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RWF (2): Evangelicals

December 6, 2016

Who are those guys? Answer: “More than a quarter (26 percent) of Indianans [Hoosiers] identified as white evangelical protestants, according to the Public Religion Research Institute’s American Values Atlas. That’s the ninth-highest concentration of evangelicals nationwide, and almost nine points higher than the national average of 17.3 percent. In the 2012 election, exit polls recorded that fully 35 percent of Indiana voters identified as white, born-again Christians.” Those are the people who elected Mike Pence to Congress (in my old Congressional district).

Rural White Fundamentalists of the Rust Belt went 81-16 Trump/Pence. Perhaps the Democrats are to blame for that, because Dems failed to reach them, to persuade them that their interests would be better served by a Dem administration. But the author of an essay in Raw Story, who knows the RWF community from the inside, thinks otherwise:

The real problem is rural America doesn’t understand the causes of their own situations and fears and they have shown no interest in finding out. They don’t want to know why they feel the way they do or why they are struggling because they don’t want to admit it is in large part because of choices they’ve made and horrible things they’ve allowed themselves to believe.

Here I want to present and comment on a few of this author’s main ideas. The essay provides much more detail, with excellent examples and illustrations. Because it was first published in Forsetti’s Justice, I’ll call its author FJ. He provides this intro to himself:

I grew up in rural, Christian, white America. You’d be hard-pressed to find an area in the country that has a higher percentage of Christians or whites. I spent most of the first 24 years of my life deeply embedded in this culture. I religiously (pun intended) attended their Christian services. I worked off and on, on their rural farms. I dated their calico skirted daughters. I camped, hunted, and fished with their sons. I listened to their political rants at the local diner and truck stop. I winced at their racist/bigoted jokes and epithets that were said more out of ignorance than animosity. I have also watched the town I grew up in go from a robust economy with well-kept homes and infrastructure turn into a struggling economy with shuttered businesses, dilapidated homes, and a broken down infrastructure over the past 30 years.

We note, of course, that this does not describe all Christians (nor does Waldman, on page 1, describe all white workers); but I gather that FJ is talking about Rural White Fundamentalists, especially in the Midwest, like those I’ve known in IN. He suggests that these folks’ struggles, and their support of Trump (I’d say their votes for Pence, one of their own) are caused by their own refusal to entertain any idea or fact that would challenge their faith-based worldview. I think that in their community mindset, and especially in their families, that worldview is what makes them themselves, and righteously so. For them, it is what orders and gives meaning to life; and it is the vital interest that they use their political power, the vote, to express and defend.

It is FJ’s observation that the RWFs’ way of thinking is so closed that they refuse to hear any idea or fact that is outside it, or that comes from someone who is outside their community of faith. Furthermore, anyone who offers a view that runs counter to their set of beliefs is immediately identified as an outsider, and is, at the least, suspect. Even dangerous.

I’ll point out that many Christians believe that there is knowledge, on the one hand, and (or but) there is faith on the other. Faith is considered to be a way of knowing (even by mainstream theologians); indeed it is the only way of knowing what is most important about life, the working of God in the human soul. Faith is what the Puritan theologian, Jonathan Edwards called, in 1734, a “divine and supernatural light” that makes spiritual knowledge possible.   Edwards, however, was also a scientist, and he taught that God endowed humanity with a “natural light,” reason, with which to know the truths of nature. Grace, then, = NL + DSL.

As I understand it, however, for RWFs all knowledge is obtained through faith, as it informs both human understanding of God’s Word and human observation of His creation. It is how they know truth—the only truth.

Knowledge that is not informed by faith, i.e. is acquired only through reason, might affirm what is known by faith, or it might challenge it. But such a challenge is without merit, on its face. Furthermore, such “knowledge” opens the soul to corruption by the devil. Yep, he’s real, and very very active.

RWFs hold a knowledge of life, i.e. a knowledge of God in their lives, that is known only by the truly faithful, which is to say (as for the Puritans), by God’s chosen people, themselves. Adherence to that truth requires holding to a set of beliefs. RWF preachers teach a set of beliefs and behaviors that follow from those beliefs, and that manifest faith. A major example is intolerance of abortion (see page 1).

Another is dismissal of the idea of evolution. RWFs know from their preachers and their bibles that such an idea is foolish. If you espouse it, you demonstrate that you are foolish—and that you are not a person of the faith. In a university where I taught, RWF students politely and silently ignored such foolishness, in order to get their degree, and to protect themselves from the ungodly and Satan. [Here’s a more interesting take on that classroom situation and professor/student dynamics.]

Another example is denial of global warming. God is not a trickster, he does not joke with His creation; He is in control, and it makes no sense to think that he would be so destructive and upsetting. Unless it’s the End Times.

For some RWFs, another example is insistence on the superiority of white people, because God created His people in His image. Everyone knows that God is white. He has given the purest of His children his greatest gift, knowledge of Him through eyes opened by faith; and the people with that faith are white. You can’t argue with that. Just look around you.

So, as FJ points out, you are wasting your time if you try to argue these points. You are arguing against God, God’s holy Word, and God’s people.

FJ observes, furthermore, that change is anathema to RWFs. For one thing, they rarely experience it. But mainly, their system of thought is complete as revealed, so there is no reason why it would change. It can not be changed by an unfaithful outsider. Change from inside does happen, but only rarely, when something personal happens within the community, or especially within a family. Then behavior might be modified, but only to the minimum. Or, the troublesome person might be cast out.

Another possibility, but more rare, is inexorable change by an entire community, caused by change throughout society under conditions such as the Great Depression.

But FJ points out that RWF communities are, nevertheless, quite vulnerable to damage by propaganda, because once a thought (such as the crookedness of an ungodly Hillary) is admitted in, on the basis, for instance, of its source being accepted as godly, it can wreck general havoc. Because:

Without built-in protective functions like critical analysis, self-reflection, openness to counter-evidence, willingness to re-evaluate any and all beliefs, etc., bad information in a closed-off system ends up doing massive damage in a short period of time….If someone is allowed into a closed-off system and their information is deemed acceptable, anything they say will readily be accepted and become gospel.

Exploitative persons become allowed as experts because they sell themselves as faithful, and they say what the RWFs want to hear. They also tell the RWFs that they are under threat from everyone on the outside. They provide false ideas and details that support politically biased interpretations of events, and they target scapegoats.

To end his essay, FJ provides an excellent list of characteristics of RWF life, that RWFs refuse to see.

[Page 1 of this episode. On the next page I’ll present some of Lakoff’s main ideas about these mindsets or “world views.”  Then thoughts about Vance, Hillbilly Elegy, and reflections.]

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