Culture: April 2011 Archives

Gene Fant discusses the tendency among some evangelical scholars to adopt views that are more socially acceptable in the academy at large, which sometimes involves abandoning evangelical convictions. I think that phenomenon is clearly present. There are evangelical scholars who engage with the academy and end up changing their minds on certain issues, because they are convinced by the arguments (or at least they feel convinced).

But Gene gives his take on what's going on in these cases. Such people are being intellectual golden retrievers, and he compares it to peer pressure among teenagers in Facebook. He says he's had personal conversations with a number of evangelical scholars who describe their situation as wishing they didn't have "to comport with these theological chains that prevent me from earning the approval of the larger academy".

But I couldn't imagine someone convinced by arguments against some conviction held among evangelicals seeing those evangelical convictions as chains. They would either think the Bible doesn't really require them to hold the more conservative view they've abandoned (in which case they wouldn't consider themselves chained while remaining evangelicals and adopting their more liberal view), or they would reject the evangelical convictions (and thus also not feel chained by them, since they don't care to remain evangelical). Such an intellectually honest person strikes me as unable to say the kind of statement that Gene attributes to all these people he's talked to.

So I'm trying to imagine who would. Is it someone who feels peer pressure among academics to give lip service to a view they know is false? Then why would they call it a chain, if they know it is true but feel embarrassed by it? They would call it right, and they might see the academically-respectable view as the chain, something they'd rather not have to say but feel instead as if they need to in order to be socially respected. It's hard for me to see such a person, as embarrassed as they are about their conviction that a socially-disrespected view is true, considering their commitment to the truth a chain. It's the social pressure that would be the chain.

I'm just trying to understand the psychology of someone who would say such a thing, and I'm drawing a blank. It's nearly impossible for me to imagine someone thinking such a thing. If they agree with the evangelical conviction, the social pressure would be the chain, and if they disagree with the conviction they'd see argue that they need not hold the conviction, not see it as something they have to comport with. So this kind of statement is a little baffling to me.

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