"A totally different America"
But what struck me most, I think, in my brief sojourn with evangelicals, was the sheer homogeny of the system. A guy like Roeder, I would suspect, lives, breathes, and dreams the right-to-life movement. His family is probably all cut from that cloth, his neighbors, his place of work, his church, his social circle, the whole nine. Anyone NOT onboard with that community eventually gets severed, not necessarily in a dramatic way (though that happens to), but they just sort of drift away, or are drifted away from. So what tends to happen is quite literally every extended interaction they have with any meaning is amongst themselves; a person builds up, or rather are nurtured into, a complete and total system. This, of course, is wonderful on some levels—the evangelical community is a community in the strongest sense of it, a complete and total nest that you never have to leave and has everything you need (or at least want). But it also often entails an amazing insularity, of the “us vs. them” sort of mindset that you mention. This is not a community where the order of the day is intellectual curiosity or a constant questioning of assumptions or even a routine exposure to other points of view in a non-hostile or non-overbearingly missionary way. Once you’re in, literally everything in your life is arranged almost solely for the purpose of bulwarking your point of view.
It’s sort of amazing to see when you’re a tourist to that sort of thing, at least in part because of how non-conducive it is to the stated core goal of evangelicism—to convert. The fact of the matter is that hardcore evangelicals live in a totally different America than we do, a massively sprawling and totally closed networked system, and that those outside the network might as well be space aliens. They can only be understood or interacted with in a missionary sort of way, i.e. for their capacity to be reshaped into, frankly, clones of themselves. This is not a movement that has any interest in understanding where people are coming from, only in how to get them to where they (the evangelicals) are. And that is a powerful, powerful shaper of thought and personality. It is not all bad, and it is enormously seductive—imagine creating for yourself a world where every-thing you think is absolutely right—but it certainly has a very, very…scary is not the right word, so let’s say unsettling effect. And, particularly to people with weak self-identities to begin with, it can be very conducive to going off the rails. This is not a community, at least in my experience, that values things like doubt or a checking of assumptions, at least not in practice.
What Brad is describing here is the mentality of a cult, on a large scale. I've observed before that as Christianity declines in the US, it will tend to become ever more extreme. The least fanatical are the ones most likely to become secularized to the point of being "Christian in name only", which leaves the more fanatical making up a greater percentage of what remains, which pushes both the image and the real character of the remaining hard-core Christian community in a more extreme direction, which drives away yet more moderates, etc.
Insular cults clinging to outmoded ways after the rest of the world has moved on are not always necessarily dangerous. The Amish are an even more extreme example, and they pose no danger to the rest of society. The track record of fundamentalist Christianity is more ominous. Unlike Islam, mainstream modern Christianity condemns religious violence (or at least can be interpreted that way), but the murder of Dr. Tiller was far from the first case of anti-abortion terrorism in the US, and many of these people have such a twisted sense of reality that they interpret things like the separation of church and state, equal rights for gays, recognition of the right to abortion, etc., as somehow being a persecution of Christians, as if they had a right to impose their own views on society which is being infringed. The percentage of evangelical Christians who are potentially violent is probably very small, but much of the cult is steeped in rhetoric which legitimizes terrorism (see for example here and the PDF comment collections here.
Especially since the elections of 2006 and 2008, it has begun to dawn on the Christian Right that they are a shrinking minority, that things like abortion and gay equality are not going to go away, and that the trend toward ever greater secularism, pluralism, and liberalism is strong and inexorable despite superficial reverses during the Bush interregnum. For a movement already steeped in apocalyptic thinking, such realizations can only lead to more and more bizarre rhetoric and behavior toward the rest of us. Some of that behavior will inevitably be violent.
Dr. Tiller had been threatened, demonized, and attacked by the thugs before. He had the guts to keep on doing what was right. The rest of us, too, must refuse to be intimidated -- and must fight back against the Christian Right however we can. We, not their abscess of twisted hate and delusion, are the real America.