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Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Mike Pence: Evangelical and Social Darwinist

Posted By on Tue, Jan 22, 2013 at 3:56 PM

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New Indiana Gov. Mike Pence's first state budget proposal reveals him to be something that would have been rare - and perhaps unthinkable - a couple of generations ago.

He's an evangelical Christian who is also a social Darwinist. More on that in a moment.

The bulk of Pence's budget contained nothing unexpected or even at all notable.

It contained some boilerplate conservative language about the importance of fiscal discipline and cracking down on government waste.

"This budget sends a strong message that Indiana's public servants will use only those resources necessary to keep Indiana moving in the right direction - and not a penny more," Pence said in the budget's executive summary.

It also called for some more money for roads, some fresh funds for vocational education and, of course, a 10 percent cut in the state's individual income tax rate - from 3.4 percent to 3.06 percent.

That last proposal will have tough sledding because state legislative leaders - who are, like Pence, Republicans - still aren't sure how easy the tax cut would be to sustain. They worry that even if the numbers add up now - and they're not even sure of that - that might not be the case if there's another economic downturn. The last thing they want to have to do is vote for a tax increase or impose drastic cuts in services during an election year.

But that drama was to be expected. The General Assembly's heavyweights - in particular, House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis - signaled even during the campaign that they weren't thrilled with Pence's tax cut proposal.

What is of fresh interest about Pence's budget is his plan for education.

His plan calls for all schools in the state to divide $126 million - roughly $63 million in each of the next two fiscal years - among themselves. That's a 1 percent increase, which is less than half the rate of inflation.

Here's where it gets interesting.

In the second year of his budget, the governor wants to give schools that are doing well an additional $64 million to divvy up. By doing well, Pence means that the school must have achieved either an A or B grade in the state's assessment system, graduate 90 percent of its students or have 90 percent of their third-grade students pass a standardized reading test.

That's a hurdle that many prosperous, well-funded school systems won't have much trouble clearing. When they do clear the hurdle, they'll find cash to help them build booster steps over future hurdles.

But for many struggling school districts, that hurdle might as well be the Great Wall of China. And when they fail to get over the wall, they'll find themselves in a pit for the next year that makes the wall seem even higher.

But, then, Darwin never said that survival of the fittest was either fair or gentle.

And that was the objection that many evangelicals had to Darwinism. Their views too often have been caricatured as a mindless resistance to the idea of scientific inquiry - in part because H.L. Mencken's satirizing of William Jennings Bryan's part in the Scopes "Monkey" Trial was so witheringly effective.

It also was brutally unfair.

Bryan's primary objection to evolution wasn't the science involved, which he cared little about. That's why he testified so poorly at the trial as a self-proclaimed biblical expert.

No, it was the moral implications of Darwinism to which Bryan - and so many evangelical Christians of the 20th century - objected. Bryan and other evangelicals believed that an adherence to notions of natural selection would make it too easy for human beings favored by fortune to dismiss other less lucky people as not human or worthy of concern. Such an attitude, Bryan argued, wasn't moral - or Christian.

Even a casual look at the modern world's history of world wars and other genocidal struggles suggests that Bryan's concern was not misplaced.

That was then.

This is now, when we have perhaps the most openly evangelical governor in Indiana history offering up an education budget that will allow the state's fittest schools and students to survive, even thrive, while the others are forced to shift as they can. It may not be natural, but there definitely is a selection going on.

Perhaps Darwin was more right than he knew. Almost everything evolves, including the views of evangelicals.

John Krull is director of Franklin College's Pulliam School of Journalism, host of "No Limits" WFYI 90.1 FM Indianapolis and executive editor of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news service powered by Franklin College journalism students and faculty.

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