Kristof on the Great Divide

New York Times columnist Nick Kristof takes on the Virgin Birth today. He leads with this remarkable statistic: “Americans are three times as likely to believe in the Virgin Birth of Jesus (83 percent) as in evolution (28 percent).”
I think the majority’s skeptical view of evolution is correct, based strictly on the scientific evidence, but that’s a topic for another day. Kristof’s subject is the great divide between what he postures as “intellectual America” and “religious America.” He decries “the way the great intellectual traditions of Catholic and Protestant churches alike are withering, leaving the scholarly and religious worlds increasingly antagonistic.” Kristof takes the fact that the ranks of the Pentacostalists are growing rapidly while mainstream denominations like the Episcopalians are declining as a bad thing, and as evidence of the declining intellectuality of American religion.
I’m not sure whether Episcopalians are more intellectual than Pentecostals or not, but I’m pretty certain that’s not the reason for the divergent fortunes of the two groups. The mainstream denominations have stagnated or declined in direct proportion to the extent to which they have gotten less interested in faith and more interested in politics. To say that Americans are becoming less intellectual is, I think, rather silly. What is going on is that most Americans do not view churches as just another kind of do-gooding charitable organization. They really do believe in God.
Kristof closes by drawing a predictable analogy between “mystical” Christians and “mystical” Muslims, as though they were somehow the same thing: “I worry partly because of the time I’ve spent with self-satisfied and unquestioning mullahs and imams, for the Islamic world is in crisis today in large part because of a similar drift away from a rich intellectual tradition and toward the mystical.” One could go on at great length about the many profound differences between Christianity and Islam, but for now all I will say is: don’t hold your breath waiting for Pentecostals to start going around blowing people up.


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