Weekly Digest: Russell Moore, Fundamentalist Preacher
Welcome to my weekly digest for October 28, 2022.
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Russell Moore: Fundamentalist Preacher
There was more good news for my three worlds of evangelicalism this week. Russell Moore at Christianity Today has a column interacting with it in the November issue. He doesn’t say directly, but seems to be mostly critiquing James Woods’ piece about evolving on Tim Keller. But he refers to elements of my framework in making his critique. It’s always great with the top people at the top evangelical publications engage with your work, even if critically. (As I’ve criticized Moore before, it’s only fair that he criticize me in return).
Someone I shared that with made an interesting comment that was like a light bulb turning on in my head. He said that Russell Moore sounds like a fundamentalist preacher. That’s right. Once you recognize Moore as just another fundamentalist preacher, so much of his style makes sense.
For example, I’ve noticed the Moore has a streak of implying that the people he disagrees with may not be saved (translation: will burn in hell). In this latest column he writes:
To think that pretend Christianity - claiming the goals of Jesus while ditching his ways, embracing Christian values without individual new birth - is somehow closer to Christ than outright paganism is the opposite of what Jesus himself told us.
Not the use of language like “pretend Christianity” and “without individual new birth.”
He did the same in the title of his First Things Erasmus lecture, “Can the Religious Right Be Saved?” Note the double sense of the word saved here. And in his now infamous New York Times op-ed “A White Church No More” he suggests that some Trump supporters might well face the prospect of eternal damnation, writing:
A white American Christian who disregards nativist language is in for a shock. The man on the throne in heaven is a dark-skinned, Aramaic-speaking “foreigner” who is probably not all that impressed by chants of “Make America great again.”
He’s careful never to directly say that his opponents are damned, but the possibly of it is clearly present in the language in all of these cases.
I always thought this was over the top, but now I recognize it for what is: a typical fundamentalist motif. His hellfire and damnation shtick is just an ordinary fundamentalist affectation or tic. Dare I say it, it may just be a manifestation of his Christian cultural background.
To be clear, his Times op-ed was completely out of line because he was the paid, official denominational representative of many of the people he was trashing in an elite secular publication. But at least I understand where the language is coming from, and thus it doesn’t seem so extreme as it might otherwise sound. It actually makes me feel better about Moore. I grew up in a fundamentalist environment myself, so I’m not allergic to that style.
So try on the fundamentalist lens for yourself. Visualize Russell Moore in your head as a fundamentalist preacher, and see if it helps you understand him better. It’s helped me. Even the cadences of his language make more sense to me now.
By the way, I believe Moore is a genuine Christian. I just disagree with him on some things.
The Epic Battle Against Porn
One of the online men’s communities that I’m aware of but don’t follow closely is the “NoFAP” world. This is a movement dedicated to eliminating masturbation. As part of that, they tend to be extremely anti-porn. In fact, basically all of the secular, right-leaning men’s communities are militantly anti-porn. This is not because they are interested in holiness. Many of them want men to channel their sexual energy into the pursuit of fornication with actual women. (Others do support sublimating sexual energy into “higher” purposes, seeing porn and base womanizing as degrading to men).
A reader sent me the video below, which is designed to help motivate men to fight against porn consumption. It seems to be a riff on Game of Thrones, and has racked up 2.3 million views so far.
I highlight this to show that these guys are not just some tiny movement. There are millions of men participating in various of these online communities. I study this and can’t even keep up with them all myself.
It’s also amazing that the secular men’s world seems to be if anything more anti-porn and more working practically to end male porn consumption than the church or the Republican Party.
Note particularly in this video the lack of the shaming approach so common in the church. Rather, the process of weaning yourself off of porn is presented as a heroic battle, one in which many other men are ready to be a very present help in times of trouble or temptation.
Best of the Web
Kevin DeYoung: The Case for Kids
Daily Mail: Disney unveils its first plus-size heroine in 'emotional' film about body dysmorphia
NYT: After #MeToo Reckoning, a Fear Hollywood Is Regressing - Basically, a number of heavily DEI influenced productions flopped at the box office.
WaPo: Nearly half of Americans think U.S. should be ‘Christian nation,’
WSJ: As Covid Hit, Washington Officials Traded Stocks With Exquisite Timing - more evidence of the corruption of our system and its leaders.
New Content and Media Mentions
Samuel D. James has the second part of his take on my three worlds piece. Alas it’s paywalled.
New this week:
What do you mean by liberalism? (paid only) I argue that there’s no reason to abandon liberalism, once we understand that the word is best understood as a stand-in for “the cultural and political traditions of America.”
My podcast this week has some thoughts on accountability for failures during the Covid-19 response, focused on the huge educational setbacks children experienced while schools were wrongly closed for extended periods of time. Paid subscribers can read the transcript.
You can subscribe to my podcast on Apple, Google, or YouTube.
When I look at figures like Russell Moore with charity, I think one reason they think the way they do is they grew up in a time and place in which they internalized the idea that the Christian right is a powerful force, while in my formative years (in a secular-right-leaning family living in a purple area in the 90s) I internalized the idea that it's a weak, basically irrelevant force.
I look at him and my initial reaction is that a prominent evangelical figure is doing things like criticizing what I might think of as trailer park Christians in the pages of the NYT -- people who have little worldly esteem and don't even occupy the heights of evangelical officialdom -- and I'm inclined to frame it as a religious elite punching down at his social and possibly intellectual lessers in order to score cheap points in the eyes of powerful worldly elites. Not a good look. But inside Moore's head, I imagine he's not a religious elite but an embattled evangelical who is actually punching up at modern-day Pharisees and Sadducees who are far more powerful than he within the church and who have links to powerful worldly figures in the Republican Party.
To that point, he probably perceives the Republican Party more as it was in his childhood, a party of powerful elites and corporate interests, while in my heart of hearts I think of it as the Mr. Magoo of political parties, the "Stupid Party" with Trump as Magoo-in-Chief and only the most tepid, grudging, and heavily paid-for support from a minority of economic elites. Putting much trust in figures like Trump might be stupid, but in my mind it's an act of desperation and weakness and not an association with the power that truly runs this world (and that clearly favors the Democrats).