In Evangelical world, however, there is no choice between freedom and slavery. There is only a choice between enslavement to Jesus and enslavement to evil, worldly things and/or Satan hisownself. It kind of depends on who you’re talking to and where they fall on the fundamentalist-charismatic spectrum. Jesus and whatever the not-Jesus of preference happen to be are equal and opposite binary forces. There’s a whiff of the ol’ Manicheanism to the whole thing, but it’s tweaked because if you’re a true follower of Jesus then no matter what happens Jesus will hold on and the Devil can’t win but Jesus is powerless unless the person in question chooses to accept Jesus. As such, the only space in which free will exists is in this freedom to choose sides.
This, ultimately, is why Jesus is the one-size-fits-all answer to any and every problem in the world. Problems are caused by enslavement to worldly things. The solution, then, is to choose enslavement to Jesus. Do you have a drug addiction? You need Jesus. He’ll fix you up good. Are you poverty-stricken? You need Jesus. He’ll provide for all your needs. Are you a pregnant teenager? You need Jesus. He’ll provide for your baby. Are you gay? You need Jesus. He’ll degayify you.
That Jesus/not-Jesus dichotomy is the root of all the confusing and obviously impossible except in a very narrow, specialized case Evangelical strawmen that the Evangelical apologists like to beat around. A sexually active, unmarried woman isn’t a rational actor making her own decisions. She’s a slut who’s enslaved to her own carnal desires. A gay man isn’t a rational actor making his own decisions. He’s a Devil-besotten sinner who’s been smitten by worldly desire for the all-powerful cock.
The only solution to this form of worldly slavery is to choose enslavement to Jesus. Jesus enslavement is different from worldly enslavement because Jesus loves you and the world doesn’t. We know this because the Bible says so (John 3:16, bitches!). Everyone knows this on some level. The Bible, after all, says that the heavens themselves declare the glory of god and it’s blatantly obvious that the heavens specifically declare the glory of the god of the Bible and go on to declare the awesomeness of enslaving yourself to Jesus because, well, because Evangelical Christians are far better at non sequiturs than they are at putting together logical proofs. Geometry is a worldly thing that’s of the Devil, after all. And if you don’t believe me, there is a part of the Jewish Bible that gives the measurements of a circular item in the Temple and indicates by the way it gives the measure that pi is exactly 3.
I genuinely don’t understand why any of this is considered compelling argument. I mean, I’m being intentionally snarky about it, but this is Evangelism 101 right here. It’s logical fallacy after logical fallacy parading as profound consideration of the nature of the universe. This only works with people who have already bought the idea that the Bible is a foundationally explanatory document. It’s why the byword for Evangelical Christianity is control.
There are gatekeepers to the Evangelical culture. Generally these gatekeepers are the pastors. Their privileged position rests on the notion that they have access to knowledge that other people simply don’t. That position is privileged and reliant upon the notion that the only valid source of knowledge is something that they have a privileged access to.
I mean, of course, the Bible. If you didn’t realize that already then, um, I’m not quite sure why you’re here, honestly.
I was in an interesting position during my last few years in the church. I was planning on going into ministry. I was a smart guy who obviously knew his shit. I combined these two things into access to and collaboration with the pastors of the various groups I was a part of. This wasn’t necessarily a rarefied thing like saying that you’re buddies with Michael Jordan, but for most people the pastor was on a level above and the guy with all the answers. So while I didn’t occupy a unique position, I occupied an interesting position and approached it with my usually inquisitive style.
I knew a bunch of pastors. I knew of two who were genuinely willing to respond to questions with the words, “I don’t know.” Of those, one would basically say, “I don’t know, but the answer is somewhere in the Bible. You should read it more and possibly find a mentor to help you study.” I found that frustrating, to say the least.
Still, those two pastors were the ones I was most interested in emulating, because I found a willingness to admit not knowing all the answers refreshing. I also found that willingness a key part of any process of inquisition. My main problem was that I kept running up against the realization that a lot of Evangelical pastors didn’t seem to find inquisitiveness a useful quality.
I can still vividly remember sitting in the church I attended for a while out at Western and listening to the pastor rail against the Emergent Church movement. For him the likes of Rob Bell and Brian McLaren were enemies to be defeated. For me Rob Bell was a wonderful Christian thinker and Brian McLaren was…well, he was kind of out there and certainly a bit unorthodox but I wasn’t going to call him a non-Christian and certainly wasn’t about to call him an enemy. Mostly, though, I realized that this pastor, in calling Rob Bell a non-Christian and an enemy was calling another pastor I respected the hell out of a non-Christian and an enemy and, by extension, was calling me a non-Christian and an enemy.
That Sunday was one of the first in my long line of breaks with Christianity. It wasn’t the first and it wasn’t the most important. But looking back on it I realize something.
Christianity was a long, exhausting slog for me. It had no payoff and no payout that I was ever able to discern. As a bright, inquisitive person all of my questions were met with, “Read your Bible more.” As a person who was self-critical to the point of pathology all of my self-doubts were reinforced with constant messages that I wasn’t good enough and I was too prone to give in to my sinful human nature. I indulged in surprisingly few worldly things but was always told that they were too much and I was being too sinful.
I knew a lot of people in the Evangelical world who were massively broken in one way or another. For me it was my self-doubt. For others it was a striving to work off some real or imagined past debt. For still others it was a genuine mental health problem. And, trust me, I knew a few people who were totally fucked up in the head.
The Evangelical world I inhabited had no shits to give about me or anyone else. That’s the dirty little secret about the whole thing. That’s why this post over at Fred’s place about something that happened in Kansas City and which is associated in a weird way with the International House of Prayer is both horrifying and believable. It’s also why this article about the source of the growing backlash against Wal-Mart is fascinating.
Those of us who had something to prove, something to escape, or something to validate were the best workers. The church or the parachurch organizations that surrounded it chewed us up and spit us out. If something went wrong or we burned out it wasn’t because there was something wrong with the system but because there was something wrong with us. We could be pushed. We could be directed. We could be controlled.
My first real glimpse behind the curtain was that pastor who was angry at the Emergent Church movement. I realized at some point that he wasn’t mad so much as he was scared. He was scared of Rob Bell and Brian McLaren and the people who read Brian McLaren’s videos and watched Rob Bell’s videos because Bell and McLaren encouraged people to think about things in a different way than that pastor wanted them to think. That was unconscionable. That was intolerable.
It’s also why Young Earth Creationists seek to discredit Charles Darwin when debating scientists. They are literally incapable of understanding that they could prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that Charles Darwin did, in fact, molest collies but that his personal predilections towards canine canoodling have zero impact on the scientific validity of his observations and conclusions. They don’t understand that science has moved beyond Charles Darwin and that scientists would tell you that some of Charles Darwin’s conclusions were, in fact, wrong but it doesn’t matter because the overall umbrella idea of evolution through the process of natural selection is still the best explanation for the genetic variations and similarities of the various occupants of this planet we call Earth.
That’s because in the world of Evangelicalism you don’t follow an idea, you follow a person. Even though the general, overall theory is that there’s this book called the Bible and this religion called Christianity and the people who follow those things assent to the notion that both things exist and have existed for the better part of two millennia it doesn’t matter. The true arbiter of validity is the interpreter of the Bible and Christianity. That arbiter is the pastor. That pastor’s position is fragile at best.
I saw a few pastors fired during my time in Christianity. It’s interesting, too, because my understanding of why that happened came from a wholly secular source. I had a boss in high school who was friends with an AM drive-time DJ on one of the Chicago FM music stations. I did not listen to that show, but instead I listened to a different, nationally syndicated (or soon to be nationally syndicated, I forget) DJ on a different station who had much higher ratings. This was the ‘90s, kids. Things like that mattered.
Anyway, one day my boss’s DJ buddy called in and asked to talk to him. The main phone had recently broken, so we had a temporary replacement that didn’t have a hold button. The phone, therefore, was deposited on the counter while someone went back to fetch the bossman. I was there with another one of my coworkers who also listened to the same AM drive-time show I listened to. We proceeded to discuss our preferred show and why it was awesome because that’s what high school kids do.
My boss came in, picked up the phone, talked to his DJ buddy for a moment, then looked at me with a bit of a grin on his face and said, “He wants to talk to you.” He then handed me the phone.
I was treated to a string of profanity as the DJ bitched me out. This horrified me, because I truly thought I had done something wrong. I was also 16 years old and the sort of kid who literally did nothing to rock any boat I could avoid rocking. That kind of matters. See, 31 year-old me would have calmly listened to that string of profanities and then said something to the effect of, “Seriously, dude? You’re so insecure that you can’t even handle overhearing someone talking about a different radio show in your presence? Should I extrapolate this into a guess about the size of your penis?”
I did nothing of the sort. I stood there, rooted in place, unsure of what to do and partially convinced I was about to lose my job because I’d insulted my boss’s friend. My boss took the phone back, had his conversation, hung up the phone, and told me something that’s worth remembering. He told me that guys like the DJ in question are insecure because people in that position could be out of that position and forgotten tomorrow. The DJ was, in short, more existentially terrified of me and what my conversation implied about him than I ever needed to be about him.
I saw a lot of pastors lose their jobs in my time in the Evangelical world. I realized at some point that being a pastor in an Evangelical church included a certain level of existential terror that they could preach an unpopular sermon on Sunday and be out on their asses on Monday. That’s why control mattered (and matters, I suppose) so much. That’s why the Evangelical world is split between the right way and the wrong way and the wrong way is simply not acceptable. It’s simply not possible to exercise the control necessary to keep a congregation if the congregation is encouraged to think and study and draw conclusions for itself.
That’s why Evangelicals are encouraged to think of themselves as free through enslavement. It’s why they’re encouraged to think of leaving as a different, more intolerable form of bondage. It’s why I, as someone who was once respected as a worker and a true man of god, scared a bunch of people when I left. If I could decide it’s not worth it and then simply wander off to live my life than anyone could.
Simply existing and not acknowledging the Bible as the end-all-be-all source of knowledge is a challenge to Christianity. That, in turn, is why people like Pat Robertson have decided to declare that I have declared war against Christmas. I’ve done no such thing, but the simple act of me existing and being who I am is a declaration of war in Pat Robertson’s world.
He is, in short, a tiny man who has to feel big by swearing at a 16 year-old kid for the simple crime of overhearing that kid talk about someone who isn’t him. It’s impossible to not feel sorry for Pat Robertson because of this. It’s also impossible to not feel a bit of schadenfreude at the realization that my reaction would cause even more spittle-flecked fulminating from a tiny, pathetic man who has decided to get in a dick measuring contest with someone who has no shits to give about the relative size of their genitalia because it really doesn’t matter, anyway.
I, for one, am enslaved to writing out the digits to the right of the decimal points in irrational numbers. It’s why I eat so much pi, especially around the holidays.
Thank you, thank you. I’ll be here all week. Don’t forget to tip your servers.