Everybody Hates Us.
February 6, 2003 2:16 PM   Subscribe

Everybody Hates Us. Michael Spencer notes that evangelical Christians are almost universally disliked. Are there good reasons? "We are loathed, caricatured, avoided and disliked because we often deserve it."
posted by aaronshaf (112 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
5...4...3...

INCOMING!!!
posted by Wulfgar! at 2:28 PM on February 6, 2003


I great article, and it certainly sums up many of the reasons why I loath fudamentalist / evangelical Christians (although his obsession with Liberal-bashing kind of puts a dampner on his statements).

I grew up a Christian. Then I obtained a scholarship to a private Christian high school with a strong evalgelical bias. After five years of being told the music I listen to was evil, the (embarrasingly geeky) role playing games I played were evil, and having weekly visits from boring jerks who wanted to "testify" to us, I gave up Christianity once and for all. Their concepts seemed so far from the biblical Jesus that I could no longer recognise it as being the same religion.
posted by Jimbob at 2:31 PM on February 6, 2003


agreed, jimbob. The article is quite insightful for somebody "on the inside" so to speak. This should be required reading at all the christian schools i attended growing up. I also agree with your sentiments about his tendency to liberal-bashing, though I'm willing to accept a bit of that if that's what it takes for this kind of an article to be taken seriously by the people he's really writing it for.
posted by jnthnjng at 2:39 PM on February 6, 2003


Now calm down Wulfy, this COULD be interesting, the article at least gave an interesting perspective. I'm curious to see where this goes, for one, I rather agree with the loathing, but that's just me, I'd like to see what others have to say (like maybe some loathees?).
posted by Pollomacho at 2:41 PM on February 6, 2003


You know that feeling you get when a telemarketer interrupts your dinner? I get that feeling sometime when my Pentecostal/Charismatic friends are trying to persuade me into their camp. It's not that I don't know they are good, decent, law-abiding people who like me. I just want them to quit treating me as a target or a project and start treating me as a person who is free to be myself and different from them.

Wow! Here's hoping more fundamentalists read this article.
posted by RylandDotNet at 2:41 PM on February 6, 2003


I think I need to add, that if I hear from more loathees, my loathing can maybe abate to something like mild annoyance or even respectful disagreement, so, please, tell me more!
posted by Pollomacho at 2:44 PM on February 6, 2003


I just want them to quit treating me as a target or a project and start treating me as a person who is free to be myself and different from them.

Except that proselytization is an article of faith for some of them. Not all evangelical sects are willing to let people find their own path.
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 2:44 PM on February 6, 2003


"We are loathed, caricatured, avoided and disliked because we often deserve it."

Sounds about right. ^_- But seriously (at least for me), the main reason is because they're 'evangelical', and therefore I don't see the dislike and stereotype changing.

Instead of quietly practicing Christianity and tolerance, living their life as an example to others and drawing people into the faith that way, you get these evangelicals who keep trying to force their particular flavor of belief on others, always out there trying to 'convert' people or impose their own brand of morality upon the entire culture. (As the article notes.) The problem isn't the positive aspects of the 'Christian message', but how off-putting it is when overly fanatical evangelicals try to push being 'saved' or 'born again' on everyone they can, over and over and over...
posted by SenshiNeko at 2:45 PM on February 6, 2003 [1 favorite]


Wow. An evangelical pulled his head out of his ass for a few minutes. That is news.
posted by monkeyman at 2:50 PM on February 6, 2003


People dislike evangelical christians for the same reasons they dislike telemarketers.
posted by majcher at 2:53 PM on February 6, 2003


"It's hard to like people who seem to say that God, Jesus, and Scripture are the enemies of laughter, sex, growing up, and ordinary pleasures. "

I think he gets it.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 2:53 PM on February 6, 2003


And, of course, reading the entire linked article before posting helps. Bah.
posted by majcher at 2:55 PM on February 6, 2003


I think an important thing to keep in mind when dealing with Christians, or at least what a Christian is according to the Bible, is that they are one of those rare groups who still believe in that funny old notion of absolute truth.

A Christian who is truly passionate about his/her beliefs, and is Biblically-based, can not simply say "I'm Christian, you're Buddhist, that's OK!". Jesus is supposed to be the ONLY way, according to the Bible. Therefore, for a follower of this who has any level of compassion for other humans, it is the only option to try and bring others to these beliefs.

It is not that they feel that other people are of any less value; rather it is often because they do value people that they evangelize and seem to "force" their beliefs on others. The alternative to following God in this life in a Christian's mind is not very appealing, and not something that a truly loving person would wish upon anyone.
posted by dgt at 3:08 PM on February 6, 2003 [1 favorite]


Now calm down Wulfy, this COULD be interesting

I know it could be interesting, and in fact I expected it to be ... as much as it came from a particularly directed viewpoint. Who will take anything resembling a contrary stance? No one.

My complaints:

A lack of specifisity. What demarks an evangelical Christian from a fundamentalist? Never defined in the article and already confused here in the thread.

Appearance is the structure of salvation. Act in a way that people like you and you're doing good things. Aren't we taught (hopefully) as kids that being who you are and expressing what you believe is more important than acceptance? For what its worth, I'm not terribly fond of true evangelical Christians either, but telling them to live as Christ, just don't talk about it, is as foolish as telling your child that he/she has to be attractive to be respected. Follow the ways of the world to get along. Doesn't that strike anyone else as odd?

Mefi has a particularly secular bent. I fully expect that anti-Christians will use this post as a chance to crow.

This post is fraught with danger. I hope for the best, but expect the worst.
posted by Wulfgar! at 3:12 PM on February 6, 2003


By the way, please don't call me Wulfy. Wulfgar, or Wulf is just fine, thank you.
posted by Wulfgar! at 3:13 PM on February 6, 2003


dgt: sure, but then evangelists should do what works, not what they want to work.

Invasive, brash attempts to convert and WWJD bracelets seem to work less well than simply living in the spirit and quietly answering questions that come your way.

I think it's the case that for a substantial number of evangelicals, the goal is not to actually convert people to Christianity but to be seen trying to convert people. See also tracts loaded down with obscure doctrinal points* that seem to me to be more about putting down other sects than getting people to accept grace.

This also gets bound up with that strand of the evangelical right that isn't conservative because they think Christ demands it, but Christian because that's what good Americans do. At least some people out there aren't trying to bring people to faith in Christ Jesus but instead into being good Americans.

*well, more obscure than the resurrection, anyway.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 3:28 PM on February 6, 2003


Well, I don't appreciate the article. Know why? Because the last thing I need is for this marketing expert to create a bunch of apparently socially adjusted "stealth" evangelists successfully recruiting kids into their (ahem) fundamentally messed-up lifestyle. I like my fundies to wear feather boas, cockrings, and assless leather pants, so I can identify 'em.

Oh, wait... that's how I like my queers. :-)
posted by stonerose at 3:29 PM on February 6, 2003


We talk about God in ways that are too familiar and make people uncomfortable. Evangelicals constantly talk about a "personal relationship" with God. Many evangelicals talk as if God is talking to them and leading them by the hand through life in a way only the initiated can understand.

All my primary and secondary education was in various flavors of Christian education, and this particular observation hits in the center of the target. I heard many people - teachers, chapel speakers, other students - talk about conversations they had with God. About things God had revealed to them. Arguments they had with God about sin in their lives. I always felt disquieted by these statements, since I had never been directly contacted by God my entire life. I always had a nightmare scenario in the back of my head at these times in which the person who had talked to God would then ask me about my conversations with God, and I'd have nothing to say.

As far as proseletyzing goes, I'm not really sure where posters like SenshiNeko are coming from. I've been around Christians all my life, and I really don't remember anyone who I would classify as "overly fanatical," pushing "being 'saved' or 'born again' on everyone they can, over and over and over..." I've met a few who were probably a bit enthusiastic, and would gladly and exhaustively explain their faith if asked, but I sincerely can't remember anyone who would keep confronting someone over and over again after being rebuffed. Perhaps SenshiNeko is confusing TV evangelists with real people.

I can sympathize with Jimbob; I had the same battles in school (at least at one place). This does not, however, make all Christianity and all Christians into dimwitted hypocritical moralists. For every Christian I know/knew that would easily fit into that category, there are probably two or three who I would describe as generous, humble, fun-loving, and honest. It just seems that the first group are the ones that will get your attention.
posted by deadcowdan at 3:30 PM on February 6, 2003


For what its worth, I'm not terribly fond of true evangelical Christians either, but telling them to live as Christ, just don't talk about it, is as foolish as telling your child that he/she has to be attractive to be respected.

Why not?

"Be careful not to do your 'acts of righteousness' before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. "So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. ..."[matthew 6:1-2]
posted by Gary at 3:30 PM on February 6, 2003


And what dgt said.
posted by deadcowdan at 3:32 PM on February 6, 2003


hate is a little strong. most of us are just anxiously awaiting the rapture, just like you.
posted by quonsar at 3:34 PM on February 6, 2003


I don't hate them. I feel a little sorry for them, because I belonged in a cult myself for a few years, and I know rigid belief systems lessen your ability to have fun and do good in the world, but I don't think they're any better or worse than most of us.

And dgt, if your belief system forces you to believe that I'm going to hell and you're going to heaven, well, I guess there's nothing I can do about it. Too bad, though.
posted by kozad at 3:35 PM on February 6, 2003 [1 favorite]


“And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel very creature... And they went forth and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them, and confirming the Word with signs following" Mark 16:15, 20

Or you might even say that many are kept from the truth, because they know not where to find it.
posted by blue_beetle at 3:43 PM on February 6, 2003


OK Gary and blue_beetle, what you just did is exactly why I dislike evangelical Christians. Instead of debating fact, merit or at least personal beliefs and opinions – you throw out some scriptures and (I assume) expect that it will do something besides annoy me.
posted by letitrain at 3:45 PM on February 6, 2003 [1 favorite]


On the distinction between fundamentalism and evangelicalism, see this evangelical (warning: obnoxious music ahoy!) and this fundamentalist; this discussion of Neo-Evangelicalism (or the "New Evangelicalism," as practiced by Billy Graham et al.) is pretty negative in its conclusions. The evangelical Wheaton College offers this overview with links to further reading. This essay makes it clear that one of the points of debate between evangelicals and fundamentalists is itself rooted in the much earlier clash between Calvinism and Arminianism, with fundamentalists adhering to Calvinism and the New Evangelicals to Arminianism (or so the fundamentalists argue, anyway). Besides their allegiance to the positions laid out in The Fundamentals, fundamentalists are also normally distinguished from evangelicals by their separatism.

Participants in this thread may also be interested in Mark Noll's The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind.
posted by thomas j wise at 3:49 PM on February 6, 2003


Wulfgar: as the article is intended for an audience of evangelical Christians, these terms are not defined. The usual differences are seen as: evangelical Christians are those who actively =evangelize=, meaning they are actively trying to convert others to their particular sect/denomination. Fundamentalist Christian indicates that the person believes that the Bible (generally a specific edition, like the King James Version) is literally true. All of it.

Now one can have evangelical Catholics (there's a group that hangs out in Washington Square Park in the summer), etc., but in America most evangelical Christians are fundamentalist. Not all fundamentalist Christians evangelize (my relatives, for example). In any case, these are overlapping groups, but not identical.
posted by meep at 3:51 PM on February 6, 2003


-stonerose:
hee hee!
posted by imaswinger at 4:01 PM on February 6, 2003


re: dgt - I think an important thing to keep in mind when dealing with Moslem extremists, or at least what a Moslem is according to the Koran, is that they are one of those rare groups who still believe in that funny old notion of absolute truth.

A
Moslem who is truly passionate about his/her beliefs, and is Koran-based, can not simply say "I'm Moslem, you're Buddhist, that's OK!". Allah is supposed to be the ONLY way, according to the Koran. Therefore, for a follower of this who has any level of compassion for other humans, it is the only option to try and bring others to these beliefs.

Which leads to blowing up the Buddhas if you're the Taliban, and that's just the tip of the iceberg. I don't exactly equate evangelical Christianity with extreme Islam, but there are clear parallels.

There's more than a few fundamentalist Christians that I like just fine. What I hate is the attempt to apply evangelical Christianity to the laws of my country. I don't like the sort of intolerance and hatred that often accompanies evangelical Christianity or any other religious extremism.

I've had an opportunity to learn about Christianity, evangelical, fundamental, and otherwise. I generally prefer to keep my religious beliefs to myself. If you have any desire to try to bring me to your beliefs, please reconsider, and leave me alone.
posted by theora55 at 4:04 PM on February 6, 2003


And dgt, if your belief system forces you to believe that I'm going to hell and you're going to heaven, well, I guess there's nothing I can do about it. Too bad, though.

I think dgt was just talking about how the christian belief system works, not his/her personal beliefs. And I agree - if someone truly believes jesus is the only way, which is the message of the bible, it is difficult to sincerely care for people and simultaneously be welcoming and tolerant of alternate belief systems.

Imagine the fundamentalist christians were right, and this world was merely a brief precursor to an eternity of either bliss or torture, and the judgment for which door you get to go through was just whether or not you said a simple prayer about accepting jesus - would it not be a priority to help decent people you care about take that free ticket in front of them?

I don't know that the general animosity toward fundamentalists has anything much to do with their personalities: the issue is really that they believe they have everything figured out, and that the rest of us, out here studying science and philosophy and trying to understand the world as best we can through the limited means available, are blind to something obvious and wasting our time. From the other side of the mirror, it looks as if they're caught in a simplistic illusion. We can't discuss it as we discuss other issues, because religion isn't settled through reason and language, but through faith and feelings. They feel saved, they have faith that their way is the right way, and no amount of conversation will make a difference.

Thus we're frustrated by a group that inherently looks down on us (no matter how much they try not to or believe they don't, their beliefs are that they have the answer to eternal life and we should follow their lead - they don't look down on us as individuals, but as groups: christians are better than non-christians; god says so when he sends non-christians to hell) and which inherently should want to help us, by making us become part of their better group. Explaining that you've carefully thought it through over years and have chosen X instead is hardly even heard - the point is merely that you have not yet become a christian.
posted by mdn at 4:04 PM on February 6, 2003 [1 favorite]


I've always wondered how I will know if one of the voices in my head is God or not. It's driving me crazy.
posted by strangeleftydoublethink at 4:07 PM on February 6, 2003


Yikes, what a thread.

I'd like to say, that as a Christian, I agree with the writer. The "I'm better than you" attitude has simply got to go, because most of the time the offscreen antics don't back up the onscreen preaching. Look at the Jim Bakker thing, back a few years ago. It pains me that this is what people dislike about Christians, because most of the time it's all they get to see.
posted by schlaager at 4:09 PM on February 6, 2003


Sorry, letitrain, although throwing out chosen passages would indicate that it was my personal opinion (otherwise I would have thrown out something else, it’s quite a big book). The point was that what the article was suggesting seemed more Christian than what the stereotypical evangelical Christian does. I’ve grown up in Church and have seen all kinds. But, as the article suggests, most people’s opinions seem to be based on the few Christians get in your face the most. Of course, that’s true for vegetarians, “kill your tv” types or pretty much any cause.
posted by Gary at 4:24 PM on February 6, 2003


in America most evangelical Christians are fundamentalist.

meep, I'm curious as to the basis for that assertion. I was raised in the Church, but in my experience fundamentalists make up a minority of evangelicals.
posted by Ty Webb at 4:30 PM on February 6, 2003


A couple of thoughts.

"Evangelical" is used as a term of art by most people -- and this author, I think -- to mean a specific strain of non-liturgical, non-hierarchical Bible-focused Protestant worship which holds small-e evangelism as an important value/practice.

"Fundamentalist" in its most specific sense refers to people who would describe themselves as Bible-only ... in essence, opposed to theology and opposed to any dynamism in the conception of faith. Many Fundamentalists are small-e evangelists, but many are not -- the Bible's correctness is so self-evident to them that they can't really develop a persuasive architecture to teach/preach to those who don't operate from an ab initio belief in Biblical inerrancy. Fundamentalists in this sense are few.

The observation made by this author that Buddhists are hard to convert because Buddhists correlate zeal with monasticism would be an observation that a Fundamentalist would have trouble making -- because they would never attribute to a Buddhist any capability to make a valid or insightful judgment about the spiritual conduct of a Christian.

There is an increasing body of interesting Evangelical theology which is making substantial impacts upon the Catholic, Orthodox, and mainstream (but still small-o orthodox) Protestant theologians. Mainstream Protestants of the non-orthodox tendency are really moving outside of the ambit of Christian theology altogether, as their writing comes to be more and more oriented toward rationalizing liberal political objectives.

This is not to say that most Evangelicals aren't rather small-f fundamentalist in their approach to the Bible, vis-a-vis Catholics and Orthodox. They do not believe in the ability of hierarchical churches to adopt moral cannons nor to articulate and define basic tenets of the faith not present in the four corners of the Bible, nor generally in the right and authority of human leaders to govern the church beyond the consent of the individual members. Most certainly believe in the literal truth of most if not all of the Old Testament, for example.
posted by MattD at 4:59 PM on February 6, 2003


OK, maybe I was wrong about MeFi going downhill. When I saw this post I had the same reaction as Wulfgar!: uh-oh, look out below! But this has been a remarkably civilized thread. As for the link, I'm glad to know there are people like him out there to counteract the wild-eyed zealots.
posted by languagehat at 4:59 PM on February 6, 2003


Amo: volo ut sis: I love: I will that you be.
--John Duns Scotus

That is Christian love to me.

dgt: I think an important thing to keep in mind when dealing with Christians, or at least what a Christian is according to the Bible, is that they are one of those rare groups who still believe in that funny old notion of absolute truth.

Absolute Truth/Ultimate Truth is not something (always) linked to the Christian interpretation. The possibility of Ultimate Truth is not the one and the same argument as the validity of the (Christian) Bible. The existence of Absolute Truth is not even fully dependent on the existence of a god depending on whom you ask.
posted by Tystnaden at 5:14 PM on February 6, 2003


A very good article, I thought. I do wonder about what sort of reception it's getting among his evangelical peers.
posted by GriffX at 5:23 PM on February 6, 2003


Ty Webb: I meant that most evangelicals preach a theology that is based on the idea of sola scriptura (scripture alone), which is what I consider fundamentalism. I am Catholic who grew up in the U.S. Southeast, so what I consider fundamentalism may differ from others' ideas. Of course, I do not have sociological stats, which would be of limited use anyway as they'd depend on what each individual person polled thought "evangelical" and "fundamentalist" meant.

There are lots of different groups that are biblical literalists, and it's odd how these different groups, proclaiming the literal truth of the Bible, come to different conclusions. But there you have it -- kinda hard to be proclaiming the literal truth of a work, when you're not even reading it in its original language.
posted by meep at 5:29 PM on February 6, 2003


Great article, great link, thanks.

It's nice to see one of these poor, hapless folks interrupt the meme's frantic self-replication orders for long enough to acquire some perspective.

(Did you find that condescending "poor" and "hapless," and unsubtle implication that evangelicals are not in full control of their thought processes, offensive? It is surely no worse than the condescension that even this relatively-enlightened author continues to peddle. I can't imagine what such smugness feels like. And I'm a smug bastard.)
posted by adamgreenfield at 5:29 PM on February 6, 2003


Very well-described, MattD. As a former evangelical, raised in evangelical churches, I have to say that description is quite accurate. Evangelicals tend to believe in "the fundamentals" (see the What We Believe section of Christianity Today's web page. CT is the most popular magazine amongst evangelicals.) But they believe, unlike their fundy forebears, that discussion and persuasion across religious discourses is possible and necessary - that is, they believe that even if a person does not share their epistemology, that person can be convinced to switch epistemologies purely through reason. This is contention of Francis A. Schaeffer - that the goal of evangelical apologetics is to prove the self-contradictory nature of every world-view that is not evangelical.
That's not hard to do; all epistemologies rest on an unverifiable first principle arrived at by a nonrational faith decision, including evangelicalism. Schaeffer and his intellectual descendants didn't see this, and many still don't.
Which was part of the reason I abandoned evangelicalism.
posted by eustacescrubb at 5:36 PM on February 6, 2003


wwjp (what would jesus post) ??
posted by mb01 at 5:58 PM on February 6, 2003


Here's what a non-evangelical Christian thinks of evangelicalism. Hint: it's called "The Death of Evangelism" [self-link]
posted by vraxoin at 6:16 PM on February 6, 2003


...all epistemologies rest on an unverifiable first principle arrived at by a nonrational faith decision...

Exactly. So all religious arguments aimed at someone not sharing the same faith decision are circular. They say, "God says you should do this, " while I hear, "I say you should do this."
posted by SteveL669 at 6:19 PM on February 6, 2003


ANyone ever consider that if the Lord wants you the Lord will get you, whether Pat Robertson or Bill Bob or Sun Tsu talks to you or not.. In other words, Why would anyone think they are the only catalyst for anyone else's conversion.. missionaries always seem to think, the folx they meet actually need them to understand spirituality,

Like the Lesser Heathens or "lost Souls" can't possibly be moral or even understand Morality.

How patronizing and sad...

...and this from a devout Deist.....
posted by Elim at 6:20 PM on February 6, 2003


ANyone consider I can't spel and haven't learned how to properly present lettercase either (figured I'd say it before I get flamed for it)
posted by Elim at 6:34 PM on February 6, 2003


mdn: if dgt is not a Christian, I'll eat my hat, and yours too.

Re-read this:

"The alternative to following God in this life in a Christian's mind is not very appealing, and not something that a truly loving person would wish upon anyone."

A disinterested secularist?
posted by kozad at 6:45 PM on February 6, 2003


Matthew 6:5-6: "And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men....when thou prayest, enter into thy closet and when thou has shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret...."

The article was certainly the best summing-up of everything I despise about Christian proselytizers.

Now if only we can do something about the megachurchmalls...
posted by Cerebus at 6:46 PM on February 6, 2003


SenshiNeko: Instead of quietly practicing Christianity and tolerance, living their life as an example to others and drawing people into the faith that way, you get these evangelicals who keep trying to force their particular flavor of belief on others

Excellent point. If these evangelicals simply lived the humble, loving lives their teachings propose, I think they would not only be more successful in informing others of their beliefs, but much more accepted by those who don't necessarily share them.

I think there are many Christians who do live like this, but their quiet lives are unfortunately drowned out by their noisy, judgement brethren.
posted by jsonic at 6:48 PM on February 6, 2003


judgemental brethren, that is.
posted by jsonic at 6:49 PM on February 6, 2003


>>A Christian who is truly passionate about his/her beliefs, and is Biblically-based, can not simply say "I'm Christian, you're Buddhist, that's OK!". Jesus is supposed to be the ONLY way, according to the Bible. Therefore, for a follower of this who has any level of compassion for other humans, it is the only option to try and bring others to these beliefs. <<

Didn't Jesus also say something about worrying about your own sins before you worry about your neighbor's? As the article points out, many evangelicals appear to be completely ignoring much of what I understand Jesus's teaching to be. Someone who is not living a godly life themselves simply does not have the moral authority to tell me what I should believe.
posted by kewms at 6:56 PM on February 6, 2003


I think much of the reasons that evangelicals are so hated is that people don't understand what evangelicalism really is. It gets lumped in with fundamentalism as one and the same.

Evangelicalism is a transdenominational movement that has roots in the early pre-Constantinian church and has manifested itself within the church for centuries in various ways at various times. It emphasizes the basic tenets of the faith and the importance of spreading the Gospel through missionary efforts. Certainly, the Reformation and the Great Awakening are historical manifestations of evangelicalism. The roots of American evangelicalism can be traced back to 18th and 19th century Britain (think John Wesley). In America, Jonathan Edwards represented early evangelicalism, followed by D.L. Moody and others.

Evangelicalism declined at the turn of the century, and it wasn't until post WW I that a rift among American Protestants set the stage for the last century of American evangelicalism. In the wake of German higher criticism, Darwinian evolution, and a variety of other "liberal" assaults on the faith led to a split between American Protestants. On one side were the fundamentalists and on the other were liberals. Fundamentalists held to a wide variety of specific beliefs about creationism, the literal interpretation of Scripture, pre-millenial eschatology, and the ability to empirically prove the veracity of Christian beliefs.

Post-WWII, a growing dissatisfaction with this dichotomy led to the resurgence of evangelicals (called neo-evangelicals). Prominent among them were Billy Graham and Carl F.H. Henry along with the founding of Christianity Today and Fuller Theological Seminary.

Today, the influence of fundamentalists remains sizeable, but is supplemented by charismatic, Reformed, and liturgical interests as well. Unfortunately, fundamentalists tend to grab the spotlight and cast a negative shadow over all evangelicals.

See Mark Noll's Scandal of the Evangelical Mind or Randall Balmer's Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory for more.
posted by marcusb at 7:08 PM on February 6, 2003


what would jesus post

I think Jesus reads Fark.
posted by inpHilltr8r at 7:24 PM on February 6, 2003


As a Christian, I have to tell you that in a lot of churches there is a lot of emphasis on "sharing one's faith"...in other words folks might be taught that the more hit-and-run proseletizing you do, the better Christian you are. (Can you tell I disagree?) The argument I gave to one "witnesser" (this was before I myself became born again) was that if you presented me with a steak dinner with all the trimmings, I might be inclined to have a bite-but if someone shoved it down my throat it wasn't staying down!

And the truth is that no one really becomes a Christian unless the Lord is already working in that person's heart. It helps to know how to find Him-but first you need to be looking. Judging from some of the comments I have seen on Metafilter in general, not many here are.
posted by konolia at 7:48 PM on February 6, 2003


Evangelicalism is a transdenominational movement that has roots in the early pre-Constantinian church...

Yes... and no.

Firstly, the "evangelical" movement as such was a reaction to the Enlightenment, much as fundamentalism was a reaction to modernism.
Secondly, there are two distinct sects we're talking about here:
The gelicals in before WWI are not really connected with the gelicals post-WWII. The neo-evangelicals really were defectors from fundamentalism, and their evangelicalism is marked sharp differences from the evangelicalism of the nineteenth century.
posted by eustacescrubb at 7:53 PM on February 6, 2003


kozad-

you got me.
posted by dgt at 7:57 PM on February 6, 2003


"What I hate is the attempt to apply evangelical Christianity to the laws of my country. "
theora55, I agree, this is where my real problem is with evangelical religion.
posted by tio2d at 8:01 PM on February 6, 2003


This is a fascinating article, and a wonderful thread to boot. Like a few of you, I came from a fundamentalist Christian background. More precisely, from first grade to twelfth, I attended a predominantly Southern Baptist school. Three facts gave me an outsider perspective on this experience: 1) I'm black. 2) I'm gay. 3) I'm Catholic. By nature, according to many of those around me (none of whom knew I was gay), I was both inherently inferior and inherently transgressive.

I have no love for fundamentalism (to the extent that fundamentalism and evangelicalism are different, I'm referring to fundies, not evangelicals), but I am grateful for the way that experience has shaped me. I think this article would be a tremendously valuable source of self-critique for a good number of fundamentalist Christians, because I think one of the primary failings of the fundamentalist Christian community is its inability to truly self-criticize. All fundie societies rely heavily on insularity, strongly encouraging separation from those outside of the community. I think a critique like this would probably be lightly dismissed by most of the fundies I know as an appeal to worldliness. After all, most of them are too entrenched in idealogies far, far removed from the Bible to realize that Jesus was against the liberal application of the death penalty, consorted with the worst element of his society, and declared all Ten Commandments inferior to this: Love your neighbor as yourself. If the greater number of fundamentalist Christians truly believed that this was the greatest Commandment, and lived their lives accordingly, the Christian religion in America would be much more prone to producing thought like that expressed in this article.

My sentences can't become any more convoluted. I'm going to bed.
posted by grrarrgh00 at 8:11 PM on February 6, 2003


Now you know why my kids were never sent to Christian schools. I didn't want them inocculated against Christianity, and sadly I saw that happen way too often.
posted by konolia at 8:14 PM on February 6, 2003


...not many here are.

konolia, that comment wins my Blindly Self-Righteous Solecism of the Day Award.

If you consider that what you understand as "the Lord," I may understand as "the underlying logic of everything," well then, I seek it with every breath of every day. And so do a great many other people - in our sincere, humble, human, incomplete way. And we don't congratulate ourselves about it. (Much.)
posted by adamgreenfield at 8:14 PM on February 6, 2003


Evangelicalism is fucked as a religious practice and as a discourse. It relies on a wholly modernistic framework to function, and yet it decries the effects of modernism. Poke around the site continaing the original link and you'll see what I mean. Check out this one for example, in which Jeremy Lott picks apart an evangelical publishing convention, complaining of all the schlock and commercialism:

"What followed had all the trappings of a religious service—songs, testimonies, a sermon. Technically, it was a religious service. But it was overtly commercialized to a greater extent than any religious gathering I had ever observed (and as the son of a Baptist minister, I’ve seen a lot of them). The printed programs, for example, were underwritten by the publisher of Pastor Lee Strobel—he’d preached the sermon—and featured an ad for his many books. The singers at the service were in town to promote their latest CDs to retailers.

"If the participants felt any shame about the nakedly commercial nature of the event, they did a good job of hiding it. In his invocation prayer, Anderson addressed God on behalf of 'a group of colleagues working together under Your Lordship.' Strobel, between jokes and stories about his days as an 'atheistic reporter' in Chicago, commended the retailers for doing the Lord’s work and assured them that 'we’ve got the truth,' thus giving them 'an unfair advantage in the marketplace of ideas.'"


Evangelicalism is rife with this kind of basic contradiction at every turn. In its attempt to make an ancient religion relevant to post-industrial mass consumer culture, it commercializes, and thus loses much of its power as a critique against the dominant discourse. It becomes little more than a civil state religion for conservatives after a certain point (and you end up with wacko groups like this one).
You then get gelicals like these here trying to make a "postmodern" strain of evangelicalism which ironically ends up trying to reclaim a lot of the critical power gelicals lost when they morphed from fundamentalists. Fundies were telling us long before po-mos were about the limits of rational discourse and the necessity of faith to epistemology. They weren't speaking academese, but they were saying a lot of the same stuff you'll find folks like Stanley Fish saying nowadays, in plainer, louder, more obnoxious language. Years before Thomas Kuhn pointed out that science required a faith commitment to a paradigm in advance of evidence, the fundies were saying the same thing.
Now some gelicals are realizing they got the short end of the stick - a religion with no teeth and one that ends up being a carbon copy of secular culture at every turn.
Modern gelicals are, to adapt a phrase, Of the world, but not in it.
posted by eustacescrubb at 8:20 PM on February 6, 2003


konolia, that comment wins my Blindly Self-Righteous Solecism of the Day Award.

I don't even know what a solecism is. I only know that in the past any time I have been in any sort of discussion here that touched on the existence of God I got dogpiled by atheists. I had just about decided that two thirds of mefites fell into that camp. My bad.
posted by konolia at 8:30 PM on February 6, 2003


If you consider that what you understand as "the Lord," I may understand as If you consider that what you understand as "the Lord," I may understand as "the underlying logic of everything,"

Well adamgreenfield, you may be happy to know (or you may not care) that there's considerable Christian tradition to this effect. Several Christian sects and a good many American Christians, like myself, believe in a panentheistic God, which is a fancy theological word for saying that God informs and upholds everything - or to use Paul Tillich's language, God is "the ground of all being".
posted by eustacescrubb at 8:33 PM on February 6, 2003


I wonder about what sort of reception it's getting among his evangelical peers.

I bet it will open up some of their eyes.

I thought the article was great, I would go to this guy's church.
posted by vito90 at 9:17 PM on February 6, 2003


A disinterested secularist?

The comment to me seemed to be describing the sadly tight box christians draw themselves into when they claim to know answers to unanswerable questions, and then on top of that claim that if you disagree you'll writhe in agony eternally. Apparently the poster was not intending to show what an unfortunate and disconnecting religion it is - my bad.

Didn't Jesus also say something about worrying about your own sins before you worry about your neighbor's? As the article points out, many evangelicals appear to be completely ignoring much of what I understand Jesus's teaching to be.

everyone understands it differently - but it certainly does say in several places, spread the word (see Mat 26:14, Mar 16:15, Act 16:10, Rom 16:15 - etc etc). The idea is that this is the only way to escape hellfire. It isn't about telling people not to sin, it's about literally saving them from a terrible destiny.

And the truth is that no one really becomes a Christian unless the Lord is already working in that person's heart.

if only christians go to heaven and the rest of us are tormented without end, isn't it cruel of god not to be working in everyone's heart all the time?

It helps to know how to find Him-but first you need to be looking. Judging from some of the comments I have seen on Metafilter in general, not many here are.

It depends what you mean: I think the vast majority of this community thinks about philosophical issues and tries to understand existence, and all that. That is, it isn't that people aren't seeking answers, but that they're drawing different conclusions than you did.

Several Christian sects and a good many American Christians, like myself, believe in a panentheistic God

don't you mean you're a deist, then? Why do people not use that language anymore? It would really clarify things.
posted by mdn at 9:40 PM on February 6, 2003


Christians are disliked for many reasons that have nothing to do with the Gospel, and everything to do with the kind of people we are in the relationships God has given us. The message of salvation won't earn a standing ovation, but people who believe that message are not given a pass to rejoice when all men hate you—for any reason, including reasons that are totally our own fault.


That was the meat of this thing for me.
Jesus said that the world hated Him, and will hate those that follow Him.
If you hate me because of the message that Jesus Christ paid the price for you sin with His death so that you can have peace with God and that He rose again to prove His victory of the curse of death: I can't help it.
If you hate me because I'm a jerk: shame on me.
The reason I'm an evangelical is that the ONLY THING of any LASTING value I have to give ANYBODY is the message of JESUS CHRIST.
What you do with that message isn't up to me. It's not my job to make you believe it.
Giving you the gospel is not the only command I have regarding you: loving you as I love myself and respecting you as a being made in the image of God NO MATTER WHAT YOUR BELIEFS are my responsibility as well.
I think those points are where a lot of us Evangelicals miss the boat and reap understandable ire from others.
GREAT THREAD! CIVILIZED ME-FITES!
posted by agentfresh at 9:44 PM on February 6, 2003


isn't it cruel of God not to be working in everyone's heart all the time?
What makes you think He isn't?

God is not cruel, nor is He a puppetmaster.

Just to make sure I am understood-if someone shares with me how to be reconciled to God, it isn't his or her logic or eloquence-or volume--that is going to convince me of anything they are saying. There's that little ping inside that tugs on my heart that I can either listen to, ignore, or reject out of hand.

There is surely a lot I don't know about God and His ways, but I know enough to be sure He would really bust hell wide open to show us how much He loves us.
*ducks incoming artillery*
posted by konolia at 9:57 PM on February 6, 2003


I'd just like to interrupt this thread for a moment to remind everyone that God, being all-knowing and timeless, knew what you were going to post today on MetaFilter before you were born. And He's OK with it, since He's given you the illusion of free will.

You may now proceed.
posted by JParker at 11:52 PM on February 6, 2003


Well, it's true enough that they aren't liked by a lot of people. But on the other hand, they are growing pretty fast in the U.S. which is more than can be said for the mainline churches. So they're doing something right.

I don't think of myself as an evangelical (at least in the cultural sense), but I do think that they are going to have an enormous and not necessarily negative influence on the future of Christianity in the U.S. In particular, I think the growing interest in post-modernism is probably an important development. Post-modernism can be a dangerous thing if you are not particularly devoted to the set of beliefs you are applying it to (think Unitarianism). However, if you combine the devoutness of evangelicals with the epistemological ideals of post-modernism, the results could be quite healthy and even kind of exciting for the faith. It certainly would diminish the overlap between fundamentalism and evangelism, which I personally feel would be a very positive development.

Of course, most of the bigwigs in evangelical Christianity don't tend to like post modernism much, equating it with relativism, but they'll be gone eventually. The younger generations pretty much grew up on the stuff and seem to be much more receptive to it. Once they're in charge, I think it has the potential to really flourish. Plus, it's a natural fit with a religious culture that tends to be on the effusive side anyway.

If you're interested, there a good discussion by some of its evangelical Christian proponents here.
posted by boltman at 12:32 AM on February 7, 2003


I hate finding a great link and thread like this after 68 people have already posted!

As an evangelical Christian, I have to say this guy is right on with his article. We are told to "make disciples of all" which means we have to go out and say something. It's like having a cure for blindness and not telling any of the blind people you have it. And like it or not, we believe we have been cured (saved from eternal punishment) and wish that upon the rest of the world.

The main problem is that most of the time, we don't know what we're doing! We know what worked for us, but not how to apply that to Joe Schmoe (or Ahmad Schmoe). There's no 100% proven method to lead someone to make that decision - there's a spiritual element in there that takes it out of our hands.

As Christians, we're not called to be successful...just faithful. I'm saddened by the fact that so many of us have "been faithful" in such an insensitive way that it makes many of you, whom I assume to be rational adults, spout venom back at us. Really saddened.

So if it makes ANY difference (I don't expect it would), please accept my apology on behalf of moronic evangelicals (many of whom would resent my apology) and know that we're just trying to get across a message of salvation which we believe in entirely. But since we're human, we'll always find a way to screw it up...
posted by TheFarSeid at 2:26 AM on February 7, 2003


Good links, but I fear they miss the point which is that the belief of evangelicals, however well put, is deeply, deeply unpleasant. There's a nice commentary here which partly explains why. Add to that the fact that (in my experience) evangelicals tend to be amazingly ignorant even of their own faith, let alone that of others and you have a formula for a bad experience.
posted by grahamwell at 3:03 AM on February 7, 2003


don't you mean you're a deist, then? Why do people not use that language anymore? It would really clarify things.

Deism is different - with Deism you're still talking about God in an anthropomorphic way - in deism God is the Guy Who Made Stuff and then Stepped Back to Watch.

With panentheism, God is enternally involved in the universe - "in him we live and move and have our being" - but is not conceived of in an anthropomorphic way - God is a mystery and uncontainable by human definitions.

Add to that the fact that (in my experience) evangelicals tend to be amazingly ignorant even of their own faith, let alone that of others and you have a formula for a bad experience.

Good observation. Gelicals are taught to see themselves as "Christian", not as a sect within Christianity - thier veiw of their own sect is ahistorical - this allows them to believe they're participating in a belief/practice that has its origins in ancient times instead of the truth, which is that it's a modifed fundamentalism, a 20th century phenomenon.

God is not cruel

The real question is: can we draw this conclusion about God from the basic beliefs of evangelicalism? I think not. Hence grahamwell's comment about evangelicalism being "deeply, deeply unpleasant".
posted by eustacescrubb at 4:15 AM on February 7, 2003


WooHoo!

Great thread and thanks to all! Now to bring the conversation down to a coarser and more simplistic level here's one way to compare and contrast evangelicals and fundamentalists in Christianity:

An evangelist will read you the Bible all day, a fundamentalist will beat you about the head with the King James Version - 26th revision - all day. :-)

OK, back to mature conversation. As the self-appointed warrior against all things fundamentalist at MetaFilter let me say I think eustacescrubb wins the prize for getting this faith thing right. [applause]

Another thing needing mentioned is that nearly all faiths have fundies and they are a dangerous lot , especially when they seize political power (think India, MidEast, etc.) Evangelicals may be bothersome and overzealous but do not present the dangers of fundies.
posted by nofundy at 6:33 AM on February 7, 2003


My own objection to fundie and gelical Christianity can be summed up in one contradiction: The idea of eternel hell is inherently contradictory to the idea of an infinitely forgiving God.

Sorry. You're never going to get me past that one.

On a broader scale, I personally have concluded that belief in God is the end result of neoteny. Humans are born excessively juvenile-- unable to walk or function in most any way-- because if they matured in the womb any longer the head wouldn't be able to pass through the pelvis. This results in selection of human adults that bond more strongly with their children than most other animals-- ensuring that the extended care juvenile humans require is provided. It also selects for children who bond more strongly with their parents-- ensuring that they won't wander off before they're able to care for themselves.

Psychologically, this creates an intense desire in the human emotional mind to be in the care of a parental figure. This parental figure can run the gamut of types from the caring nurturer to the strict authoritarian. This desire is useful in childhood, but is retained in the adult-- the definition of neoteny.

Lacking any obvious parental figure, human adults created one (or more than one). The rest is cultural transmission.

Someday I'll write a paper on this idea.

My own opinion is that if I live my life to be the best person I can be; if I try to leave this world better than I found it; if I generally care for others because it's the right thing to do-- not because some old man in the sky says "Do it or I'll fucking kill you!"-- then any God that would punish me just because I failed to kiss his ass is one I'd rather not be associated with anyway.

Someone will of course bring up Pascal's Wager-- namely, that belief in God does no harm if God does not exist, and the potential payoff (heaven) is infinite if God does exist. I object to this common formulation of Pascal's Wager; it can easily be observed that in general belief in God does do harm-- whether through conflict with those who believe differently, or through abuse of God through abdication of personal responsibility (which is the underlying theme of the article). Therefore the risk in Pascal's Wager is not zero, and the conclusions of the wager argument are invalidated.
posted by Cerebus at 6:37 AM on February 7, 2003 [1 favorite]


I'd just like to interrupt this thread for a moment to remind everyone that God, being all-knowing and timeless, knew what you were going to post today on MetaFilter before you were born. And He's OK with it, since He's given you the illusion of free will.

Why, that's Calvinism!
posted by syscom at 6:45 AM on February 7, 2003


that belief in God does no harm if God does not exist, and the potential payoff (heaven) is infinite if God does exist

Pascal's Wager only makes sense from a single religious perspective anyway; imagine doing Pascal's Wager about Islam and Christinaity at the same time. Both posit the existence of God; both posit requirements for salvation - based on Pascal's Wager, which would you choose - the Wager itself provides no help in the matter, and you're back to square one.
posted by eustacescrubb at 6:48 AM on February 7, 2003


eustacescrubb: There are, of course many objections to Pascal's Wager.

A further problem I see with fundie and gelical Christian theology (as I just now pointed out to someone in email) is that it is skirting the edges of Dualism rather than being strictly monotheistic. Fundie and gelical Christians seem to, by and large, hold that Satan ("the enemy") is a creative entity in his own right, rather than a non-creative creation of God (only God and Man are truly creative-- the whole "his image" thing). This ascribes God's power to Satan, effectively creating a second god (though one they don't worship, obviously). Clearly a violation of the first principle of Christianity-- belief in One God.

Interestingly, Jewish theology (from which Christian theology ultimately originates) has a much more complex view of the origin of evil, as does Catholic theology. Why some Protestants seem to have lost this distinction is beyond me.
posted by Cerebus at 7:57 AM on February 7, 2003


Someday I'll write a paper on this idea.

you should; that's really interesting.

Deism is different - with Deism you're still talking about God in an anthropomorphic way

Okay, right, so you just believe in Spinoza's god, which is even less supernatural (not supernatural at all, really) than deism - so why call yourself a christian? Christians are the ones that believe not only in an anthropomorphic god, but in one who came to earth and sacrificed himself in order to save humanity from - himself!

please accept my apology on behalf of moronic evangelicals (many of whom would resent my apology) and know that we're just trying to get across a message of salvation which we believe in entirely.

I really think, as I said above, that the problem is not so much the messenger but the message itself - it doesn't make sense & it posits a cruel, stubborn god.

What makes you think He isn't?

what? Because you said it was pointless to witness to people unless god was already working on their heart. If he's already working on everyone's heart, then that's a totally moot point.
posted by mdn at 7:58 AM on February 7, 2003


Much of the disgust and disillusionment that non-Christians and Christians alike have felt about the current state of evangelicalism really does come from its utter failure to speak to post-modern culture. The methods and practices of evangelicals are too commercialized, insulting, insensitive, and out of touch with reality. Because neo-evangelicalism is to deeply rooted within modernism, it must change too face the challenges of this new era or become completely irrelevant. See Webber (2002) The Younger Evangelicals: Facing the Challenges of the New World.
posted by marcusb at 8:06 AM on February 7, 2003


I grew up in the whole evangelical/fundamental Christian tradition - Christian family, Christian grade school, etc. I accepted it as a child through most of my teens, but gradually began to reject it as I got older. Didn't attend church much at all for aabut a decade, then became a Quaker. Where there's no creed, where one's religion is experiential. Still feels like cheating though.... I've had a very hard time getting free of that notion of absolute truth.

I have a collection of late nineteenth/early twentieth century religious tract-like fiction that is my secret addiction, that I read and reread during times when I'm depressed and unhappy with myself or my life... if you've never experienced the cosy little world of absolute truth where everything is God's will and happens for a reason, you may not understand just what a hold it can have on one.
posted by orange swan at 8:15 AM on February 7, 2003


Because you said it was pointless to witness to people unless god was already working on their heart. If he's already working on everyone's heart, then that's a totally moot point.

No, not really. If I had a wheat field and it was ripe, then it behooves me to go harvest it. If I try to harvest it before it is ripe, I have wasted my time; if I don't harvest it at all, it stays in the field and gets ruined.

So my point is that talking to people who are not at all interested in the topic is a waste of time-and not talking to people who are "ripe" so to speak -well, you get the point.
All I am saying is God is the ripener. Now at this point we start getting into free will, and just how much responsibility one has re God's working in the "inner man".

You don't have to agree with me, of course, but I wanted to make sure my position was clear to you.
posted by konolia at 8:16 AM on February 7, 2003


Okay, right, so you just believe in Spinoza's god, which is even less supernatural (not supernatural at all, really) than deism - so why call yourself a christian? Christians are the ones that believe not only in an anthropomorphic god, but in one who came to earth and sacrificed himself in order to save humanity from - himself!

Erg. You sure are highly interestred in defining what I believe in terms other than my own, aren't you?

I'm only vaguely familiar with Spinoza's beliefs, and can't comment on them, but panetheism is not what you describe above. God, whether or anthropomorphic or not, can not rightly be called "supernatural", since in either case God is the origin of the natural. That means God, and God's acts would be natural.
But I think what you're saying is that you think a panetheistic deity doesn't act in/affect space-time, which, again, is a misunderstanding of panentheism. A panentheistic God is not anthropomorphic, but is also not nonsentient or a nonbeing. A panenthesitic God is not a "force" - God is a real being - just not an anthropomorphic one.
Believing in an anthropomorphic God has things backwards - rather, we should be talking about humans as deitopomorphic beings. To the extent that we are unlike God (given God's iomnipotence and infinity, etc), God cannot be antrhopomorphic.
Not all Christians believe in an anthropomorphic deity, and not all of them understand the Ressurection in such cold, mechanical terms.
posted by eustacescrubb at 8:32 AM on February 7, 2003


I forgot to add that I call myself a Christian for two reasons:

1. I follow the teachings of Christ
2. I recgnize a wider Christian tradition than you do, apprently. I bother to know the history of my faith, and my faith is similar to that of Christians from across the centuries. It's not the most prominent strain, but prominence is unimportant to me.
3. The language of the Christian narratives has shaped my spiritual consciousness, and I find it is still more useful (for me) than that of other religious langauges.

Because neo-evangelicalism is to deeply rooted within modernism, it must change too face the challenges of this new era or become completely irrelevant.

It's this kind of trend-chasing that's the death-knell for evangelicalism. Why should gelicals import the mistakes of literary critics?
posted by eustacescrubb at 8:40 AM on February 7, 2003


I'm only vaguely familiar with Spinoza's beliefs, and can't comment on them, but panetheism is not what you describe above.

? I didn't describe spinoza's beliefs or pantheism at all -

God, whether or anthropomorphic or not, can not rightly be called "supernatural", since in either case God is the origin of the natural. That means God, and God's acts would be natural.

exactly - that was my point. Spinoza believed "Nature," "God," and "Substance" to be basically interchangable terms. God was the underlying substance of the world.

Erg. You sure are highly interestred in defining what I believe in terms other than my own, aren't you?

sorry, it really is the result of an urge on my part to be able to understand what people mean by things. I associate the word "christian" with the teachings of the bible, which state unequivocally that Jesus is the only way. Therefore, I find it weird when people who believe clearly different things call themselves christians. At least the founding fathers had the word deist to create categories... nowadays there are the UUs, but lots of people with more general beliefs still go by Christian, I guess just due to emotional attachment with what they were brought up to believe...

A panentheistic God is not anthropomorphic, but is also not nonsentient or a nonbeing. A panenthesitic God is not a "force" - God is a real being - just not an anthropomorphic one.

okay, now I'm definitely confused. Anthropomorphic just means we created a god that is very much like us in certain essential ways, one we could converse with and comprehend.

Believing in an anthropomorphic God has things backwards - rather, we should be talking about humans as deitopomorphic beings. To the extent that we are unlike God (given God's iomnipotence and infinity, etc), God cannot be antrhopomorphic.

that is exactly an anthropomorphic god. The term is generally used by people who don't believe in one (it may have a slight derogatory edge), but the idea is simply that god and man are similar in certain essential ways, instead of god being a force or underlying substance, or something incomprehensible to humans. So nevermind, maybe you are a christian :) - I shouldn't have questioned your self definition to start with.

By the way, is panentheism something different from pantheism? I had assumed it was a typo but now i see you use it regularly, and what you describe sounds pretty different from what I understand pantheism to be... apologies if it's just a regular typo, but we have to clarify this idea of pantheism - it means that god is in everything, right? god can't be a separate being in a pantheistic world.
posted by mdn at 10:19 AM on February 7, 2003


And I thought Jellicles were cats!
posted by tabbycat at 11:09 AM on February 7, 2003


Panentheism ! = pantheism. (I had to read up on this for my undergraduate honors thesis, many moons ago. Don't ask why.) See here for a concise statement of the difference. The most famous panentheist is probably the late Charles Hartshorne.
posted by thomas j wise at 11:12 AM on February 7, 2003


eustacescrubb: Why should gelicals import the mistakes of literary critics?

Well, the way I see it is conservative Christianity went horribly wrong when it embraced moderism. Apologetics, understandings of science, biblical interpretation all took questionable turns. Post-modernism, ironically, offers evangelicals to return to a more traditional understanding of the faith, while providing them with new tools to grapple with the hetrogenuous faiths and practices of modern Christianity. It offers a chance to reinstill a sense of mystery and awe in a faith that has become rigid and over-intellectualized. And finally, it offers a coherent way to understand God subjectively without resorting to pure relativism.

So, it's not so much about jumping on the latest bandwagon. It's more like correcting for an old mistake.
posted by boltman at 11:12 AM on February 7, 2003


As a recovered southern baptist i can say this guy is dead-on accurate. All the WWJD bracelets in the world aren't going to lend any credence to your evangelizing if your the people wearing the bracelets aren't good examples themselves.
posted by erogers at 11:39 AM on February 7, 2003


Panentheism ! = pantheism.

ah! well that clears that up. feel free to more or less ignore above, eustace - I had the wrong impression (unless there's something you'd like to address, of course).
posted by mdn at 11:55 AM on February 7, 2003


I'm coming late to this thread, but I'd like to point out a reason some people don't like evangelicals which Spencer completely missed in his article. I have a dislike of evangelicals because they often imply (if not state outright) that they represent all Christians, that all Christians share their beliefs. I'm tired of explaining that just becuase I'm Christian doesn't mean I believe X or Y or Z, as evangelicals do. It's doubly bad in the political arena, where the argument is often made (either explicitly or implicitly), "a majority of people in the U.S. are Christian, therefore a majority of people in the U.S. support X." No, because not all Christians support X.

Not only does Spencer not bring this up, he makes the same error in his own article! Sure, it starts out well, actually drawing a distinction between evangelical and other Christians, but by the end of the article he's back to the usual "evangelical Christians = Christians" fallacy:
"Christians are disliked for many reasons that have nothing to do with the Gospel, and everything to do with the kind of people we are in the relationships God has given us." No longer the "evangelical Christians" of the start of the article, now it's just "Christians."
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 11:58 AM on February 7, 2003


DevilsAdvocate, you might want to check out a page on the author's web site:

http://www.internetmonk.com/fundy.htm
posted by aaronshaf at 9:48 AM on February 9, 2003


sorry, it really is the result of an urge on my part to be able to understand what people mean by things. I associate the word "christian" with the teachings of the bible, which state unequivocally that Jesus is the only way. Therefore, I find it weird when people who believe clearly different things call themselves christians. At least the founding fathers had the word deist to create categories... nowadays there are the UUs, but lots of people with more general beliefs still go by Christian, I guess just due to emotional attachment with what they were brought up to believe...

See from where I stand, Jesus's claim that he was "the way, the truth and the life" does not mean what conservative Christians make it mean - that one must have a belief in certain propositions about Jesus. I read "the way, the truth and the life" to mean that Jesus is the model for living - "way" meaning "method" or "practice," kind of like the Tao. (That's a reading I've borrowed from Marcus Borg, by the way.)
Jesus makes sense as a "way" like a a gateway only if one's concern is an afterlife/heaven. But if you take Jesus at his word (like I do) that the Kingdom of Heaven is within/among us, that means it's here, now, and that my concern should be with the here and now, not something that happens after I'm dead.
posted by eustacescrubb at 6:10 AM on February 10, 2003


a person can't be the tao, though. It doesn't say Jesus lived by the "way" but that he is the way. And of course there are numerous biblical passages which directly state that people will suffer for not believing in him, that they'll be thrown into a lake of fire etc - luke 13:24 says many will want to enter the kingdom of heaven but only some will be allowed; matt 10:33 says whoever denies me, I will deny in heaven for I came not in peace but with a sword; and esp in peter & paul's epistles, there are many references to the need to give dominion and glorification to jesus christ the lord of all etc - it isn't about living well; it's about submitting to and praising jesus.

And although some of his speeches are about love and peace, others seem to be frustrated reactions to disenfranchisement - anger at a fig tree, the promise that no rich man shall enter the kingdom of heaven, numerous references to how others shall suffer in the afterlife but even if christians suffer in life, they shall be eternally blessed later, etc. He doesn't come across as especially philosophically capable - he preaches one strand of jewish religious tradition, combined with a sort of upstart activism and a claim to superpowers. If you don't believe in his superpowers, I don't see why he's the one to follow.
posted by mdn at 2:43 PM on February 10, 2003


Well, mdn, no one's trying to convert you to Christianity, least of all me. I'm certain that you will either figure out what works for you or you won't.
I didn't say Jesus was the Tao, but that his life stands as a model for Christian practice, which makes him like the Tao. Your insistence in finding a difference btween the Tao and the Christ would have to deal with the beginning of the Gospel of John, which calls Jesus the "Logos", the closest Greek apporximation to the Hewbrew "sophia", which was the personification of wisdom, pretty damn close to the Tao, if you ask me.
Your proof-texting above demonstrates you know the Scripture, but, as Jesus pointed out, it's about how you read it. Jesus's main opponents were his colleagues, the other rabbis, who stressed adherance to the legalities of texts rather than to the Spirit of God. Turning Jesus' teachings into more legalese defeats his purpose, IMHO.
Veiwing/reading the Biblical texts from the modernist, rationalist perspective of evangelicals is something I gave up a long time ago; your reading of the New Testament (and the Tao Te Ching) is pretty much just that - religion squeezed through the reductive lens of modernism and rationalism. Sure, if you take the Bible as a set of propositional claims to be proven/disproven or as a "manual" containing instructions, then my reading won't make sense.
But my reading isn't based on that kind of thinking; I've rejected that kind of thinking for the reason that it broke and quit working for me.
posted by eustacescrubb at 3:01 PM on February 10, 2003


which calls Jesus the "Logos", the closest Greek apporximation to the Hewbrew "sophia"

? hmm, I'm not sure about that. I don't know hebrew, but I know sophia is greek for "wisdom"... logos is commonly translated as language, reason, word, & ratio, but of course many philosophers spend more time interpreting it because it really is a rich and powerful word. Heidegger translated it as the 'letting lie before' - in a sense it is that by which we comprehend, or the comprehensibility of the world itself. It is a deeply philosophical term; simpler mystical translations do not do it justice.

But - it was not uncommonly used to denote pagan gods and prophets as the logos, so this is not original to jesus.

your reading of the New Testament (and the Tao Te Ching) is pretty much just that - religion squeezed through the reductive lens of modernism and rationalism.

I am open to reading texts through different lenses, and finding intriguing metaphorical interpretations, but even if I found some spiritual insight in the bible, I wouldn't nominate myself a christian because of that, personally. I still think the word Christian has a specific meaning - that you think jesus of nazareth was the kristos, or messiah, prophesied in the OT, who came to save the hebrews. Of course there can be discrepancies between the different factions, but I don't understand why we'd continue to call people christians who didn't believe jesus was sent by god with supernatural powers to demonstrate that.

But - don't mean to beat a dead horse. In the end, whatever works for you :)
posted by mdn at 9:13 PM on February 10, 2003


I don't know hebrew, but I know sophia is greek for "wisdom"

Eh. You're right. I shouldn't post in between discs of The Godfather II. What I meant was that John's use of logos is similar to the Hebrew idea of Shekinah, which word gets translated also as sophia (for example, in Ecclesiasties). It's a poetic thing: some scholars believe John means to set Jesus up as the embodiment of the Shekinah, which is to make him wisdom itself, as well as setting him up as the logos, and I think John proboably used a word like logos precisely because it carries so many connotations. Jesus as the spoken word, Jesus as the argument of God, Jesus as the reason of God, Jesus as the language of God, Jesus as the wisdom of God. But in all of these, if Jesus can be seen as any of these abstractions, he can also be seen as a kind of Tao.

I still think the word Christian has a specific meaning

Yeah, it does: little Christ.
posted by eustacescrubb at 5:31 AM on February 11, 2003


Jesus didn't merely say he was the way, the truth, and the life...

John 3
14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.

16 "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son. 19 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. 21 But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God."
posted by aaronshaf at 9:53 AM on February 11, 2003


Doesn't matter what WE think. Only matters what God thinks. That's the rub.
posted by konolia at 10:18 AM on February 11, 2003


So I'm hell-bound then, aaronshaf? If the alternative is eternity with a God who'd sizzle-fry people because they didn't believe the right stuff, then perhaps that's all the better.
posted by eustacescrubb at 11:26 AM on February 11, 2003


eustacescrubb,

It isn't because you failed a multiple-choice metaphysics test. It's because unbelievers refuse to have a personal relationship with God, which is only possible by means God has given in Jesus Christ.

Best regards,

Aaron
posted by aaronshaf at 12:55 PM on February 11, 2003


But aaronshaf, that's not what the text you quote above says. It says:

Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son.

I don't see nothin' 'bout no "personal relationship".

Unless you're offering an interpretation of the text, in which case I want to know why your interpretation's better than mine. At least mine doesn't fry the people who disagree with me...
posted by eustacescrubb at 3:11 PM on February 11, 2003


Well, since Jesus paid such a horrible price so your sins wouldn't be counted against you (Crucifixion is not a pleasant way to go) and so you wouldn't have to be prosecuted for them-then you basically spit in his face and say so what, I couldn't care less-what do YOU think should happen?

If I had a son who sacrificed himself to save someone else's life, (pushing them out of the way of a speeding car for example) and then that person not only was ungrateful but said nasty things about him, etc. etc...

I think you get the point.
posted by konolia at 3:20 PM on February 11, 2003


I think you get the point.

And you have proved the point of the fpp.
posted by eustacescrubb at 4:35 PM on February 11, 2003


Guilty as charged, but eternity is a long time and I want you to enjoy it. I wish you well.
posted by konolia at 6:06 PM on February 11, 2003


If I had a son who sacrificed himself to save someone else's life, (pushing them out of the way of a speeding car for example) and then that person not only was ungrateful but said nasty things about him, etc. etc...

1) your son is you, so you're indignated that people aren't grateful enough to you
2) your son/you is/are saving someone from himself
3) his sacrifice was brief pain before returning to an eternity of bliss and being the object of undying worship
4) if we live good lives but see no evidence to take the batty lady down the street's claim that she saved us from a speeding car 2000 years ago, do we really deserve an eternity of torture for that?

Guilty as charged, but eternity is a long time and I want you to enjoy it. I wish you well.

doesn't it trouble you that perfectly decent, upstanding, well-meaning people will suffer endless pain at the hand of your god while you sip lemonade in heaven? How will heaven be blissful knowing that good people are writhing in agony eternally?
posted by mdn at 6:41 PM on February 11, 2003


So how does it all pan out, aaronshaff, if you believe in the goodness of Jesus Christ, but don't believe in his divinity? Believing instead, that his divinity was manufactured via decades of factual erosion and embellishments.

I still believe in a great cheese maker don't I?

Or take for instance Martin Luther King Jr. He is (would be) diametrically ideologically disparate from BushII etc. But the culture at large has subsumed MLK's message and has made it their own. Though, of course, only on its surface. It makes MLK's brilliance for many armchair citizens, not something that is followed, thereby affecting political change, but something instead, neutered of all of its spunk.

I suspect this is what the Holy Roman Empire was about.

Jesus doesn't not, not exist. Jesus simply isn't here. Read it. Apply it. But don't tell me God has a plan for me.

Aaronshaf, I've looked at your site a number of times and have been around when you've posted to mefi in the past.

If you ask me, you posted this just as well as the chap who wrote the content of the link, only to redefine your very own fundamentalist evangelicism, which you won't change. It never has changed. Christianity has reinvented itself so many times and done so to meld with so many unique cultures that an American Christian Fundamentalist is an American Christian Fundamentalist. American evangelical christianity is just that. American.

Missionaries from America for instance, bring only, nothing but, singularly, brand Capitalist-America to those far away, "hungering for the gospel" peoples. Once they have it, they adapt it to and within their culture. It becomes their own.

Just like your jet setting American version of christianty goes around the world to spread the good news, some christians still make voodoo dolls. What makes you so special?
posted by crasspastor at 7:10 PM on February 11, 2003


doesn't it trouble you that perfectly decent, upstanding, well-meaning people will suffer endless pain at the hand of your god while you sip lemonade in heaven? How will heaven be blissful knowing that good people are writhing in agony eternally?

There ARE no good people. No one has ever led a sinless life. Not Mother Theresa, not me, not the Pope, not the little old lady across the street.

To analogise-let's imagine that sin is like breaking a window. You could throw a big rock through it and shatter the crap out of it. (That could stand for murder, child abuse, etc.)

Or instead, you could shoot the window with a bb gun (or pellet gun) and simply make a small hole in it. (a bit of gossip, or perhaps turning your nose up at a fellow human.) Yes. a small hole is nowhere near the damage of a shattered glass-but if you went to Home Depot to buy window glass, the one with the small hole is still not saleable.

And the saddest thing that the Lord will ever have to do is turn away from His presence people who would not take his deliverance. In a very real sense people throw THEMSELVES into hell. If I throw you a rope when you are drowning and you won't grab it, whose fault is it?

I take no pleasure in the suffering of others. If I didn't tell people about Jesus, then I might as well be telling them to go to Hell. I'd rather not do that.
posted by konolia at 5:50 AM on February 12, 2003


konolia,

your arguments suffer from the logically fallacy known as "false analogy". That is, you make analogies between God and material things, or between spiritual matters and material causes and effects, and these earthly objects/situations reduce the spiritual subject to such a degree that it no longer makes sense.

For example, the "soul as window" analogy suffers because souls are too dissimilar to windows for this analogy to work. We don't know enough about what souls are or do to make many useful analogies, but apart from that, physical substances (like glass) are just not similar enough to souls.
I could make an analogy myself, say souls are like a good mud pie. You add water to the mud pie and it gets diluted, but it's still a mud pie. Or, let's say souls are like cars. You can sell a car with scratches on the paint or cracks in the windshield, just not for as much as a car without them.
Your only response to this is to say: that's silly; souls aren't like mud pies or cars! And you'd be right. But they're also not like windows.
The same holds true with the rope analogy. God's relationship to humans is not like that of a human holding out a rope to another human. For one thing, the two human beings are on pretty even ground when it comes to agency and causality, while God is on a completely different plane. In the case of the two humans, one can't reasonably assume, from the analogy's narrative, that the human holding the rope is at all responsible for the fact that the second human is drowning in the first place. But in the case of God, one must assume that God is responsible at every turn. First: God created the world and the system of natural laws and the human, and is responsible for their very presence and nature (i.e., God has, at his disposal, infinite alternative possibilities - water need not be a cause of death; humans could come equipped with instinctive swimming capabilities, etc.) . Second, God, being extratemporal, has foreknowledge of the human falling into the water. Third, if we're talking about original sin, then God is actually directly responsible for putting the human in a situation the lent itself to the human's fall into the water.
The typical response to this is to protest that without the potential for disobedience, humans would not have free will, and could therefore not love. But that argument is bullshit for its own reasons, firstly that human beings are not, and never have been totally free; we're limited by lack of power, lack of understanding, lack of foresight, etc. We're limited by emotions, hormones, the weather, our appetites, and so on. Second, anyone who claims that the potential for infidelity is necessary for real love to be established has never known real love, or they greatly misunderstood it. Thirdly, recall that, in the case of original sin, there is an interloper, namely Lucifer, who is, according to tradition the most intelligent, most charming, most powerful created being. This is a guy who supposedly convinced 1/3 of the angels to rebel against God, and yet God finds it a fair test of his new human creations' wills and fidelity to pit them against this being.
In short, not at all like your rope analogy.
posted by eustacescrubb at 6:21 AM on February 12, 2003


If I throw you a rope when you are drowning and you won't grab it, whose fault is it?

if we're gonna do analogies again...
I don't have any sense that I'm drowning, and for the rest of my life this will continue. If you turned out to be right, I would only actually start drowning at the point when I died - so will he offer a rope at that stage?

If you saw me walking down the street and offered me a rope, saying, take this, you're drowning, and I said, lady, you're crazy, and then a couple days later I fell into a lake & couldn't swim, would you stand at the side saying, see, you should have taken the rope I offered three days ago? Even if I spent those three days heading toward the lake, if I have no reason to believe in the existence of the lake, or in my own inability to swim, why would I take the rope then? Why would you even offer it then? Wouldn't offering it to me at the lake be more useful? Or offering me swimming lessons now - in other words, let's try to be better at treating each other well, not sinning, being moral, however you want to put it...

I take no pleasure in the suffering of others. If I didn't tell people about Jesus, then I might as well be telling them to go to Hell. I'd rather not do that.

so won't heaven be hellish for you? Maybe some of your own children will decide they don't believe in jesus. Maybe people you admire, like say ghandi, or einstein, or confucius, or the dalai lama, or I don't know, princess di or ben affleck or - whoever you admire, some of them are probably not christians... and they will be tormented endlessly. How can you experience joy and peace and bliss knowing, for instance, your own child is writhing in agony? How can god be good and a source of joy with such a heavy and terrible burden? He must be either supremely depressed or supremely cruel.

And given that it's his choice how to run things, the latter seems almost inescapable.
posted by mdn at 3:10 PM on February 12, 2003 [1 favorite]


I don't use analogies to convince; I use them to explain.

God is vast-to quote Whitman, He contains multitudes-He does feel sadness and pain. Heaven is heaven because my Lord is there, and I am overwhelmed with His mercy, grace and love.

Yes, there are a lot of people I care about who don't know the Lord. And it hurts. My father is in that category. He knows quite a lot about the Bible, yet up to this point he chooses to be self sufficient-he, like everybody else, has his pet vices and like some is complacent about them.

God and His plan are not things that can be figured out logically, like a geometry proof. He says in his Word that his ways are not our ways, and his thoughts are not our thoughts. I don't know if you have children, but there are some things that won't make sense to a two year old. We are mere infants in our thought processes, and if we could understand Him He wouldn't be much of a God.

Frankly I get the impression that a lot of people don't want him to be real, don't want to have to deal with an entity stronger, wiser, mightier, more powerful than they are.

Just my two cents.
posted by konolia at 8:13 PM on February 12, 2003


Ah well, you're simply never going to convince me that there's any such thing as "eternity," let alone a heaven or hell to spend them in.

True to my Buddhist beliefs, and ultimately, probably, to whatever latent Jewish belief remained to inform my upbringing, I believe in historical time.

I believe that this moment is situated in historical time, as are all others that ever have occurred or ever will occur inside this manifold we think of as "the universe."

And I cannot see any way that any being could exist apart from or outside this manifold to sort us into good and evil, reward and retribution. We're here, you and you and I, and it is our experiences here and now that count. Neither smug apologies from the heavenbound, nor heartfelt concern for my "soul," matters to me one whit. Keep your life preserver, thanks so very much, and I'll have the decency not to condescend to you about the substance of your beliefs.
posted by adamgreenfield at 2:52 AM on February 13, 2003


I don't use analogies to convince; I use them to explain.

So.... they're bad explanations. And ?

God is vast-to quote Whitman, He contains multitudes-He does feel sadness and pain. Heaven is heaven because my Lord is there, and I am overwhelmed with His mercy, grace and love.

But apparently not enough mercy, grace and love to create a less exclusionary system....

Frankly I get the impression that a lot of people don't want him to be real, don't want to have to deal with an entity stronger, wiser, mightier, more powerful than they are.

Denial is not just a river in Egypt...

I fail to understand how the God I described above fits into that description. The implied argument in it relies on a false dilemma: that's the logical fallacy which pretends there's only two options when there are really more than that; in this case one option you've not considered is that evangelicalism is a dysfunctional offshoot of fundamentalism and that the reason so many people disagree with you is that you're wrong...

adamgreenfield , you sound like the sort of guy I'd enjoy having coffee with.
posted by eustacescrubb at 11:32 AM on February 13, 2003


I don't use analogies to convince; I use them to explain.

explanations must make sense, and ought to be convincing. your analogy failed to explain, to make sense of, the christian position.

Heaven is heaven because my Lord is there, and I am overwhelmed with His mercy, grace and love.

so he's like a drug that blocks out the pain for you? He's unfair, he's torturing most of humankind next door, but you don't care because you're feeling loved?

Yes, there are a lot of people I care about who don't know the Lord. And it hurts. My father is in that category.

So you believe your father will eternally suffer while you're doped up on god in heaven, and you think that situation can be the result of a moral king of the universe?

God and His plan are not things that can be figured out logically ... his ways are not our ways, and his thoughts are not our thoughts... if we could understand Him He wouldn't be much of a God.

so, how do you know that you have to believe in him to get into heaven? If we can't understand him, how can we understand the criteria we have to meet to be accepted by him? Maybe you've got it all wrong.

Frankly I get the impression that a lot of people don't want him to be real, don't want to have to deal with an entity stronger, wiser, mightier, more powerful than they are.

I think far more people desperately want there to be an entity out there who knows what's going on, and who will make sure everyone gets what they deserve, rewards or punishments.

But I considered your statement anyway: and concluded that I don't have a problem with authority. there are several authorities in my life at the moment, and I respect them as such. I try to learn from them and to give them the respect they deserve. I would not do everything they said without thinking about it, or conclude that anything they said was inherently good whether or not it coincided with what I consider good, but I would give their opinions greater consideration given the experience and expertise they possess.

so, would you consider this? Is there a part of you that relishes the idea that you're right and other people are wrong, that they're gonna die and say, oh man, I shoulda listened to konolia. She was right all along! Seriously: think about it. Because maybe that incomprehensible god of yours set up christianity to test people, to see whether they'd fall for a cruel & exclusive religion just so they could have the answers & be "right all along".
posted by mdn at 7:34 PM on February 13, 2003


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