Friday, January 4, 2008

Premodernism Wins in Iowa

I was surprised that Mike Huckabee won in Iowa. After reading his Foreign Affairs essay (reviewed in this blog), I concluded that he was dishonest, not in a malicious way, but in a traditionally political, media-manipulative way. I said I did not believe voters would fall for Huckabee hucksterism. I was wrong, for Iowa, at least.

Apparently what vaulted Huckabee ahead was a huge turnout among evangelical Christian caucus goers. The New York Times reports that they constitute 60% of caucus goers in Iowa and traditionally 40% of them turn out for Republicans. In this case, evangelical turnout may have been over 50%, and most of it went to Huckabee, perhaps reflecting some disdain for Romney’s Mormonism.
(Picture: ABC News)

Iowa is not representative of the nation; at least I hope it is not. It is a frightening prospect that a born-again Christian evangelical minister, who doesn’t even believe in evolution, but who does believe in regressive taxation, could possibly win the Republican nomination. I should welcome that, since it would make an easy opponent for a Democrat to beat. But I have subterranean fear. It is not easy to turn back a tide, especially a tide of premodern values.

Evangelicals in America adhere to four core beliefs:

1. Belief in the Bible as the sole valid scripture and the inerrant word of God.

2. Belief in the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus as the path to salvation.

3. Emotional and personal faith in Jesus; of being “born-again” into the faith.

4. Active proselytizing of the Christian religion after being baptized.

Reference: Ray C. Bliss Institute for Applied Politics, as reported on Wikipedia ( )

The Statistical Abstract of the United States for 2007 says just over 28% of Americans identify themselves as evangelicals (many of them living in Iowa, apparently).

A survey of Christians in the United States in 2004 asked nine questions to determine whether the respondent was an evangelical Christian. Seven of the questions asked were:

1. Are you a born again Christian?
2. Is your faith very important in your life today?
3. Do you believe you have a personal responsibility to share your religious beliefs about Christ with non-Christians?
4. Do you believe that Satan exists?
5. Do you believe that eternal salvation is possible only through faith, not works?
6. Do you believe that Jesus Christ lived a sinless life on earth?
7. Do you believe that God is the all-knowing, all-powerful, perfect deity who created the universe and still rules it today?

(Source: Wikipedia: )

These kinds of beliefs are traditional, deferring to history, mythology, and authority, and that kind of thinking characterizes the premodern mind, the mentality that prevailed in Europe from the fall of Rome and throughout the medieval period and middle ages.

The big breakthrough of the Enlightenment, beginning in the 1600’s, was the transition to a modern mentality valuing individualism, humanism, reason, and empiricism as the criteria of truth. Not everybody made that transition. There are apparently a lot people in America still living in the middle ages.

Premodern does not mean driving a horse-drawn buggy instead of a Toyota Prius. In this context it refers to those fundamental attitudes mentioned above about how the world is constituted and how it is known.

Islamic terrorists are explicitly and articulately premodern in their mentality. They reject the modern mind, as Islamic societies did not undergo a cultural change comparable to The Enlightenment in the West. Islamicists specifically reject the modern values of individualism, humanism, empiricism, and reason, endorsing instead the values of tribalism, traditionalism, mythology and authority. Being premodern in your thinking does not automatically make you a terrorist of course, but there is an easy connection between premodernism and intolerance.

Could America become a theocracy under a premodern, evangelical president? We have already moved in that direction under the current president and the result has been tragic. Yet amazingly to me, there are still many Americans who would continue to pursue that premodern course. That’s why I am not willing to dismiss Huckabee as an oddball. A rising tide can swamp all boats. That tide must be turned back, for the sake of the future.

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