Choosing Truth or Power
American Pietism (“it doesn’t matter what you believe but what you feel in your heart”) and secularism (which views the Bible in public schools as more dangerous than assault weapons) have combined to produce a general state of religious illiteracy in the United States. Newspapers, when they use religious allusions, have to explain them. The Baltimore Sun once referred to Pilate and had to explain in parentheses that he was the Roman official who washed his hands at the trial of Jesus. At least they got the explanation right.
I cringe whenever newspapers start discussing religion. They become wells of misinformation for the reader, whose smattering of information bears little relation to reality. But that is the point. Truth is not, for modern writers, the conformance of the mind to reality, but what serves a partisan agenda. Truth is a servant of power.
The reactions to my book, The Church Impotent: the Feminization of Christianity, demonstrated to me the lack of interest in truth among publishers and reviewers. One prestigious secular publisher was interested in the manuscript. The editor had to submit the manuscript to readers and therefore tried to find non-feminist readers. She later showed me the readers’ responses. Some criticisms were valid or at least reasonable. One reader, alas, was non-feminist because he hated women. He told the editor that she was not allowed to publish the book. If she did, he and his friends would ensure that she would not get another job in New York publishing.
A prestigious Evangelical publisher was also interested in the manuscript, to the point of calling me every other month asking when it would be ready. I finally sent it off and got it back by return mail, obviously unread. When I inquired what had happened, the editor informed me that he had submitted the manuscript to a woman Evangelical theologian, who had told him that he was not allowed to publish books on this topic, i.e., why so few men go to church. Another reviewer denounced my book as dangerous and advised readers not to buy it, as the real problem was that women don’t go to church.
The merits of my book and its analysis aside, the editors and reviewers did not want to deal with this reality: that men do not go to church, that they are not involved in the life of the Christian churches as much as women are. The reason for the reviewers’ distaste was that the facts I cited and the conclusions I drew were contrary to the feminist political agenda, which is to enlarge the space for women in the church (although they already occupy 70 to 90 percent of the space in most churches). Feminism is an ideology of power, and power has little use for reality.
In this, religious feminism mirrors the political ideologies that have tormented the twentieth century. An ideology is a projection of power onto reality, not an attempt to deal with reality. Communism, Fascism, Nazism—they all tried to remake reality, at whatever the cost in human suffering. Echoes of these attitudes distort politics in the United States. But my concern is with religion, and how ignorance is the servant of power.
Christians who do not have a rational grasp of their faith can be led astray by ideologues. Feminism is one ideology that is seriously distorting the life of the church. Syncretism and universalism are two others. Western Christianity is dissolving into a vague porridge of religious sentiments, a populist Unitarianism that incorporates shreds and tags of all religious traditions, according to the state and tastes of the consumer. The logical incompatibility of the beliefs thus tossed into the mix is irrelevant to the consumer who wants to exercise his power of choice to construct the religion that will serve his desires. If those desires are not compatible with reality, so much the worse for reality.
But reality neglected enacts a vengeance. The relativist consumer of religion becomes a pawn of ideologues. The dime-store relativism of feminist and other soft ideologies provides no defense against the hard ideologies of violence and destruction that plague our world. Against those who would impose falsehood by violence, the only sure defense is not the relativism that echoes Pilate’s “What is truth?” (a justification for his preserving his grasp on political power by sacrificing a man he knew to be innocent), but a firm grasp of him who proclaimed, “I am the Truth.”
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