My Thoughts on Feministe’s Evangelicalism Series Part II

Feministe just put up the next segment of its series on the evangelical movement. I would encourage you to read it – it has some interesting video clips as illustrations. I’m going to take a moment to offer a summary, and then to offer a few of my own thoughts (I think the article is largely accurate – I’ll just be offering a few critiques based on my own experiences).

Summary

The author argues that while the beliefs of Evangelical Christianity are a bit more specific, biblicism and activism form the core of the Evangelical Movement.

She defines biblicism as follows:

Biblicism is a funky kind of belief that reminds me of “strict constructionism” and the U.S. Constitution. Even the strictest adherent of biblical literalism believes that some of the stories in the bible are metaphorical or take the form of a parable. So while Evangelical Christians agree that the bible is the true word of God, there is a vast difference in how that true word is interpreted. This, in part, explains why some Evangelical sects require women to walk a few paces behind their husbands while others officiate same-sex weddings.

The author then turns to activism:

If you ply me with a few drinks (preferably Macallan 25) such that I wax philosophical (like it takes a lot to do that), I would say that the success of Evangelical Christianity is that it conditions salvation (i.e., not going to the burning flames of hell) on acting in accordance with God’s plan.

The author then makes a very interesting argument: That those in the Evangelical Movement “genuinely believe that the Earth belongs to them.”

This deeply seated sense of entitlement underpins many of the seemingly irrational beliefs held by members of the Evangelical Movement from Manifest Destiny to global warming denial. They are the Chosen, the Blessed. God has promised them this world and all its wealth and happiness. And God doesn’t break his promises. So your land? Belongs to them. Global warming can’t be right because that implies that the Earth might not be available for future use.

She then argues that evangelicals draw a deep distinction between themselves, executing God’s will on earth, and the others, who are impeding God’s will and even assisting the coming of the Antichrist.

Essentially, the Evangelical Movement sets up a sharp dichotomy in which some people are good and the rest are bad, wrong, and possibly inhuman. But it also raises the stakes. I mean, there are lots of people I am not particularly fond of…many of whom you’ve heard from in this post…but I don’t think they are part of some big cosmic battle that will impact my existence for all of eternity. Hell, I don’t even think they’re inhuman. But when you set people in direct opposition, instill fear, and dehumanize their opponent, you shouldn’t be surprised when things get very ugly, very fast.

There is one final point the author makes that I find fascinating:

The Evangelical Movement is antithetical to social justice not just because some windbags have fucked up opinions, but because the very notion of God’s Chosen is contrary to equality. The sense of entitlement discussed earlier is wrong not just when its telling women how to use their own bodies, but also when its providing food to those who have no choice but to stomach their sermons or financial assistance to those forced to endure periodic drug testing. The idea that you have greater access to a universal truth, to God’s Plan, tends to make a person a wee bit paternalistic. In my view that paternalism is contrary to treating every person as a full and complete human being. I know I’ve talked about this before, but if you want to know where my aversion to certainty and absolute truth comes from…this is it.

Excellent Points

I actually really enjoyed this article. While it was largely made up of things I already knew, three of her points articulated ideas in new ways for me. I love it when this happens. :-)

First, the entitlement point. This is spot on. Evangelicals believe that the earth belongs to them, or rather, to their God. Evangelicals believe that they are God’s people, that they are chosen, that they are special. I’d never thought of this as a sense of “entitlement” before, but I think it’s an excellent way of putting it.

Second, it is very true that evangelicals divide humans into two categories: those who are saved and those who aren’t. I like the point made here that these two categories go further than that: those who are doing God’s will, and those who are subverting it. Those who are for God, and those who are against God. Those who are working toward the betterment of mankind and the world through God’s plan, and those who are working against those things. This view affects how evangelicals seen not only their neighbors but also politics, culture, and social movements.

Third, I find the idea that evangelicals are in some sense at cross purposes with social justice because of their sense of entitlement and because their division of humankind into good and bad is directly opposed to equality fascinating. I’m not sure exactly where I would take this line of reasoning, but it’s something I want to mull over further.

Additional Thoughts

This is more of a quibble than anything else, but I don’t think it’s accurate to say that evangelicals dehumanize non-evangelicals. It is true that they divide the world into saved and unsaved, but it’s also true that evangelicals want to bring non-evangelicals into the fold. They see non-evangelicals as much as potential converts as as enemies or opponents. You could, of course, say that seeing non-evangelicals primarily as potential converts is itself dehumanizing, of course.

A slightly larger critique is the idea that evangelicals see salvation as dependent on their activism. They don’t. They absolutely and assuredly don’t. Evangelicals believe that there is nothing they can do to merit salvation. They believe that anyone who thinks he or she can get to heaven by works, by actions or good deeds, is actually on the fast track to hell. Evangelicals absolutely do not engage in activism out of a fear of hell. However, evangelicals do believe that those who have trusted Jesus as their savior will set about doing God’s will. It’s not so much about gaining salvation or even proving that they have salvation as about acting out of their salvation.

Finally, one point that was not made here but might have been is that evangelicals also believe that they are working to protect themselves, and by extension those around them, from God’s judgement. A large part of evangelicals’ opposition to gay marriage stems from their belief that by legalizing gay marriage a society actively brings on God’s judgement. This is what is behind religious right leaders’ statements that Hurricane Katrina was the judgement for New Orleans’ wickedness. Thus in some sense Evangelicals’ activism stems from a desire to protect against God’s judgement, a judgement they believe is soon coming in response to national evils such as the “holocaust” of abortion.

Postscript

Those are my thoughts, then. What thoughts do you have after reading the article or my summary of it, or in reaction to my thoughts on it?

About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • karmakin

    Everything sounds about right, I think. Generally it’s in line with most everything I’d say about modern evangelical religion. I’d use different words for some things, of course, but generally it’s about the same.

    There’s a couple of things however.

    First, I don’t think it’s just what we’d consider to be Evangelicals anymore. I actually don’t think it has anything to do with Evangelical structure or leadership of even theology. I do think it’s more a case of the nature of one’s theism and how that develops and affects one’s worldview. For example, as more Catholics embrace, I think, a more “strong theistic” outlook, we’re seeing them embrace these same principles.

    I do think that the nature of one’s theism is important. (Broken drum here) Interventionism theism has this entitlement as a natural result, usually.

    Second, I think there’s one word one should remember when one things of why Evangelicals are well…Evangelical. Glory. It’s a word commonly used in modern Christian culture. And like all other words, it means something. So by exalting one’s group power or making one’s group grow, you’re increasing the Glory. It doesn’t mean that they’re not still othering…they are. It’s just a different type of othering, that’s all. Giving the “choice” to join them via threats of social and political isolation, is not giving a real choice, in other words.

  • Charles Bartley

    About the dehumanizing aspect… It is kinda funny but good old Tommy Lee was a part of my trip to atheism. You see, I had been raised to view certain types of non believers as agents of Satan. They were hedonistic, decadent, fallen, and gloried in their wickedness. Mötley Crüe certainly fit that bill. I was drawn to them and reputed by them in almost equal measure. think about it: here we’re self confessed agents of Satan playing songs in my Jr High.

    Then, in my thirties, I began secretly thinking of myself as an atheist. It started changing my worldview on a lot of topics, so much so that I started to try to consciously look for areas where I might see the world differently. In comes Tommy Lee. I saw a Behind the Music on Mötley Crüe followed by the reality show Rock Star: Super Nova.

    I saw Tommy Lee as human for the first time in my life. Was he hedonistic? Yeah. Decadent? Certainly. A fallen agent of Satan? Nope. Evil encarnate? Nope. I saw him as someone trying to make it through life just like I was. He made a ton of bad choices. He was certainly destructive to himself and sometimes to those around him. But first and foremost, he was someone who deserved my compassion. The same applied to other vilified groups such as “the gays” and “the liberals.”

    I think my heart became three sizes bigger when I left Christianity.

  • Caravelle

    A slightly larger critique is the idea that evangelicals see salvation as dependent on their activism. They don’t. They absolutely and assuredly don’t. Evangelicals believe that there is nothing they can do to merit salvation. They believe that anyone who thinks he or she can get to heaven by works, by actions or good deeds, is actually on the fast track to hell.

    I wonder what you think of Fred Clark from Slacktivist’s point on this, which is that this brand of evangelical doesn’t really believe in salvation by works or salvation by faith, but in salvation by faith in salvation by faith.

    In other words it isn’t so much about believing in Jesus (although I agree with you they experience their faith as being that way), but about believing a very specific doctrine – and the more fundamentalist the sect, the more specific the doctrine one needs to believe in to be saved.

    • http://cfiottawa.com Eamon Knight

      I’m not at all clear on why Fred calls himself an Evangelical (which he insists he is). He has repudiated the doctrine of Hell, which seems to me to definitive of the belief system — I mean, just what is the Good News, if it isn’t that we’re being saved from eternal torment? When my beliefs got down to the size Fred’s seem to be, I decided there wasn’t enough left to be worth hanging on to, and became an atheist.

      That being said, I’m a faithful (if I can use that term ;-)) Slacktivist reader, who alternates between saying “Amen, bro!” and facepalming.

  • Jason Dick

    One thing I’d point out with regards to activism as a response to fear of hell, I think that this is partially true. My reasoning is this:

    Yes, it is absolutely true that evangelicals believe that works do not bring about salvation. However, at the very least in the evangelical circles I was in, the common statement was that if you are saved, you will do good works. And sometimes this is also combined with the statement that if you aren’t saved, you can’t do good works. So the activism can be seen, at least in part, as being an evangelical proving to themself that they are saved.

    So in the end, it can amount to the same thing: fear of hell (among other things) motivates desire to be saved, and they convince themselves they are saved in part by being pious.

    • Steve

      One big reason for Christian “charity” by evangelicals (but also Catholics) is that it’s a great way to proselytize. They’ll feed the homeless in a soup kitchen and then get them to pray or listen to a sermon. If they are really brazen, they’ll make their help conditional on listen. Or they’ll build a school in a third world country and then pray, hand out bibles and deliver a sermon. It’s nearly always the same.

      That’s also why they really have no interest in truly improving the living conditions of the poor. Poor and hungry people are more desperate and more easily coerced. They will easily listen to the preaching if it means getting some help.

      • Caravelle

        To be fair, it was a Christian guy who said (paraphrase) “when I help the poor people call me a saint, but when I ask why they are poor they call me a Communist”…

        (to be even more fair I think most FTB commenters know that religion, even Christianity, played an important role in social justice movements and not just on the “against” side. But I like that quote and can’t resist an opportunity to bring it up)

    • http://cfiottawa.com Eamon Knight

      That part always seemed to me to be a bit ambiguous. I’m saved by faith apart from works, but if I don’t do works that’s “cheap grace” and maybe an indication that it didn’t “take”, so I’d better do some works (ie: evangelize everyone in sight, which I never had the temperament for, which made for a big guilt trip) to prove that I’m saved, but that’s not why I’m saved, but…..

      My cynicism makes me suspect that the ambiguity is a feature, not a bug.

    • ScottInOH

      in the evangelical circles I was in, the common statement was that if you are saved, you will do good works. And sometimes this is also combined with the statement that if you aren’t saved, you can’t do good works.

      FWIW, this is almost word for word what I was taught about the relationship between salvation and good works.

  • Beth

    Very interesting. Thanks for sharing.

  • Mel

    I think the sense of entitlement point is an important one. I had been fighting for marriage equality for years when my Christian fiance explained that many Christians believe that marriage is ‘ordained by God’ and therefore, the church ‘owns’ it.

  • sheila

    Have I understood this right?

    “Those who are working toward the betterment of mankind and the world through God’s plan, and those who are working against those things. ”

    It makes a difference whether we work towards God’s plan? Doesn’t that imply that God needs our help?

    Seriously? They believe that God made something like 100 – 500 billion galaxies, each containing maybe 400,000,000,000 stars. He made the laws of physics, and the nearly 9,000,000 species on this planet alone. The idea that he needs our help is a lot less plausible than me needing help from one particular microbe.

    And again, with the need to oppose gay marriage so that you don’t get drowned by a hurricane – God made 100 – 500 billion galaxies etc., but he can’t smite your neighbour without smiting you too? Do people seriously believe that?

    • Steve

      He certainly needs a lot of money

  • daved

    I’m trying to see how that sense of entitlement (and dominion over the earth) would fit in with, say, the Parable of the Talents (Matt. 25:14-30). Would the requirement to improve upon a treasure mean “exploit it to the max” or would it mean “conserve it and treat it carefully so you can continue to derive benefit from it”?

  • http://aceofsevens.wordpress.com Ace of Sevens

    Evangelicals may not believe in salvation by works, but plenty of them believe in “storing up treasures in heaven,” meaning that heaven is way cooler if you impress God a lot.

  • Barry

    “Finally, one point that was not made here but might have been is that evangelicals also believe that they are working to protect themselves, and by extension those around them, from God’s judgement. A large part of evangelicals’ opposition to gay marriage stems from their belief that by legalizing gay marriage a society actively brings on God’s judgement. This is what is behind religious right leaders’ statements that Hurricane Katrina was the judgement for New Orleans’ wickedness. Thus in some sense Evangelicals’ activism stems from a desire to protect against God’s judgement, a judgement they believe is soon coming in response to national evils such as the “holocaust” of abortion.”

    No, because they don’t give a flying f*ck about any other sins bringing down the Wrath of God.
    They’re OK with ignoring verse after verse of the Bible about evil people getting their comeuppance.
    Injustice, violence, cruelty are not a biggie.

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