Friday, June 27, 2008

Desperately Seeking a Second Naivete Church

Christine Wicker's new book, The Fall of the Evangelical Nation, tells two stories very well. First, it explains how Americans have been duped into believing that evangelicals comprise a significant and growing percentage of the population. She demonstrates, using evangelicals' own statistics and reports, that committed evangelicals comprise only about 7% of the U.S. population and the percentage is declining, not growing. Here's a quote:
For the past thirty years, 7 percent of the population has swayed elections and positioned itself as the ultimate arbiter of right and wrong. By puffing its numbers and its authority, it has gotten legislation passed that opposes the popular will and has divided the country into acrimonious camps. It has monopolized the media so effectively that other religious voices have been all but silenced. It has been feared and loathed, revered and loved. It has been impossible to ignore. But underneath its image of power and pomp, the evangelical nation is falling apart. Every day the percentage of evangelicals in America decreases, a loss that began more than one hundred years ago.
The second storyline is about the desire that she and millions of other Americans have for a faith that does not require them to surrender their intellect.

Wicker describes her own childhood conversion experience as a Southern Baptist and the crisis of faith she experienced in college as she examined her faith and began to question what she had been taught. She has been exposed to critiques of religion by what Paul Ricoeur calls "the masters of suspicion" -- Darwin, Freud, Marx, Nietsche. It's a familiar story and one of the reasons why evangelicals lose most of their converts after they leave High School.

In our society, more and more are learning to view religion from some form of critical perspective. Wicker and many of the people she describes in her book are among them. The naive faith of their childhood is no longer adequate but their critical perspectives often lead them into a lonely wilderness of diffused, unconnected spirituality. That worries Wicker. In essence, she and millions beside her are searching for a church where people are moving beyond a first naivete faith, are willing to wade through the desert of critical thought, and are striving toward a second naivete faith where, as Ricoeur describes it, they are "called again."

Wicker's book is essential reading for all Baptists. She understands us, both fundamentalist and moderate, better than many of us understand ourselves. What she doesn't seem to realize is how eager and close some of us were to fostering the kind of churches she longs to find. Then, fundamentalists purged our denomination of everyone with the courage to think.

1 comment:

Tripp Hudgins said...

Interesting stuff. Thanks for drawing my attention to the book.