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The problem with explicit processing: Christian evangelicals

Kevin MacDonald

December 15, 2008

One of my intellectual bedrocks these days is the psychological distinction between explicit and implicit processing. Implicit processing is how the animal part of our brain operates. It’s basically a set of psychological reflexes that take care of the routine business of living — like seeing colors and shapes when we look around the room and recognizing the faces of people we know.

From an evolutionary perspective, the systems of implicit processing have been meticulously designed by natural selection to promote survival and reproduction. They make us enjoy sex and they make us want children and enjoy nurturing them — most of the time. They make us want to associate with people like ourselves. They also make us more likely to contribute to public goods like education and health care if the likely beneficiaries are people like ourselves.

But then along comes explicit processing to make it all really complicated. Explicit processing includes our verbal, cultural world—how we think about ourselves and our place in the world. Patrick Hardin sums it up beautifully in his cartoon: For eons our animal ancestors were governed by three simple rules: “Eat, survive, reproduce.” But at the very pinnacle of evolution, we ask “What’s it all about?”

And we are not very good at answering that question. Humans are prone to a mind-boggling array of ideologies that answer the question “What’s it all about?” But pretty much all of the ones circulating in the mainstream culture of the West are guaranteed to be incompatible with the long term survival and reproduction of the people holding them.

In illustrating this point, I could choose from a very wide range of ideologies held by large groups of white people—from benighted leftist college professors to young urban professionals who read the New York Times, admire rap artists, and agonize about recycling. But right now I would like to make some comments on Christian evangelicals.

Actually, I probably shouldn’t be picking on them at all. When compared to most other whites, Christian evangelicals are definitely on the psychologically healthy end of the continuum. They believe in strong families, they have children, and they are very concerned about their children’s welfare. Many of them send their children to Christian schools, opting out of the great multicultural public education propaganda machine at great personal expense.

They are the embodiment of implicit whiteness—that is, they tend to live in white ethnic enclaves and they worship in predominantly white churches. But the whiteness of it all is never mentioned publicly and doesn’t even seem to be part of their conscious awareness. Living in Southern California, I have had occasion to attend several services at Saddleback Church—the pulpit for Rick Warren, one of America’s most well known Christian religious figures. Located in a very ethnically diverse area, it’s a sea of white people.

I was reminded of all this recently while listening to two of Terry Gross’s interviews with evangelicals on NPR — one an interview with Richard Cizik, the chief lobbyist for the National Association of Evangelicals, and the other with Frank Schaeffer, an evangelical who now rejects the anti-abortion movement that has been a major political cause among evangelicals.

The interviews were both focused on the political activism of the evangelicals—an important topic considering the status of the evangelicals as a critical component of the Republican base. So what were the driving political issues that were singled out as motivating the evangelicals: abortion and homosexuality.

To a considerable degree, both of these issues reflect the fundamental psychological health of the evangelicals. The issues that motivate them relate to constructing cultural supports for a family-friendly culture that promotes fertility and heterosexual marriage. (The phrase “heterosexual marriage” seems odd, but is necessary now that the concept is no longer redundant.)  Below-replacement fertility is a problem for whites around the world, and there can be little doubt that freely available abortion contributes to the problem. The good news is that Christian conservatives have considerably higher fertility than other white groups.

As a biologically oriented psychologist, I am not surprised that research indicates the importance of biological influences on homosexuality. (It is remarkable that biological roots of homosexuality are one of the very few areas where it is politically correct to argue for biological influences. In general the cultural left loves the idea that people are infinitely malleable, but it proudly stands with science if non-malleability suits their political interests.)

The fact that homosexuals have become pillars of the cultural left is deplorableand quite unnecessary. Homosexuals have ethnic interests just like everyone else, and they can promote those interests even if they don’t themselves have children. It seems to me that one way for homosexuals to promote their ethnic interests is to acknowledge heterosexual marriage as a specially protected cultural norm — its special status guaranteed because of its critical importance in creating and nurturing children.

But I digress. Both of these issues require a more lengthy treatment. The main point here is that even if evangelicals managed to enact their views on these issues into law, it would not be enough to stave off the steady erosion of their political and cultural influence. If present trends continue, evangelicals — like the rest of white America — will become increasingly irrelevant.

The problem is that immigration and its disastrous consequences for white America are simply not on their radar screen, at least at the explicit level. Presumably, a large part of the groundswell against illegal immigration in recent years came from Christian conservatives. But in this case, the only principle conservatives focused on was that illegal immigration was, after all, illegal. And that’s not enough. If illegal immigration was stopped tomorrow, it would only delay the inevitable eclipse of white America.

In the case of abortion and homosexuality, evangelicals base their views firmly on the Bible. But when it comes to immigration, the Bible isn’t much help. There is a strong strain of universalism in Christianity. Indeed, when I was doing research on the origins of the Church as an anti-Jewish movement in the ancient world (see Chapter 3 of Separation and Its Discontents), it was striking to notice that the Church fathers perceived Judaism as based on biological descent and ethnic identity. They thought that Christianity was morally superior to Judaism because it was a community of religious believers with no ethnic connotations.

In short, Judaism has always had a fairly tight congruence between their evolutionary interests and their explicit ideology. Indeed, in a previous TOO column I noted the triumph of racial Zionism in Israel. On the other hand, Christian sects are communities with a variety of explicit ideologies that are at best only tangentially related to their ethnic interests. Indeed, it might be argued that Christianity often works well as an ideology for a more or less homogeneous white society. But, at least without some big changes from the current varieties, it is abysmally inadequate as an ideology of ethnic defense. This is especially so in a culture dominated by an intellectual and cultural elite that is hostile to all forms of Christianity and ridicules everything they believe in.

This contrast between Judaism and Christianity persists today: Ethnic particularism and biological descent continue to be robust trends within Judaism. On the other hand, a great many Christian denominations, including some evangelical groups, are strong supporters of multi-racial immigration and quite a few Christian groups avidly seek converts from all races and ethnicities. My impression is that most white Christians live in an implicit white world. Their gut instincts are to preserve an America that has at least a vague resemblance to the world in which they grew up. But the displacement of white America is simply not something they talk about among themselves. Leaders like Rick Warren rarely mention immigration as an issue, and when they do, they uphold conventional views that would certainly not ruffle any feathers at the New York Times.

Evangelicals are engaged in culture wars that are a sideshow to the main event. Of course, the same can be said about the other conservative cultural warriors — people like Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly.

And the same can also be said about other hot-button cultural issues, such as the legitimacy of Christianity in the public square. The mainstream media, aided and abetted by the organized Jewish community, have indeed been waging a war on public manifestations of Christianity. But the idea that Christianity could retain any public presence at all when whites become a minority seems preposterous. Unless evangelicals and other Christians vigorously oppose legal and illegal immigration, the idea that America is a Christian country is bound to go the way of horse-drawn buggies (and the American automobile industry?).

I suppose Christians could dream that these immigrants would be sufficiently Christian to ensure a Christian America. But Christian religiosity is not a criterion for immigration to America and its adoption as a criterion would certainly be a major violation of the cultural Marxist zeitgeist that dominates these issues now. Abe Foxman would probably have a stroke if the issue was debated in Congress. And at a gut level, I don't think that most evangelicals really want a white-minority, multicultural America.

As an evolutionist, it is natural to urge explicit assertions of white identity and interests as an ideology for survival.  But such an ideology resides in another galaxy — light years removed from the world of the evangelicals. Left to their own devices, it seems impossible that the evangelicals would be any more than implicit supporters of white America. And that is not enough. As noted previously in TOO:

It might be possible for the Republicans to adopt a Sarah Palinesque identity of Christianity and traditional small town values. But even if they do, they would still have to oppose legal and illegal immigration in order to remain a majority. The left has shown repeatedly that they will label as racist any criticism of immigration—even those based on economic or ecological arguments. And they would surely do so if a party composed almost exclusively of European-Americans advocated an end to immigration. It won’t matter what surface ideology they adopt.

So the prospect of developing a powerful evangelical religious ideology in opposition to immigration seems hopeless. (Bill Barnwell made a heroic effort on Vdare, but he doesn’t seem to have inspired a mass movement; he was careful to note that arguments on the basis of race or ethnicity are foreign to Christianity).

Not only is there a very long history of universalism embedded in the origins of Christianity, there is also intense policing of all issues related to immigration by the cultural left. The last thing that establishment religious figures like Rick Warren want is to challenge the consensus on race. But that is exactly what they would be accused of if they became activists against immigration in the way that evangelicals have been politically active on issues like abortion and homosexuality.

The likely result is that things will have to get a whole lot worse for white America in order for evangelicals to adopt an explicit white identity and act on the basis of their interests with the same emotional intensity that has often characterized their efforts on abortion and homosexuality.

And if it does happen, it’s really hard to see how they could remain evangelicals, at least in the sense that their religion is their primary source of identity and motivates their pro-white political behavior as it often motivates them on the issues of abortion and homosexuality.

Until the victimization of whites as whites by crime, affirmative action, and general dispossession becomes too obvious for even the most steadfast ostriches among us to ignore, things are unlikely to change. It will be much harder to right the ship when whites are a minority than it would be now when whites are a majority. But righting the ship just doesn’t seem likely to happen with the help of the evangelicals in the near future.

Conceptually, it’s not any different than some of the obviously maladaptive ideologies that have dotted human history. My favorite is the Shakers, a religious group that is opposed to sexual relations; not surprisingly it has dwindled to only a handful of believers.

Blame it on the explicit processor. Even the simplest organism understands (implicitly) what life is all about. But those simple truths were not programmed into the big brain of the smartest creature of them all. The same type of mechanism that allows us to imagine hypothetical things like high-tech devices and then to actually build the devices makes it possible for us to create religious ideologies and then to live our lives as if they are true — even when the ideologies will lead to the long term demise of the people who believe them.

See Comment from a reader below. 

Kevin MacDonald is a professor of psychology at California State University–Long Beach.  

Permanent URL: http://www.theoccidentalobserver.net/articles/MacDonald-Evangelicals.html 

Comment from a reader:

I find the intensity of the debate to be a manifestation of white status games, not actual science, since nearly all of the useful implications of evolution (such as your work) are relatively short-term intra-species adaptations; evangelicals call this microevolution. 

From my involvement in the local Republican party deep in the Bible belt, I see very few people who identify primarily as a Christian.  Christianity in practice is mostly a private struggle against sin (or maladaptive behavior) and church is mostly about providing a community of people who at least outwardly agree to commit themselves to this struggle.  There are a few individuals I come across who are motivated solely by pro-life (they're generally the loudest and most energetic), but not many.  Most are "patriots" at the grassroots, who tend to see all of these issues, including immigration, as part of a big plot to destroy the country.

Unfortunately, most are all too eager to say they are "fine" with legal immigration and aren't racists.

We have to be careful though in taking that too far.  Most people are not rational or logical, and so because they say A and A implies B doesn't mean they would agree they agree with B, even if it's a logical conclusion.  For example, most patriots would not agree that they welcome whites becoming a minority in the US (if asked quietly in private), but neither would they admit that their support for current legal immigration policies makes this inevitable; upon closer inspection, their support for legal immigration is very conditional (no Muslims, no criminals, must be fluent in English, American history). 

This is why politics is always a struggle between elites manipulating masses who lack the coherence to govern anything.  The elite advocating for alien interests is dominant, while the elite advocating for white interests is growing but tiny. 

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