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Re: [xmca] critique of pure tolerance

Ah, Andy, would that it were so simple, and therefore so easy to marginalize those you call Evangelicals. The US religious landscape of churches, beliefs, identities, and practices is about as close to maximally complex as you can imagine.

Never having had a state church, "a thousand schools of thought contend" here. It may be true that some of the established denominational churches feel threatened either theologically or financially or in terms of membership by the more extreme versions of christian fundamentalism here, but it is not at all clear that many of their members have a problem with the fundamentalists. It's hard to know. Ordinary mainstream Christians in the US would react negatively to some extreme actions (like calling gays satanists at a gay boy's funeral), and might think that certain practices are "over the top" (speaking in tongues, faith healing), but for the most part it is really hard to draw any lines between right-wing fundamentalists and what you might think of as mainstream fundamentalists, with the latter sharing many of the same beliefs, discourses, but not necessarily the same practices or politics.

My in-laws at one time were Swedish Baptists in the northern midwest of the US. In an urban/suburban community. They held most of the same beliefs as so-called Southern Baptists, who tend to be very fundamentalist and often right-wing. But they also had a very strong tradition of the separation of church and state (from the religious side, not the civil side) and felt that christians should not be trying to legislate their moral beliefs through political action. They would certainly have met all the criteria for being "evangelicals". But politically I would have called them "progressives". Within their denomination there would have been the full political spectrum from right to left.

There are hundreds of such denominations in the US, and except for a few national churches, individual congregations tend to have wide latitude in beliefs and practices, beyond some very basic common elements. Even in big churches like the Episcopalians (Anglican church in the US), there are internal divides, with a majority being left-progressive on social issues (but Republicans otherwise) and yet large minorities being conservative on those same issues (famously divided over openly gay clergy, gay marriage, etc. these days).

The bigger the denomination the more internal diversity, ranging from fundamentalist to left-liberal in nearly all of them. American Catholics are certainly as divided as any other group, even though they have the most unity historically. There are probably not too many "evangelical" (i.e. radical fundamentalist) Catholics, if only because that movement is seen as essentially Protestant (and rather covertly anti-Catholic).

As with many things political, I would question the "logic" by which core beliefs like biblical literalism get connected to particular social-political policies. The bible can be read just as literally to the left as to the right, and it is only as the result of particular historical struggles that "evangelicals" wind up supporting Bush instead of being radical leftists. History cannot be undone, but neither is it at its end quite yet. I hope.


Jay Lemke
Professor (Adjunct, 2009-2010)
Educational Studies
University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI 48109

Visiting Scholar
Laboratory for Comparative Human Communication
University of California -- San Diego
La Jolla, CA
USA 92093

On Dec 28, 2009, at 7:36 PM, Andy Blunden wrote:

> These are questions which really intrigue me Jay. I was interested in the "Jesus was a critical thinker" line, but actually I think it reeks of strategic rhetoric and is not viable. We can promote critical thinking though, and let a Christian claim that Jesus was a critical thinker if they want to defend it.
> Question: Do you Americans think that it is feasible to draw a line between Evangelical Christians (Intelligent Design etc) and Christians who belong to mainstream churches (which have harboured science for 600 years)? Anglicans, Catholics, Presbyterians etc., are as threatened by Charismatic Christianity as are secular people, and I would have thought that approaches which patently put Evangelicals off-side but appealed to Christians with a plausible theology would be a good basis for ground rules.
> Andy
> Jay Lemke wrote:
>> On the ethics of engaging respectfully with positions you really strongly disagree with.
>> Recap: some of us are trying to figure out effective ways to challenge conservative/oppressive discourses about education and other matters in ways that are not as likely to be marginalized as many left rhetorical strategies have become in many places and for many audiences.
>> One strategy might be to see what the core values and discourses of those to whom our opponents appeal might say that is more to our way of thinking. For example, what Christian discourse may say that is in favor of critical thinking, or against the priority of decontextualized learning, or just against the "gospel of prosperity" (which, if you haven't seen recent news interest in this is an explicit movement in fundamentalist US christianity that says God wants you to get rich).
>> In doing so, however, we tread the slippery slope. Historically the Anglo-Saxon left has been rather purist, and its internal squabbles have mainly been over who is more perfectly marxist/democratic/etc. Leaving not much room to develop discourses that overlap or penetrate those of the non-left majority (who in the US are also mostly non-right). Something different happened in Latin America, where a fusion of Catholic populism and left communitarianism did a much better job of appealing to both rural populations and university intellectuals (Freire as a case in point, but he is part of a much larger discourse tradition). As I recall a few popes have actually condemned Latin American bishops for being too leftist. So they must have been getting something right. :-)
>> Nonetheless, the fear is that we might lend credibility to oppressive discourses by speaking partly within their discursive worlds. That is probably a justifiable concern, given Bakhtin's close linkage in the notion of heteroglossia (diversity of discursive worlds, or "social voices") of ways of describing the world and ways of valuing it. But to my mind communication is not about conversion, nor indeed even about being right. It is about establishing new cross-difference discourses that produce surprising ideas and values. I have always thought that there was rather too much missionary spirit in leftist discourse, that it remained uncomfortably close to christian messianic and evangelical models. The problem with this being that it assumes an end to history, that answers are known, and so there is no real incentive for a dialogue in which one is open to learn with one's interlocutors. So, yes, there is risk, but there is also much to gain. BTW, is there a good history of "critical thinking"? someone must believe it was invented in the Englightenment, or in the Renaissance, or by the 400 BC Greeks, by the Jews (when?), by the Chinese (when?). If we are going to claim that Jesus or Buddha exemplified critical thinking, are we also going to believe it's true?
>> JAY.
>> Jay Lemke
>> Professor (Adjunct, 2009-2010)
>> Educational Studies
>> University of Michigan
>> Ann Arbor, MI 48109
>> www.umich.edu/~jaylemke Visiting Scholar
>> Laboratory for Comparative Human Communication
>> University of California -- San Diego
>> La Jolla, CA
>> USA 92093
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> -- 
> ------------------------------------------------------------------------
> Andy Blunden http://home.mira.net/~andy/ +61 3 9380 9435 Skype andy.blunden
> Hegel's Logic with a Foreword by Andy Blunden:
> http://www.marxists.org/admin/books/index.htm
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