When a television show remains on air long after it ceases to be quality, it is said to have jumped the shark. In the latest issue of World magazine, Marvin Olasky has finally jumped his own shark.
In what should have been a column that Christians of all stripes could rally around, a criticism of the right’s blind embrace of Ayn Rand, Olasky instead arrives at the pinnacle of several years of ideological calcification. The “shark” moment comes in the second paragraph in which Olasky, in his typical condescending tone, gives “a bit of recent history:”
Democrats have not gained much white evangelical support on healthcare and environmentalism. In 2008 they successfully used guilt over segregation to elect the first African-American president, but that may not work again as concern over Obamanomics trumps the ghosts of generations past.
This claim is outrageous and if not racist, certainly borders on racial bitterness. It echoes a sentiment that Ralph Nader expressed back in the 2008 campaign season. It was crazy then, but that’s kind of Nader’s thing. Obama rightly responded that the ill-fated independent candidate was just trying to “get attention,” according to CNN.
But Marvin Olasky is supposed to be a respected voice of the Christian Right. I mean, he coined the term compassionate conservatism! Yet, this careless overstatement is the culmination of a long-running cascade of bogus trend pieces, absurd claims, and embarrassing opinions that have served to level a man once thought to be one of evangelicalism’s best minds.
Consider, for example, several pieces from this year alone. Back in February, he used some creative methods of interpretation to counter the claim that young evangelicals are “pro-liberal.” As we’ve pointed out repeatedly, he’s right that young evangelicals aren’t liberal, but he failed to mention that many of them are no longer evangelicals, either.
In May, he claimed that all of what he perceives as America’s problems have their roots in an imagined 1960s push to “put an end to hardship.” I countered at Patheos that rather than make life easier, the revolutions of the sixties forced us to consider difficult options for making life more fair for more people.
Later in May, Olasky offered a characteristically absolutist criticism of Rob Bell and what he called “self-hating evangelicals.” Comparing them to “left-wing Jews who ally with anti-Israeli Muslims,” he claimed that Rob Bell and other Christians who “display virulent opposition to the existence of churches that are not emergent, or don’t meet in a house, or are not radically redistributionist, or are not something other than standard” are full of self-hatred. This claim, aside from being extremely reductionist, is demonstrably false.
In June, he predictably responded to the bill legalizing same sex marriage in New York by accusing the Associated Press of violating their own “Statement of Ethical Principles” by not offering two sides in an article about the celebrations that took place in New York City. Is it difficult to believe that among the revelers there weren’t too many dissenters? But once again, Olasky passes up the opportunity to engage with a difficult issue by churning out color-by-numbers resentment of the “liberal media.”
Finally, just a few days ago in a piece that considered the influence of evolutionary theory, Olasky made a claim that perfectly and sadly underscores the extent to which he has lost his ability to navigate between extremes, “If Darwin was right, the Bible is wrong, and we are foolish to follow it,” he wrote. Really? We have to choose between the Bible and The Origin of Species? He goes on to look at the influence of evolutionary thought on politics, economics, sex, abortion, and infanticide (wait, what?). Rather than engaging with ideas, Olasky is fueled by issues. He has allowed his ever narrowing vision to obscure the nuances necessary for actively interacting with a world of ideas.
Thus, Olasky’s world is becoming more and more polarized–more us vs. them, more black and white–while the complexities of the real world make the gray all the more apparent. The problem is that he’s taking a generation (albeit an older generation) of readers with him down this road. Some television shows continue for years after they’ve jumped the shark, how much longer will we have to be exposed to Olasky’s reductionist views?
Jonathan D. Fitzgerald
Jonathan D. Fitzgerald is editor of Patrol and author of Not Your Mother's Morals: How the New Sincerity is Changing Pop Culture for the Better. Follow Fitz on Twitter.
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