Many, many years ago when I began studying theology the common moan was that evangelicals had to do twice the work; first we had to study the course work assigned and then we had to study what we held to be the truth. An exaggeration of course, but there was an element of truth in it, nearly all the lecturers shared what could be called a broadly progressive stance.
What we didn’t fully recognise at the time was that this was actually beneficial to the evangelicals. It resulted in us being much more intellectually robust than the progressives. Not cleverer, but definitely stronger intellectually. Instead of confining ourselves to one particular take on theology we had to understand our opponent’s as well as our own position. The poor progressives largely stayed within the corral and drank from the one fountain. The result was that they had little idea beyond that of a caricature what evangelicals actually believed.
So it is with social issues today. Day by day progressives go to the same muddy pool. The mass media in the UK, as in the USA, are overwhelmingly progressive. The BBC and Channel 4, in particular amongst television companies, and practically all the newspapers and magazines, follow a broadly progressive, politically correct agenda. Yes, even the supposedly right wing press very rarely kick against the controlling ethos of political correctness.
The result is that progressives and those influenced by them are convinced that social conservatives are intolerant, knuckle dragging Neanderthals, xenophobic, homophobic, Islamophobic, racist, bigoted sexists. Commonly employed epithets such as these have two related purposes; they are used to shame the opposition into silence and also to justify refusal to engage with conservatives when they do insist on speaking. Progressives never pause to think that perhaps one of the main purposes of trying to silence the opposition is because you are afraid they just might be right.
The problem is that because progressives actually do believe these things about conservatives they don’t bother to interact with conservative arguments.
Some of the most eminent climate scientists and physicists have questioned man made global warming based on computer models. MIT meteorologist Richard Lindzen and Princeton physicist William Harper have written and spoken extensively questioning anthropogenic global warming. Have there ever been serious documentary programmes on the BBC exploring their views?
Of course not. If the default position is that everyone who challenges global warming is ipso facto anti-science then why listen to their arguments? Instead progressives laud An Inconvenient Truth the flawed and factually dishonest documentary of Al Gore, a failed politician with no science background who got a D in natural science at Harvard. Gore, however, says the right, acceptable, progressive things, that is worth a Nobel Prize.
Progressives tend to live within a mutually reinforcing bubble. They believe conservatives are either terrible people or intellectually challenged and so they don’t bother to read or listen to conservative arguments. Because they are not aware of conservative arguments they are able to continue believing that conservatives are terrible people and that they, the progressives have right on their side.
Whilst progressives tend to assume that conservatives are evil or wicked they see themselves as compassionate, thoughtful, moral, enlightened, even brilliant. This self image is not because of anything they have achieved, but simply because they are progressive, they hold the right ideas.
Social conservatives see progressives as wrong, foolish, misguided or just plain stupid. Progressives see conservatives not just as wrong or foolish, but evil. Progressives inhabit a Manichean universe. As utopians they are trying to create a heaven upon earth and those who are opposed to them must be doing it purely because they are hateful.
If you oppose abortion it can’t be because you value human life and are fearful of a society which sees death as a solution to problems; it must be because you hate women.
If you are opposed to homosexual marriage it can’t be because you value those social structures which have held us together for millennia; it must be because you are homophobic and thus mentally disturbed, or are a closet homosexual who hates himself.
If you wish the government to get a grip on runaway spending it can’t be because you think fiscal responsibility is necessary for a stable society; it must be because you hate the poor.
If you are opposed to multiculturalism it can’t be because you fear the balkanisation of the country, the rise in sectarian politics or think that integration would be in the best interests of immigrants; it must be because you are a racist, cultural imperialist and hate anyone different from yourself.
The differing attitudes of social conservatives and social progressives to their opponents makes a huge difference to the way the differing groups react to each other. Stupid you may be able to educate, but evil you have to crush.
It may not be of our choosing but we are in a culture war and our first, and most difficult task is to open the eyes of those who have no wish to see. The great temptation is to respond in kind and indulge in the type of crude dismissal and censorship we encounter. Instead we must seek to understand the arguments of progressives and seek to counter them rationally. Reason should eventually defeat intolerance.