I live in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, one of a number of protected enclaves in America where liberals can relax and be themselves without running the risk of encountering a representative of the Republican base. In Chapel Hill, the principal distinction in automobile bumper displays is between 2008 Obama stickers and 2012 Obama stickers. So long as I stay well within the confines of Chapel Hill [and its funky appendage, Carrboro], I can go for two or three weeks without hearing an authentic Southern accent.
Recently, however, I have been driving to and from Greensboro, where Bennett College is located. Along about the time when I start passing the Outlet Malls on I-85, my Chapel Hill radio stations begin to fade, and I must either drive in silence or hit the scan button on my car radio to find signals that come in strongly. It will surprise no one that when I do that, I come across a good many Christian evangelical radio stations. Yesterday, I was idly surfing the bandwidth, pausing at each station long enough to get the flavor of its offerings, when I began to notice something quite curious.
Now, I must back up to explain that as a Philosopher, I have spent a career of almost sixty years reading widely in the philosophical theology of the western tradition. I can prove the existence of God four different ways without breaking a sweat, and I have at least a nodding acquaintance with the ancient disputes about the three-fold or unitary nature of God, salvation by works or by faith alone, and Predestination. I am, I confess, rather fond of these old debates, even though, as my mother explained to me when I was twelve, I am the product of a mixed marriage. "Your father is an agnostic and I am an atheist," she said. I am something of a traditionalist when it comes to theology, if one can have preferences among alternatives all of which one considers nonsense.
But to my dismay, I discovered that on the religious stations I was listening to, there is little or no reference to anything I would recognize as theology. Instead, the talk is filled with a sort of uplifting inspirational psychobabble of the sort I have come to associate with Alcoholics Anonymous. Self-esteem seems to loom larger in these discourses than repentance. Interpersonal relationships are featured more prominently than one's relationship to the Almighty. There are ritual references to Bible passages, of course, and the name of Jesus is thrown around more freely than that of Justin Bieber or Lady Gaga, but very little of what is said would have struck Martin Luther or John Calvin Jonathan Edwards as religious.
I suppose I have simply not been paying attention, but Christianity seems to have been taken over by a bastardization of Freud. I have always believed that a youthful engagement with the doctrinal disputes of Judaism, Christianity, or Islam is good practice for serious philosophical reflection. Perhaps this new development in what passes for Evangelical Christianity in America explains the appallingly low intellectual level of discourse on the right.
Just to be fair, it is also true that a renewal of the serious study of the writings of Karl Marx would tone up popular liberal discourse considerably as well. Paul Samuelson is no Emile Coue ["Every day in every way I am getting better and better."], but the neo-classical synthesis is a far cry from the insights to be found in Capital.