June 7, 2015

Overcome Your Duggar Fatigue and Keep Boosting That Signal

Jim Bob & Michelle DuggarAre you sick and tired of hearing about the Josh Duggar child molestation scandal yet? Me too. That's probably why I've only written so little about it here. "Duggar fatigue" has set in to the point where I find myself skipping over stories about it. I cannot help wondering what more important stories are being missed because of our obsession with celebrity culture. But then it hit me that I might be completely wrong about this. Perhaps the Duggar story is precisely the sort of thing with which we should be bombarding the metaphorical airwaves. Maybe people need to hear more about it rather than less.

What lies at the heart of the Duggar story? I think an argument could be made that the answer involves the hypocrisy of evangelical fundamentalist Christianity and the "family values" about which they are so fond of telling us. Again and again, evangelical fundamentalist Christians have been held up to us as the model of virtue. The so-called "Christian lifestyle," with all the beliefs, values, and rituals it entails, is supposed to save the U.S. from all social ills, ills caused by the twin evils of secularism and progressive politics.

With the Duggar story, this already shaky facade came crashing down with a sickening thud. Could it be that this, along with the widespread anti-LGBT bigotry of evangelical fundamentalist Christians, is the sort of thing that has been leading younger people to turn their backs on Christianity? And if so, I wonder if stories of such extreme hypocrisy are those we should be doing our part to boost.

In a recent article for the Ames Tribune, Hector Avalos, a professor of religious studies at Iowa State University, wrote:
On social media, scholars of religion are debating whether this scandal is simply inciting our voyeurism or whether the Duggars reflect something more important about the state of American religion.
There does seem to be a voyeuristic aspect to this. It is difficult to imagine that the story would have become anything like what it became without the reality TV show angle. But that does not necessarily mean that it cannot also be reflecting something far more important about the state of Christianity in the U.S.

Avalos goes on to quote a Christian blog, The Wartburg Watch, as saying:
(W)e believe Christianity is in decline because of the serious problems we discuss here — arrogant church leadership, refusal to deal with child sex abuse in the church, patriarchal attitudes, marginalization of over half of church attendees (women)...
So there are at least some Christians out there who see a connection between hypocrisy and the ground Christianity appears to be losing. Not only is that encouraging, but it is another data point suggesting that stories like this can have an impact.

Avalos also notes that respondents to the Millennials Values Survey of 2012 were asked about their reactions to contemporary Christianity and that 58% agreed that "hypocritical" was an appropriate description. Just think of all the reasons this could be the case. While many may be local experiences (i.e., an individual's direct experiences with hypocrisy at the church he or she attended), I have to imagine that the broader context matters too. For example, I'd have a hard time believing that the endless parade of clergy sexual abuse scandals from the Catholic church, combined with their efforts to conceal crimes and startling lack of empathy for their victims, have not had an impact on the degree to which Christianity is perceived as hypocritical. Avalos concludes with this:
In this context, the Duggars are not just the creation of reality television; they may truly represent the hypocritical reality of American Christian lifestyles that many Millennials are fleeing.
If he's right, boosting the signal of news about Christian hypocrisy could be a viable form of atheist activism for those of us wanting to see the decline of Christian influence in the U.S. I've been slow to embrace this, but most other atheist bloggers have not. I'm starting to think they've had it right all along.

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