Dangerous Influences: The New Yorker, Michele Bachmann, and Me
The takeaway from Ryan Lizza’s hit piece on Michele Bachmann in the New Yorker is this: “Dominionist” is the new “Fundamentalist”—the preferred term of abuse, intended to arouse fear and contempt, and downgrade the status of targeted groups of people.
Never mind that most of those people have never heard the term—including me. Bachmann told Lizza that a major influence on her thinking was my book Total Truth (“Bachmann told me [it] was a ‘wonderful’ book”), along with the work of Francis Schaeffer, whom I studied under.
Lizza labeled the two of us Dominionists. Dozens of liberal websites have picked up the story and repeated the charge.
I had to Google the term to discover whether there really is such a group.
Yes, there is a little-known group of Christians who claim the term, though they are typically called Reconstructionists. Apparently it was sociologist Sara Diamond who expanded Dominionism into a general term of abuse, based on a passage in Genesis where God tells humans to exercise “dominion” over the earth.
By that definition, anyone who respects Genesis as Scripture would be a Dominionist—including Jews and Catholics, as well as Evangelicals, Fundamentalists and Pentecostals. And not a few of the American Founders.
Reductio ad absurdum. Or so you would think. But liberal writers have jumped on the label and are applying it to conservatives in just about all of the above groups, with a few secular conservatives thrown in.
Journalist Stanley Kurtz calls this usage of the term “conspiratorial nonsense,” “political paranoia” and “guilt by association.”
If we’re looking for the real hermeneutical key to Michele Bachmann’s mind, surprisingly it’s right out in plain sight. It is a term that appears several times in Lizza’s piece, though he ignores it.
The term is worldview.
A major theme in my writings and Schaeffer’s is that Christianity is a worldview. That means it is not reducible to a set of privatized religious rituals and practices. Instead it offers a coherent, rationally consistent intellectual framework for all of life.
Schaeffer spent most of his adult life in Europe, and his concept of worldview owes much to Dutch thinkers Abraham Kuyper and Herman Dooyeweerd. Kuyper was prime minister of the Netherlands in the early 20th century and founder of the Free University of Amsterdam. Dooyeweerd was a systematic philosopher who taught there.
They adopted the concept of worldview from Continental philosophy. It is a translation of the German term Weltanschauung, which expresses the Hegelian notion that any given society shares a common outlook, a Zeitgeist or spirit of the age.
The implication is that a society’s cultural artifacts—its laws, customs, morality, art, politics—all express that shared spirit or common outlook.
For Kuyper and Dooyeweerd, this holistic concept of worldview did a nice job of capturing the creative impact that Christianity has had on Western culture through history, inspiring much of its art, literature, music, architecture, philosophy, and political thought.
It was this creative impulse that Schaeffer hoped to revive in our own day.
Lizza writes as though anyone who applies Christianity to all of life is a dangerous extremist. But that shows a failure to understand how worldviews work.
Marxists offer a Marxist perspective on economics, politics, family, technology, and virtually every other discipline.
The same is true of feminism and other isms. Even evolution: There’s a growth industry in books applying Darwinian categories to everything from politics (Darwinian Politics), to sexuality (The Evolution of Desire), to music (The Singing Neanderthals), to creativity (Origins of Genius: Darwinian Perspectives on Creativity), to literature (Madame Bovary’s Ovaries: A Darwinian Look at Literature).
In Total Truth I explain that such all-encompassing worldviews function as lenses through which people see the world. Lizza quotes one of those passages, insinuating that it is a symptom of near-paranoia. (”She tells her readers to be extremely cautious with ideas from non-Christians.”)
But the role of worldviews is standard stuff among Continental thinkers. “All facts are theory-laden” has the status of cliché in philosophy of science.
Everyone has a more or less coherent worldview that gives them a toolbox of ideas to explain the world—even writers for the New Yorker.
And even if that worldview is masked in order to appear fair and balanced while writing a hit piece on a presidential candidate. In fact, it’s the unstated assumptions that have greatest power to influence and control public perceptions.
You might even conclude that a “Dominionist” impulse is alive and well among members of the secularized ruling class.
Meanwhile, would someone please put Total Truth into the hands of Barack Obama? I’d love to be a dangerous influence on him too.