You know that feeling you get when your sweet, 90-year-old grandmother makes a blatantly racist comment at Thanksgiving dinner or your creepy uncle starts rambling about how the moon landing was staged? You are no doubt familiar with the spontaneous full-body wince that inevitably follows an interview with Al Sharpton in which he claims to represent all African Americans, Michael Moore in which he claims to represent all liberals, or Ann Coulter in which she claims to represent all Christians. Whether it’s a politically incorrect relative or a cartoonish pundit, there are just some people who make you want to stand up and shout, “Shut up before people start to think that we’re all like you!”
That’s how I felt about this video, in which Kirk Cameron describes his plan to sneak creationist material into the front of a 150th Anniversary Edition of Charles Darwin’s Origin of the Species and hand it out to students at 50 universities around the country.
Jonathan Brink (one of my favorite bloggers) was the first to bring the video to my attention, and I’m not sure whether to thank him or curse him for it because I found myself grumbling for the rest of the day about how folks like Kirk Cameron seem to repeatedly confirm every negative stereotype about evangelical Christian that exists.
As I watched Cameron make his case, I counted six evangelical stereotypes that he managed to perpetuate in a matter of six minutes. See if you agree:
Stereotype #1: Evangelicals suffer from the delusion that they face religious persecution in the U.S. As Cameron says, “One by one, we are being stripped of our God-given liberties.” Never mind that around 85 percent of Americans identify themselves as Christians, the current president identifies himself as a Christian, the majority of the men and women serving in congress identify themselves as Christians, and there are absolutely no laws forbidding the practice of the Christian faith in the United States. It is an insult to those Christians around the world who face actual persecution when evangelicals complain because public school teachers are not allowed to lead children in prayer before lunchtime because it violates the Establishment Clause.
Stereotype #2: Evangelicals are unable to make a distinction between atheism and evolution.Throughout the piece, Cameron uses “atheism” and “evolution” interchangeably, and describes the gospel as something that by necessity stands in opposition to evolutionary theory. This creates a false dichotomy that completely discounts theistic evolution as a viable option, despite the fact that many outstanding scientists (like Francis Collins, author of The Language of God) hold both strong Christian beliefs and a commitment to the science behind evolutionary theory. This false dichotomy can wreak havoc on young Christians raised to believe they have to choose between God and evolution, and who after encountering evidence in support of the theory, abandon faith altogether. According to Cameron, belief in evolution is a sin that needs cleansing.
Stereotype #3: Evangelicals love drawing fallacious cause and effect conclusions regarding other belief systems, but have a selective memory when it comes to their own beliefs and history. With a gleam in his eye, Cameron describes Darwin as a “racist” who “hated women,” and whose ideas influenced Hitler. (The conclusion: Evolution is wrong because people have used it to support racism, misogyny, and war.) I wonder how Cameron would feel if someone handed out copies of the Bible with an introduction that warned readers about passages in which God orders his followers to commit acts of ethnic cleansing and in which women were considered property. I wonder how he would feel if the introduction made mention of the fact that Christianity has been used to support slavery, war, genocide, inquisitions, murders, and all kinds of injustices, including recent wars in Uganda in which children are kidnapped and forced into the “Lord’s Liberation Army” by a man claiming to act on behalf of the God of the Bible. (The inevitable conclusion based on Cameron’s own logic: Christianity is wrong because people have used it to support misogyny, racism, and war.)
Stereotype #4: Evangelicals have little respect for science. The few seconds that Cameron spends discussing the scientific issues surrounding the evolution/creationism debate are inadequate and misleading. As young earth creationists often do, he points to “gaps in the fossil record” as a flaw in evolutionary biology. But the truth is, the case for evolution would be strong even without fossil evidence, and scientists are lucky to have the number of fossils that can qualify as “intermediates” that they do. (Consider Archaeopteryx, which many consider to be an intermediate between reptiles and birds.) The easiest way for Cameron to dismantle evolutionary science would be to point to fossils found in the wrong geological stratum. But he can’t, because not a single fossil has ever been found before it could have evolved. Like it or not, evolution is a respectable theory because it consistently predicts outcomes.
Cameron then points to the intricacy of DNA as support for intelligent design (which may be a reasonable argument), but of course, he leaves out the fact that discoveries surrounding DNA and the human genome have actually confirmed Darwin’s theory of evolution in that they support descent from a common ancestor with natural selection operating on randomly occurring variations and they have enabled scientists to construct a tree of life based solely upon the similarities of the DNA sequences of multiple organisms (without any help from the fossil record)that also confirm Darwin’s theory.
I have a really hard time believing that the 95-99 percent of scientists who accept evolutionary science as sound have simply bought into a completely unsubstantiated “hoax,” as Cameron describes it. (And the fact that Johannes Kepler was not an evolutionist might have something to do with the fact that he lived centuries before Charles Darwin.) Whether you believe in evolution or not, you have to admit that the evidence is compelling. To write it off as nothing more than a hoax simply comes across as ill-informed.
Stereotype #5: Evangelicals always have an agenda. Cameron is super-excited that unknowing students will pick up this book for free only to discover upon reaching their dorm rooms that they’d been tricked into being proselytized to. The whole thing reminds me of those tracts that look like money that are left by street preachers on sidewalks and garbage cans so that folks will be tricked into reading John 3:16.
Stereotype #6: Evangelicals use fear and patriotism as tools for manipulation to call their people to action. As Cameron concludes, “Remember, this is America. It’s still the land of the free, the home of the brave. And this is a life and death issue.” Really?
Now, keep in mind that these are evangelical stereotypes that I believe Kirk Cameron has perpetuated. I’m not claiming that he represents all evangelicals, or even most, nor am I claiming that these positions are in any way inherent to the evangelical tradition. But the video does represent why I tend to distance myself from the term. Time and time again, in talking with folks outside the evangelical tradition, I’ve learned that THIS is what they think of when they hear the word “evangelical.” Unfortunately, it is slowly becoming what I too think of when I hear the word "evangelical."
What do you think? Am I being too harsh on the poor guy? What was your reaction to the video? Is this what you think of when you hear the term “evangelical”? How long do you think it will take Micah to tell me that "I'm too preoccupied with labels"? :-)