Tuesday, 7 September 2010

undercover among the evangelicals

Undercover Among the Evangelicals: They're nice, but they don't know how to think.
- book review, Books & Culture, July/August 2010

In the Land of Believers concludes with this earnest plea:
"If we don't love Evangelicals, if we don't make an effort to understand and accept them, to eat the fish even as it wriggles in our hands, we'll always be each other's nemeses. We'll always be trying to drown each other out. Threaten them, ridicule them, celebrate their humiliation, and you create a toxic dump, fertile ground for a ferocious adversary to rise, again and again. But listen to them, include them in the public conversation, understand the sentiments behind their convictions, and you invent the possibility of kinship."
Apart from the creepy and inexplicable metaphor, this sounds good—until you realize that "understand the sentiments behind their convictions" is exactly what Welch means. She may claim to be portraying the evangelical mind, but her entire narrative is marked by a determined refusal to comprehend that there *is* one.
"[H]ow was I to find a place among people indifferent to facts?", Welch writes in her introduction. It is an opinion that never shifts a millimeter. Listening to Jerry Falwell preach about the offense of the cross, she muses: "By embracing the inscrutable cross, Christians were comfortable not fully comprehending the concepts around which they built their lives." Christian beliefs bypass the brain altogether; the whole notion of the Trinity, she remarks, "reminded me of nothing more than Dracula's ability to transmute into a bat or mist." She is tone-deaf to conviction, unable to comprehend that doctrine has anything to do with the behavior of the people she claims to love.
Which is simpler for her, because she can blame everything she dislikes about evangelicals on cultural influence, and cultivate her affection for them without having to think about what they actually *believe*.