Monday, February 11, 2019

The unFaith - Never Had It, Never Will!

I still haven't read Southern Baptist divine R. Albert Mohler Jr.'s We Cannot Be Silent: Speaking Truth to a Culture Redefining Sex, Marriage, and the Very Meaning of Right and Wrong (Thomas Nelson, 2015), but I promise you solemnly, this generation shall not pass away before I do so and write about it here.

Meanwhile, I happened on unChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity ... and Why It Matters (Baker, 2007) by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons.  The authors worked for years for the Barna Group, an evangelical polling organization, and Kinnaman is currently its president.  Early in his career, Kinnaman set out to explore why younger Americans don't find conservative Christianity appealing; unChristian is his first book based on the research he conducted.  As you can see, it's somewhat dated by now: it was published during the second Bush administration, before Obama became President, before the Supreme Court struck down laws against same-sex marriage, before conservative evangelicals sold their souls to So-called Donald J. Trump, and as younger people have continued to defect from Christianity in most of its denominations.  Since 2007 Kinnaman and Lyons have published two more books on the same issue, most recently in 2016.  It'll be interesting to see how the spiel has developed, but I'm not in a great hurry to find out.

The reasons their informants gave Kinnaman and Lyons for rejecting born-again Christianity were pretty predictable.  Anyone who's listened to people talking about religion will have heard them: Christians are judgmental, hypocritical, too "political," they only pretend to like you so they can try to convert you.  The authors fret about these complaints, acknowledge that they are not unfounded, and urge lay Christians and clergy to adjust their approach.  They fill out the book with contributions by numerous evangelical writers, ranging from Charles Colson to Jim Wallis, mainly infomercials for their various ministries. These are very upbeat, but if they're doing so well, why do the numbers of churched Christians continue to dwindle?  There's nothing radical here, Kinnaman and Lyons are just rearranging the deck chairs in hopes that the right configuration will make the Titanic float again.

There's even an entire chapter devoted to Christians' treatment of LGBTQ people, and it too is what I expected.  I'll discuss it in more detail later this week -- surely that post is coming quickly -- but basically it warns against having "God Hates Fags" on the walls of your church or youth ministry's coffeehouse.  Daring, that, but almost willfully irrelevant. Very few American Christians, even the most reactionary, regard Westboro Baptist Church as a role model; they mainly use WBC as a bogeyman to show how much nicer they are. (That, I think, is what Kinnaman and Lyons are doing.) I don't blame them, since the alternative would be to rethink Christian teaching on sexuality altogether.  More on that soon; I think this issue deserves a post of its own.

While gender and sexuality are indeed hot issues for young people, it's noteworthy that Kinnaman and Lyons barely touch on race.  There's one anecdote, on page 190, about a pastor who excluded (presumably) black teens from a church youth concert in California, and a concession that "Unfortunately, stemming from our common sin nature, Christians continue to harbor prejudices regarding race, age, gender, and intelligence."  They encourage Christians to be "willing to talk with Christians of different racial and ethnic backgrounds about their political persuasions" (169), but that's about it.  From this I infer that they imagine their readers to be white, of Western European descent, which bespeaks a serious lack of imagination on their part, especially since most born-again Christians in the US are African-American males.  Nor do they show any awareness of the role white evangelicals have played in the promotion and defense of white supremacy in this country.  Once again I thought of the scholar James Barr's judgment that " the conservative evangelical view of sex and marriage, far from being haunted by sin and guilt, is light and superficial."*  I'd say that such superficiality extends to conservative evangelical views of race and other social issues, and there's nothing in UnChristian to indicate otherwise.

Kinnaman and Lyons also insist on the intellectual cred of evangelicals today.  One of their commentators, D. Michael Lindsay, leads the charge:
The percentage of evangelicals earning at least a college degree has increased by 133 percent, which is much more than any other religious tradition. Indeed, the rise of evangelicals on America’s elite campuses is one of the most notable developments in higher education over the last thirty years. As highly selective universities have sought to diversify their student bodies by race, gender, and ethnicity, they have also unintentionally diversified their campuses’ religious makeup. As Gomes said, “A lot of Midwestern white-bread Protestant Christian evangelicals at whom Harvard would never have looked in the past, and who would have never looked at Harvard, suddenly became members of the university [149f].
I wonder if that increase in the numbers of evangelicals getting degrees is due to their numbers being much lower in the past; the comparison to other religious traditions suggests to me that it is, just as women greatly increased their college participation as various (mostly external) barriers that had previously discouraged or excluded them were removed.  The quotation from Peter Gomes (1942-2011), longtime chaplain and professor of Christian Morals at Harvard University, is amusing in the context of this book, because Gomes was black, gay, and (though celibate himself) a solid advocate of "marriage equality."  I doubt Lindsay was unaware of this, but I wonder if Kinnaman and Lyons were.

Lindsay also pointed out that "Practically every university in the Ivy League was founded to serve the church, and for most of their history, these institutions have been places where faith and knowledge support one another" (148).  True enough, but this is hardly specific to Christianity: Islam and other world religions have also founded universities and other institutions of learning where "faith and knowledge support one another."  There's also a strong tradition of anti-intellectualism in American Christianity, which goes back to the New Testament.  It's good to avoid stereotyping, but in all directions.  (For that matter, atheists and agnostics are not all intellectual heavyweights either.)

UnChristian held few surprises for me; it supported what I already knew about conservative Christians' efforts to make sense of and counter their dwindling presence and influence in American society.  "Young adults," the authors lament, "are less likely to support a 'Christianized' country ...   [They] are less likely than their predecessors to support keeping the motto 'In God We Trust' on our currency, the phrase 'one nation under God' in the Pledge of Allegiance, or the Ten Commandments posted in government buildings.  They are also less likely than Boomers and Elders ... to favor a federal marriage amendment defining marriage as possible only between one man and one woman" (164).  Not only that: "Young adults are less likely than preceding generations to start their political explorations as Republicans" (165) -- Oh noes!  Which I welcome, of course, though I'm also concerned about what young people will replace Christianity (or the GOP) with, be it alternative religions or atheism.  As an atheist myself, atheism is the option I favor, but I also know atheism is no guarantee of thoughtfulness or wisdom.

* Barr, Fundamentalism (Westminster, 1977), 331.

Saturday, February 9, 2019

In Whose Service Is Perfect Freedom

While I was in Chicago over the New Year, I found a book of fiction from North Korea, the first I've encountered and evidently the first that has appeared in the West.  (By coincidence, I found it in the same used bookstore where in 1995 I found the first South Korean novel I ever read, A Gray Man by Choi In-hun.)

The book, a collection of stories, is called The Accusation; the author uses the pseudonym Bandi.  The English translation, by Deborah Smith, was published in 2017 by House of Anansi in Canada and by Grove Press in the US.

There are some strange things about it.  According to a rather novelistic afterword, Bandi's manuscripts were smuggled into South Korea in the late 1990s; they weren't published even in Korean for another couple of decades.  There may be good reasons for the delay -- maybe publication waited until Bandi died, for his own safety? -- but there's no explanation.  Also the account of the process by which the material was smuggled seems unnecessarily complicated, even contradictory; again, that could be to protect the smugglers and the author.

I'm not sure what I expected from the stories.  They're about the oppressiveness of life in a harsh totalitarian regime, where people can lose their homes and jobs for infinitesimal ideological deviations, or even for being anonymously accused of them.  The cover blurb, reproduced on Amazon, calls The Accusation "eye-opening" and a "vivid depiction of life in a closed-off one-party state."
The Accusation is a deeply moving and eye-opening work of fiction that paints a powerful portrait of life under the North Korean regime. Set during the period of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il's leadership, the seven stories that make up The Accusation give voice to people living under this most bizarre and horrifying of dictatorships. The characters of these compelling stories come from a wide variety of backgrounds, from a young mother living among the elite in Pyongyang whose son misbehaves during a political rally, to a former Communist war hero who is deeply disillusioned with the intrusion of the Party into everything he holds dear, to a husband and father who is denied a travel permit and sneaks onto a train in order to visit his critically ill mother. Written with deep emotion and writing talent, The Accusation is a vivid depiction of life in a closed-off one-party state, and also a hopeful testament to the humanity and rich internal life that persists even in such inhumane conditions.
The publication and translation of The Accusation is surely an event, but is it really "eye-opening"?  As an official enemy of the US, North Korea has been very effectively demonized in South Korean and Western media; much of the half-century-long flood of propaganda is even true.  I doubt any reader of Bandi's stories will find any fundamental surprises in his account of life in a highly repressive society.  Quite a number of books by Western visitors and North Korean defectors have appeared in the past few years, so we don't lack for first-hand accounts of life there.  The Accusation would have been more of a revelation if it had been published sooner.

What struck me most about The Accusation was how familiar it felt.  I've read a fair amount of fiction from Korea, some of it written under the Japanese occupation of 1910 to 1945, some of it written in the postwar period, during and after the South Korean dictatorships imposed and supported by the US.  Much of the claustrophobic feel of Bandi's fiction was reminiscent of the stories of those earlier periods.  During the postwar dictatorships, people suffered discrimination and repression because they had family or other ties to the North; being accused even of socialism, let alone communism, could have uncomfortable consequences much like those suffered by Northerners with family in the South.  For many years after the Korean war, there was a curfew in the South, and woe betide anyone caught abroad between midnight and 4 a.m.  The Kwangju uprising in the Southwest of South Korea of 1980 was put down with extreme brutality by Park Chung Hee's successor.  People were jailed, tortured, and executed for often flimsy political reasons; they might spend many years in camps in the countryside.

Or consider this anecdote, from the opening pages of  Korea's Grievous War by Su-kyoung Hwang (Pennsylvania, 2016):
In 1960, a crowd of mourners dressed in white formed a long funeral procession in a provincial district in South Korea. Young men and widows holding portraits of the dead led the grieving throng to a graveyard where their deceased family members were to be buried together. The collective casket contained the remains of over seven hundred people who had been massacred at the beginning of the Korean War. Their families had disinterred the bodies from a mass grave and were giving them a decent reburial. An inscription placed at the graveside read, “To the traveler passing by: historians of the future generation will tell the story of this grave.” One year later, under a newly established dictatorship, both the inscription and the burial site had disappeared without a trace. The families who had organized the mass funeral were arrested, imprisoned, and silenced. Their stories disappeared from public consciousness for decades.
Both North and South plotted to infiltrate and subvert each other.  In the 1960s a little group of convicts was sequestered and trained as commandos to cross the DMZ and assassinate then-DPRK dictator Kim Il Sung, as payback for an earlier attempt by Kim to assassinate then-ROK dictator Park Chung Hee. The operation was shelved when Park decided to make friends with Kim instead; it remained a deep secret until it was commemorated in a blockbuster 2003 South Korean film, Silmido.  South Korea, though nominally more open than the North, still had a reputation as the Hermit Kingdom until the 1988 Olympics were held there.  But the old rulers of the Republic of Korea were never really happy about the increase in freedom south of the 38th parallel, and there has been more or less constant pressure to turn back the clock.

Because of all this and more, I was taken aback by the claim at the end of the book's second afterword, that the "manuscript that had been in Bandi's possession was now going to South Korea, to a land of freedom and hope" (245).  That was much more true at the time Bandi sent his work south, than it was when he began to write it.  Outside of those few who knew something about Korean history, the change went largely unremarked in the United States.  Remember, like many other dictatorships South Korea was officially part of the Free World during the Cold War.  Little glitches like torture, massacres, and death squads were not incompatible with the US conception of "freedom" then, and not much has changed.

This is not to say that North Korea is a free society -- of course not -- or that I don't hope that the Kim dynasty will ultimately be replaced with a freer, more democratic government -- of course I do.  These days I dare to hope that such a change might happen in my lifetime, without the bloodbath dreamed of by South Korean and US hardliners alike; we've had enough of those.  I just believe that The Accusation was published a bit late to be effective propaganda.  If you haven't read much Korean literature, or even if you have and want to hear from a wider range of voices, it's worth a read.  The day may not be too far off when it will be as dated as Soviet-era dissident literature.  That's something worth hoping for.

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Fierce Latina Holds Her Fire

It seems that the Trump regime's coup against the government of Venezuela isn't going as smoothly as he expected, and I take some comfort from that.

I'm not surprised that most Democratic Party politicians and fellow-travelers have supported the coup.  Even Bernie Sanders couldn't oppose it without including some US propaganda against Maduro; but then he's always been weak on foreign policy.  Representatives Ro Khanna of California, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan have condemned the coup forthrightly, but they're the exceptions.

I am surprised, I admit, that new Democratic Congress member Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has hesitated to take a firm stand.  On January 30 the journalist Max Blumenthal reported:
I caught @AOC rushing into a committee hearing today on the Hill and asked her about Venezuela. "We're working on a statement," was all she said before entering the room. Don't think her name was on @USProgressives letter against intervention. Will have more reactions soon.
I don't like to quote the Daily Caller, but only right-wing media seem to be reporting the statement she finally, belatedly made:
“Our office is monitoring it closely. I think that, you know, the humanitarian crisis is extremely concerning but, you know, when we use non-Democratic [sic] means to determine leadership, that’s also concerning, as well,” Ocasio-Cortez told The Daily Caller on Thursday. “So, we’re figuring out our response and making sure that we center the people of Venezuela first and foremost.”
This won't do, though the capitalization of "democratic" there is amusing and presumably not Ocasio-Cortez' fault.  I see nothing here that would justify her hesitation about issuing a statement before.  It's just typical both-sides equivocation.  The "humanitarian crisis," as she must know, is largely the US' doing, thanks to its support for the anti-democratic Venezuelan opposition, and especially the sanctions that are intended to harm the overwhelming majority of Venezuelans.  If she doesn't know it, she should probably have admitted her ignorance and refused to comment.  But it doesn't take much background to oppose US support for coups.  The burden of argument lies not on opponents of US interference in other countries, but on those who support it.

Ocasio-Cortez' customary forthright readiness to snap back at Trump's malfeasance is on hold here, and I wonder why. The other frosh Representatives she calls her sisters are on record opposing the coup; why doesn't she follow their lead?  I've been wondering if perhaps significant numbers of her Latinx base support the coup, but I haven't seen any evidence one way or the other.

For me, it's pretty simple, given the US' horrific record in Latin America generally, and in Venezuela specifically.  It's difficult to distinguish lies from truth in US coverage of the situation, which has been fanatically hostile and indifferent to factual accuracy ever since Chavez was first elected.  If you want an introduction to the matter, Alan MacLeod's Bad News from Venezuela (Routledge, 2018) is a good place to begin, and will point you to other discussions.  But even if Maduro were as bad as we're told, that wouldn't justify US interference in Venezuela, which our gangster leaders are not even bothering to hide.  (A "dictator"?  "Corrupt"?  "Incompetent"?  These are all qualifications for US support of a regime.)

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has some good positions and proposals, and I still approve of her more than I don't.  But I'm monitoring her closely, and I find her reluctance to speak out against the US-backed coup in Venezuela extremely worrying.

Monday, December 31, 2018

The Top Ten of 2018

I haven't been very productive this past year.  Once again, I've written fewer posts than I did the previous year, with a couple of periods of months in which I wrote (or at any rate completed) nothing at all.  It's not like I don't have anything to say, it's just that I can't muster the initiative or energy to sit and write it down.  It happens to all writers, but that doesn't make me feel any better about it.

Ah well: one good thing about not writing so much is that it's easier to sort through the year's work and track which posts got the most traffic.  A surprisingly large number got more than 200 views.  Here are those which attracted the most attention.

10.  Where Do You Draw the Line?  (240)  I wrote quite a lot last summer, during the controversies over America's supposed lost civility.  The event that occasioned the most handwringing was the quiet and perfectly civil request by a restaurant owner that White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders take her business elsewhere.  I had, and still have, more questions than answers on the subject; not so much about Sanders, who as a dedicated Trump apparatchik ought not to be served anywhere, as about the principles which ought to guide the refusal of service or other interaction with those we disapprove of.

9. How to Be Good  (241)  Betty Smith's novel Joy in the Morning improved my mood at a time when I sorely needed it.  (Well, I nearly always need it these days.)  Here's why goodness in fictional characters is so important.

8.  You $@#!&% Kids Get the #%&! Off My Mother#@%&* Lawn! (248)  Some uneasy reflections of the widespread use in edgy social media of the F-word.

7.  But What About the Whataboutism, Huh?  (250)  Also last summer, accusations of "whataboutism" flew thick and fast in the discourse over civility and in claims about Russian interference in American elections.  Like incivility, accusations of whataboutism are used on all sides.  In this post I clear away the confusion. You're welcome.

6.  If You Don't Know, I'm Certainly Not Going to Tell You!  (258)   Why, and how, people delight in talking past each other in a variety of spheres.

5.  It's Not What You Know, It's Who You Know  (279)  A theologian of the Force mistook story for proof, confusing happy endings with the way the real world works.

4.  Kindness Is Not Enough  (284)  This one got a boost because I chose it as my representative post in Vagabond Scholar's Jon Swift Memorial Best of 2018.  Now that I've seen the documentary Won't You Be My Neighbor? I'm even more sure that Fred Rogers's adult fans are dishonoring his legacy and his memory.  For example, one of Rogers's PBS colleagues said in the film that she was shocked when he told her that adults have a responsibility to protect children.  She just couldn't wrap her head around that radical, extreme idea.

(It's not nice to say, but one thing that bothered me as I looked through what other bloggers chose for their best posts, was how often they consisted of childish parodies of folk or popular songs to make them mock So-Called Donald Trump.  It's one thing to vent like that, and quite another to choose it as your best work of the year.)

3.  Dude, I'm a Lesbian and Gay Academic  (369)  The first of three posts I wrote about Toni A. H. McNaron's Poisoned Ivy: Lesbian and Gay Academics Confronting Homophobia (Temple UP), a 1997 survey of homophobia in academia.  On the whole I liked it a lot, but I was bemused by some strange historical lapses in her account.

2.   Hold That Thought (539)  Some ruminations about Louise Erdrich's latest novel, an exchange on Facebook with a Christian Facebook friend about the doctrine of plenary verbal inspiration of the Bible, and the uses even liberal Christians make of their scriptures.

1.  Rorschach Snapshots  (546)  A beautiful photograph of a young Brazilian boy enraptured by New Year's fireworks went viral last January, and I was struck by the wildly varying interpretations people made of the situation, the boy's feelings, and the Meaning Of It All.  Unfortunately the tweet linked to the photo is now gone, but I've had occasion to write before about the way people "read" images, and I probably will again.  And here's a good article about the photograph and the responses to it.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Vagabond Scholar's Jon Swift Memorial Best of 2018

Once again, Batocchio has posted his annual Jon Swift Memorial Roundup, carrying on the good work of the late Al Weisel, alias Jon Swift.  Bloggers choose their own favorite post of the year, and Batocchio posts them.  I'm in there, of course, but so are a good many other writers you might not have heard of.  Take a look and see what you think.

Monday, November 5, 2018

Have You Stopped Endorsing Genocide? or, One Wants One's BBC

I admire Chomsky, but I admit he didn't answer this dishonest question (excerpted from this video) very well.  That's partly because it's constructed like "Have you stopped beating your wife?", beginning with a false premise.  Chomsky doesn't say that America is a terrible country: he freely admits that the US is a free country, perhaps the freest in the world.  It is rich, and of course many people have wanted to come here.  What he says is that America has done terrible things.

Perhaps one way to answer the question would be to ask why, since America is such a great country, it has done and continues to do such terrible things.  One might also ask what should be done to a country that does such terrible things.  Most Americans and American apologists have no doubt what should be done to other countries that commit crimes: sanctions, invasions, bombing, missile strikes, "regime change."  They have trouble coming up with plausible reasons why such measures should not be inflicted on the US.

But then, they don't need plausible reasons.  Like any good team players, they think that a loss by their team is a disaster.  Sometimes I'm surprised that sports fans are able to tolerate another team's daring to try to take the victory from their  guys at all.  They cultivate an inability to imagine sport, let alone the world, from another person's point of view.  Apologists for sport are mostly as dishonest about this as apologists for their country's violence.

Maybe an analogy or two will help.  Germany is the most civilized nation in the world.  People everywhere look up to it for its intellectual, cultural, and political accomplishments.  How can you call it barbaric, brutal, murderous for a few little missteps that any nation might have made?

Or: For almost two hundred years, millions of people have been inspired by communism to fight for the oppressed and downtrodden.  Sure, it isn't perfect, but if it's so terrible, why do so many people still -- even after the fall of the Soviet Union -- look to communism as humanity's best hope for a better world?

There are plenty of reasons why poor people, people in danger of their lives from religious or ethnic terrorism, people wanting to avoid conscription into the army, would have wanted to move to the United States despite its flaws.  One might be that they were more concerned with saving their own lives than with the harm the US did to others, and indeed might have figured that they were not likely to be the targets of US violence once they had immigrated.  European whites were not likely to be enslaved, or driven onto reservations.  Maybe they didn't care what happened to other people as long as they and their families were relatively safe.

Or maybe they had unrealistic ideas about the US.  Moving here often meant a fall in earnings and status, as many Europeans and (later) East Asians found to their consternation.  They were doctors or lawyers or other professionals in their home countries, but ended up working in sweatshops, running convenience stores, or driving taxis because their credentials weren't valid in the US, and their English wasn't good enough to acquire new credentials here.  But they couldn't go back, either because there was nowhere to go back to, or because they didn't want to lose face.  They may have borrowed money from relatives to make the move, and had to pay it back.  (Some did go back anyway, but they seem to have been the minority.)  But none of this has any bearing on the bad things that America has done.

It's understandable that people would not want to believe anything bad about a country or a person in whom they've invested all their love and admiration.  If that person, or that country, is proven to have done terrible things, they don't give up their adoration and allegiance lightly.  They blame the messenger, often harshly and hatefully.  It's understandable, but it's wrong, and should not be tolerated.  In the case of Stephen Sackur, the BBC interviewer here, it's not entirely clear whether he had even that excuse.  He's English, so he should be capable of some critical distance from America.  Maybe he thought he was playing the devil's advocate, giving Chomsky a chance to answer a charge that is commonly made against him.

In all this, it's ironic that many of the people who hate and lie about Chomsky, and about all critics of US foreign policy, nevertheless hate the US government and lie about it.  Recently a right-wing Christian with whom I went to high school posted on Facebook one of those absurd stories that many people love: a convoluted tale of a smart-aleck farmer who meets what turns out to be a rich city slicker from the US Congress, and tells him off (eviscerates him, destroys him, bam boom burn!).  It's a familiar theme, going back to the Eloquent Peasant stories of ancient Egypt, and persisting in the Marine Todd and That Student Was Albert Einstein urban myths of today.  It's very popular among people who are basically ignorant about ideas and the world.  Yet this guy and those who share such stories generally love a rich city slicker like Donald Trump, and even right-wing political and cultural figures who have enriched themselves at the public trough, and they are indignant if some radical liberal criticizes them.

That indignation is reciprocated by liberals who don't like it if some Rethug mocks rich city-slickers like Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, whom they work very hard to see as Just Folks.  An attack on their idols is an attack on Regular Americans like themselves.  Despite the popularity of the term in lefty circles, I don't think "tribalism" is the right word for this pattern of thought.  Until I come up with a better one, though, it's important to keep challenging and trying to refute those who justify American (or any other country's) atrocities by minimizing them.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

The Satisfied Mind of American Fundamentalism

Speaking of the Bible, I just read Carl F. H. Henry's 1947 tract The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism. Henry (1913-2003) was a prominent fundamentalist / evangelical divine and intellectual, a founding editor of Billy Graham's neo-evangelical magazine Christianity Today.

The book is still in print after seventy years, which isn't surprising because fundamentalism ought to have an uneasy conscience quite apart from the doctrine of Original Sin.  Most serious human problems tend to persist despite much handwringing about them, which is why people mistake older complaints for prophecy.  I thought Henry's book might be worth reading because it reminded me of Albert Mohler's We Cannot Be Silent, which I confess I still haven't read yet: a heartfelt cry that traditional Christianity must stop being so narrow and address modern issues sincerely or it will die out, and then what will happen?*

I was also curious to see which issues made Henry's conscience uneasy in the 1940s.  Homosexuality and gender were issues in those days, but in different ways.  Women had just lost some of the gains they'd made during the war, forced out of jobs they'd held successfully in order to free them up for returning men.  Gay people who'd gotten a taste of freedom, despite official prohibitions, found that they were no longer indispensable; and many were discharged dishonorably and had to rebuild their lives.  The postwar gay and feminist movements emerged from these problems, but they had little visibility or influence for a long time.  So what did Carl Henry think evangelicals had failed to deal with in 1947?

Henry lays it out right away:
[S]uch admitted social evils as aggressive warfare, racial hatred and intolerance, the liquor traffic, and exploitation of labor or management, whichever it may be.  

The social reform movements dedicated to the elimination of such evils do not have the active, let alone vigorous, cooperation of large segments of evangelical Christianity.  In fact, Fundamentalist churches increasingly have repudiated the very movement whose most energetic efforts have gone into an attack on such social ills.  The studied Fundamentalist avoidance of, and bitter criticism of the World Council of Churches and the Federal Council of Churches of Christ in America is a pertinent example [loc 105 of the Kindle edition].
So far so good, I guess.  Since 1947 "the liquor traffic" has largely been replaced by a concern with "drugs," and "the exploitation of labor or management" is an intriguing bit of false equivalence.  Henry repeats the phrase several times but never expands on the point to make sense of it; later he says that the "The problems of management or labor were now referred not to a regeneration-conditioned submission to the divine will but rather to the leftist precepts of political Socialism or Communism" [loc 220-225], which is not much help.

Fundamentalism, says Henry,
was a Bible-believing Christianity which regarded the supernatural as a part of the essence of the Biblical view; the miraculous was not to be viewed, as in liberalism, as an accidental and superfluous accretion [loc 125].
I don't see that this stress on the supernatural makes much practical difference.   Henry warns that
to become articulate about evangelicalism and its social implications was not an easy task.  There is the danger that it might involve an unstudied and superficial analysis of the specific modern evils.  For example, one recent Fundamentalist discussion of the social program of the Federal Council of Churches bitterly condemns the Communist leftist trends in that group, while exhibiting a contrasting silence about the evils of a Capitalistic system from which the redemptive reference is largely abstracted [loc 245].
There's always the danger of an unstudied and superficial analysis of specific evils, no matter where you're coming from.  Nothing, as far as I can see, prevented Fundamentalists from producing a studied, deep analysis.  They would have claimed that "the supernatural" guided them away from "leftist Communist trends," but why didn't it guide them to something better?  Henry frets about this, but he has no answers.  Over the long haul, Fundamentalism has consistently chosen the unstudied and superficial.  There were individual exceptions, of course, but they weren't representative or influential in the movement. 
It should be emphasized that this despair over the present world order grows, for contemporary Fundamentalism, not out of any lack of confidence in the ability of the supernaturalistic Gospel. Rather, it issues from the fact that the Scriptures, as interpreted by premillenarians and amillenarians, hold forth no hope for the conversion of the whole world, and center upon the second coming of Christ as crucial for the introduction of a divine kingdom.  The despair over the present age, then, is grounded in the anticipated lack of response to the redemptive Gospel, rather than in any inherent defect in the message itself [loc 200].
I wonder about this.  When the Southern Baptist Convention broke with other Baptists in the 19th century to support slavery, the "despair over the present age" Henry mentions was hardly present.  Nor was it when the Southern Baptists joined with other denominations to defend white supremacy after Brown v. Board of Education a few years after The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism was published.  A couple of times Henry writes something like "There are here and there conservative denominational groups, like the Reformed movements and the great Southern Baptist Convention, which have maintained or are beginning to reflect a vigorous social interest" (loc 606).  I wonder what "vigorous social interest," aside from Jim Crow, Henry thought the SBC was maintaining.  White racist Fundamentalists did not seem hampered by an "anticipated lack of response to the redemptive Gospel" they proclaimed.  People don't choose their courses of action because of their interpretations of Scripture; they interpret Scripture to rationalize the course of action they choose.

Henry isn't entirely unaware of this.  Early on he admits
the shifting standards in various sections of the country among Fundamentalists themselves.  Among evangelicals, for example, smoking is hardly considered that sin in the southern tobacco-growing states that it is in the north.  And the northern Baptist pastor who would join his wife for mixed public swimming would be called before his board of deacons in many a southern church [loc 145-50]
And so on.  But, like racial segregation, these who promulgated these regional differences would have regarded them as God's will, questioned only by Communist haters of Christ.  Henry laments that
While the modern world wrestles with its global dilemma, the evangelical conscience is troubled because the historic Christian message is dismissed arbitrarily as a dead option for dissolving the ills of Occidental culture [loc 175].
But why shouldn't it be dismissed?  In the case of slavery and white supremacy, the "idealistic atmosphere of judgment upon its environment in any age" (loc 259) Henry touts came down squarely against emancipation and racial equality.  The SBC later (in the 1990s) repented and apologized for those judgments, but why?  If Christians don't stand firm against the spirit of the age, how surprising is it that their message is dismissed -- not at all arbitrarily -- as a dead option?  And now that Fundamentalists like Albert Mohler are drawing a line in the sand over sexual orientation and gender identity, why should anyone credit them with any moral authority?  While the modern world wrestles with its global dilemma, the evangelical conscience is more concerned with whether the Thousand Year Reign of Christ will happen before or after the Rapture.
As against secular humanism, Fundamentalism has consistently witnessed to the fact that any culture from which the redemptive element is absent is essentially distinct from the kingdom of God [loc 366].
I don't imagine that even in 1947, Henry would have wanted to claim that "the redemptive element" was present when Southern Baptists executed a schism in support of slavery.  But why not?  Surely the SBC would have claimed that it was.  As an atheist, I am neither competent to, nor interested in deciding where the redemptive was present and where it was absent.  I think such cases show that appeals to the redemptive element are at best irrelevant, even frivolous.  Far from leading, Fundamentalists have usually followed, and then tried to take credit for whatever improvements were enacted.

And here's a curious claim.
No political or economic system has utopian promise if the essential redemptive ingredient is missing from it. A redemptive totalitarianism is far preferable to an unredemptive democracy; a redemptive Communism far more advantageous than an unredemptive Capitalism, and vice versa. But the very element which is abstracted from currently proposed solutions is this redemptive element [loc 565].
As I've said before, I'm not much interested in utopias.  Leaving that aside, what the hell is a "redemptive totalitarianism"?  I don't think Henry would consider the antebellum South to have much of the "redemptive element," because its elites weren't evangelicals.  No doubt he thought a redemptive totalitarianism would be tolerable -- to him -- because it would be run by people like him. Whether it would be tolerable to those groaning in its jails and torture chambers, even if they were evangelicals, is another question.  By contrast, a nonredemptive democracy, while filling its citizens' stomachs, providing them with an education and shelter and medical care, would allow Fundamentalists to seek and preach redemption on their terms.  This would not be enough for Henry, or for his theological descendants; he wanted evangelical domination.

Evangelicalism, Henry declares, "must contend for a fair hearing for the Christian mind, among other minds, in secular education ... [T]he universities seem studiously to avoid the competent presentation of the Hebrew-Christian view by those who hold it" [loc 533].  A fair hearing might not, probably would not, lead to the outcome Henry assumes it would.  Like political conservatives of a later generation, Henry is essentially calling for affirmative action for his sect.  Of course I'm not being quite fair there, because affirmative action is not supposed to give positions to the unqualified.  If anything, the Reagan era showed that liberal humanists were all too willing to tolerate and even endorse incompetent clowns from the religious or cultural right.  There have been Christian, even Fundamentalist thinkers who are competent, capable of deep, studied analysis; but they were generally attacked by their brethren and kicked out of their institutions.  But those aren't the Fundamentalists Henry has in mind when he whines that "It is quite popular at the moment to crucify the Fundamentalist" (loc 449).

There are those who point to the participation of Christian ministers and laypeople in the Civil Rights movement to try to vindicate religion in general, and Christianity in particular, as a moral force.  It's important to remember that that movement, opposed by many (most?) white evangelicals, was not driven or motivated by religion: rather it used religion as a lever.  Both racists and antiracists claimed  to possess the "redemptive element."  Henry is no help.  On his own account, as you can see from the passage about "redemptive totalitarianism," it seems to be irrelevant in dealing with these questions.  He has no substantive suggestions for social amelioration or reform, and as can be seen by the sides they took in the following decades, neither did other evangelicals.

The reason I think it's worthwhile to examine this old book is to compare it with the work of today's evangelicals.  Little has changed in their assumptions, basic claims, or complaints about how unfairly the larger culture has treated them.  Their consciences may be uneasy, but their confidence, indeed their pride in their right to dictate to the world, is intact.

Having said all this, I must add that neither liberal Christianity, any other religion, secular humanism, or revivalist atheism has authority either.  Every important question has to be approached critically, with awareness of human limitations and our abundant history of failure.  No one has a monopoly on knowledge or wisdom.  Even Fundamentalists may participate in the discussion, not because they are believers and not despite it.  I suppose they should be allowed a minute or two to preach when goals and tactics are being evaluated, but if they can't address the issues apart from that, they're declaring that they have nothing to contribute, that Fundamentalism is a dead option.  The choice is theirs.

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* Indeed, Mohler contributed a chapter on Henry to a 2001 book on theologians of the Baptist tradition.