‘Broken Words’ and the freedom to ask questions

I recently listed Jonathan Dudley’s Broken Words: The Abuse of Science and Faith in American Politics along with other spiritual memoirs by younger writers challenging aspects of what they have been taught in the American evangelical subculture.

“Memoir” isn’t really the right word for Dudley’s book, which is more impersonal and analytical than that implies. He steps back to examine ideas and ideologies rather than focusing on the particulars of his own story or journey.

But that’s what this journey was like for many of us. It was a matter of ideas — ideas at first accepted, then examined, then found wanting. Books like Rachel Held Evans’ Evolving in Monkey Town, Alisa Harris’ Raised Right or Donald Miller’s Blue Like Jazz deal with many of these same ideas, but those writers approach the subject as writers — as skilled memoirists who plumb the particulars of their own experience. Dudley, instead, approaches these ideas like a prosecutor — placing each in the dock and examining the evidence to build his case against each in turn. Where the others present their testimonies — to use a word employed both in court and in evangelical churches — Dudley presents an argument. It’s a sustained and compelling argument.

And that argument is also, in a sense, his testimony. When he lays out the inconsistencies, contradictions and factual errors of these ideas, Dudley is also describing his own story. And, as with those other memoirs, it’s not only his story. It’s a familiar account for many of us who were raised in the American evangelical subculture and received there both a spiritual heritage we treasure and a set of unsustainable ideologies we are no longer able to embrace.

Where the memoirists approach this subject as storytellers, Dudley is more clinical and methodical. He enumerates his objections, summarizing the thesis he aims to defend in the very first paragraph:

I learned a few things growing up as an evangelical Christian: that abortion is murder; homosexuality, sin; evolution, nonsense; and environmentalism, a farce. I learned to accept these ideas — the “big four” — as part of the package deal of Christianity. In some circles, I learned that my eternal salvation hinged on it. Those who denied them were outsiders, liberals, and legitimate targets for evangelism. If they didn’t change their minds after being “witnessed to,” they became legitimate targets for hell.

Dudley then systematically works his way through that list — the “big four” — examining each idea separately while also showing how they relate to each other, diagnosing the common threads and shared misconceptions that underlie all of them.

That approach is more impersonal than a memoir, but also more precise. But then, for some of us, such clinical precision is personal — at least for those of us who tend to live a bit too much in our heads.

Dudley’s approach brings a clarity and specificity to this broader trend of millennial-generation evangelicals challenging and questioning the political and ideological orthodoxies they were taught were inseparable from faith in Jesus Christ. That specificity is bound to get Dudley in more hot water — to ensure his book is denounced with more clarity and specificity than those more personal, idiosyncratic memoirs have been. Where those other books make older evangelicals uncomfortable by asking taboo questions, Dudley trespasses further by offering taboo answers. He doesn’t just say that it’s wrong to make the big four central, defining and inviolable tenets of faith, he also says that the older generation is wrong about the big four — wrong to oppose legal abortion, wrong to oppose civil rights for GLBT people, wrong to oppose evolution, wrong to oppose environmentalism.

Dudley’s discussion of each of those subjects deserves a closer look, and I want to return to his book in future posts examining all of those points.

Here, I just want to note that his contention — that evangelicals have been wrong about the big four — is not permitted within the sphere of conversation controlled by the older generation of evangelicals. These things simply may not be debated or questioned. Just look at the knee-jerk uniformity of response to Karl Giberson’s recent articles on evangelical anti-intellectualism. Or look at what happened to Rich Cizik.

Figures like Mark Noll, Jim Wallis or Tony Campolo are branded as dangerously “controversial” for occasionally kinda sorta nibbling around the edges of the big four — suggesting that perhaps, maybe, there might be a teensy bit of wiggle room to allow for a very slightly broader approach to these topics. But even that negligible deviation from the sacrosanct official stance carries a cost. And to go further would be to risk getting Cizik-ed — losing your job, your church, your chance of ever again being employed by any evangelical agency that relies on the current generation of donors (a wealthy, very conservative constituency determined to cut off any dissident who questions the big four). There’s a reason Mark Noll is now teaching at Notre Dame.

I believe there is a real generational shift taking place in American evangelicalism. Particularly when it comes to GLBT issues, millennials consistently reject the misleading claims of the older generation. But I think this recent wave of dissident books by younger writers reflects more than just that.

I think it also reflects something Brian McLaren (another one of those dangerously “controversial” people) mentioned recently in response to a question about the no-dissent-allowed subject of abortion:

Relatively few people are in a position to talk about abortion as a theological and biblical question without having to worry about the consequences, meaning where their views would locate them in political, social, and even economic struggles.

Younger writers don’t have to worry about those consequences. The evangelical establishment can’t threaten their privileges because they don’t have any privileges in that establishment. They don’t need to worry about an unflattering article in Christianity Today causing their speaking-fees to dry up because they’re not depending on any such speaking fees. They don’t have to worry about possibly offending the sensibilities of Howard Ahmanson and thereby losing their grant money because they’re not supported by such grants (and, happily for them, they may never even have heard of Howard Ahmanson).

Fear of punitive, retaliatory “consequences” prevents older evangelicals from speaking up and speaking out the way these younger writers do. More than that, it prevents them from even entertaining the thoughts that might lead them to having something to speak up and speak out about.

The same inconsistencies, contradictions and factual errors that trouble Jonathan Dudley are noticed — or at least glimpsed — by leaders of the older generation of the evangelical establishment. But they don’t even allow themselves the chance to give them a second thought because the consequences of that line of thought are all too clear.

Rachel Held Evans and Alisa Harris are both thoughtful and perceptive people, but the troubling doubts they wrote about so well aren’t unique to them. The same doubts and reservations have occurred to scores of older evangelicals too, but that older generation had too much at stake to allow themselves to think through the implications of those doubts as thoughtfully as those younger writers have.

I’m not intending this as a criticism or judgement against that older generation. They are well and truly trapped. I won’t accuse them of timidity because their options really are constrained.

Tony Jones discusses the implications of this bind as it relates to evangelical scholarship — even in an area like New Testament studies (see “Honest Scholarship May Not Be Possible at a Christian School“). But it also has real-world, tangibly hurtful implications for many involved in direct ministry.

Let me keep this strictly hypothetical and let me stress that I’m being strictly hypothetical. I’m not speculating about any actual evangelical leaders and whether they might fit this description, nor do I know for certain of any who do.

But let’s say you run an evangelical ministry helping at-risk kids in urban areas. You’ve never addressed any of the big four issues — never even been anywhere near them. After a couple of decades of hard work you’ve built a network of after-school tutoring programs, health clinics, food pantries, youth groups, mentoring networks — the full-court press. And it’s all dependent on the support of evangelical churches. That support is, in turn, contingent on the imprimatur of an ever-shifting list of “gatekeepers,” those self-appointed bishops — authors, radio hosts, columnists, activists, mega-church pastors, etc. — who define the boundaries of acceptable evangelical ideology.

You can quantify all the good things your ministry is doing, but it’s not about the numbers for you. You know these kids and their families. You love them. They have names and faces and they depend on you.

And then one day some interviewer asks you about one of the big four issues while preparing a puff piece for Charisma magazine. Or you’re asked to sign the latest of the endless stream of “declarations” that always seem to be circulating among evangelicals (declarations that often seem to exist specifically in order to keep everyone in line on the big four). And whatever you say will have a direct and measurable impact on all those kids and their families.

That’s the trap. Zugzwang — every move is a bad one.

And all I’m willing to say with confidence about the moral calculus involved is that I’m grateful I’m not in such a trap myself.

But I’m also grateful — very grateful — that this wave of younger writers isn’t caught in that trap either. And I’m grateful that they are therefore able to write with an honesty and candor I’ve learned I cannot expect from an older generation of American evangelicals.

  • Apocalypse Review

    Liked your writeup. :) *gives you all the thumbs up*

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    The youth have always been at the forefront of any social change for precisely the reasons you outlined, Fred.  For example, the primary voices in the civil rights movement were from pastors and students, because they were the only ones who did not have jobs to lose by standing up for themselves.  The same thing goes for the protests against the Vietnam war, mostly done by students who were not as dependent on towing the line.  Heck, you see a lot of this with the OWS movement now.  How many of them are college educated students who have too many loans and not enough work?  

    I certainly hope that this new generation of evangelicals is able to cast off the old authority and work their way to positions of influence themselves.  Let the old guard shriek their shrill voices in the dark at people who do not listen to them as they gradually fade into impotent obscurity.  

  • Lori

     declarations that often seem to exist specifically in order to keep everyone in line on the big four  

    I swear that for once I’m not trying to be a smart ass—do those declarations ever exist for any reason other than keeping everyone in line on the Big 4? If so, which ones and for what reason? 

  • Anonymous

    Frank Schaeffer discusses something similar to this, but without the admirable aspect of couching it in terms of supporting a worthwhile program doing good works.  As he depicts it, there is a community of Evangelical leaders with essentially no skills which are marketable outside of the Evangelical bubble.  So you have some guy who is becoming disillusioned but also has a family to support.  You end up with a lot of cynical leaders, even when we are aren’t talking about the outright hucksters.

  • Anonymous

    I swear that for once I’m not trying to be a smart ass—do those declarations ever exist for any reason other than keeping everyone in line on the Big 4? If so, which ones and for what reason?

    Nope. The entire action is an implicit threat to every single person in their tribe.

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    And then one day some interviewer asks you about one of the big four issues while preparing a puff piece for Charisma magazine. Or you’re asked to sign the latest of the endless stream of “declarations” that always seem to be circulating among evangelicals (declarations that often seem to exist specifically in order to keep everyone in line on the big four). And whatever you say will have a direct and measurable impact on all those kids and their families.

    If someone puts you on the spot like that, stay true to your values.  If the “big names” try to cut off your funding to help people, then you gather your fellows who benefit from this charity with you, gather your bullwhip in hand, and march into those big-names megachurches and stark kicking over pews.  

    Just as Jesus would want you to.

  • A Viescas

    I suppose some of them could be about keeping people on message about other topics such as “divorce” and “community.” This is mostly theoretical for me though.

  • J

    It’s easy to say that but it’s hard to say to a child or a battered spouse or , “No, my principles are more important than your safety or your health care or your shelter or your food. They’re more important than your life. Best of luck out there!”

    I’d like to think if it was me, I’d find some clever third option, but I honestly don’t think that I could, not without hurting myself or hurting the people I’ve devoted my life to caring for.

  • Ursula L

    If someone puts you on the spot like that, stay true to your values.  If the “big names” try to cut off your funding to help people, then you gather your fellows who benefit from this charity with you, gather your bullwhip in hand, and march into those big-names megachurches and stark kicking over pews.  

    Just as Jesus would want you to.

    That is much more easily said than done.  And it isn’t without serious consequences.  

    If you look at Mathew 21, when Jesus drives the moneychangers from the Temple, the chapter ends with the Temple authorities looking for a reason to have Jesus arrested. It was part of a radicalization of his public ministry that ended in his execution.  

    If you were to start knocking over pews in a megachurch today, you’d wind up with criminal charges for breaking and entering and vandalism, at the very least.  Whatever damage refusing to go along with the “big four” did to your ministry would be trivial compared to you and the people you’re trying to help ending up with criminal charges.

    And if you’re involved in charity work, you have the hard knowledge that people don’t eat in the long term – they need to eat every day.  Even if you could eventually find alternative sources of funding for your work, real people will be going without food now if your funding is disrupted.  

    If your values include wanting to feed the hungry, you’re not staying true to those values if you do things that undermine your ability to actually feed the hungry.  Leading the hungry to attack megachurches doesn’t provide them with supper tonight. 

    It’s easy to say in the abstract that one should stand up for one’s principles.  But when wrong is done on a societal and institutional level, the wrongdoers have a lot of power.

    It’s easy to say that you’d, say, help runaway slaves in the 19th century US or hide Jews in 1940s Europe.  But would you hide a runaway slave when doing so means that you’d end up in prison, all your resources would be taken in fines, and your children would wind up homeless and parentless on the street?  Would you hide Jews when it earns you a place next to them in the lines to the gas chambers with your young children being placed in the homes of dedicated Nazis to be raised “correctly”?  

  • Jay

    Unfortunately, the new generation doesn’t even have to worry about offending their manager at McDonalds, because so few of them can even get McJobs these days.

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    It’s easy to say that but it’s hard to say to a child or a battered spouse or , “No, my principles are more important than your safety or your health care or your shelter or your food. They’re more important than your life. Best of luck out there!” 

    I’d like to think if it was me, I’d find some clever third option, but I honestly don’t think that I could, not without hurting myself or hurting the people I’ve devoted my life to caring for.

    The problem is that if you just complacently go along, then you are no better than Buck in Left Behind, taking money from the devil and doing nothing to fight him.  On the other hand, if you can find a way to take that money and undermine him from the inside…

  • Anonymous

    Honestly, if I were such a person, I would preface my statement with the phrase, “As a Christian,” thus forestalling No True Scotsman arguments.  Now, my opponents must demonstrate how forcing a pregnant teen to die in childbirth instead of having an abortion, or committing acts of violence against gay couples, or polluting the environment is in any way Christian.  Ball’s in your court, NAE. :)

  • ako

    That’s the challenge with these situations.  Coercive authorities are really good at making sure that not only is anyone who stands up to them likely to suffer, so are people they care about.  And that makes it much harder to do the heroic thing.  Simple fear can do a lot to restrain people, but combine it with concern for others, and you get something intensely effective.

  • FangsFirst

    I swear that for once I’m not trying to be a smart ass—do those
    declarations ever exist for any reason other than keeping everyone in
    line on the Big 4? If so, which ones and for what reason

    I think it’s also a tribalistic need to confirm that everyone is still on the “right” path. After all, I have little doubt plenty of them very sincerely believe it to be correct, so they want to weed out the people who are “corrupting” things.

    Plus a pinch of confirmation bias, and a handful of “Yeah! Look how much we all agree on awesomeness!”

  • Dan Allison

    Don’t underestimate their capabilities and their willingness to use those capabilities. They killed Jesus. 

  • Ursula L

    It’s easy to say that but it’s hard to say to a child or a battered spouse or , “No, my principles are more important than your safety or your health care or your shelter or your food. They’re more important than your life. Best of luck out there!” 

    I’d like to think if it was me, I’d find some clever third option, but I honestly don’t think that I could, not without hurting myself or hurting the people I’ve devoted my life to caring for.

    The thing is, it isn’t a matter of standing by your principles or the safety, health, shelter and food of the people you’re helping.

    Caring about the safety, health shelter and food of others is a principle.  And it is a powerful and important principle.

    And when it comes to the principle of caring for others, in some (but not all) ways, the “big four” are irrelevant.  It makes no difference whether a donor believes in scientific evolution or young earth creationism, their donations are equally effective at buying food for the poor.  Statements about creationism really should be irrelevant to a charity that provides food for the poor.

    Part of the problem with the power of concepts like the “big four” is that the people who care about the “big four” treat those principles as “real” principles, while things like feeding the poor aren’t treated as real.  

    And if you take a stand on the “big four” when your calling is to the principle of feeding the poor, you aren’t standing up for your principles at all. You’re letting the goals of others distract from the principle of feeding the poor.  And you’re effectively giving legitimacy to the claim that the “big four” principles are the really important ones, while your principles about feeding the hungry are less important. 

  • Anonymous

    I’m definitely pro-Awesome, and I will not apologize for it. That said, I’m a little more tolerant of Mundanety than some of my fellow Awesomites. Live and let live, I say, just don’t rub your gray, quotidian lives in my face.

  • FangsFirst

    I knew my choice of “awesomeness” would not stand without some comment or other…though you exceeded any and all expectations with an exemplary instance of True Awesomeness™.
    Well done!

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    Caring about the safety, health shelter and food of others is a principle.  And it is a powerful and important principle.

    And when it comes to the principle of caring for others, in some (but not all) ways, the “big four” are irrelevant.  It makes no difference whether a donor believes in scientific evolution or young earth creationism, their donations are equally effective at buying food for the poor.  Statements about creationism really should be irrelevant to a charity that provides food for the poor.

    I agree, and I ask you to excuse me if my original post was unclear.  What I was getting at is that you should not allow your principals to hinge on some arbitrary standard of tribalism that others try to force upon you.  And if they try to put you in a position where a wedge must be driven between you and those principals, then you need to go on the counter-offensive and say, “No, you move.”  

    I look forward to the day when, as Fred pointed out, people are no longer afraid to be at the mercy of an authority which does not respect them.  

  • Ursula L

    That approach is more impersonal than a memoir, but also more precise. But then, for some of us, such clinical precision is personal — at least for those of us who tend to live a bit too much in our heads.

    What exactly does it mean, to live “too much” in our heads?  Is there a way to measure the amount of living in one’s head that one does?  And living in one’s head, as opposed to what?  Living in one’s body?  Living with one’s heart?  And what measure of head-living is appropriate, versus being too much or too little?

    I’m reminded of the Headless Monks in Doctor Who – they believe the domain of faith is the heart, and the domain of doubt is the head, so they literally give up their heads.  And their shadows – the discarded, living skulls and heads, and Dorium’s head-in-a-box making him a person that is all head and no heart.  

  • vsm

    Funnily enough, the inverse of Fred’s scenario happened in the Finnish Lutheran Church recently. Several groups doing Christian missionary and social work have lost their funding from several large parishes because they insisted on supporting campaigns against women priests and LGBT people. At least we know their commitment to bigotry is genuine, I guess.

  • Magic_Cracker

    Well, “Yeah! Look how much we all agree on awesomeness!” really tickled me because it’s so true. I’ve seen that attitude in a number of groups of which I’ve been a part, not necessarily religious or conservative, and it’s like hitting a Pixie Stick, pure sugary awesomeness of no enduring substance, which leaves you feeling empty and depleted and in need of another…

    ~Magic_Cracker on a Different Computer

  • http://stealingcommas.blogspot.com/ chris the cynic

    Buck never used his money to help people.

    Go beyond Buck, what about someone who took the Mark of the Beast so that they could feed those who were hungry?  No one could buy or sell without the Mark, so if you don’t have it you have no income and you have no means of turning money into food even if you did somehow acquire money.  It would be logical to expect such people to live or die by the charity of those who take the Mark.  Don’t take the Mark and you’re talking about death by starvation for those you’ve made it your job to support.

    Lahaye and Jenkins have a simple solution to this problem.  If you take the Mark, you go to Hell.  Simple as that.  So don’t do it.  They even feature one character saying how she decided that she’d rather watch her family starve* than risk her soul.  After all, the equation is simple.  Hell is everlasting torment, and she says to them something like, “No offense, I love you, but not that much.”  You don’t want to go to Hell, end of discussion.

    Huckleberry Finn believes that some things are worth going to Hell for.  That’s a very different view.

    Things aren’t always as clear cut as recognizing that Buck Williams is an asshole.

    -

    Also, if we allow that the devil exists and is as nasty as the PR would have us believe, then I do not accept the truth of your argument.  You dismissed providing healthcare, shelter and food to those who would otherwise go without as doing nothing to fight the devil, if there is a being that fits what we mean by the word devil, then doing those things is absolutely fighting the devil.

    There’s a reason it’s, “I’m a man of wealth and taste,” not, “I am just a poor boy, though my story’s seldom told.”  In the class war, the devil has chosen a side.

    As has been said over at The Slacktiverse, Ethics are hard.

    Helping those in need is right. Standing up against the orthodoxy on the big four is right.  Sometimes these things are in opposition.

    Sacrificing those who need help to take a moral stand on the big four is wrong.  Taking the orthodox position on the big four to continue helping those in need is wrong.

    In situations or right against right or wrong against wrong, only tragedy can result.  These conflicts are often the basis of tragedy (says the classicist casually gesturing in the direction of Sophocles and Aeschylus.)  Shattered lives will result from either stand.  While you may have your own beliefs about whose lives should be shattered, what you’re talking about is still doing evil.  It is taking away the help people desperately need.  It is also doing good, it is taking a stand that needs to be taken.

    The problem that the situation created is that one cannot do good without also doing evil.  It is a choice between which good is more important, or which evil is less horrific.  Nothing right can come from it.  Only varying levels of wrong.

    Someone is sacrificed.  Possibly literally.  People do die when they are not given support, and the stances taken on the big four kill people too.

    Fred is right about Zugzwang: there is no good move.

    -

    * This never happened because Chloe of the black market proved that people could run a pretty decent economy without the Mark.

  • Lori

     What exactly does it mean, to live “too much” in our heads?  Is there a way to measure the amount of living in one’s head that one does?  And living in one’s head, as opposed to what?  Living in one’s body?  Living with one’s heart?  And what measure of head-living is appropriate, versus being too much or too little?  

    I don’t know what Fred means when he says it. When I say it about myself I’m referring to my tendency to over-think things and to invest so much energy in thinking and finding out and researching that I sometimes don’t get to the doing part when I should. 

  • Anonymous

    I’ve thought about this before. I want to help people and the best/easiest way to do that is through an existing community. In the blog post’s example, the community is the evangelical community that requires strict adherence to the big four.

    It’s like the parable of building my house on a foundation of sand. I’m building my new ministry on a foundation that I know is full of lies. It’s going to hurt my ministry eventually, either through self-compromise or compromising my service to the community. It seems like some people are okay with self-compromise, but I think that it’s unfair to expect that in general.

    My answer would be to start my ministry apart from the evangelical community in the first place. I think it’s immoral to depend on them considering what that dependence would cost me. There are plenty of ministries like the hypothetical one which aren’t dependent on any particular denomination.

  • Jason

    This is a terrific analysis. And Jonathan Dudley’s book sounds very interesting. I can’t wait to read your further discussion of it!

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

    What I try to hold on to in no-win moments like that is the sentiment behind “Be the change I want to see in the world.” Or, in a slightly more wordy version, “Act only according to that maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will that it should become a universal law.”

    Do I want to see the world where everyone takes the Mark?
    Do I want to see the world where everyone refuses the Mark?
    Do I want to see the world where everyone conforms to the evangelical party line on the big four?
    Do I want to see the world where everyone rejects it?

    These turn out to be simple questions to answer.
    What’s hard is continuing to adopt that global perspective when acting accordingly causes me to suffer locally.
    I find that identifying with something larger than myself helps with that.

  • http://leftcheek.blogspot.com Jas-nDye

    Evangelical groups only use four items. Fundie groups use 50.

  • Ursula L

    I don’t know what Fred means when he says it. When I say it about myself I’m referring to my tendency to over-think things and to invest so much energy in thinking and finding out and researching that I sometimes don’t get to the doing part when I should

    That’s the way I’ve normally heard the concept of being “too much” in one’s head used.

    But in this case, that usage seems odd.  Because Fred is not talking about a situation where too much thinking interfered with action.  Instead, he’s talking about a situation where the process of thinking was profoundly transformative, leading to a new understanding of the world and one’s own spirituality.  

    In this context suggesting that what is happening is about being too much in ones head also suggests that what is happening is a fault or failing, the result of a character weakness.  It is not happening because one is thinking clearly and careful, its happening because one is thinking too much.  The implication is that change based on thinking is inferior to change based on feeling.  When in fact, what is happening is the result of a combination of thinking and feeling – both feeling the way that people and the world are harmed by the emphasis on the “big four” rather than on human kindness and responsibility and the logical evaluation of the effect of the “big four” on human life.  

    Thinking and feeling really shouldn’t be opposites, but rather, they’re different ways of getting to the same end.  If you’re doing them right, then thinking about the justice and consequences of the situation and empathizing with the way in which the situation affects people will come together to the same results – that it is wrong to have laws that narrowly target women’s health care, that it is wrong to do permanent damage to the world for short-term gain, that it is wrong to value the balance of your bank account more than other human beings.  

    This process of living in his head is what made Fred into the Fred we’ve all come here to listen too.  So I think it is wrong to evaluate that process as being too much of anything, because it was exactly right to bring Fred into being the person we’ve followed for years through various blogs.  

  • Anonymous

    The scenario you describe is not quite analogous to Fred’s.  In his scenario there is an organization doing good works and which has nothing to do with the “big four”.  In your scenario the organization is combining good works with working to support their bigotry. 

    A parish supporting Fred’s hypothetical organization is supporting only the good works without the “big four” entering into it one way or the other.  A parish supporting the organization you describe is being asked to support both good works and bad works.  Simply from the perspective of efficiency, it would make more sense for the parish to direct its support elsewhere.

    This is before we even examine the assumption that “missionary work” is automatically to be considered a good work.  One of the many peculiarities of Evangelical culture is that missionary work is a get out of Hell free card.  A discussion of some church teaching vile heresies will frequently be rebutted with “but they support missionary work.”  I always scratch my head in bewilderment over this, since presumably they support missionaries with views compatible with their own.  So we are to applaud them for working to spread their vile heresies.  Huh?

  • http://stealingcommas.blogspot.com/ chris the cynic

    The conflict comes when you consider more than one thing at a time.  Stick with your first example.  The question is, do I take the Mark of the Beast, thus damning my soul to Hell and supporting the devil’s own economy, but also allowing me to provide food to people who would otherwise starve?

    You chose to make the universalizing question about taking or refusing the Mark:
    Do I want to see the world where everyone takes the Mark?
    Do I want to see the world where everyone refuses the Mark?

    What if it was instead about whether or not to watch people starve to death when you have the power to stop it?

    Do I want to see the world where everyone stands idly by watching others die of starvation they (the ones standing idle) could have prevented?Do I want to see the world where everyone refuses to stand idly by watching others die of starvation they (the ones standing idle) could have prevented?

    These turn out to be simple questions to answer.
    What’s hard is combining them with the last round of questions.

    I can’t answer No on Mark, No on Starvation.  No on Mark means Yes on Starvation.  No on Starvation means Yes on Mark.

    The only way things are simple is if either I’m in favor of the Mark of the Beast but against Starvation, or if I’m against the Mark of the Beast but pro Starvation.  Otherwise one of my universal principles has to be violated.  The question is which one.

  • Anonymous

    There are lots of evangelical declarations on a variety of subjects. The Evangelical Manifesto, the Cambridge Declaration, the Chicago Declaration on Biblical Inerrancy – those don’t really touch on the “big 4″ at all. (Edit: The Evangelical Manifesto does mention abortion.) The #1 topic on the ones I’ve read is railing against secularism.

  • Jason

    And of course, evangelicals see secularism as undergirding opposing views on the big 4.

  • Lori

    Jason has a good point. How exactly do they define secularism and why do they think it’s bad? Among the fundamentalists of my acquaintance secularism tends to involved at least the Big 3, plus some other stuff like sex on TV. 

  • Anonymous

    I kind of get where the other three came from, even if I disagree, but environmentalism?  How did anti-environmentalism become a shibboleth for evangelicals?  It just seems like such a random issue.  I’ll look forward to seeing Fred expound more on this in the future.

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

    > The conflict comes when you consider more than one thing at a time.

    You’re absolutely right, it gets harder when there are more variables involved.

    That said, the particular scenario under discussion isn’t a good example of that. As I understand the scenario, the world where nobody takes the Mark *isn’t* a world where everyone starves; the only reason people are starving is because the people who buy and sell food have taken the Mark and agreed not to buy or sell with the unMarked, so No on Mark also happens to mean No on Starvation.

    But, granted, that just makes this a poor example (or maybe I misunderstand the scenario… I haven’t read the books). So let’s suppose instead that the world really is set up so that the Mark is required in order to eat, no matter what people do. In that case: Starvation is bad, the Mark is (it says here) bad, and we have to choose.

    And in that case applying the categorical imperative involves asking which universal law I would prefer: is it better for everyone to live with the Mark, or for everyone to die of starvation? That’s a tough question to answer, and answering it depends on understanding just what is so bad about the Mark, and I haven’t a clue. 

    But whichever answer I give globally, the categorical imperative says that that’s the choice I ought to make personally: if I believe it’s better for everyone to starve, then I should refuse the Mark even if that means I die, even if that means everyone I love dies. If instead I believe that it’s better for everyone to live with the Mark, then I accept it and encourage my friends and loved ones to do the same (perhaps for the sake of all the other people they could save by so doing).

    Either way, the situation sucks, and I hate the answer. No surprise, we’ve created a hypothetical Crap World, whatever I do in it is going to suck.

  • FangsFirst

    What exactly does it mean, to live “too much” in our heads?  Is there a
    way to measure the amount of living in one’s head that one does?  And
    living in one’s head, as opposed to what?  Living in one’s body?  Living
    with one’s heart?  And what measure of head-living is appropriate,
    versus being too much or too little?

    As I was being given a formal diagnosis of Asperger’s syndrome yesterday after an assessment, this was a phrase use to describe part of the way the psychologist came to this decision. Overanalysis, over use abstracts and theoreticals–a lot of what Lori said, more thinking than doing, especially thinking about things which are more intuitive than thought-based for the average person. Probably not all for the above reason, though.

    Which probably also explains the little conflict I got into here some months ago that made me run away in abject shame, fear and other such confusing things after I got a lot of response. Thought waaaay too hard about the conversation and the topic building up to it and couldn’t figure out what I was doing wrong.

  • vsm

    I was thinking from the charities’ point of view. In Fred’s example, they must publicly agree with Big Four declarations to be able to continue their social work. In mine, all they would have needed to do to continue their work was to not support homophobic and misogynist campaigns in public. The parishes certainly made the right choice.

    I agree with you on missionary work. The campaign that got these organizations in trouble took place in Finland and included a fairly well-made video in an effort to reach out to the kids. It sort of worked, as it went viral. Unfortunately, they had overestimated the persuasiveness of an anonymous person telling about God curing her gay. The reaction wasn’t exactly positive, especially after someone noticed the campaign was financed by groups that in turn received funding from the Church of Finland. Thousands of people resigned from the church in protest, the media followed the events aggressively and even the Archbishop expressed his wish that the campaign be stopped. While this could be seen as an inspiring tale of social media uncovering wrongs, it also makes it obvious that you won’t be called out on your homophobia if you spread it discreetly enough. I shudder to think just what they’ve taught in some of their target countries.

  • Lori

     I kind of get where the other three came from, even if I disagree, but environmentalism?  How did anti-environmentalism become a shibboleth for evangelicals?  It just seems like such a random issue.  I’ll look forward to seeing Fred expound more on this in the future.  

    Fred has talked about it in the past. Someone with a better memory and search skills for this site might be able to find it. 

    Basically anti-environmentalism become a shibboleth for Evangelicals by migrating from the political to the religious and then getting dressed up in sketchy theology. 

  • Alicia

    Yeah, I guess it’s basically the quid pro quo between secular right-wingers and religious fundamentalists. “If you agree to put “lower taxes on the wealthy” in the Bible — somewhere near Psalms, if you can manage it — we’ll see what we can do for you about gays.”

  • Anonymous

    I suspect that over-analysis of what I take to be an offhand, not entirely serious and mildly self-deprecatory remark of Fred’s may be a sign that one is living too much in one’s head.

    But given that everyone’s decided to take this category of overly-living-in-one’s-headness seriously, the category could be defined in a similar way to how some define mental illness – i.e. if your tendency to live in your head is, on balance, causing you or people close to you major difficulties in life, then you have a problem; and if not, not.

    Of course, there’s the opposite problem of not thinking about things enough, which can also be highly problematic for all concerned.   There’s not going to be an equation or ratio that gives you the perfect amount of in-head-living, because the less you live in your head the more chance you have of not analysing something that needs analysis, and thus being fleeced of all your money, and the more you live in your head the more you spend time coming up with definitions of categories used in off-hand, non-serious and self-deprecatory remarks on a blog somewhere.

  • Anonymous

    As far as this living-in-one’s-head business goes, a few years ago I did see an interesting article written by a once-wiccan woman who had decided that it was all bunk and the sceptics were right.  She said that the way the wiccan/pagan community often responded to analytical criticisms was to, basically, retort that the sceptics were living too much in their heads. 

    That is to say, that while her former co-believers weren’t against a bit of rational analysis (in principle if not in practice), ‘balance’ was a far more overriding value, and two things that should be balanced is head and heart, or analysis and intuition, or something like that.

    I don’t remember exactly what her new view on that was – I’m wondering whether she rejected the principle altogether or thought that it was just being misapplied as a dodge in this area.  But in any case, she definitely had decided that her former comrades weren’t engaging in enough rational analysis.


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