by Lana Hope cross posted from her blog Wide Open Ground
A few weeks ago, Darcy challenged the notion that we should use God to justify our choices. It has really stuck with me. She explains,
The me of today doesn’t believe I need to use God to justify my choices.
I’ve done that my whole life….used scripture and God and “God’s will” to make decisions and defend them to everyone who thought I was wrong or had an opinion about me. And no matter what the choice was or how well I defended it “from scripture” someone always thought it was wrong. Because they too could defend their belief about my wrongness from scripture.
It always turned into a “who has better hermeneutics” war, which I often won, given my upbringing steeped in knowledge of the Bible and Bible interpretation. But what I didn’t realize for so long is that all these mental and scriptural gymnastics were unnecessary.
I still consider myself to be a theist believer; nevertheless, I believe that Darcy is absolutely correct. As an evangelical, I used God to justify everything I did. I went to college because it was God’s will. I dated, or didn’t date, because it was God’s will. I packed my bags and left Asia because it was God’s will. I went to college because it was God’s will.
Additionally, I had to bring God into all my theological choices. When I changed my mind about courtship and purity culture, I had to use the Bible to support what I believed. I could not assert, “it’s sexist and wrong.” I had to argue, “it’s wrong because: BIBLE.” When I started to believe that women were equal, that I didn’t have to submit to men, that I should be allowed to vote (seriously, I once believed that only men should vote), and that I should be allowed to speak up in the church, I had to support my position with the scriptures. And it was not just me putting myself under this pressure; my friends pressured me.
I also had to spiritualize my choices. If I did wrong, I owed it to everyone to repent and claim to be a worm and sinner. My preacher taught me that nothing is a private affair, and by private he meant the right to make a personal choice. In front of the congregation, the preacher would claim, “something is holding the church back, and someone here needs to repent.” If one was gay, he or she needed to repent. If one had consensual sex with his/her boyfriend/girlfriend, he/she had sinned against their future husband, and needed to repent. The pastor did not ask people to confess out loud per se, but the implication was if each individual did not get on his or her knees and repent, his or her sin would hold the entire church back.
The result was that I had to spiritualize my choices. I was reminded of this recently when I overheard a guy remark that he was divorced, and then promptly uttered, “But I grew closer to the Lord for it.” I have never been divorced, but he was still articulating the kind of language that I was pressured to use. The pressure went like this; “if you want to court my brother, you owe us an explanation for all the various ways you have swayed from the purity ideal.” In other words, I was always persuaded that I needed to spiritualize the past. If I could utter, “But I’ve grown closer to the Lord because of it,” then I could make up for falling from the fold of the community ideals.
I do not live my life this way anymore. I just live my life. I no longer see the past as problematic to who I am today. The past is certainly part of who I am today, but I no longer see the past as problematic. Yes, my childhood was painful, but I do not feel the need to spiritualize the past. Perhaps my past made me draw closer to the Lord, but probably not. I think what I do with the future is more significant than the past anyway.
At the heart of this fundamentalist teaching that we must justify our actions in terms of how it conditions our inner heart is the philosophical assumption that we have a inner, secret side to us that we, or perhaps God or Jesus, needs to unveil and unlock and refill and shape and remake. In other words, it assumes that there is a “real” me that is in conflict with exterior self, or a “real” me who was corrupted by the fall. The assumption is that there is a private interior self, who is wretched, mind you, but yet seeking to become more like Christ.
Therefore, one needs to analyze the self to death. Who are we? What kind of choices are we making? Will God find our inner self satisfying at the end of the day? Does my actions grow my heart closer to the Lord, or further away from it? Analyze the self, always analyze the self.
When we live our life always seeking to unlock the true, inner self, we become suspicious of everyone and everything. Is the preacher seeing the truth in me? Is my friend seeing the truth in me? Am I blinded to the real me, or are they just jealous of me? Am I hiding the real me? How do I unlock the real me? We grow suspicious of both our own thoughts, and the thoughts of the other. Suspicious, always suspicious.
The philosopher Wittgenstein in his book Philosophical Investigations speaks about how dualism, the belief that we have an inner and outer self, is founded upon mistrust. Descartes, who articulated the distinction between body and soul, began his reflection with a mistrust for the senses and the external in which the self find certainty within his own innate ideas and then, and only then, has certainty that there is an external world. But the mistrust did not stop with the external world. By the time the early twentieth century arrived, philosophers were asking: if minds are private and inner, how can we be sure that other minds exist? Or how do our minds cause the body to even move at all? And what Wittgenstein claims in response is that we know minds based upon trust.
Wittgenstein, however, goes further; in addiction, he believes that we are linguistically, and socially, constructed beings, and this common language is what allows us to trust each other. We learn what pain means together, from the time we are babies and stub our toes and our parents label our experience as pain. We learned what sin means together, even. There is no inner or hidden me to unveil, according to Wittgenstein, because I am a social being, whose inner is actually public.
I see limits to Wittgenstein’s arguments, namely that we are surely more than socially constructed beings (my last post discussed that we are individuals, too). Nevertheless, it is not accidental that the dualist belief that we are soul trapped in a body was rejected by Second Council of Constantinople in 553. It is because the evangelical church has stood within the modern stream of Descartes/Nietzsche/Freud, who believe in this strong “superman” (in Christianity we call superman Jesus) who can unlock the real self, that the modern church has created this unhealthy suspicion of ourselves and of who we are.
Interestingly, the Bible purports that the real me is grounded in Christ and not locked inside, waiting to be uncovered. The Bible also explains that we only know this by trust. The incarnation, once again, is especially central to Christianity because the incarnation was, and is, God’s coming to us to ground us in a transcendent other while essentially affirming that we are social beings. We died with Christ, the Bible claims. Jesus speaks of following him, extending our arms to others; he does not focus on us spending our time unlocking our sinful hearts.
I am not claiming that Wittgenstein solves all our answers, as there will always be a dimension of suspicion to the human experience. I have found, however, that I have grown to trust myself more, and trust others more, other people who are healthy, that is. I no longer walk around on tip toes, analyzing myself. I no longer sit in quiet ponder, prayer-type mediation, for hours. If I do pray, I see it as communal and not about unraveling a real me.
If I’m wrong about the dualist thing, at least I am a healthier person for rejecting dualism.
Source: Ideas in the post came from reading Political Worship: Ethics for Christian Citizens by Bernd Wannenwetsche.
Lana Hope was homeschooled 1st-12th grade in a small town and rural culture. Involved in ATI, her life growing up was gendered, sheltered, and with a lot of shame and rules in disguise of Biblical principles and character qualities. After college Lana moved to SE Asia and began working with the abused, and upon discovering that the large world is not at all like she had been taught, she finally questioned it all, from Calvinism to the homeschool movement to the foundation of her Christian faith. Today Lana is a Christian Universalist, holds a B.A. in English, and is currently working on a M.A. in philosophy. She blogs about the struggles she has faced leaving fundamentalism and homeschooling behind and how travel and missions has wrecked her life for good and bad at her blog
Read our hate mail at Jerks 4 Jesus