I received an email from a man whom I knew back when I was an up-and-coming leader in an organization of Christians in the sciences, the American Scientific Affiliation (ASA). Had I stayed with them, I might have been one of their most prominent members. But my participation became sporadic after 1994, and I attended no meetings after 1999, as my conventional faith gradually fell apart. This man had run across a 1987 article I had written for the ASA journal, in which I struggled with the ideas about why God would allow apparently evil things to happen in the natural world. He wanted to know what had become of me and hoped I was still a Christian.
At first, I intended no response whatever. Not because I have any ill feeling toward the ASA; they are reasonable and sincere people, unlike most self-described evangelical Christians, but because I could write a book in response. I finally decided to write a short but vivid response, parts of which I include below. I decided on a pamphlet-length response, sort of a Thomas Paine instead of an Aquinian Summa Theologica.
I was surprised and pleased to receive your email, but I am afraid that what I have to say won’t be entirely pleasant. I have nothing bad to say about the ASA, or the many fine people I have known in its ranks, which includes you.
But I have entirely distanced myself from any public identification with Christianity. My private views are between me and God, however defined. I am one of those people whom an evangelical Christian would label as an atheist, although I do not affirm this label. Thank God American evangelicals will not be my judges. (Do I hear an amen on that?)
American evangelical Christianity has increasingly become the private playground of the Republican Party and, more recently, worshipers of Donald Trump. To me, American evangelical Christianity has become blasphemous. It’s been like this a long time. When I first worked at The King’s College, it was pretty much a Republican institution. After I left, they hired Dinesh D’Souza as president, mainly because of his political views, ignoring the warning signs that later they had to admit: that he was morally unsound. When I worked at Huntington College, it was another Republican institution, although those were back in the gentle days of George H. W. Bush and Dan Quayle (Huntington was his hometown). Under George W. Bush, American evangelical Christianity was largely supportive of war and torture. And now, the American evangelical church seems to either worship Donald Trump, or to go along with those who do. Where is there any public outcry among evangelicals against Trump committing nearly every sin that is possible for a man to do? For the love of God, I keep my distance from American Christianity and its support of, or its silent acquiescence to, Trump.
Moreover, I live and work in rural Oklahoma, where Christianity is also tied almost completely to the accumulation of automatic weapons. The local church, which sometimes posts condemnatory signs against me (I’m the local evolution professor), sometimes gives away automatic weapons as door prizes for its revivals.
When I teach my classes, I begin the first day by writing on the board, “Even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed as one of these.” I have yet to have any student, although most of them have been drilled in Sunday school, identify the source of this quote. They think of Jesus holding a machine gun, not as getting down on his knees to look at wildflowers. I want to get them to start looking at the natural world around them and marveling at it, regardless of its origin. I give surveys to my classes, which consistently reveal the profound ignorance that my students have about the Bible, the religious ones even more than the non-religious ones.
A recent national survey showed that only 30 percent of white evangelicals, in 2011, thought that a president could be forgiven of moral lapses; today the figure is 72 percent. Evangelicals hated Barack Obama, an astonishingly moral man, while admiring the pussy-grabbing Donald Trump. This has nothing to do with God, Jesus, or the Bible. It’s all about politics, money, power, and guns.
The scientific credo of American evangelical Christianity seems to be, regarding what they call God’s creation, “It’s okay if you pour oil on it, it’s okay if you chop it down, it’s okay if you shoot it, it’s okay if you drive your truck over it, so long as you don’t believe that it evolved.” (Did I mention that I live in Oklahoma?)
Meanwhile even the moderate Christians seem powerless to stand up to the right-wing conquest of Christian faith. Last year, I wrote to every member of the English department at Calvin College (from which my daughter graduated) to ask their views on what constitutes Christian literature. I believe I sent twelve emails. I received not a single answer. I know that the messages were received. I think the faculty must have just been confused: to them, the world consists of Calvinism and atheism, therefore their brains simply had no binding sites for the peptides of my intermediate ideas.
Meanwhile, the ASA has, I assume, remained reasonable. But after a while, I began to feel the futility of agonizing over unanswerable questions. I remember how hard David Wilcox struggled with trying to reconcile Adam and Eve with the record of human evolution. Good try; I admire him still. I think it is safe to say that the ASA has no discernible impact on American Christianity. I have devoted myself instead to writing books (I’m completing number 5 now for fall publication) about topics that might actually help to educate people, for example, how to think scientifically.
Maybe the ASA needs to refocus. When it started, Christianity did not dominate politics. Today a twisted version of Christianity is threatening the world. Maybe the need now is not to get more people to believe in God but to get believers to rediscover peace and love.
Maybe when we move to France, which we plan to do some year soon, I might start going to church again. In France, nobody becomes a Christian for money, power, or sex. The only Christians in France are those who want to be.”