You might be an evangelical! Some will say you might be a redneck as well, but if these critics attended a service at Beulah they would see the bright, welcoming faces of contemporary suburban Albertans.
Whatever your denomination background, evangelicals share something in common, and that's a belief in the power and necessity of personal regeneration. Why is regeneration necessary? Because we are born in the flesh, and the flesh isn't interested in what is noble, inspiring, and righteous. The flesh is interested in selfish indulgence. A lot of secular people reject this contention, maintaining that we are born tabula rasa. Society, according these secularists, need only educate the young in how to reason and they will flower into caring, responsible, industrious citizens. The experience of innumerable generations suggests otherwise. Remove the influence of the church, parents, and tradition from the raising of the next generation and one does not create some enduring vacuum which liberates the young to self-determine. The vacuum is instead filled with other influences, namely, peer pressure and pop culture. Social liberals like to think that every time they have undermined or destabilized a norm, some emancipatory effect follows, when in reality we become enslaved to our own baser instincts. This is why the "culture wars" matter. "Live and let live" isn't a call for a truce but a call to surrender to "entitlementia" and, ultimately, the social breakdown concomitant with anomie.
In fact, I've oversimplified with "live and let live": one not only can but should "live and let live" when it comes to matters of economy and administration. This, the legal world, is the arena in which the final authority of human reason is recognized by all parties. Where one cannot "live and let live" is in the "life world" - here, no one "lives and let lives" since every life has to be lived on the basis of some fundamental metaphysical assumptions. In this arena rational argument is of limited utility: Alvin Plantinga's notion of "foundational knowledge" is an argument of sorts, but in many respects it is an argument against argument. I could develop this approach further by borrowing from the postmodern critique of modernism but to express the point simply would be to note that in practice, most people come to a weltanschauung which appreciates concepts like sanctity through a transformation that is deeper than the mind: it goes to the soul (personal regeneration!). Trying to argue someone into faith on the micro level is unlikely to be productive, as is trying to use the political process to lobby people into adopting a Christian perspective. It is more effective to use the political process to create the public space that allows one to transform lives on the particular, private level. This is where living one's faith becomes the most effective tool for evangelism. Get political in order to be able to get unpolitical.
This idea of two worlds, one instrumental and governed by commonly recognized principles of rational efficiency, the other personal and subjective, is not original. Lest I misconstrue the sociologist Daniel Bell, I will defer to Jürgen Habermas' summary of Bell's views:
In his book, The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism, Bell argues that the crises of the developed societies of the West are to be traced back to a split between culture and society. Modernist culture has come to penetrate the values of everyday life; the life-world is infected by modernism. Because of the forces of modernism, the principle of unlimited self-realization, the demand for authentic self-experience and the subjectivism of a hyperstimulated sensity have come to be dominant. This temperament unleashes hedonistic motives irreconcilable with the discipline of professional life in society, Bell says. Moreover, modernist culture is altogether incompatible with the moral basis of a purposive rational conduct of life. In this manner, Bell places the burden of responsibility for the dissolution of the Protestant ethic (a phenomenon which has already disturbed Max Weber), on the "adversary culture." Culture, in its modern form, stirs up hatred against the conventions and virtues of an everyday life, which has become rationalized under the pressures of economic and administrative imperatives.
Lifestyle evangelism works. Political evangelism, however, often doesn't and when it does make a difference it can be for the worse.
James Dobson's Focus on the Family group has been a great service for both Canadian and American evangelicals. But Dr Dobson's Family Research Council, which is more explicitly designed to be a vehicle for political activism, has been a lightning rod for controversy. When President Bush nominated Harriet Miers for the United States Supreme Court, Dobson gave his stamp of approval (according to some reports, after Karl Rove gave him private assurances about Miers). What Dobson was missing, however, was allies. One could argue that he applied a litmus test without appreciating the fact that a candidate for high office requires much more. The libertarian intelligentsia within the conservative movement rebelled because of Miers' limited abilities in the realm of reasoned argument, and her nomination was withdrawn. To go back to the Habermas quote, what one might call "economic and administrative imperatives", or perhaps just the sound administration of justice and good government, demanded that Miers not stand for nomination. The fact that there was no necessary conflict between social conservatives and libertarians was demonstrated when the subsequent nomination of John Roberts got the process right.
Contrast this episode with Rick Warren's sure footedness on the national stage. Pastor Warren needs no introduction to evangelicals; The Purpose Driven Life is one of the best selling non-fiction books of all time, even if (too) much of unchurched community has never even heard of it. During last year's Presidential campaign Warren hosted John McCain and Barack Obama in a forum at the Saddleback Church he pastors. Warren didn't tell these men what he thought they should do, he rather asked them questions. After the event, a secular liberal pundit said
The one sure winner was Rick Warren, who overnight changed the face of evangelicals in this country from the cartoon caricature of rigid, right-wing fundamentalists to one of open-minded, intelligent, concerned citizens.
In Alberta, recent political events have created the opportunity to either reinforce that "cartoon caricature" or dispel it. The government of Ed Stelmach has made a show out of addressing the concerns of social conservatives, but has in fact aggravated the "adversary culture." Section 9 of Bill 44 does not push the state out of the church's sphere. It rather expands the state, and then makes a show out of leasing the state's new territory to the church. The powers of the human rights tribunals are broadened by this bill. If it is families 1, teachers 0 this game, it could easily be families 0 next game in a series the teachers didn't ask for. Most of the more prominent members of the Wildrose Alliance Party have not been caught up in the red herring of section 9 because they have focused on section 3 which authorizes the state to adjudicate the dialogue of the church (amongst others). If some speech should offend secular humanist sensibilities by, say, defending social norms and thereby implying that some identifiable group is deviant, the Stelmach government reserves the right to see the speaker investigated and censured.
As a party that understands the importance of separation between the church and the state, the Wildrose Alliance will create opportunities for evangelicals to get a fair hearing and accordingly be recognized as the "open-minded, intelligent, concerned citizens" evangelicals are. The party, which sent a shock wave through the provincial political establishment when it won a byelection on September 14, already has more members than any other opposition party. A leadership race is underway and there is a candidate in the race who can speak authoritatively to "economic and administrative" issues. She not only does not clash with "Modernist culture", she is fully in tune with it; but has firm convictions about the limits of its ambit. She would be no help to social conservatives encroaching on a minimal state, but would be an invaluable ally in defending against an encroaching state. If two roads, one involving the retreat of the state and the other involving the advance of the church, would both keep us moving in the direction of our destination, shouldn't we take the way that is passable? However much the metaphysics of secular humanism may inform Danielle Smith's personal "life world", she is not on a mission to bring Voltaire's godless Enlightenment to the "life world" of others, she's rather on a mission to bring enlightened government to government.
If you haven't yet become a member of the Wildrose Alliance, I would urge you to do so by visiting daniellesmith.ca either today (October 1) or tomorrow, signing up, and then casting your vote for the same candidate that astute social conservatives like Link Byfield support: