The facts recounted in any historical work are important, but so are the uses to which those facts are put, the tools used to analyze those facts, and the conclusions that are drawn from those facts. Accurate details can be both cherry-picked and omitted, and either of those can allow for the creation of a false narrative or leave the reader with a false impression. In short, what we want to know is whether or not the tools and analysis Du Mez employs in the curation of her historical record are sound, and whether or not the conclusions that she draws from that curated record are justified. That is, we want to know whether or not the house of Jesus and John Wayne is built on a solid intellectual foundation, and my contention is that it is not.
Jesus and John Wayne is built on the shifting sand of postmodernism. No Christian interested in her thesis can ignore the implications of her methodology. To embrace her work is to embrace the postmodern deconstruction of Christianity.
To understand Jesus and John Wayne, it is best to see it as a sort of answer to the question: “Why did Evangelical Christians, with their very conservative Christian moral ethics, come to be the backbone of support behind Donald Trump, a man who is infamous for his rude language and known for his (admitted) marital infidelities?” This is the question that Du Mez seeks to answer in her work.
…Du Mez readily admits that her work is a work of deconstruction, and that she is influenced by the work of postmodern philosopher Michael Foucault. Much of Jesus and John Wayne is a Foucauldian Archeology of Evangelical discourse around masculinity, and a Foucauldian genealogy of how that discourse developed.
If we follow postmodern methods to their ultimate conclusions, they dissolve every belief system and every philosophical framework to which they are applied, including postmodernism itself. A philosophy or method that dissolves everything proves nothing, save for the fact that the philosophy or the method itself is flawed. So it is with postmodernism.
…Rarely does Du Mez argue that the theology of Evangelicals is wrong on the merits. She does not show that they have made an interpretive mistake, nor does she argue, prove, demonstrate, or otherwise show that the tenets of American Evangelicalism are not warranted. Instead, she asserts that they are defined by cultural and political commitments and then draws negative inferences on that basis alone. Du Mez is attempting to tear down the edifice of Evangelical theology by appealing to elements in the sociological situation in which Evangelical theological claims and justifications were formed. On Du Mez’s telling, Evangelicals’ concerns about family were really about sex and power, their views of biblical innerancy were really a proxy for fights about gender, and their opposition to abortion was really about trying to push back against the gains made by feminism. Arguments of this type abound in Jesus and John Wayne.
The method relies on a fallacy that has been rebutted by John Searle, namely:
If we have justifications for our beliefs, and if the justifications meet rational criteria, then the fact that there are all sorts of elements in our social situation that incline us to believe one thing rather than another may be of historical or psychological interest but it is really quite beside the point of the justifications and of the truth or falsity of the original claim.
This is the heart of the problem with Du Mez’s book. Her account of Evangelicals – they are animated by wrong motives, hidden agendas, unfair biases, and power-seeking;, they’re complicit in a litany of terrible things – is not an argument. Du Mez is attempting to tear down the edifice of Evangelical theology by casting elements of the sociological situation in which Evangelical theological claims and justifications were formed in the least charitable possible light. But, as Searle points out, whether or not our sociological situation inclines us toward one belief or another is not relevant to whether or not those beliefs are actually true.
The entire danger here is that we end up with a way of analyzing and understanding theology that is utterly unmoored from the truth. It doesn’t even matter whether Du Mez perceives herself to be operating in such a deconstructionist fashion: Her method sets aside the difficult work of determining truth and replaces it with the cheap substitute of speculating about people’s perceived interests and motives. Read more»
Michael Young | “Jesus and John Wayne Among the Deplorables” | March 11, 2022
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