In a recent article for the Discovery Insitute , William Demski comments that many intellectuals at Harvard would read and research Berlinski’s groundbreaking works in intelligent design, but would do so sub rosa so as not to draw criticism and abuse from the Darwinian establishment. This experience is akin to those Westernized jadidist intellectuals in Tehran who would read Nabokov in the midst of the oppressive reign of the ayatollahs (which has continued from the late 1970’s to this day). The experience of countercultures is relatively similar regardless of what makes them countercultures, as well as the ways in which they are opposed to the dominant culture around them. As I have a fair amount of experience in being a counterculture in various ways, it is something I can comment on.
I was born into the Worldwide Church of God during the time known as the reign of the ayatollahs. Because of our beliefs, in particular our worship on the biblical Sabbath day and holy days as well as our denial of the Trinity, we tend to be considered as a ‘cult’ despite the fact that many of us (myself included) follow no authoritarian leader nor do we engage in any of the abusive or secretive practices that cults do. But quirky and unusual beliefs tend to draw a lot of negative attention, and so most of the time it is safer just to blend in and not draw too much personal attention. This is a basic survival strategy of countercultures, lay low and wait for better times and places to be open, a policy of discretion over valor.
Even within this culture, I am part of a counterculture, being seen as a “liberal” within a very conservative tradition. Before I was aware that I was out of the norm, I was recognized by others who knew I was not one of them and guessed correctly that I was not someone who liked hierarchies or had a great deal of love for tradition for tradition’s sake. I suppose my general openness and guilelessness as a person has made me a bad member of a counterculture when it came to disguising myself in ways that would allow me to infiltrate organizations. Other people are much better at that sort of task than I am. As it is, I have best enjoyed myself in those areas that are fairly moderate or fairly open, and knew that I was a socially responsible person interested in contribution and not merely self-interest.
Naturally, it is not only religiously where I find myself as somewhat of a counterculture. As I commented on earlier, being an believer in Intelligent Design (which in many circles is ignorantly equated with young earth Creationism) makes one a part of a counterculture. I worked for more than three years for the California Science Center, which had a memorable and public problem with the Intelligent Design Movement that ended up being a legal case . Being a person who is known as being scientific, it is generally assumed that one is an evolutionist. Of course, I am not one of those who denies “microevolution,” or diversification within type, but at the same time I am a firm believer in the rationality and purpose of creation. But to believe that is to deny the materialism of the world. To believe in a being capable of creating the universe from nothing is to believe in a being that is qualified to tell us how to live. And that is unacceptable even to many who see the failure of Darwinian mechanisms to account for the features of life.
So, what is it like to be a member of a counterculture? There is a sense of bafflement that one’s differences amount to being unacceptable in mainstream culture, especially as a person of decency and intelligence and bounded rationality. There is a sense of frustration at having to live a bit of a double life, pretending a “respectability” that one does not possess, knowing that many people would be intensely judgmental if they knew the truth. There is a sense of purpose in seeking ways of finding like-minded people and places where one can be open and talk freely with those who will understand and agree. And this is generally true no matter what counterculture one is a part of, at least until circumstances allow one to come out into the light of day, whenever that is.