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).
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.
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.
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.
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?