Paradise Lost

Several months ago I made a resolution to break out of the echo chamber that all of us get into–and some never leave. Just being honest with oneself you have to admit getting into a bubble is a way to learn and appreciate the thoughts and beliefs of those in your tribe—up to a point, at which it then starts repeating itself, offering nothing new.  My project is to seek out the literature of public theologians, clergy, and even a  few radical  firebrands in order to discover and weigh what I think to be some of their better arguments about religious ideas and related cultural and political trends.  Some may warn me to exercise caution—I might be laying the foundation for my own conversion. I don’t think so.

Russell Moore is a public theologian, preacher, and the editor-in-chief of Christianity Today. Previous to taking on the editorship of CT, he was named as president the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Liberty Commission— “an entity assigned to address social, moral, and ethical concerns.” At the beginning of the 2016 campaign for the U. S. presidency, he recognized the up-and-coming Republican candidate for what he was—a lifelong grifter, philanderer, sexual predator and narcissistic liar—and went public about it, refusing to endorse Trump, which was met with disapproval from many in the SBC leadership roles. That, along with the revelation of the sexual and pedophiliac scandal involving at least 700 accusations and criminal charges against evangelical church pastors and other church employees and the subsequent cover-ups, were more than enough to bring about his departure from the SBC in 2021.

Now burdened with enough troubling questions and thoughts on “what’s wrong with this picture?” to fill a book. In 2023,  Losing Our Religion was published by Penguin Random House.

The chapter titles—Losing Our Credibility, Losing Our Authority, Losing Our Identity, Losing Our Integrity, and Losing Our Stability would indicate what we secularists and skeptics could confirm what we have been thinking for a while: they are not losing their religion, but have already lost it and replaced it with a charade, having hijacked the veneer, symbolism and language of Christianity to cloak their racist, misogynist, homophobic, and authoritarian aspirations. Under certain circumstances, the loss of any of these qualities, each on its own, could destroy an organization; and taken all together would be akin to the devil himself kissing the seal on the Faustian pact, swapping sincere Christian ideals and an entire sect of Christianity for the earthly reins of power.

  Moore says there is some truth to the proposition that Evangelicalism is not a theological identity but a Southern white cultural one, “built from the beginning on nationalism, racism, militarism, misogyny, populism, or right-wing politics.” Moore references historian Mark Noll, who documented the beginnings of the current political infatuation that consumes todays’ evangelicalism in Noll’s book The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind (Grand Rapids:Eerdmans, 1994)

”the scandal being that there isn’t much of an evangelical mind. We face the scandal of the evangelical limbic system” Whereas the lizard brain fear factor has previously been stimulated by the prospects of Hell, for the past half century, a “different kind of fear—the [perceived] imminent threat from one’s neighbors or culture.”

Since fear is such a powerful motivator, people suffering from it are quick to find something or someone that promises to alleviate it, and they are susceptible, and can become prey  to the quick fixes a demagogue proposes. Preying on fear of the “other”—either foreign immigrants, or the “enemy within” is one of the stock-in-trade tactics of the fascist demagogue. 

Mr. Moore is not sure that  the evangelical church can survive the efforts by some to politicize the religion, turning it into a secular organization itself, and serving a pagan god. “Evangelical Christianity as we know it might not survive.” The data show that as the church politicizes itself, members who were there just to hear the Good News gospel leave; and that even though membership in evangelical Protestantism has held steady while mainstream Protestant and Catholic religions have dwindled, Pew Research demographers say “there is no data on which to model a sudden or gradual revival of Christianity (or of religion in general).


As you might suspect, Moore’s book is liberally peppered with Bible verses and biblical allegories. But you might find it a bit of a head scratcher that the Mississippi preacher who believes in a literal Hell, biblical inerrancy, 1-man, 1-woman marriage, and “complementarian” gender roles is also skeptical of gay conversion therapy, is against the Confederate flag in public spaces, was distressed the vile racism and anti-semitism expressed at the Charlottesville, Va. protests, and lobbied for more evangelical support for Syrian refugee resettlement during that crisis in 2015. As for my project to seek  intelligent Christian points to debate, well, this may not have been the best read for that. Mr. Moore’s critique of “Christian nationalism and the ongoing hijacking of Protestant evangelicalism casts a wide net and offers dozens more examples at work to this disturbing end.


So  here I am, right back in the echo chamber I was trying to avoid. But now knowing that secularists are not alone in this battle for hearts and minds, with Moore and other respected theologians speaking out against this ungodly movement helps a lot. I’ll settle for second best this time.


Marty Bankson, ed.

Reporting for the Humanist Advocate

February 15, 2024