Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Faith in the Halls of Power

Fascinating new OUP (Oxford U Press) blog by Prof. D. Michael Lindsay of Rice U. (sociology). His new book, Faith in the Halls of Power, takes an insider's look at the new generation of "cosmopolitan evangelicals" that are being trained in our elite institutions and appointed to positions of great power, a phenomenon mostly ignored by the MSM because it religiously restricts its evie diet to the Pat Robertsons and Jerry Falwells. Lindsay relies primarily on Barbara Walter-styled interviews with CEOs, megachurch pastors, Beltway mavens, Hollywood bohemians, and entrepreneurs to reveal a very hip and "with-it" evangelical substratum.

While I find it all fascinating, I'm also deeply skeptical of evangelicalism's capacity to really make a lasting Christian mark on our postmodern society. Its ecclesiological integrity is too thin to take a soaking from secular utilitarianism and technocracy, such that every attempt to be "in the world" invariably leads to becoming more "of it." I still have trouble distinguishing most of evangelicalism from American self-help Gnosticism and Lindsay's book doesn't seem to do much to disspell my harsh opinion. Lindsay's blog is full of quaint anecdotes of the many ways that evangelicals are making their voice heard -- but they're just too quaint, almost too cute, to take seriously. The resurgent evangelicalism that Lindsay presents is primarily subcultural identity politics, full of vague privatized spirituality and "values," devoid of religious substance.

Take for example his interview with this evangelical exec:
One of my favorite stories was I interviewed Debra Waller, she’s the CEO of Jockey underwear. And we met here in New York in their showroom where they bring buyers in. And the room is plastered with larger-than-life photo shoots from their advertising. And I don’t know if you’ve seen underwear advertising recently, but it’s got a lot of flesh in it. And I told her I had never given an interview surrounded by so much flesh, it was rather distracting. And so we were talking about advertising, and I said, “You know, what difference does your faith make in how you advertise, or does it make any difference?” And she told me an interesting story. Jockey is something that she has been involved with for a long time, and she said, “You know, I wanted my faith to have some kind of involvement in our advertising decisions, or our spokespersons, and who represented the company.” And so she made a decision a number of years ago that if they had a picture with a man and a woman that was in the same photo shoot that they would be wearing wedding bands. And she said, “You know, that’s not something that’s necessarily hitting them over the head with the Bible, or anything like that, but it is a way in which I sort of try to encourage that there is a norm where we’re not trying to say this is the most promiscuous thing that we can do.” And she said, “We don’t have models who are twisted together like pretzels.” She alluded to a couple of other advertisers which I won’t mention.
A kindler, gentler Bible-thumping, all fine and dandy, but there's a certain fey and naive pretentiousness here that seems quite common among the evangelicals I've known.