Focus on the Family--in an ongoing quest to define the organization over and against everyone and everything else--has put together a film, TrueU: The Toughest Test in College. (Thanks to RiAH contributor Hilde Løvdal for sending me the link!) The rhetorical style of this trailer matches other culture war forays. ("Your professors our out to get you! Watch out!") The logic goes something like this: discredit expertise and secular knowledge by pointing to supposed bias and then hitch current ideas to a discredited consensus from yesteryear.
Perhaps this clip is an example of turning postmodernism to one's advantage. "Your truth is no better than my truth." It reminds me of Stanley Fish's article, "The Ignorance of Our Warrior Intellectuals," from nearly 10 years ago in Harper's. Here's Fish:
What must be protected, then, is the general, the possibility of making pronouncements from a perspective at once detached from and superior to the sectarian perspectives of particular national interests, ethnic concerns, and religious obligations; and the threat to the general is posed by postmodernism and strong religiosity alike, postmodernism because its critique of master narratives deprives us of a mechanism for determining which of two or more fiercely held beliefs is true (which is not to deny the category of true belief, just the possibility of identifying it uncontroversially), strong religiosity because it insists on its own norms and refuses correction from the outside.
Harvard University Press will soon be rolling out the book that Karl Giberson and I have written. We've titled it The Anointed: Evangelical Truth in a Secular Age. Throughout we look at the work and careers of evangelical experts who have served as powerful authorities on a whole range of subjects: human origins science, millennial theology, psychology, child care, and American history.
We couldn't have known when we started the book that many of these issues, and experts, would make national headlines with the 2012 election's approach. Their influence on the candidates is obvious. Michele Bachmann confidently assumes that America was founded as a born-again, Christian republic. Rick Perry lauds the teaching of both creationism and evolution in schools, relying on experts in the former to make his case. Bachmann's husband draws on professionally discredited reparative therapy for homosexuals, like it's 1959. And there is more . . .
One of the questions Giberson and I wrestled with in the book had to do with the nature of evangelical anti-intellectualism. Was this something that was specific to the faith? (Mark Noll's Scandal of the Evangelical Mind came in handy here.) Could it be traced to other areas of American life? (Richard Hofstadter and others who wrote about broad patterns of knowledge denial helped us here.)
I've been mulling over one question in particular as the 2012 campaign heats up. Will red-meat, anti-science or providential history ideas play well beyond Peoria? (No offense Peoria!) Will candidates think about those GOP voters beyond the hardcore base? Something tells me that if they want a national constituency they better leave David Barton and his giant, novelty cowboy hat in Texas.