The Election and Our Credibility

In the 1980s, America went through the “satanic panic.” During that time, talk show hosts, such as Geraldo Rivera and Oprah Winfrey fostered a widespread belief that there were numerous Satanist cults that were engaged in human sacrifice and ritual abuse of children, and these cults were experts at evading detection by law-enforcement. Belief in these fictional groups was bolstered by lone-wolf killers who were self-proclaimed Satanists, most notable Richard Ramirez. There was never any evidence of these elusive groups, as was eventually noted by the FBI. While the Satanic Panic was not solely a Christian phenomenon, it bolstered the work of sensationalist writers, such as Jack Chick, who can most charitably be described as “nut jobs.” This led to some staunchly held beliefs among a minority of Christians, and among other harms, was involved in the failed pastorate I held for nearly a year in Wisconsin. It also led to a major credibility gap for Christians at large, as people have seemed to have forgotten non-Christians beating the drums to get the whole thing started, such perhaps is life.

                There is, in the United States, a body of evidence to suggest there are systemic issues when it relates to the security of our elections, and that we have a problem with fraud in the system. Unfortunately, our legal structure makes it difficult to know precisely how significant the problem is, though it likely only affects close races. But, evidence of systemic issues with elections is not proof that a presidential election was stolen—particularly since the electoral college makes it far more difficult to effect the presidential outcome than it is the outcome of a closely contested senate, house, or local race. It is not evidence of a conspiracy against a particular presidential candidate. There is also a vast different between stating “we have a body of evidence to suggest there are systemic issues when it relates to the security of our elections” and saying “we have proof that the election was hijacked.” The first one suggests taking action to prevent further problems, and investigating specific cases. The later suggests certainty, and knowledge not only of the existence of fraud, but the extent of that fraud. It would require we not be at the beginning of an investigation, but near its end.

                We live in unusual times, the “Russia Collusion Investigation” ending in the Mueller report should lead us to be very cautious to avoid trusting in the integrity of our Federal government. We ought to be skeptical, but it should also warn us about jumping to conclusions quickly, in using anecdotal evidence or the appearance of impropriety as ironclad proof of something sinister. We also live in a darkening age, intellectually. As a Christian apologist, I’ve debated with enough new atheist “google cowboys,” (as a few friends have dubbed them) to know that many people seem to think watching a few movies or documentaries, or even reading a few online articles and blog posts makes someone the equivalent of those of us who have actually spent time studying a subject. We treat opinion columnists as hard news sources and we tend to read the sensationalistic blogs rather than books by writers with a track records of careful work. We also live in hysterical times—the anti-Trump “resistance” seems to have swallowed their own propaganda too deeply and the result is similar to a moonshiner who begins oversampling his own product; their mental faculties seem to be operating as if they were in a drug or alcohol induced haze, (although too many trips to Colorado might be involved, as well).  Unfortunately, in too many cases, the response to that hysteria has been a similar hysteria on the right—there is indeed evidence of corruption in the probe into Trump’s connections with Russia, but we should be cautious when a story about a laptop connected to Hunter Biden turns up in the press, we don’t want to be fooled by a Republican version of the Steele dossier, remember, Trump allies also tried to imply Senator Ted Cruz’s father as being involved in the Kennedy assassination.  We should instead push to have issues investigated, and temper our responses until after said investigation is complete. Careful work takes time, early headlines are often wrong, or misleading.

                The current enthusiasm for a belief in conspiracies is that it will have no impact on the election. The most Trump supporters could hope to accomplish is to prevent certain state elections from being certified, in which case, the house of representatives would put Biden into the White House instead of the electors from the states. The real impact will be on our credibility, especially for my fellow apologists. Our credibility is important if we are seeking to win hearts rather than merely holding our own in a debate. People often dismiss the gospel on the grounds of popular level beliefs that Christianity is somehow opposed to science, learning or the intellectual life. We know of course that the “conflict thesis” between science and religion has largely been debunked in scholarship, but thanks to the New Atheists, it lives on in much of our populace. Our credibility is crucial to making a case, our epistemic agency is part of what must be evaluated by our readers and hearers.

                I therefore hope my friends and fellow believers in the apologetics community will be careful in how they discuss this issue. We should not be taking strong stands on this issue at this time. We do not want to make a widespread stance on this election into another event like the “Satanic Panic.” It is reasonable to discuss strengthening our election security; even if there is little fraud in the system, it is reasonable to take the steps necessary investigate and prevent it. Banks don’t wait until they are robbed to examine and enhance their security protocols, why would the elections be different? Putting a spotlight on individual instances of problems in the system is therefore a valuable thing for the nation. But we need to be careful not to overstate the case, to claim that voter fraud affects millions of ballots, and to verify a few claims when we can before passing them on. We should be as careful with discussions of the election as we wish New Atheists were in their handling of source material. Whatever else might be said for or against Trump, we should not consider sacrificing our credibility for him.