Walk Humbly: Final Thoughts

All posts in this series refer back to the conversation found here.

I’m wrapping things up and putting a lid on the episode with Damon.  It’s been a lot of things going back over the exchange these past couple weeks: funny, depressing, infuriating, informative.

I started this project with the intention to examine the assumptions that Damon brought to our conversation as a fundamentalist.  As angry as he made me, I really wanted to treat him fairly, because I believe in the importance of meeting offense with gentleness.  In some ways I feel like I’ve failed in that aspiration, especially as I’ve been working to conclude the series this week.  Much of the anger I’ve expressed in my last few posts has been tied very closely to the fiasco surrounding World Vision’s announcement that they were expanding their hiring practices to include married gay people and the backlash from that announcement that left them not only reversing their decision within 48 hours but also apologizing to the evangelicals who bullied them into changing their position in the first place (here are several links to the coverage of the event from various bloggers for anyone not already familiar with what’s been going on).  Damon and I didn’t argue about the inclusion of LGBTQ people in the Church, but his repeated attempts to declare me an apostate and a heretic over other theological disagreements left a bad taste in my mouth that’s highly reminiscent of the way gay Christians have been treated by evangelicals.  Through my interactions with Damon I got a very small taste of what I imagine gay Christians face on a regular basis in their interactions with evangelicals at large.  My experience really stung, and I honestly don’t think I can fully appreciate how they are treated on a regular basis, but it has to be horrendous.  So that’s where a lot of my anger was coming from recently.

Despite all that, I think I did accomplish some good things with this series.  Damon is obviously only one person, and it’s not fair to make him stand in as the representative of all fundamentalists, but he did confirm that he adheres to the doctrines that Samantha Field listed in her post from a few weeks ago “fundamentalists, evangelicals, and certainty.” I think my interactions with him, though he’s probably on the extreme end of the spectrum, can provide some instructive insights into how the fundamentalist mindset operates.  The Bible must be trusted above all else, and the justification for that is the fact that the Bible says so.  If you don’t make an argument using Bible verses, you must not take the Bible seriously.  Jesus saved us from hell, and if hell’s not a possibility, then why be a Christian at all?  Evangelism is about being right in your propositions, not about being hospitable or loving.  Anyone who doesn’t agree with them about their assumptions must not really be a Christian, no matter what they say or how much they profess love of Christ.

That’s a difficult set of assumptions to deal with.  They strike me as very closed off and hostile to outside opinions, which I suppose is what makes the dominant narrative of persecution among fundamentalists so potent.  Unfortunately, I think it’s also a toxic mindset.  I don’t know how to try to reach people who are caught up in this kind of thinking, and it’s difficult to watch, because they’re not only lashing out at outsiders, but also exerting immense internal pressure on themselves.  When I cautioned Damon that his way of thinking was likely to result in him either becoming disillusioned and completely losing his faith or regressing into a type of paranoia that can’t love or trust anyone except those just like him, I was being sincere in my concern.  People who leave fundamentalism are almost universally damaged by the experience, and that’s the mark of a bad ideology.  True expressions of Christ’s love shouldn’t leave people wary of dealing with Christians.

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
    And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
    and to walk humbly[a] with your God. (Micah 6:8)

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2 thoughts on “Walk Humbly: Final Thoughts

  1. I wanted to wait until the end of the series to comment because it’s been so excellent. Jason, you’re a great writer and a better Christian. I mean that. Your commitment to intellectual honesty is so deeply admirable that I find myself inspired to work harder at assessing my own worldview.

    I’m not on Facebook but I can imagine the conversations which led to your discussion with Damon. Damon’s interactions with you seem highly typical to me. I’ve had some like that myself although not from the “in” perspective that you started with. I’ll point out that, in my experience, Christians evangelizing to non-Christians (or those they consider non-Christians) are not any more polite or respectful than Baucham or Damon.

    Let me propose a different reason for his reaching out to you to “learn more about your faith.” He never had any intention of expanding his understanding of Christianity or even one Christian in particular. He never wanted to learn what you thought. Indeed, there is almost zero honesty in his approach because, ultimately, all Damon wanted to know is that you were ‘No True Scotsman’ so to speak. It’s integral to his identity to prove to himself that you aren’t a Christian and he already knew you weren’t one when he began the conversation with you. Without seeing the original public exchange, I can only imagine that your insistence on being a science accepting Christian was driving him nuts. No True Christian would believe in helio-centrism! Therefore you aren’t a True Christian! But me, I am a True Christian! blah blah blah Damon is merely stroking his ego by once again being the most Christiany Christian around.

    Given your linking him with Calvinism, (although I have no idea if that’s the case; I’ve heard plenty of non-Calvinists and non-Calvinist derived Christians argue similarly) I’ll also point out that this No True Scotsman worldview seems particularly well suited to theologies which uphold “The Elect” as examples of religious purity. It’s a particularly effective circular logic which prevents any sinner from being a real, heaven-bound Christian. It essentially insulates the theology from any wrongdoing.

    In reality, it’s a system which exists to exercise and distribute power to the fewest people possible and very typical of religions which approach faith dogmatically. The point is not to save more souls. The point is not to grow in understanding god. The point is not to live more morally. The point is to make sure that the guy at the pulpit or shouting down evolution on Facebook is insulated from challenges to his authority from within his community. Which is why you’re not a Christian in Damon’s worldview. If you were, he might not be “on-top”. That’s the real backing behind all the hub-bub following World Vision’s announcement. The outside world is changing to dramatically that this insular and self reinforcing theology is collapsing around them but they’re so wrapped up in this identity and structure that they can’t accept even the smallest differences in opinion.

    Regards,
    -James

    • James, thanks for the really thoughtful commentary. This whole episode was honestly a mess, and it’s felt really weird putting the aftermath on display publicly (especially when the inciting incident was a private conversation), but I’m glad to know that you’ve enjoyed reading about it. Dynamics between evangelicals and non-evangelicals (I can’t say Christians and non-Christians because there are just too many Christians who are non-evangelical, no matter what the tribe may prefer to say) are complicated, mostly because it’s so hard to build real connections between the different worldviews. Incidents like this one and the World Vision debacle only serve to highlight those challenges, and, I think, to push evangelicals farther away from the mainstream discourse.

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