangelical churches today, rests largely on the work of the nineteenth-century American theologian Charles Hodge, who, building on the work of John Calvin’s legal mind, argued that a righteous God is angry with sinners and demands justice. God’s wrath can be appeased only through bringing about the violent death of his Son. Joel Green and Mark Baker demonstrate in their book, Rediscovering the Scandal of the Cross, that, whereas supporters of penal substitutionary theory tend to quote the writings of various church fathers and early Christian writers to bolster their claims, their conclusion is more easily understood as an anachronistic “reading back” of modern views onto ancient texts, particularly into the work of Anselm of Canterbury. (Chalke 2008: 37)

(….) However, the supposed orthodoxy of penal substitution is greatly misleading. Although as a theory it is not as old as many people assume, it is actually built on pre-Christian thought. This is a point pressed by Professor George Eldon Ladd in A Theology of the New Testament: “In pagan Greek thought the gods often became angry with men, but their anger could be placated and the good will of the gods obtained by some kind of propitiatory sacrifice. Even in the Old Testament, the idea of atonement as the propitiating of an angry deity and transmuting his anger into benevolence is not to be found.” The emphasis on Yahweh’s apparent appetite for continuous appeasement through blood sacrifice, present in some Pentateuchal texts is to be understood in the light of later prophetic writings as a reflection of the worship practices of the pagan cults of the nations that surrounded the people of Israel. However, the story of Israel’s salvation is the story of her journey away from these primal practices towards a new and more enlightened understanding by way of Yahweh’s self-revelation. (Chalke 2008: 38)

(….) Indeed, one of the challenging questions for those who hold a penal substitutionary view of the atonement is the fact that Jewish prophets of the eighth century BCE were clearly already moving beyond this concept. Thus, to defend the theory of penal substitution by arguing the meaning of this or that isolated biblical text ignores a deeper truth. The resonance of the scriptural witness, the overall flow of the narrative, and the unravelling story of salvation all speak with a different voice. So it is that, today, even the most orthodox Jewish teaching and practice has long since abandoned blood sacrifice. There is simply no Jewish scholar anywhere in the world who understands the sum content of the Old Testament text as an ongoing demand for propitiatory blood sacrifice. (Chalke 2008: 39)

The greatest theological problem with penal substitution is that it presents us with a God who is first and foremost concerned with retribution for sin that flows from his wrath against sinners. The only way for his anger to be placated is in receiving recompense from those who have wronged him, and although his great love motivates him to send his Son, his wrath remains the driving force behind the need for the cross. (Chalke 2008: 39)

If we follow Hodge’s understanding of the atonement, it is Jesus’ death alone that becomes our “good news”. This approach reduces the whole gospel to a single sentence: “God is no longer angry with us because Jesus died in our place.” Indeed, that is exactly why evangelistic presentations based on penal substitution often do not even bother to mention the resurrection: for them, it serves no direct purpose in the story of salvation. (Chalke 2008: 39)

Ironically, what Hodge most neglected was to let Jesus speak for himself. It is difficult to see how penal substitution fits with the words or attitudes of Jesus. For instance, if the whole gospel centres on Jesus’ death, what was the good news he told his followers to preach (Luke 9:6) before the crucifixion? And if God needed to a sacrifice to placate his anger, how could Jesus forgive sins before his sacrifice had been made? In fact, why did Jesus preach at all? The rest of his ministry was ultimately unnecessary if it is only his death that makes things new. Surely we cannot embrace a theology in which Jesus’ entire thirty-three-year incarnation could be reduced to a long weekend’s activity. (Chalke 2008: 39)

It is interesting to note that in Jesus’ own explanations of his Father’s relationship with mankind, the story of the prodigal son, the father is not presented as angry or vengeful or as seeking justice and retribution; instead, he simply runs to greet his wayward child, showers him with gifts and welcomes him home (Luke 15:11-32). The father in the parable is wronged, but he chooses to forgive in order to restore a broken relationship there is no theme of retribution. Instead, the story is one of outstanding grace, of scandalous love and mercy. How different it would read if penal substitution were the model of atonement offered. (Chalke 2008: 39-40)

In addition, we can note Jesus’ teaching on anger (Matt. 5:22) and retaliation (Matt. 5:38-42). Is it not strange for Jesus (God incarnate) on the one hand to teach “do not return evil for evil” while still looking for retribution himself? Similarly, would it not be inconsistent for God to warn us not to be angry with each other and yet burn with wrath himself, or tell us to love our enemies when he obviously could not quite bring himself to do the same without demanding massive appeasement? If these things are true, what does it mean to “be perfect … as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt. 5:48)? If it is true that Jesus is “the Word of God”, then how can his message be inconsistent with his nature? If the cross has anything to do with penal substitution, then Jesus’ teaching becomes a divine case of “do as I say, not as I do.” I, for one, believe that God practices what he preaches. If the cross is a personal act of violence perpetrated by God towards humankind but borne by his Son, then it makes a mockery of Jesus’ own teaching to love your enemies and to refuse to repay evil with evil. (Chalke 2008: 40)

So, what of God’s anger? The most profound theological truth expressed in the whole of canon of Scripture is that “God is love” (1 John 4:8). The Bible never defines God as anger, power or judgment; in fact, it never defines him as anything other than love. Love is not a quality that God possess but rather is his divine essence itself his essential being. And more than that, the Bible never makes assertions about God’s anger, power or judgment independently of his love. God’s anger is an aspect of his love, and to understand it any differently is to misunderstand it. (Chalke 2008: 40)

Every father will be wronged by his children; it is a simple fact. All of us who know the joy of raising children also know the pain of their rebelliousness and yet no parent who loves their child ever seeks retribution for wrongs done to them. Parental anger, when it is motivated by genuine love, cannot be violent or destructive. Though in Scripture we read about God’s various attributes, in truth, they are never more than repetitions and amplifications of the one statement that God loves. The reality of God’s wrath is never in dispute. But only in light of our understanding of God as the perfect father can we begin to see that the objects of his burning anger are not his beloved children but the evils, attitudes and behaviours that ensnare and seek to destroy them. (Chalke 2008: 40)

(….) Penal substitutionary theory betrays Jesus’ attempt to root out the tendency of religion to lead to violence by inventing a theology of his death that is in direct opposition to his teaching. If the church could rediscover a deeper understanding of the cross, we could once again speak with prophetic power to a global society caught in the grip of the lie that violence can be redemptive. The church’s inability to shake off the great distortion of God contained in the theory of penal substitution, with its inbuilt belief in retribution and the redemptive power of violence, has cost us dearly. As the world struggles to find a way out of the chaos resulting from the doctrine of “might is right” and “he who has the biggest guns wins,” there is now an opportunity for the church to live out its commitment to the ethic of non-violence or “assertive meekness” demonstrated by Christ throughout his life and ultimately authenticated by his cross and resurrection. Jews, Muslims and Christians alike have to face up to the truth that their holy texts can be interpreted violently. Will our Christ-centered faith be part of the world’s answer or part of its problem? (Chalke 2008: 41)

But a commitment to penal substitution also raises other ethical concerns. Indeed, it is open to the charge that it does little more than reflect the nineteenth- and twentieth-century culturally dominant values of individualism, autonomy and consumerism. Thus, the primary purpose for the cross becomes its instant “cash value” for the individual. by “praying the prayer”, I am immediately moved from the wrong side of God’s legal ledger to the right side. The great transaction is done. And what is more, not only am I no longer guilty but I can also cling to the belief that “once saved, always saved”. My eternal destiny is guaranteed. Penal substitution offers instant forgiveness without challenging basic day-to-day moral behavior. It separates salvation from discipleship by disconnecting the way that Jesus lived his life from his saving work. (Chalke 2008: 41-42)

(….) “I don’t judge you. I leave that to a wrathful, angry God to do,” thunders Bible-thumping, churchgoing Ned Flanders to his wayward neighbor, Homer Simpson. Of course, many Christians learn to live with the dichotomy caused by an uncritical acceptance of penal substitutionary theory. On the one hand, they believe in God’s grace and goodness, but on the other, they believe that one of the central acts of their faith is bound upon in his vengeance and wrath. The only way they cope with this tension is to dismiss it as “a divine paradox”. However, for their friends and the rest of the world, it is simply a massive contradiction, the “elephant in the room”. (Chalke 2008: 42)

Since my book was published, and in the serious theological debate that has followed it, some have sought to readdress their definition of penal substitution. I have witnessed various attempts to redraw, redefine, recast, remodel and rehabilitate the theory as “not really as violent and retributive a concept as The Lost Message of Jesus suggested”…. [I]n my view, what we need is not a reworking [“penal substitution theory lite”] but a renunciation. Why? Because even the most sophisticated and gracious attempts to nuance penal substitution have, in the end, failed to communicate anything other than a distorted view of God at a popular level. (Chalke 2008: 42)

(….) On the cross, Jesus does not placate God’s anger in taking the punishment for sin but rather absorbs its consequences and, as three days later he is raised, defeats death. It is the resurrection God which finally puts the Victor in Christus Victor! So it is that in and through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection God confronts and dethrones the powers of evil. (Chalke 2008: 44)

(….) The cross is not a form of cosmic child abuse a vengeful Father punishing his Son for an offense he did not commit. Rather than a symbol of vengeance or retribution, the cross of Christ is the greatest symbol of love and a demonstration of just how far God the Father and Jesus his Son are prepared to go to prove that love and to bring redemption to their creation. (Chalke 2008: 44)

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Although Jesus did not die this death on the cross to atone for the racial guilt of mortal man nor to provide some sort of effective approach to an otherwise offended and unforgiving God; even though the Son of Man did not offer himself as a sacrifice to appease the wrath of God and to open the way for sinful man to obtain salvation; notwithstanding that these ideas of atonement and propitiation are erroneous, nonetheless, there are significances attached to this death of Jesus on the cross which should not be overlooked. (Urantia Book 188:4.1)

(….) When once you grasp the idea of God as a true and loving Father, the only concept which Jesus ever taught, you must forthwith, in all consistency, utterly abandon all those primitive notions about God as an offended monarch, a stern and all-powerful ruler whose chief delight is to detect his subjects in wrongdoing and to see that they are adequately punished, unless some being almost equal to himself should volunteer to suffer for them, to die as a substitute and in their stead. The whole idea of ransom and atonement is incompatible with the concept of God as it was taught and exemplified by Jesus of Nazareth. The infinite love of God is not secondary to anything in the divine nature. (Urantia Book 188:4.8)

(….) This entire idea of the ransom of the atonement places salvation upon a plane of unreality; such a concept is purely philosophic. Human salvation is real; it is based on two realities which may be grasped by the creature’s faith and thereby become incorporated into individual human experience: the fact of the fatherhood of God and its correlated truth, the brotherhood of man. It is true, after all, that you are to be “forgiven your debts, even as you forgive your debtors.” (Urantia Book 188:4.13)

(….) The cross of Jesus portrays the full measure of the supreme devotion of the true shepherd for even the unworthy members of his flock. It forever places all relations between God and man upon the family basis. God is the Father; man is his son. Love, the love of a father for his son, becomes the central truth in the universe relations of Creator and creature—not the justice of a king which seeks satisfaction in the sufferings and punishment of the evil-doing subject. (Urantia Book 188:5.1)


(….) The cross makes a supreme appeal to the best in man because it discloses one who was willing to lay down his life in the service of his fellow men. Greater love no man can have than this: that he would be willing to lay down his life for his friends—and Jesus had such a love that he was willing to lay down his life for his enemies, a love greater than any which had hitherto been known on earth. (188:5.7)

(….) Make sure, then, that when you view the cross as a revelation of God, you do not look with the eyes of the primitive man nor with the viewpoint of the later barbarian, both of whom regarded God as a relentless Sovereign of stern justice and rigid law-enforcement. Rather, make sure that you see in the cross the final manifestation of the love and devotion of Jesus to his life mission of bestowal upon the mortal races of his vast universe. See in the death of the Son of Man the climax of the unfolding of the Father’s divine love for his sons of the mortal spheres. The cross thus portrays the devotion of willing affection and the bestowal of voluntary salvation upon those who are willing to receive such gifts and devotion. There was nothing in the cross which the Father required—only that which Jesus so willingly gave, and which he refused to avoid. (188:5.11)

We know that the death on the cross was not to effect man’s reconciliation to God but to stimulate man’s realization of the Father’s eternal love and his Son’s unending mercy, and to broadcast these universal truths to a whole universe. (188:5.12)

Challenge and Riposte

You shall not portray your teacher as a man of sorrows. Future generations shall know also the radiance of our joy, the buoyance of our good will, and the inspiration of our good humor. We proclaim a message of good news which is infectious in its transforming power. Our religion is throbbing with new life and new meanings. Those who accept this teaching are filled with joy and in their hearts are constrained to rejoice evermore. Increasing happiness is always the experience of all who are certain about God. (Urantia Book 153:3.10)

(….) The Master displayed great wisdom and manifested perfect fairness in all of his dealings with his apostles and with all of his disciples. Jesus was truly a master of men; he exercised great influence over his fellow men because of the combined charm and force of his personality. There was a subtle commanding influence in his rugged, nomadic, and homeless life. There was intellectual attractiveness and spiritual drawing power in his authoritative manner of teaching, in his lucid logic, his strength of reasoning, his sagacious insight, his alertness of mind, his matchless poise, and his sublime tolerance. He was simple, manly, honest, and fearless. With all of this physical and intellectual influence manifest in the Master’s presence, there were also all those spiritual charms of being which have become associated with his personality—patience, tenderness, meekness, gentleness, and humility. (Urantia Book 141:3.4)

Jesus of Nazareth was indeed a strong and forceful personality; he was an intellectual power and a spiritual stronghold. His personality not only appealed to the spiritually minded women among his followers, but also to the educated and intellectual Nicodemus and to the hardy Roman soldier, the captain stationed on guard at the cross, who, when he had finished watching the Master die, said, “Truly, this was a Son of God.” And red-blooded, rugged Galilean fishermen called him Master. (Urantia Book 141:3.5)

The pictures of Jesus have been most unfortunate. These paintings of the Christ have exerted a deleterious influence on youth; the temple merchants would hardly have fled before Jesus if he had been such a man as your artists usually have depicted. His was a dignified manhood; he was good, but natural. Jesus did not pose as a mild, sweet, gentle, and kindly mystic. His teaching was thrillingly dynamic. He not only meant well, but he went about actually doing good. (Urantia Book 141:3.6)

1.2. Acquiring Honor: Challenge and Riposte

Challenge-riposte describes a constant social tug of war, a game of social push and shove. Challenge-riposte is a type of social communication, since any social interaction is a form of communication. Someone (source) sends a message by means of a culturally recognized channel to a receiving individual, and this produces an effect. The source here is the challenger, while the message is a symbolized thing (e.g., word, a gift, an invitation) or event (e.g., a slap) or both. The channel of communication is always public, and the publicity of the message guarantees that the receiving individual will react, since even non-action is publicly interpreted, either as a riposte or a loss of honor. Consequently, challenge-riposte within context of honor is a social interaction with at least three phases:

(a) challenge in terms of some action (word, deed, or both) on the part of the challenger;

(b) perception of the message by both the individual to whom it is directed and the public at large; and

(c) reaction of the receiving individual and the evaluation of the reaction on the part of the public. (Neyrey 2005, 29)

The result is a highly stylized interaction which contains the following elements:

Typical Elements in a Challenge-Riposte Exchange

1. Claim (often implied by action or gesture)
2. Challenge
3. Riposte
4. Public verdict

The challenge-riposte interaction begins with some claim to enter the social space of another (for what follows, see Bourdieu 1966). This claim is always a challenge, and may be positive or negative. (Neyrey 2005, 29-30)

Cosmic Laughter

In 1494, just before the onslaught of the Reformation, Sebastian Brandt, a conservative Roman Catholic scholar living in Basel, looked at the reeking vice and folly of the church of his day and wrote Das Narrenschiff, a Ship of Fools. As the prologue tells us, “One vessel would be far too small / To carry all the fools I know.” Brandt’s veritable floating tub of dolts and sinners heads for an unknown destination, a land of Fools, and functions as a harbinger of an imminent schism. Eulogized as divina satira, divine satire, Ship of Fools catapulted Brandt into the ranks of Dante, at least among the Germans. (Lindvall 2015, 1)

— Terry Lindvall (2015, 1) God Mocks. NYU Press.

If the rich could hire other people to die for them, the poor could make a wonderful living.

Yiddish Proverb. Cited in Lindvall (2015, 3) God Mocks.

The Jesus movement very early on exchanged the vision for the visionary. Those first enthusiastic followers were enthralled by the world Jesus encapsulated in the parables and aphorisms, but, since they were unable to hold on to the vision embodied in those verbal vehicles, they turned from the story to the storyteller. They didn’t know how else to celebrate the revelation. They turned the iconoclast into an icon. (Funk 1996: 10-11)

(….) The quest for the historical Jesus is an effort to emancipate the Galilean sage from the tangle of Christian overlay that obscures, to some extent, who Jesus was and what he said, to distinguish the religion of Jesus from the religion about Jesus. That quest has been under way since the eighteenth century, when the first critical scholars asserted their independence from ecclesiastical control. It has continued unabated in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. (Funk 1996: 31)

(….) Jesus was a comic savant. He mixed humor with subversive and troubling knowledge born of direct insight. That was also the technique of Mark Twain and Will Rogers, who might also be described as comic savants. A comic savant is an intellectualbetter, poetwho is redefining what it means to be wise. That is the real role of the court jester: tell the king the truth but tell it as a joke. Jesters consequently enjoyed a limited immunity for their jokes. New truth is easier to embrace if it comes wrapped in humor. (Funk 1996: 158)

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When someone slaps you on the right cheek,
turn the other as well.

If someone sues you for your coat,
Give him the shirt off your back to go with it.

When anyone conscripts you for one mile,
go along for two.

These admonitions give the appearance of being a series of particular cases that call for corresponding legal precedents. But, in fact, they parody case law and legal reasoning.

A blow to the right cheek would require a left-handed slap, which would be intended not to injure but to humiliate. The left hand was not used publicly in Jesus’ society, since it was used for unclean tasks. At Qumran to gesture with the left hand was punishable by ten days of penance. So a backhand slap to the right cheek was an insult delivered from a superior to an inferior, as Walter Wink has so brilliantly shown: master to slave, husband to wife, parent to child, Roman to Jew. Its message: Get back in your place. Don’t put on airs.

To turn the other cheek under the circumstances was an act of defiance. The left cheek invited a right-hand blow that might injure. The master, husband, or parent, or Roman would hesitate. The humiliation of the initial blow was answered with a nonviolent, very subtle, but quite effective challenge. The act of defiance entailed risk; it was symbolic, to be sure, but for that reason appealed to those who were regarded as subservient inferiors in Jesus’ world.

A coat was often given as surety for a loan or debt. The poor could lose their coats under such circumstances, but only during the daylight hours; at night, according to Deuteronimic law, the coat had to be returned since the truly destitute might have nothing else for warmth. Jesus’ injunction was to give up both coat and shirt. In a two-garment society, that meant going naked. Nakedness was frowned upon, to say the least. Again, according to the Manual of Discipline, one of the Dead Sea Scrolls, accidentally exposing one’s nakedness when taking one’s hand out of one’s robe called for thirty days of penance. Exposing oneself to a companion needlessly drew a penalty of six months. Jesus combined humor with a call for a serious infraction of the social code.

Roman soldiers were allowed to commandeer Judeans for a mile’s march to assist with gear. More than that was forbidden. To comply with a conscriptive order meant subservience; to refuse meant rebellion. Imagine the consternation of the Roman soldier when confronted with a Judean offer to carry the pack a second mile.

These examples all refer to real problems, real circumstances. The responses, however, are not prescriptive; they are suggestive of a behavior that undermines the intent of the initial act. (Funk 1996: 155)

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Scandal of Evangelical Mind

Although the thought has occurred to me regularly over the past two decades that, at least in the United States, it is simply impossible to be, with integrity, both evangelical and intellectual. (Noll 1995, ix)

(….) The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind. An extraordinary range of virtues is found among the sprawling throngs of evangelical Protestants in North America, including great sacrifice in spreading the message of salvation in Jesus Christ, open-hearted generosity to the needy, heroic personal exertion on behalf of troubled individuals, and an unheralded sustenance of countless church and parachurch communities. Notwithstanding all their other virtues, however, American evangelicals are not exemplary for their thinking and they have not been so for several generations. (Noll 1995, 3)

Despite dynamic success at a popular level, modern American evangelicals have failed notably in sustaining serious intellectual life. They have nourished millions of believers in the simple verities of the gospel but have largely abandoned the universities, the arts, and other realms of “high” culture. Even in its more progressive and culturally upscale subgroups, evangelicalism has little intellectual muscle. Feeding the hungry, living simply, and banning the bomb are tasks at which different sorts of evangelicals willingly expend great energy, but these tasks do not by themselves assist intellectual vitality. (Noll 1994: 3)

(….) Evangelical inattention to intellectual life is a curiosity for several reasons…. The historical situation is similarly curious. Modern evangelicals are the spiritual descendants of leaders and movements distinguished by probing, creative, fruitful attention to mind. Most of the original Protestant traditions … either developed a vigorous intellectual life or worked out theological principles that could (and often did) sustain penetrating, and penetratingly Christian, intellectual endeavor…. None of them believed that intellectual activity was the only way to glorify God, or even the highest way, but they all believed in the life of the mind, and they believed in it because they were evangelicals. Unlike their spiritual ancestors, modern evangelicals have not pursued comprehensive thinking under God or sought a mind shaped to its furthest reaches by Christian perspectives. (Noll 1994: 4)

(….) As the Canadian scholar N. K. Clifford once aptly summarized the matter: “The Evangelical Protestant mind has never relished complexity. Indeed its crusading genius, whether in religion or politics, has always tended toward an over-simplification of issues and the substitution of inspiration and zeal for critical analysis and serious reflection. The limitations of such a mind-set were less apparent in the relative simplicity of a rural frontier society.” (Noll 1994: 12-13)

For an entire Christian community to neglect, generation after generation, serious attention to the mind, nature, society, the arts all spheres created by God and sustained for his own glory may be, in fact, sinful. Os Guinness has recently called attention to this dimension in a memorable passage worth quoting at length:

Evangelicals have been deeply sinful in being anti-intellectual ever since the 1820s and 1830s. For the longest time we didn’t pay the cultural price for that because we had the numbers, the social zeal, and the spiritual passion for the gospel. But today we are beginning to pay the cultural price. And you can see that most evangelicals simply don’t think. For example, there has been no serious evangelical public philosophy in this country…. It has always been a sin not to love God the Lord our God with our minds as well as our hearts and souls…. We have excused this with a degree of pietism and pretend that this is something other than what it is that is, sin…. Evangelicals need to repent of their refusal to think Christianly and to develop the mind of Christ. (….) The scandal of the evangelical mind is a scandal from whichever direction it is viewed. It is a scandal arising from the historical experience of an entire subculture. It is a scandal to which the shape of evangelical institutions have contributed. Most of all, it is a scandal because it scorns the good gifts of a loving God. (Noll 1994: 23)

(….) The career of Jonathan Edwards the greatest evangelical mind in American history and one of the truly seminal thinkers in Christian history of the last few centuries supports this argument, for despite his own remarkable efforts as an evangelical thinker, Edwards had no intellectual successors…. Fundamentalism, … Pentecostalism, …. [was] a disaster for the life of the mind. (Noll 1994: 24)

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Even in best-case scenario, evangelicalism, of all the religious traditions in America, observed Wolfe, “ranks dead last in intellectual stature.” Or as Noll had put it earlier, “The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind.” The fundamentalist end of the evangelical spectrum contains a culture that does indeed seem unable to distinguish between meaningful scholarship and … “gibberish.” Ken Ham places a dinosaur looking over Eve’s shoulder in the Garden of Eden exhibit at his museum. Tourists pay to look at it and leave the Creation Museum believing that what they just saw is both scientific and biblical. Tim LaHaye inserts the emergence of a common European currency into the book of Revelation; David Barton converts Ben Franklin into a Bible-believing Christian; James Dobson claims that the institution of marriage has not changed for five thousand years. Absent a more vigorous intellectual mind, such ideas take root and flourish. And their spokespersons can function as authority figures. (Randall and Giberson 2011: 243)

A 2010 study revealed provocative—and disturbing—connections between religiosity and racism. The study sought to uncover subtle connections that operate subconsciously. Few Christians—or people in general—will admit to being racist, of course, and many take offense at the suggestion of any link between their faith and racism. But researchers have found that when white evangelical college students were “religiously primed” by focusing on issues of faith, “their covert racism did increase” and they “were more likely to agree that they dislike blacks.” The researchers inferred that “religious thoughts seem to trigger racist thoughts.” Their explanation was based entirely on group identity: “religion tends to increase benevolence toward co-religionists, but can increase hostility toward outsiders.”

A 1999 study of college students in Canada, generally considered a bastion of tolerance, found that “prejudice against religious out-group members is pervasive.” The findings also suggested that “fundamentalism is particularly predictive of out-group derogation.” As of this writing, widespread demonization of Muslims is being used to promote solidarity among conservative white Americans. Such tactics are overtly political, but they are enhanced because religious identity is so powerful. (Randall and Giberson 2011, 253-254)