Physicist Leonard Mlodinow opens his entertaining book The Drunkard’s Walk with the story of a lottery winner whose lucky ticket ended with the number 48.[1]  However, according to the contestant, luck had nothing to do with it. Claiming clairvoyance, they dreamt the number seven for seven straight nights. “And 7 x 7,” the winner proudly declared, “is 48.”

Mlodinow’s book challenges the human proclivity to superimpose our own made-up stories onto the grid of day-to-day randomness.  While elements of the book are contestable, his point that we are quick to understand and explain the world in ways that conveniently align with our ideological commitments, beliefs, and values is an observation which seems both accurate and timely.

The inclination to narrate reality in a self-serving manner seems endemic, with growing momentum in recent decades.  In his 1981 book “After Virtue” — Philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre described western culture as increasingly characterized by emotivism, or “the doctrine that all evaluative judgments are nothing but expressions of preference…of attitude or feeling.”[2]  Drain the world of universal norms, and moral pronouncements become mere statements about our tastes or emotions — regardless of how loud or passionate they are expressed.

In such an environment, the invitation to “reason together” appears quaint and unrealistic. Political economist William Davies has recently argued that expertise and evidence are no longer sufficient to adjudicate disagreement.[3] Reason has been seized by emotion — and truth-claims have more to do with what is trending than what is factual.  In a popular 2018 article, Andrew Sullivan suggested that politics — particularly illiberal politics — has come to be the dominant religion in the United States.[4]  When political commitments ossify, arguments are evaluated based upon their conclusion (not the other way around), and nuance is tantamount to hypocrisy or betrayal. Sullivan, himself, is a good example of this. An outspoken Trump critic, climate activist, supporter of same-sex marriage, transgender advocate, and Biden apologist — Sullivan was fired from Vox for, in his words, being too “conservative.”[5]

America’s Democratic project has always managed to harbor competing interests between groups and peoples, but today’s rigid and hostile posture of one political group against another has heightened to a level that threatens the conditions necessary for a democracy to exist and thrive. In a Fall 2021 poll,  80% of Biden voters and 84% of Trump voters indicated that they view elected officials from the opposing party “as presenting a clear and present danger to American democracy.”[6] This is beyond the “agree to disagree” kind of pluralism that has marked US history. In other words, such disdain between political parties is less like groups who see the world differently and more symptomatic of groups who see different worlds.

In a 2018 interview, former President Barack Obama named our inability to “share a common baseline of facts” as our most pressing challenge.[7] When truth is selectively assembled — and not collectively discovered — not only does this threaten democracy, but our very capacity to live coherently.

Some might describe the problem in terms of eroding language. Three-quarters of a century ago, George Orwell suggested the word Fascism has now no meaning except in so far as it signifies ‘something not desirable’.”[8]  Boogeyman expressions like Right-Wing, Ideologue, or Elitist have provided intellectual off-ramps for thoughtfully engaging an idea by painting it with a generic, negative label. 20th Century British author Susan Stebbing calls this “potted thinking” (named after conveniently packaged meat that lacks nourishment) — or the use of oversimplified language that side-steps norms of intellectual discourse and reasoned argumentation. “We are sometimes too lazy, usually too busy, and often too ignorant,” she writes, “to think out what is involved in the statements we so readily accept.”[9]

Not only does potted thinking avoid intellectual engagement — it signals ideological membership.  Author Marilyn McEntyre suggests that reducing complex issues to trite expressions — what she calls “sloganeering”— becomes “the currency that people exchange to decide that they’re in the same club.”[10] As an example, in the heart of COVID-19, a board member of a large church told me mask wearers were labeled as “fear-mongers” from one group and non-mask wearers were described as “murderers” by another. Extreme language like this is thoughtless and unhelpful, yes, but it serves to signal friends and foes on the ideological battlefield.

Sloganeering is not the cause of our politically polarized landscape, but it has certainly advanced it. Moreover, social and political sorting will continue to expand through increasingly realistic “deep fake” media, news outlets whose business model elevates “clicks” over accuracy, and advanced algorithms that shock the limbic system with outrage content and unwittingly guide us into echo chambers that reinforce and rigidify our ideology.[11]

In this sense, the thoughts and judgments we possess are not necessarily “ours.”  Edward Bernays understood this. The nephew of Sigmund Freud opens his 1928 book “Propaganda” with this observation: “We are governed, our minds molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of.”[12]  While Bernays was making a descriptive statement about human beings as inherently susceptible to emotional manipulation through clever messaging and spin, he would come to be shocked years later when he discovered that Nazis had employed his ideas in their campaign against Jews.

Aside from technology, social media, disordered business models, and misleading propaganda — humans are hardwired for this. In his account of the scientific method, Novum Organum, the influential 16th Century thinker Francis Bacon outlined “Idols of the Tribe” — the innate human tendency to trust our perceptions when in reality they represent a “false mirror.”  In more recent decades, Psychologists such as Daniel Kahneman and Behavioral Economists such as Richard Thaler have popularized the human proclivity toward self-serving reasoning and the tendency to interpret the world in unconsciously motivated ways. Confirmation bias is our innate inclination to look for evidence that reinforces what we already believe while dismissing evidence that does not. Simply put, we are not nearly as objective as we think — and a variety of contemporary forces only complicate the problem.

To summarize, we are in a “7 x 7 = 48” kind of moment.

We might call this phenomenon motivated narration — our penchant to describe reality in a manner that serves our self-interested beliefs and intuitions and further isolates us to ideological enclaves. Among other things, motivated narration threatens the foundations of a free democracy and our capacity to reason together.

The outlook seems bleak, but there is hope. In such a moment it is worth highlighting key elements of Christian doctrine as a promising way forward.  The faith tradition provides historic yet relevant methods of thought, speech, and practice that resist the hard-wired habits and social and technological forces that advance motivated narration and the disarray that accompanies it.

While these habits of hope are incubated in a variety of Christian settings, I offer my comments in the context of Christian higher education.

The Relevant Value of Christian Higher Education

If our minds are wired to process the world around us in unconsciously partial ways — a bias that is reinforced and accelerated by various forces — what can we do?  To navigate a social, political, and cultural landscape characterized by an environment increasingly unmoored from reality and luring us to the stories we find most palatable — we need to recapture two important elements associated with thinking and knowing: self-skepticism and a healthy expression of tradition and authority.

Epistemic Humility and Skepticism of the Self

What is unique about Christian humility in education?  In an RSA talk titled “Why a 21st Century Enlightenment Needs Walls” — Social Psychologist Jonathan Haidt contrasts the norms of a university with the norms of activism.[13] In the pursuit of truth, universities rely upon claims grounded in evidence, civility, persuasion, and the appraisal of various perspectives within a knowledge field. Alternatively, activism, says Haidt, does not seek truth — but change, and sometimes demolition.  Regardless of its political makeup, norms of activism are characterized by shared direction, pressure or force, and unquestioned unity. Haidt suggests that social media has “breached the walls” of civil society, flooding and warping traditional university culture with narrow activist instincts.

The result is disorder.  In a world that no longer shares a common pursuit of objective morality, flourishing through the fulfillment of human purpose, and the discovery of truth — moral language becomes a mask for individual preferences and social life devolves into a contest for control and power. Academia is not immune to these forces. According to Haidt, the modern campus risks exchanging the pursuit and discovery of truth with an agenda of deconstruction. Evidence gives way to feelings. Pressure replaces persuasion. Viewpoint exploration is crowded out by dogmatism. Under these conditions, it becomes impossible to reason our way to a shared conclusion.

Civil society notwithstanding, this reality has already played out on college campuses. For example, a recent talk given by California Democrat and Attorney General Xavier Becerra was disrupted at Whittier College. Becerra was unable to answer pre-submitted questions amidst the raucous heckling of students who disapproved of his DACA immigration support. In that same year, Middlebury College students not only shouted down conservative guest speaker Charles Murray, but later attacked him and his entourage. Amidst the violence, Middlebury Professor Allison Stanger, who was set to debate Murray that evening, suffered a concussion. Later, in a New York Times Op-Ed, Stanger summarized the problem: “Political life and discourse in the United States is at a boiling point, and nowhere is the reaction to that more heightened than on college campuses.”[14]

So, what makes Christian education different?  People of faith are often lampooned for being intolerant or narrow-minded — sometimes for good reason. However, in the way Christians traditionally think about thinking — there are intellectual tools unique to the faith which have elevated value in this moment.

Pastor and author Tim Keller says, “What we need in this world are people that make exclusive truth claims that humble them.”[15] This is a distinct element of the Christian faith. Given the Christian anthropology of sin, there is a need for humility in our understanding as well as charity toward other ideas. Humility does not deny truth or its knowability; rather, to be humble is to recognize that, left to our own devices, the wind blows toward a distorted, self-serving view of the world.  In other words, a humble posture begins with a skepticism of self, recognizing that motivated narration is our default setting.

In their best-selling 2019 book The Coddling of the American Mind, Haidt and co-author Greg Lukianoff write about widespread cognitive distortions or “great untruths” that cripple our ability to think, reason, and live effectively together. This includes the untruth of tribalism, or the belief that “life is a battle between good people and evil people.”[16]

Christians believe humanity is social by nature (the famed preacher John Wesley, for example, described humans as “relationally constituted”). Yet our desire to affiliate is susceptible to the same contaminates of sin, including the tribalistic posture of us versus them. Here, write Haidt and Lukianoff, we are tempted to embrace an identity politics that synthesizes all relations into limited categories defined by our group: right and wrong, victim and oppressed, good and evil, etc.

The solution to in-group favoritism and out-group antagonism is humility and commonality. Specifically, in the Christian tradition, persons of faith confess their sinful nature. In contrast to us versus them is the recognition that we all miss the mark. “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure,” we read in Jeremiah 17. This is the human condition. Borrowing a phrase from the philosopher Immanuel Kant, we might describe this as the “crooked timber” view of humanity — a perspective consistent with Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s famous expression that the line between good and evil runs through every human heart.

The fallen nature of humanity is not just one belief among many in Christianity. It is a foundational doctrine. If there is no sin, there is no need for a Savior.  Remove Christ’s atonement, and you effectively short-circuit the whole of the Christian faith. To be a Christian college and university is to reinforce a “crooked timber” anthropology of humankind — substantiating the doctrines, educational paradigm, practices, and mission of these institutions.

This has implications for how we understand those with different values and opinions. Humility affords space for what Theologian Miroslav Volf has called “double vision” — or the practice of “seeing with the eyes of the others, accepting their perspective, and discovering the new significance of one’s own basic commitments.”[17] As recipients of grace, Christians are taught to extend grace to others. “When we are looking at each other through the sights of our guns,” writes Volf, “we see only the rightness of our own cause.”[18]

All of humankind is fallen, and all bear God’s image. This epistemic commitment is woven into the fabric of teaching, curriculum, and practice at faith-based institutions. It paints a picture of people possessing both a common need (fallenness) and a common dignity (Imago Dei). All fall short. All need a Savior. All are invited to God’s table. All are recipients of God’s grace.

In addition to how we understand others, humility affords us epistemic tools that are indispensable to learning. An intellectual posture of self-suspicion relies upon traditional norms of truth-seeking: robust methodology, corroborating evidence, logic, deductive argumentation, and the discipline of self-interrogation. Importantly, these norms protect against a reliance upon our own way of seeing the world, mediated through what William Blake pessimistically referred to as “the dim windows of the soul.”

Related to humility is the Christian virtue of charity. “True [viewpoint] diversity requires generosity of spirit” says Haidt.[19] Charity is not blind acceptance, just as tolerance does not suspend judgment. If truth has no fear of investigation, as Christians claim, then charity is the virtue that explores the merits of other viewpoints without wholesale acceptance or rejection. Charity allows us to entertain an idea without adopting it.

A recent national survey found that Council of Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU) students experienced more exposure to diverse ideas than their secular counterparts.[20] Specifically, two-thirds of CCCU Seniors indicated course discussions and assignments at their institutions deliberately incorporated diverse political, religious, racial, ethnic, and gender perspectives. More directly related to the notion of humility, CCCU students also scored highest among other universities for “examining the strengths and weaknesses of their own views on a topic or issue.”

Beyond Coronavirus, this season may equally be known for what Arthur Brooks describes as “the pandemic of contempt.”[21] With the potential to be harvested in Christian education, humility is not just a virtue, it is an antidote. “Blessed are the peacemakers” Jesus said in his most famous sermon. But peacemaking in a contemptuous, polarized atmosphere will require a humble and charitable life of the mind that flows against the currents of today’s discourse. “The robust Christian thought that is fostered and embraced at [Christian colleges and universities],” writes Biola University President Barry Corey, “is not just good for Christianity; it’s good for society.”[22]

Embracing Tradition and Authority

Years ago, in a conversation with a teacher who worked for a Christian institution, we discussed complicated social and political issues that arise in the classroom and how to best navigate those topics with students. Lowering their voice, they confessed, “I tell students, this is the school’s position on such and such a topic — but here is what I personally believe.” As I listened to their rationale, it was clear they viewed their employer’s theological commitments and the Christian tradition it represented as something that must be transcended or even escaped — a heavy yoke that was both oppressive and outdated. I asked them to consider what their institution’s Christian identity would be like if every teacher eschewed tradition and advised students along the lines of “what was right in their own eyes.” Would such an environment be helpful or harmful? After all, what does it mean for an institution, educational or otherwise, to carry the moniker Christian?

The teacher’s attitude seems to mirror the allergic reaction many have to notions of tradition and authority. On one level, this response is understandable. The idea of tradition strikes us as stuffy and outdated — a thoughtless tendency to do something for no other reason than “this is the way we have always done it” or what John Stuart Mill called “the despotism of custom.” Related, appeals to authority seem to carry an implication of asymmetrical power imbalances, inevitably leading to various injustices. Indeed, for many throughout the world, words like tradition and authority evoke images of harmful human practices such as honor killings, gender discrimination, female genital mutilation, housing segregation, and unequal voting rights. During a Harvard panel on justice, Historian Niall Ferguson said the word “virtue” — for all its positive imagery — reminded him of Robespierre. Dictating singular moral ends in a pluralistic society has a violent history.  “At the bottom of republican virtues,” says Ferguson, “you send people to the guillotine.”[23]

These concerns are entirely legitimate. Some traditions are misguided, wrong, harmful, or even downright bloody. The abuse of authority occurs with striking regularity.  And the effort to conserve and enforce certain societal values will always flirt with heavy-handed coercion or state perfectionist solutions.

But the response to such abuses should not attempt to escape, ignore, or dismiss tradition. Here is why.  First, skepticism or antagonism against tradition fosters naïvely anachronistic thinking — the belief that we completely and accurately discern the truth now, while those before us did not. As a conversation starter with students, I like to point out how clear the atrocities and injustices of antebellum slavery or Jim Crow laws are to us today. “So, what are we missing now,” I ask, “leading future generations to critique us and our blindness?” In other words, if the folly of those who have gone before us is obvious, will not those after us equally identify our errors? Are we not also blind to sins unique to our moment?

Second, if we rebuff the authorities outside of ourselves — this assumes we are the authority. For those who believe that tradition is something to be sloughed off, this seems a curious, if not dubious, assumption. One need not subscribe to doctrines of original sin or innate human fallibility to recognize a common historical stream of individual abuses of power and personal moral failures. In spite of the rugged individualism and Promethean hero myths that characterize the narrative arc of Western Enlightenment, history offers no shortage of cautionary examples that would suggest, contra William Ernest Henly’s red-blooded expression, we are not “masters of our fate; captains of our soul.” Lord Acton’s famous aphorism proves timeless: “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

There are better, more fruitful ways to think about tradition and authority. In his essay Sinsick, theologian Stanley Hauerwas invites readers to imagine a medical student informing their supervisor they are not really “into” anatomy. Rather, they would like to focus on people and therefore take another course in psychiatry.  Predictably, writes Hauerwas, they would swiftly be told: “We do not care what you are ‘into.’ Take anatomy or ship out.”[24]

This is a virtue of medical schools because people “believe an inadequately trained doctor might hurt them.” In other words, we would be highly skeptical to use a surgeon who cobbled together their own medical curriculum, fly on an airplane engineered in non-traditional ways, or inhabit a building whose architects broke ranks with conventional building processes. Why?  Because these authorities and traditions matter for our health and safety. Would we not think about our own social, intellectual, and moral development in the same way?  As Tish Harrison Warren summarizes, “We need to be as discerning in whom we trust with care of souls as we are with care of our bodies.”[25]

Not only does tradition provide the scaffolding to govern and guide our minds, bodies, and souls — it provides a grand narrative in which to participate. The Christian tradition is not just collected doctrine — it is a story. In contrast to Bertrand Russell’s declaration that we are “an accidental collocation of atoms”, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s dreary description of life as a “frantic steeplechase toward nothing” or Albert Camus’ suggestion that the human lot is not unlike Sisyphus meaninglessly rolling a rock up and down a hill for eternity — the Christian story is a reminder that humans are created and inhabit a created order; that we are embodied and embedded teleological creatures. Here, life is not “a tale told by an idiot…signifying nothing” — but directional, purposeful, and meaningfu l— characterized by a narrative logic.

Biblical Scholar NT Wright describes history as a multi-act play — a grand narrative that we enter during a particular time and place. But, he reminds us, our lives are not constituted by infinite spontaneity. Our agency — or “improvisation” — occurs within a storyline. Wright’s metaphor is reminiscent of Alasdair MacIntyre’s narrative portrayal of personhood and action. We enter a play, he says, that was not of our making — a drama where actors play “subordinate parts in the dramas of others, and each drama constrains the others.”[26]

The belief in, or desire for, an unbridled, unencumbered self is not only foolish, but impossible. We are all beholden to tradition and authority in some form — the question is “what tradition?” and “whose authority?”

The Christian tradition that situates us within a larger metanarrative of creation, meaning, and purpose — and impels adherents to “empty” themselves for a life of service and sacrifice out of love of God and neighbor. David Brooks, who has written about the telos crisis[27] in America, described the cultural value of Christian higher education in a recent address to leaders of Christian colleges and universities:

You have what everybody else is desperate to have: a way of talking about and educating the human person in a way that integrates faith, emotion and intellect. You have a recipe to nurture human beings who have a devoted heart, a courageous mind and a purposeful soul.[28]

Put differently, Brooks is saying you have a tradition — and in that tradition is hope, guidance, and goodness.

For Christian institutions of higher education, tradition is not something to escape — it sets the stage for our participation in a larger story — or what C.S. Lewis understood as a “finely choreographed dance.”[29] To experience freedom, identity, meaning, significance, and purpose, is — in this sense — to learn the “steps to the dance.” Christian colleges and universities recognize that students are not just res cogitans — “thinking things” — but multifaceted beings constituted by faculties and affections who inhabit a story that guides their formative direction.

Missional Spirit and Public Life

In 1954, Darrell Huff authored what has come to be the most popular book on data analysis ever written: “How to Lie with Statistics.”[30] Huff’s bestseller was a witty corrective written against a cultural atmosphere that was over-reliant on data, science, and expert information. As Economist Tim Harford writes, in the decades since writing his book, Huff’s cynicism seems to be the standard response to reasoning upon our world — not the exception:

“It’s not that we feel every statistic is a lie, but that we feel helpless to pick out the truths,” writes Harford. “So we believe whatever we want to believe…and for the rest we adopt Huff’s response: a harsh laugh, a shrug, or both.”[31]

Harford puts his finger on our present moment — we are not a society overly dependent upon scientism and data to adjudicate truth; we are, alternatively, over-dependent and over-confident in our self-authorizing vision of the world. As argued, the pitfalls of this reliance, and the motivated narration it fosters, can be addressed through a humble self-skepticism and the guardrails of tradition.

At this point, a mindful reader may predictably and legitimately raise an obvious critique. It is not clear that contemporary expressions of the Christian faith — in its institutions of higher education, churches, and other various ministries — has successfully embraced and embodied the aforementioned attributes to best address or escape the problem of motivated narration.

Where US culture used to — at worst — view Christians as strange or puritanical, today people of faith are often vilified as narrow, polarizing, or hateful. The future of all private education hinges on reputation, but Christian higher education has its own perception challenges.

One challenge is intellectual. In the nearly three decades after Historian Mark Noll wrote The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind — his book tracing the erosion of critical thinking and reason in modern evangelicalism — what has changed?  According to journalist Michael Luo, not much. In a recent New Yorker article, Luo suggests that Evangelicalism has come to be defined by anti-intellectualism — not robust norms of truth seeking or the thoughtful guidance of generational voices from within our tradition.[32] In contrast, Evangelicalism today reflects a cultural amnesia associated with fantastical conspiracy theories or prophecy hued in politics.

In January of 2021, an American Enterprise Institute survey found that a staggering 27% of white evangelicals described QAnon conspiracy theories as “completely or mostly accurate.”[33] More recently, findings from the 2021 American Values Survey revealed top issues of concern for self-described white evangelicals to be terrorism, immigration, and the federal deficit (concerns that correlate poorly to the priorities of Jesus Christ and the early church).[34]

A related challenge for faith-based schools is defining what the moniker “Christian” means. It is increasingly difficult to understand Christians as a monolithic group constituted by a uniform tradition of shared aims and practices. In recent years, the word “Evangelical” has been critically analyzed for its increasing ambiguity. Political analyst Ross Douthat and scholar Darren Guerra describe various “fault lines” or sub-categories among those who profess to be an evangelical.[35] At a more granular level, Michael Graham has identified six fractures that characterize a recent sorting process in evangelicalism — from the “neo-fundamentalist evangelical” to the “ex-vangelical” who has left the church and the faith.[36]

These are challenges both for Christian higher education and for the church — and they are significant. Yet these challenges do not necessarily illuminate the contamination of Christian tradition so much as they signal its absence. At the heart of the Christian doctrine is the recognition that we are fallen, sinfully self-centered, and in need of a savior. Among other things, this anthropological understanding is a recognition of our proclivity to motivated narration and our innate desires to affix ourselves to politically palatable views that align with our preferences. We all have the innate tendency to proclaim that “7 x 7 = 48.”

Striking as these challenges are, they do not invalidate the need for a humble thought life cultivated in Christian tradition so much as they demand its renewal and expression. Institutions of Christian higher education have a unique opportunity to lean into timeless doctrinal elements of their faith tradition — which have a timely relevance to our present 21st Century moment and the self-governance necessary for our nation to function and flourish.

This speaks to a final point to be made about the value of Christian colleges and universities — the missional spirit they cultivate in their students. Students from Christian schools are compelled to bend the universe in favor of the common good — neighbor, widow, orphan, and alien. Motivated by the conviction that all people are made in God’s image, students prepare themselves to serve humanity through creativity, imagination, compassion, love, and the excellence of their work.

Christian schools have come to be synonymous with service. In 2020, the think-tank Cardus produced a higher education report revealing that approximately two-thirds of students from Christian colleges indicated that entering jobs which “directly help others” was a high priority — a figure greater than students at non-Christian schools. The study also found a heightened sense of moral obligation, attention to creation care, and the fulfillment of vocational calling for Christian college students. CCCU schools prepare their graduates to enter a broad range of job fields, but perhaps more importantly, they inspire a sense of moral commitment in a coherent, faithful manner.[37]

While not limited to these areas, Christian schools have an opportunity to serve through the modeling of humility-inspired norms of truth seeking and through tradition-impelled meaning and purpose — not simply as a salve to heal the motivated narration that marks our public discourse — but as a service compelled by faith in God and Christian doctrine.

This is not a call to ‘Christianize’ all institutions — but it is an argument that Christian colleges and universities have an important role to play in public life. A liberal democracy presupposes disagreement, but it also presupposes persuasion.  Underneath persuasion is the implicit assumption that some ideas are superior to others.  The pursuit of truth has always been a fundamental property of liberal education—and in our present condition of fractured discourse and motivated narration—Christian schools provide a unique value.  Or, as C.S. Lewis once observed, Christians who made noteworthy contributions in this world were “precisely those who thought most of the next.”

Published in Mere Orthodoxy‘s second print edition. To support our work and receive future editions, subscribe today.

Footnotes

  1. Mlodinow, L. (2009). The Drunkard’s Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives. New York: Vintage.
  2. MacIntyre, A. (2013). After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory (Paperback ed.). London, New York: Bloomsbury (p. 13).
  3. See Davies, W. (2019). Nervous States: Democracy and the Decline of Reason. London: WW Norton & Co.
  4. Sullivan, A. (2018, December 8th). America’s New Religions. Intelligencer. Retrieved from https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2018/12/andrew-sullivan-americas-new-religions.html
  5. Sullivan, A. (2020, July 17th). See You Next Friday: A Farewell Letter. Intelligencer. Retrieved from https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2020/07/andrew-sullivan-see-you-next-friday.html
  6. UVA Center for Politics. (2021, September 30th). New Initiative Explores Deep, Persistent Divides Between Biden and Trump Voters. Sabato’s Crystal Ball. Retrieved from https://centerforpolitics.org/crystalball/articles/new-initiative-explores-deep-persistent-divides-between-biden-and-trump-voters/
  7. Estepa, J., & Korte, G. (2018, January 12th). Obama tells David Letterman: People no longer agree on what facts are. USA Today. Retrieved from Obama tells David Letterman: People no longer agree on what facts are
  8. Orwell, G. (n.d.). Politics and the English Language. The Orwell Foundation. Retrieved from https://www.orwellfoundation.com/the-orwell-foundation/orwell/essays-and-other-works/politics-and-the-english-language/
  9. Stebbing, S. (1939). Thinking to Some Purpose. New York: Pelican (p. 53).
  10. The Trinity Forum. (2020, July 17th). Online Conversation | Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies, with Marilyn McEntyre . Retrieved from https://www.ttf.org/portfolios/online-conversation-caring-for-words-marilyn-mcentyre/
  11. Hagey, K., & Horwitz, J. (2021, September 15th). Facebook Tried to Make Its Platform a Healthier Place. It Got Angrier Instead. . The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from https://www.wsj.com/articles/facebook-algorithm-change-zuckerberg-11631654215
  12. Bernays, E. (2004). Propaganda (First Paperback Edition ed.). Brooklyn, New York: IG Publishing (p. 37).
  13. Haidt, J. (2018, November 20th). Why a 21st Century Enlightenment Needs Walls. RSA. Retrieved from https://www.thersa.org/events/2018/11/why-a-21st-century-enlightenment-needs-walls
  14. Stanger, A. (2017, March 13th). Understanding the Angry Mob at Middlebury that Gave Me a Concussion. The New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/13/opinion/understanding-the-angry-mob-that-gave-me-a-concussion.html
  15. Keller, T. (n.d.). Is Christianity Divisive? The Veritas Forum. Retrieved from https://podcasts.apple.com/au/podcast/is-christianity-divisive-tim-keller/id1210782509?i=1000497317696
  16. See Lukianoff, G., & Haidt, J. (2018). The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure. New York: Penguin Press.
  17. Volf, M. (2010). Exclusion and Embrace. Nashville: Abingdon Press (pp. 213-214)
  18. Ibid, p. 215
  19. Haidt, J. (2017). Viewpoint Diversity in the Academy. Retrieved from https://jonathanhaidt.com/viewpoint-diversity/
  20. The Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. (2018). The Case for Christian Higher Education. CCCU. Retrieved from https://www.cccu.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/2018-Case-for-CHE_WEB_pages.pdf
  21. Brooks, A. (2019). Love Your Enemies: How Decent People Can Save America from Our Culture of Contempt. New York: Broadside Books.
  22. Barry H. Corey, “Christian Colleges and Universities Are Good for Society,” Amazon Web Services, 2016, http://lpc-docs.s3.amazonaws.com/ lpc_docs_BarryCorey_op-ed.pdf.
  23. Ireland, C. (2009, September 9th). Getting justice right. The Harvard Gazette. Retrieved from https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2009/09/getting-justice-right/
  24. Hauerwas, S. (2000). Sinsick. In C. Braaten, & R. Jenson, Sin, Death, and the Devil (pp. 7-21). Grand Rapids: Eerdmans (p. 9).
  25. Warren, T. H. (2017, April 27th). Who’s In Charge of the Christian Blogosphere? Christianity Today. Retrieved from https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2017/april-web-only/whos-in-charge-of-christian-blogosphere.html
  26. MacIntyre, A. (2013). After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory (Paperback ed.). London, New York: Bloomsbury (p. 248).
  27. Brooks, D. (2017, March 21st). The Unifying American Story. The New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/21/opinion/the-unifying-american-story.html
  28. Brooks, D. (2016). The Cultural Value of Christian Higher Education. Council of Christian Colleges and Universities Magazine. Retrieved from https://www.cccu.org/magazine/cultural-value-christian-higher-education/
  29. Howard, T. (n.d.). The “Moral Mythology” of C. S. Lewis. Retrieved from https://memoriacollege.org/the-moral-mythology-of-c-s-lewis/
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  32. Luo, M. (2021, March 4th). The Wasting of the Evangelical Mind. The New Yorker. Retrieved from https://www.newyorker.com/news/daily-comment/the-wasting-of-the-evangelical-mind
  33. Jenkins, J. (2021, February 11th). QAnon Conspiracies Sway Faith Groups, Including 1 in 4 White Evangelicals . Christianity Today. Retrieved from https://www.christianitytoday.com/news/2021/february/white-evangelicals-qanon-election-conspiracy-trump-aei.html
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Posted by Kevin Brown

Kevin Brown is the president of Asbury University.

5 Comments

  1. Dr. Brown appears to be a man of the center-left: a Joe Manchin, if you will. Although he acknowledges Trump-supporting evangelicals are his brothers in Christ, he makes no secret of his disdain for them. In his opinion, they are anti-intellectual. How does he know? Well, that’s what other center-left pundits say. (People who think like me agree with me, so I must be correct.) Thus, he is not surprised to read, and he readily believes, Trump-supporting evangelicals affirm “QAnon conspiracy theories.” Nor is he surprised to learn they do not share his political priorities (what else would you expect from anti-intellectuals?), which leads him to wonder whether they understand “the priorities of Jesus Christ and the early church.”

    How does Dr. Brown’s treatment of Trump-supporting evangelicals fare as an exercise in humble truth-seeking? Let’s see. Did he interrogate his bias against them? No. Did he set forth their views in the strongest possible form? No. Could he have presented credible evidence to support their views, especially if he had taken the time to present them fairly? Yes. Did he do so? No. What did he do? He drew a clownish caricature of his adversaries and, on the basis of his caricature, held them up to public ridicule. Is that humble truth-seeking? I leave it to Dr. Brown to answer that question.

    Reply

    1. MJ Davis, Thank you for reading the article.

      To your comments, the study showing a large majority of evangelicals subscribing to Q’Anon theories was conducted by The American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think-tank. As someone long familiar with their work, I can assure you of their rigor. Senior Fellow Daniel Cox of AEI wrote an article attempting to understand/interpret these findings. My point is that the findings do not resemble the orthodox Christian doctrine and tradition that I extol earlier in the article. Moreover, no where did I use the expression “Trump-supporting evangelicals.”

      Respectfully, your comments attribute “disdain” and politically progressive intentions that are just not present. If other readers share your interpretation, I have clearly done something wrong in my writing. My political agenda is simple: “Jesus is Lord.”

      Reply

      1. Apologies, I should have said a “large percentage” not “majority.” (a bit over a quarter polled)

        Reply

  2. You respond by saying, in part, “My point is that the findings do not resemble the orthodox Christian doctrine and tradition that I extol earlier in the article.” To which I reply, the findings are based upon a number of controversial assumptions. I don’t think you tested the assumptions as carefully as you should have. That is to say, I don’t think you fulfilled the requirements of epistemic humility. Which is why I am skeptical of your allegation, “Evangelicalism today reflects a cultural amnesia associated with fantastical conspiracy theories . . . .” In my opinion, your allegation is a textbook example of “motivated narration.”

    Reply

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