Razib Khan, a conservative atheist geneticist and "public intellectual", looks at a controversial photo from both side of the cultural divide in the U.S. with some insightful comments.
With a serious world-wide pandemic coming toward us, I assume that many people of Thomas Chatterton Williams’ milieu were alarmed when they saw a photograph of Mike Pence leading the team tasked to respond to the pandemic praying. As the kids would say, “it’s not a good look.” The image was pregnant with many connotations.
[Christian conservative blogger] Rod Dreher is not the only person who responded very negatively to the above tweet. I actually initially saw it via another conservative writer I follow. We can set aside the political opportunism of figures like Jeff Sessions. I think it is clear that many people were sincerely offended.
Where the secular person might see a useless gesture at best, and a sinister one at worst, religious conservatives see normal, banal, and conventional behavior. For them, the act of prayer is a conventional part of daily life. It is not surprising they would be offended and angered that actions which they know to be in good will, and meritorious, were seen in a negative light.
He's right. This photograph sends two very different messages to members of secular, modernist America and to Christian religious conservatives in the U.S., respectively. A culture war is underway in the U.S., it has been for a long time. It has grown particularly intense under the Trump Administration as Trump has joined the fray on the Christian conservative side despite being
I am firmly on the secular, modernist side of that war, and ultimately, I think that it is pretty clear that my side is going to win that struggle. The ranks of the religious "nones" are growing as is support for litmus test views like belief in evolution, climate change and gay rights, especially among the young, regardless of their cultural roots. The ranks of people who identify as "Christian" and reject science and gay rights are shrinking and growing more white haired with each passing year.
Few people would have even thought to have the reaction that is the instinctive response of Williams, which is also the reaction that I and many of our peers today do, sixty years ago, in 1960, when our current crop of Presidential candidates were teenagers. This is progress.
Of course, back in 1960, conservative Christians had not "weaponized" their faith as a political tool in service of ends that it is hard to imagine the Jesus depicted in the Gospels embracing. Most people were either mainline Protestant Christians or Roman Catholics who did not understand their religion to be so deeply at odds with science. Back then, atheists were seen as crazy radicals beyond the Overton window of normal discourse and respectable opinion, who were also seen as allied the Soviet and Maoist Communists who were our geopolitical enemy. Scientists were seen as a bit strange, but not as a cultural threat to the prevailing ceremonial deist consensus.