A couple of years ago, Fr. Andrew Greeley and Michael Hout published a book called The Truth about Conservative Christians: What They Think and What They Believe in which they presented a great deal of evidence indicating that conservative Christians by and large hold very different views about science, politics, and indeed religion itself than they are commonly thought to hold. Christian Smith reviewed this book for Books & Culture, noting some of the more surprising results of Greeley and Hout’s research — results borne out by or echoing some of Smith’s own work — and then asked this question:
Will this book change anyone's mind? In particular, will it change the thinking of the cultural and political despisers of conservative Protestantism? I hope that I am wrong, but I fear it will not. And here is the scrumptious yet exasperating irony. One of the major charges leveled by many American liberals and secularists against conservative Protestants — particularly in these days of much fighting over Intelligent Design — is the latter's allegedly closed-minded, anti-scientific mentality, amounting — so it is said — to a flat-out refusal to face up to the reality of the empirical discoveries of science. At the same time, here we have a book and a sizable related body of high-quality, empirical, social scientific research showing that most of the negative beliefs about American conservative Protestants held by their antagonists are in fact inaccurate, simplistic, overblown, and badly stereotyped if not blatantly bigoted. But I have yet to see any indications that this accumulated body of empirical findings has put the least dent in the anti-evangelical views of many liberals and secularists. (See, for instance, James Rudin's The Baptizing of America: The Religious Right's Plans for the Rest of Us, Michelle Goldberg's Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism, and Kevin Phillips' American Theocracy: The Peril and Politics of Radical Religion, Oil, and Borrowed Money in the 21st Century.)
Indeed, it appears that those who want to dislike and misrepresent fundamentalists and evangelicals are simply proceeding as if this body of published research does not exist. Their attitude seems roughly to resemble that expressed by President George Bush, Sr., early in his presidency, about crimes committed in the Iran-Contra affair: "I don't care what the facts are, I will never apologize for the United States." The facts be damned — full speed ahead with what we already know. And what we surely already know about conservative Protestants is that they are deplorable and dismissible because, among other reasons, they won't pay attention to the authority of scientific facts. Now, I am aware that sociology doesn't have quite the scientific prestige of biology and cosmology. But I also know that Greeley and Hout are at least as smart and analytically capable as, say, Dawkins and Dennett. Nevertheless, when push comes to shove on conservative Protestants, ideology and prejudice seem to win out over social scientifically discovered facts — precisely in order to sustain the charges of evangelicals' anti-scientific obscurantism.