What They Don’t Tell You About the Evangelical Bubble

When I was a cynic, I loved talking about the “evangelical bubble.” It was a constant topic at my evangelical college, John Brown University1.

Cynics tell themselves that evangelicalism survives by hiding in its own cocoon. When exposed to the outside world, it shrivels in the light of reason and knowledge.

Evangelicalism may well be a bubble. But it’s one of many. When my cynical friends talk about seeing the “wider world of ideas,” they’re actually trading one bubble for another.

Yale Law School hammered that point for me. During my cynical days, I would have assumed that Yale was filled with enlightened people who saw all sides of every issue, and approached life with an open perspective that would make sheltered evangelicals cringe.

I was wrong.

Most of my classmates were brilliant, friendly, and interesting. I liked them very much. But they were every bit as sheltered as most evangelicals. Specifically:

 

They have the same opinion.

I assumed the world outside the evangelical bubble was filled lots of interesting ideas. Instead, it was filled with a single interesting idea.

My International Law class was a good example. It had a paper-level diversity in terms of gender, ethnicity, and national origin. But that diversity didn’t impact the class discussion.

Everybody had the same opinion. On everything.

In theory, diversity should stimulate debate and encourages people who view the world differently to find common ground. But in my class, everybody already viewed the world the same way, so there was nothing to do but congratulate each other on being so enlightened.

Yale Law students still disagreed with each other. But it was within an already-defined view of the world. Sweeping questions of meaning, the good life, and the human person were taken for granted. Politics became a competition to see who could out-liberal each other the best.

On the whole, there was more diversity of opinion inside the “JBU bubble” than at Yale.

 

They had no idea what the other side was arguing.

Here’s a typical evangelical cynic story. They were raised in an evangelical home that received little exposure to “the outside world.” When they were kids, they assumed that Republicans were right and Democrats were wrong.  That creationists were right and evolutionists were wrong.  Etc., etc., etc.

But when they left home, they got exposed to The Other Side.  And when they learned the Other opinions, they….made sense! Thus, they concluded their old beliefs were merely the result of the bubble, and adapted their morality to the New York Times editorial page.

It is true that many evangelical parents shield their kids from the outside. But these same criticisms apply to my Yale classmates’ parents. They shielded their children from everything non-progressive.

I’ll go a step further. The average conservative at John Brown can articulate liberal viewpoints better than the average liberal at Yale Law could articulate conservative viewpoints.

Sometimes in my law classes, the conservative response to a Revealed Truth of Progressivism would come up.  My classmates, unable to fathom this heresy from the one true faith, speculated wildly on where the conservatives went wrong.

Conservatives didn’t like the Justice Sotomayor nomination? They must be racist!

Conservatives don’t like abortion? They must hate women!

Conservatives don’t like Obamacare? They must hate poor people!

These are actual guesses I heard from my time at law school, from brilliant people who should have known better.

I don’t want to pick on Yale Law students. They’re no worse than other people. They’re just human.

It’s normal for everybody–from rural Kansas fundamentalists to Greenwich Village activists–to surround themselves with people who agree with them. Eventually, they assume that their view of the world is the only possible one. They pass this along to their kids.

Who eventually become cynics…

What do you all think of bubbles? Any bubbles: evangelical, Ivy League, soap…

____________

1  For the thousandth time, it’s NOT named after the Harper’s Ferry guy.

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