Making More Assumptions About Evangelicals. And Your Brain.

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As reporters seek to make sense of — and create new narratives about — this election cycle, I imagine there will be more stories like this one: “Young, evangelical … for Obama?”

The thing is, that question mark is well-deserved. As I wrote a couple of weeks ago, researchers say that the crack-up of the Christian Right does not mean a pendulum swing from right to left, it simply means, well, a crack-up. The young evangelicals in the story seem to have a better sense of this than the headline writer:

“I think a lot of Christians are having trouble getting behind everything the Republicans stand for… It’s not about liberal or conservative, or Democrats or Republicans….I don’t think it’s a new evangelical left. … There’s a new evangelical stuck-in-the-middle.”

“Most of us would never blindly follow the old Christian Right anymore. James Dobson has nothing to do with us. A lot of us are taking apart the issues, and thinking, ‘OK, well, [none of the candidates] fits what I’m looking for exactly.’ But if you’re going to vote, you’ve got to take your pros with your cons.”

“Whither the religious left?” has been a question that’s generated a lot of interesting writing in the past few years, but the answer is not with evangelicals.

In other Pew Forum-related news, David Brooks’ column today is a truncated version of his talk from Key West on neuropsychology and neurobiology; it restates as well an assertion that troubled me back in Florida. Today, he writes:

In their arguments with Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins, the faithful have been defending the existence of God. That was the easy debate. The real challenge is going to come from people who feel the existence of the sacred, but who think that particular religions are just cultural artifacts built on top of universal human traits. It’s going to come from scientists whose beliefs overlap a bit with Buddhism.

In his earlier talk, Brooks amplified the idea that neuroscientists will present a “challenge to faith” a bit, and seemed — to my ears — to say that neuroscientists were dismissive of faith. My liberal-stereotyping-alarm went off then; the “religious left” is hard to find, it is not hard at all to find a religious leftist. Or even a religious scientist…who isn’t a leftist! The idea that neuroscience is reducible to “scientists whose beliefs overlap a bit with Buddhism” — they’re not like you and me! they’re somehow foreign! — seemed of a piece with other forms of conservative anti-science propaganda.

But when I asked him about stereotypes that seemed to be embedded in his analysis, Brooks told me I was reading too much into his comment. And that I shouldn’t generalize.

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