Sunday, October 24, 2010

You Won't Be Assimilated

I started this a while ago and never finished it. More random rambling.

James had a post up a few weeks ago ,which I wanted to link to and discuss, asking himself why he is so mad at Evangelicalism. It was up about the same time as AVI's Evangelical Suspiciousness post and the two posts together were swirling in my soupy brain for awhile, but I didn't have time to properly put down my thoughts. Here's a sample from James:
So I’m not much of a conservative evangelical these days. Do I have to be upset at evangelicals? Can’t I move on and live my spiritual life in peace? What’s keeping me from doing so?
First, go read James' post because it covers a lot more of his feelings than what I'm addressing.

When I was commenting on AVI's post, making somewhat slightly negative comments about evangelicals, I had to apologize for those comments and in the process, I listed myself as a former(?) evangelical, just like that....parenthetical question mark and all. I was unsure about the designation, because although the late Michael Spencer/Internetmonk seems to have popularized the term post-evangelical, I am not really sure how accurate the term is.

Evangelicalism, while holding a relatively set collection of religious ideas and doctrines, isn't defined by those beliefs as much as it is defined by the reactions to those beliefs. The most prominent personality characteristic of Evangelicalism is that we must do something about what we believe. Enter any evangelical church on a Sunday and you're going to hear "6 ways to follow God", or "how to be a godly wife, husband, leader, citizen..etc.", or "how to put your beliefs to work in the mission field, or on the political scene, or glorifying Christ though poster making", or "what you should do in response to this sermon".

It doesn't matter what the application, the point is that there is always an expected application.

Perhaps this isn't an exclusively evangelical trait. Maybe it's more a manifestation of the American character. Regardless of where it comes from, it inhabits my personality.

And that is what frustrates me.

You see, sometimes when I am reading a particular blog or article from the evangelical side of things, or from people I would label intellectual Christians, I get a little impatient. I will read something that makes me think and wonder upon a particular point, and that sends my mind going in a new direction only to have the author shrink back from the logical conclusion at the last moment.

I find this quite frequently in discussions of evolution and Genesis. Many thoughtful people will speculate that Genesis is not literally true, and that evolution is probably true, even if it is only serving as a divine tool of God. And, after getting to that point of accommodation to modern scientific theories about life, they will immediately revert to using Genesis as literal truth in all other theological aspects. They won't go on to the next step.

I come across this even more frequently whenever the subject of Hell comes up. Well-meaning Christians will agonize over the concept of eternal torment or separation, yet when confronted with the slim biblical evidence for the concept, and when offered valid interpretive alternatives that eliminate Hell in its current incarnation, they will refuse to abandon the idea. No matter how unappealing Hell may be, and how much they say they hope it doesn't exist, they will nevertheless fall back from those feelings and intuitions, throw their hands up and say "It is a mystery. Only God knows what comes after."

While that may be true, it isn't God who is perpetuating the concept and keeping it alive in the spirits of mankind. It's us. We hold on to Hell, because it is hard to let go of the familiar, even when we don't particularly like the familiar.

It's almost as if these types of discussions are nothing more than intellectual exercises, playing at the fringes of one's faith in order to make oneself feel very brave and daring while never taking any true risks. And, the people who go that next step and begin to ask how this new view should affect our faith, or what it means for certain doctrines...well they usually get labeled as heretics or "liberals". The kiss of death in an evangelical setting.

I walk between two worlds right now, because I can emotionally identify with Evangelicals in many ways, and yet they would probably never claim me as one of their own. Still, walking into any contemporary, evangelical church can feel like home to me, not only because it is familiar, but because even though my theology is different, the pathos is the same. Some of the core values remain, even though the reasoning behind them is quite different for me. These are people that I am comfortable with because I understand them, which also means that I know what they would think of me and my doubts and my endless theological tinkering.

And that is why it is so easy to be angry at evangelicals even after you have stopped considering yourself one....because you feel the perceived rejection of a group which you wanted to be a part of and still value in some ways and yet which refuses to accept you.

Perhaps only the Borg can assimilate everyone successfully.


JS Allen said...

"And that is why it is so easy to be angry at evangelicals even after you have stopped considering yourself one....because you feel the perceived rejection of a group which you wanted to be a part of and still value in some ways and yet which refuses to accept you."

Wow, thanks for sharing this. It's really eye-opening for me.

I can honestly say that I've never wanted to "fit in" or "be accepted" by a body of believers. I can't even imagine how it would feel to want that. And when I notice that people are trying to gain my approval or acceptance in a religious context, I instinctively feel that they have got the wrong idea, and push them away.

But now that you mention it, I remember pastors talking about how the congregation should "make newcomers feel loved and welcome"; and I remember people witnessing that this "welcoming" attitude is what overcame their defenses and made them decide to be Christian.

terri said...

Well, geez...when you put it like that it makes me seem pretty pathetic! ;-)

Here I am looking for constant approval! Pick me! Pick me!

I don't think that I ever consciously thought that I was looking for approval, but there was definitely a part of me that was, and maybe still is. I think that's just human nature.

We want people to like least the kind of people that we think should like us. And for me, the disconnect wasn't really that I didn't receive approval, it was that I had to try so hard to fit in in places where I should have fit in easily because I was so similar to the people I rubbed elbows with.

JS Allen said...

Yeah; it was more a statement about me than about you. I needed the reminder that my borderline sociopathic commentary about things can be perceived as judgmental or rejection be people who are more normal than me :-)

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Not directly related, but I think apropos. Isaac Asimov, once addressing a science fiction convention, shocked the audience by beginning "90% of Science Fiction is crap." After a pause, he went on to say "90% of everything is crap." We defend too much of what we should not. We are too disillusioned when the feet of clay are revealed. I put it down to our social nature, of instinctively wanting to belong to a tribe and trusting it. I think only Americans have much immunity to this, and even we, not much.