So I happened to be browsing Stanford Magazine, and happened across two articles immediately in a row on religious issues. Each had a picture:
The respectable lady is Jane Shaw, Stanford’s new Dean of Religious life, notable for being both the first woman to hold the position and the first gay person. A few quotes from her article:
“Q. At Grace Cathedral and at Oxford, you led programs far afield from what might be considered religious: Hosting forums with politicians, activists and authors; bringing in atheists and believers; and commissioning artists-in-residence to create plays and installations. What’s your guiding light?
A. I don’t think I am a very churchy person, if that makes sense. I have always been interested in how you engage people in discussing questions of ultimate meaning, really—values, ethics, spirituality, all that stuff.
Q. But do you also value the “churchy” side of faith?
A. Ritual and liturgy? I love it.
Q. What new directions will you bring to Stanford?
A. …It is certainly my desire to make sure that Memorial Church is a place for extremely lively intellectual engagement, a place where possibly difficult issues can be discussed, a place where ethical and spiritual issues can be discussed. I am hoping we’ll have different sorts of people preaching here as guest preachers, not just clergy.”
The second photo is most likely a van owned by an unmedicated schizophrenic. You’d be forgiven if you therefore assumed the second article had something to do with mental illness.
It’s actually an interview with Stanford alum Kathryn Gin Lum about her new book, “Damned Nation: Hell in America from the Revolution to Reconstruction.”
Right. So whoever put the picture on this article equates the faith of the Founding Fathers (and many Americans today) with literal mental illness.
To be clear, Lum herself does not appear to be condescending toward the people/beliefs she studied, but her interview reveals that respect for the views of 60% of Americans is not common in our nation’s most respected centers of academic thought:
“Separate from any personal considerations, hell seemed to offer the best intellectual grist. ‘People in the academy,’ says Lum, tend to dismiss the notion that any consideration of hell could drive ‘how rational people think.'”
“Does hell have contemporary relevance, despite its lousy reputation in higher education?
“Strongly, thinks Lum. Much of her analysis highlights the connection between ‘people who believe in hell’ and their impulse ‘to damn other people to it.’ It’s that sensibility about calling out the world’s evils, says Lum, that suffuses today’s hot-button issues, including abortion and same-sex marriage.”
(Note that whatever insights she may have about rational people who believe in hell, or any potential good sides to the belief, the article does not mention them. It only mentions the ways in which people who believe in hell are problematic for the rest of the country. Those darn hell-believers, mucking things up for everyone else.)
“Writing about hell’s pertinence, Lum notes in her epilogue, ‘is to invite raised eyebrows.’ Her interest in the subject, she adds, has stirred reactions like ‘But you look so well-adjusted!'”
All right, so let’s review:
According to Stanford, a gay woman who isn’t very “churchy” but likes discussing ethics is one of the country’s best religious leaders, and the 60% of Americans who believe in Hell are literally insane and make trouble for everyone else.
One set of religious views is respected. The other is not.
Now, let’s try to imagine a contemporary article from any sort of respectable college or university (not one of the ones that make you mutter and stare at your feet while admitting that one of your relations was interested in the school,) that conveys the inverse: respect for people who believe in hell; disrespect for gays, women, and people whose faith isn’t based on Biblical inerrancy.
Can you? Maybe Harvard? Yale? Oberlin? CalTech? Reed? Fine, how about BYU? No, probably not even them.
I can’t imagine it. A hundred years ago, maybe. Today, no. Such notions are completely incompatible with the beliefs of modern, upper-class people.
I know many perfectly decent folks who believe in hell, and think they should be respected, but “be decent to people who hold denigrated religious beliefs” is not actually my point. My point is that the American upper class, academia, and the people with a great deal of power and influence over the beliefs of others clearly agrees with Pastor Shaw’s religious beliefs (when it is not outright atheist). Upper-class liberals in America are their own ethnic group with their own religion, culture, morality, and endogamous breeding habits. Conservatives are the out-group, their religious views openly mocked by the upper class and banned from the halls of academic thought.
Thing is, we happen to live, more or less, in a democracy.
One of the intended effects of democracy is that even groups with no real power can still express themselves via voting. If you have the numbers and bother to go to the polls, you can get someone in who more or less kinda sorta might represent your views.
As a result, even though conservatives are low-class and not cultural or intellectual movers and shakers, they can still influence who gets to be president or in Congress, and thus pass laws on things like abortion and stem cell research.
As a result, a group that has very little power in real life may end up with a fair amount via elections.
Think of it as a for of political power redistribution.