Saturday, October 29, 2011

B24. Why You Can't Reason with Evangelical Christians

Hi.  I’m Kathy, and I’m a recovering Southern Baptist.  I was born that way, or at least into that path of experience.  I was raised in a devout Southern Baptist family in a small rural community in the heart of the Bible Belt.  I listened well to the teachings and remained an exemplary Baptist until I left my church this past April at age 49.  I have not and will not leave the Christian faith, but have come to realize there is a vast chasm between that which is truly of God and that which is human indoctrination and tradition, alongside the realization that few in the Christian Church ever question that distinction.
Such Christians are not bad people.  In fact, they are extremely committed to being the best people they can be, based on their taught understanding of what that means.  Nor are they necessarily uneducated people, but their religious indoctrination often erases their capacity for acquiring and applying knowledge outside of the evangelical box in which they live.

Fundamental Christians are taught from birth to see the world and everything in it as good or bad, us or them, right belief or wrong belief, everything clearly black or white.  “If you believe what we tell you to believe, you are on God’s side.  If you don’t believe what we tell you to believe, you are on Satan’s side.”  They are taught an idolatrous attachment to the Bible, worshiping it as written by God in God’s exact words to be understood literally in answer to every issue of our 21st century American lives.  To propagate such an understanding though, like every other Bible teaching group, their leadership must carefully pick and choose which passages they will stress, and explain to the learners how to interpret them.   This is done through weekly Bible Study materials distributed to all the churches and through the deliberate training of future pastors in their own educational institutions. 
Now the scariest part of Evangelical Christianity is what has happened to it in the past few decades.  Beginning in the 1970s under the power of men like Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, and James Dobson, the face of Christianity in America took a drastically wrong* turn.  These men, seeing the potential power of the Christian Church and its sheeplike ability to follow, constructed a new bulwark of conservative political power, deceiving the Christian community into accepting that to follow God meant to follow their version of ultra-conservative politics.  Thus Republicanism and political issues such as abortion and homosexuality suddenly became Evangelical Christian issues, with “right belief” being indoctrinated by the Church and “wrong belief” meaning one was outside God’s favor.
Soon, every issue, whether political, moral or doctrinal became a war of words.  No longer was faith a personal mystical search for God, but rather a recitation of all the right words.  Saying we love our neighbor took the place of actually loving him.  Voicing agreement to give our lives to Christ saved us for eternity, taking the place of struggling daily to actually live such a life.  Worshiping the Bible and fighting for it took the place of actually reading, studying and striving to understand it.  Being a good Republican took the place of personally thinking through and struggling with issues.
Now, as a direct result of that 1970s power movement, Evangelicals no longer have a need to think or reason.  They get all they need from such power-mongering pontificators as Rush Limbaugh, Shawn Hannity, Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin, and any political leader of the far right.
Still all human beings have the capacity to reason, don’t they?  Maybe not.  We can be indoctrinated/brainwashed (same thing really) to do or not to do anything.  Evangelicals have been so indoctrinated that they have lost their ability to reason, or perhaps better said, they see such reasoning as sinful before God.  If God (through church interpretations of the Bible, through Fox News, through Republican politics) has said black, then to consider white or gray or purple, or to listen to someone reason about it, is to oppose God.  There is no argument of reason that can stand up against what God has clearly said.  Therefore to reason with a Fundmental Christian is a frustrating and futile experience.
 To my evangelical/fundamental friends and family:  We desire the same thing.  Political culture is not God.  God existed long before ultra-Republicans or Fox News or gay bashing, and God will exist long after all of these have become just ugly blots in the face of American history.  What will endure is the love Christ so fervently taught and demonstrated.  Can we live it and share it in more than just right words?

Disclaimer:  This blog makes a generalized observation of Evangelical Christianity.  It is not meant to be a description of every evangelical church nor of every individual with them.  Likewise, it is not meant to be a statement against any political party in and of itself.

*I am not making a judgment here about these men's politics, but rather about the marriage they brought about between right-wing politics and Christianity, via the formation of the Moral Majority, the Religious Right.


b3e39d68-0237-11e1-acb4-000bcdcb5194 said...

This is so true Kathy. I have long felt that any thoughts of disagreement I have toward the sermons, teachings, etc. from the Southern Baptist Church are sinful. Having these thoughts must mean I'm not "saved", that I am "less than" my fellow church members, that I am not "normal". This guilt is a powerful tool. It is a struggle.
It's funny that within my church the Catholic religion is always labeled as a "guilt driven" religion.

Kay Pinckney said...

I am so sorry that you had that kind of experience with a church and with the christian faith. I am praying that God will use this time in your life to teach you more about Himself and His truths and draw you closer to Him.
If you're looking at other churches it might be worth it to look up "Desiring God Community Church".

Kathy said...

B3e39, thank you for leaving your thoughts. Yes, unfortunately Catholic bashing has often been a part of that life too. I think guilt has been used as a tool to keep people in the church, and, as you said, it is a powerful one. I find healing in reading Christian writings written in earlier decades and centuries, and in writing, whether publicly or privately.

Thank you, Kay. While I am not familiar with your particular church, Charlotte is blessed with many great churches. Charlotte is a little far for me though. Is the pastor there your dad? God's blessings to you and your church!

Kathy said...

To Larry who posted the following on my Facebook wall:
"Kathy, I don't have one of the IDs required to leave a comment on your blog post, so I will leave it here. Since you posted publicly, I want to as know me well enough to understand that, I believe. As an evangelical Christian who attends a very healthy evangelical church, I encourage you not to put all evangelicals in the same stereotype (in spite of your fine print at the bottom)...although I realize it is a stereotype for a reason. Our church is made up of a wide range of political backgrounds as well as every other blend you can imagine...with the exception of openly gay participants - at least that I know of. Yet, with this diverse group, we still focus on one mission - loving God and loving His creation (which includes other people). One sentence in your blog jumped out at me as if it were bold and in all caps: "Saying we love God above all else took the place of actually loving God." If this is indeed the position of any church, then they have fallen into a religion much like the Pharisees of Jesus' time. All that said, let me say, Kathy, you are a master of combining words to communicate an issue and if you sense this lemming-like characteristic of the evangelicals, I accept that as an observation that others may see it in me and my church as well - even before they walk with us for a while. That is not the salt and light we desire to be. The salt we hope to be is that which helps people persevere through the struggles of this life. The light is one of Hope. Selah."

Thank you, Larry, for the wisdom of reminding readers, in spite of my observations, that Christianity is indeed alive and well and there are churches that have not fallen into this poltical peg hole. Indeed, it is not my desire that anyone should be discouraged from their Christian faith upon pondering the history through which our practices and beliefs have traveled. Christianity's history has been a rocky one, but Christ's life and teachings stand unmarred and worthy of holding our faith. I wonder if this blog rang any truth at all to you, as you are both near a large city and north of the Bible Belt. I hope there are many churches there like yours. As for here, I do not even mean to put down those that fit my description, but rather to help the individual worshiper look beyond the small box and see how infinitely wondrous a God we serve. You are a wise and valued Christian brother, and I changed a sentence for you! :)