7.21.2009

Portland's Unholy Alliance of Evangelicals and Progressives

"Stereotypes simply don't apply these days in Portland, Ore.," writes a USA Today blogger. He describes a recent development where conservative Christian evangelicals--of the mega-church variety--have partnered with one of the most progressive cities in the country, for the "second annual Season of Service, a church-city partnership to serve the homeless and other suffering people."

To set the stage, he describes Portland this way:
This city, it would seem, is the last place where evangelical Christianity would show its brightest colors. The Rose City sports an ultrasecular reputation. ... Regional land and transportation planning is so progressive that conservative pundit George Will has likened the Portland ethos to a disease, worrying in a column about it "metastasizing" to other parts of the country. [bold added]
How has evangelical Christianity wormed its way into a secular city? The author spends much of the second half of his piece describing how the mega-church has done it, saying things like "history teaches that the church is often at its vibrant best in competitive, pluralistic environments," and attributing its recent success with its non-preachy outreach efforts. Before he gets into the boring details, however, he unwittingly touches upon the much more fundamental issue of why a progressive city could happily partner with their supposed cultural nemeses, the evangelicals, and what this means for the future of Christianity in our culture:
Although Portland is hardly the only place where evangelical Christianity is evolving (and making new friends in the process), there is little doubt that evangelicals here are on the front end of a deep-change trend that is taking Christianity into its new future. What's especially interesting is the "why?" — the strong likelihood that Christianity's best face is showing up here in the unchurched mecca not in spite of the city's secularism and skepticism, but because of them. [emphasis in original]
It should not be surprising that the moral vacuum created by the nihilism of the left--the "city's secularism and skepticism" noted by the author--is driving people to the only alternative they know of: Christian altruism. That the progressives in this example are already gleefully practicing altruists, added to the fact that man requires moral standards whether he recognizes that fact or not, means that the denial of any objective moral code by the progressives makes them ripe candidates to be subsumed by their more philosophically consistent brethren. Of course, the Christians don't offer an objective moral code grounded in the facts of reality and the nature of man--only rational egoism is such an objective moral code--but because progressives deny the existence of objective truth to begin with...

The author holds that Christianity's "best face" is consistent self-sacrifice, service, and "preaching through idealistic action rather than pious words," and that this is the current transformation Evangelicalism is undergoing. By being less preachy, they are more acceptable to secular skeptics. Because they both share sacrifice of the one to the many as the moral ideal, they are thus more willing to create "church-city partnership[s]."

Although this concept is similar to the government-church integration implicit in the "Faith-Based Organizations" introduced by George Bush, this "church-city partnership" is different in two crucial aspects: its grassroots, independent nature, and the fact that it is happening in one of the most leftist cities in the country. This phrase should chill the blood of anyone who values liberty. It shows the path to theocracy. When we add in the other trend of merging environmentalism and Christianity (the "stewards of the earth" idea), the picture that emerges is truly frightening.

3 comments:

Burgess Laughlin said...

1. Thank you for drawing attention to this article and the situation it describes. I have lived in or around downtown Portland, Oregon for 35 years. I can confirm the article's general theme: the upsurge in conservatives partnering with progressive, presumably secular, altruists.

There is a further fact that the article doesn't discuss: The role of progressive religionists. They have long been active in local political movements -- some Protestants, some Catholics, some Jews, and some Muslims.

Seeing conservative leftists and progressive leftists working together, often toward the same goals in principle, is frightening.

2. The article mentions Rodney Stark, a university professor in Ft. Worth. He is a Christian intellectual who is arming Christians with intellectual ammunition drawn (illogically) from history. In The Objective Standard, Andy Bernstein critiques one of Stark's many books.

3. I live about five blocks from the Waterfront Park where Palau conducts his Christian festivals -- drawing as many as 100,000 people. I have walked by these festivals on my regular walks. The "energy" level is very high. The mood is ebullient because of The Good News. (Jesus has come to Earth to save our souls, you see).

For those who don't know: "Evangelism" comes from the Greek words, _eu_- and _angelion_, that mean essentially "good message" (which is what an "angel" is, a messenger from God).

To me, as a long-term student of history, that high energy level is frightening, but I suspect the very same mood is part of the attraction of evangelism -- in contrast to the often sour outlook of progressive secularists, especially the disintegrative types (as Dr. Peikoff has noted in his DIM hypothesis lectures).

C. August said...

Thanks for the comments, Burgess. I was hoping to get some input from people familiar with Portland. And I can only imagine how frightening and disheartening the spectacle of 100,000 people yearning for rapture might be.

It's interesting that you bring up the reference to Rodney Stark. I haven't read Andy Bernstein's review, but I certainly noted the historical reference in the article I linked to. Here it is:

In his religious history book Discovering God, Rodney Stark, a Christian, points out that the church, over the centuries, has often lost its way when it has been in charge of countries and cultures. Think Western Europe at various points in its history, where the church's dominant status correlated with periods of arrogance and listless participation.

This evaluates the church in terms of how effective it has historically been at... what, exactly? Ruling benevolently when in power? This meshes nicely with the rest of the USA Today article, which lauds the church for its pluck and determination as the power underdogs.

But what really stood out to me was the depth--or perhaps shallowness--of the historical example in the quote. Again, "Think Western Europe ... where the church's dominant status correlated with periods of arrogance and listless participation." When was the church most dominant in Western Europe in the last 2000 years? The Dark Ages. Was the problem with the Dark Ages that the "dominant status" of the church led to "periods of arrogance and listless participation" in the church? Or was it an utter stifling of reason, and the near obliteration of all that made Western Civilization possible, precisely because of the dominance of the church?

Clearly, and I need not spell this out to most readers of this blog, it was the dominance of the church--namely of the specific malignancy of the Christian religion (not that Islam is any better) and the mystical worldview in general--that caused, propagated, and deepened the horror that was the Dark Ages. This was not "arrogance" or "listless participation," but instead the purposeful stamping out of man's only means of survival on earth: reason.

Reading that one paragraph in the USA Today piece almost derailed everything else I had to say because it was so terribly, horrifically wrong and unjust. Thank you for pointing me toward Bernstein's critique. I may not have gone back to that otherwise, but now I will thoroughly enjoy it.

Burgess Laughlin said...

I interpreted -- but not with confidence -- the quoted paragraph differently. I think what the author was trying to say is what Rodney Stark says clearly in The Victory of Reason. Religious movements are most energized when they are competing--that is, when no particular religion has monopolistic control of the state. Of course, that is what evangelists are best at doing: going forth to bring the word of God to the world.

Stark cites New England colonial and revolutionary times as a time when no church could gain full control of government, so they ended up deciding that none should.

Stark points out the contrast to South America which was settled by the Spanish state not by religious dissenters and commercialists operating on their own. The Church held a monopoly -- and became utterly corrupt and despised.

Please note, I am merely reporting Stark's views, some of which are horribly wrong, but others are intriguing.

He is a classic case of a conservative leftist, one who uses some of the "right" words (by Objectivist standards), but they name nonobjective ideas: free enterprise, free market, reason, and so forth. He rails against progressive leftists. Naive supporters of freedom sometimes think he is an ally. He isn't. He, like all followers of conservativism (God, Tradition, Nation, and Family), is an enemy.

Objective people reject both, of course.