Tactical vested interests

Tactical vested interests April 30, 2024

• “Man threw pipe bomb at Satanic Temple in Salem because God told him to, feds say

You thought God was an architect, now you know …

The Oklahoma man who drove to Massachusetts to throw his plastic pipe bomb also left a note at the temple/art gallery that read, in part, “ELOHIM NOW SEND ME TO SMITE SATAN AND I HAPPY TO OBEY.” That odd use of “Elohim” as a name for God could be due to his attending a particular kind of pretentiously dim charismatic church or to his just being somebody who lost his mind going down a YouTube rabbit-hole of conspiracy videos about the Book of Enoch, ancient astronauts, and the Nephilim.

Video of the bomb-thrower shows the person wearing a “tactical vest” — which is what people call bulletproof vests in the hopes that this will make them less goofy looking. Not everyone you see wearing a “tactical vest” is having a violent mental/emotional breakdown, but most are.

Such vests can be — like scuba gear, or a football helmet — responsible, reasonable garb for someone in a very specific context who is engaged in a very particular task. A scuba diver exploring a coral reef or a football player in a football game can make that outfit work and even look cool while doing it. But nobody looks cool walking down the street in a wet-suit and football helmet.

Anybody wearing a “tactical vest” outside of the context of actual armed conflict is the equivalent of that guy on the sidewalk in a football helmet.

This includes police officers. That guy walking down the street in a football helmet doesn’t suddenly seem mentally stable if you find out he’s actually a professional football player. Police officers dressed for an armed hostage standoff while doing anything other than that look just exactly as sane and just exactly as cool as a football player wearing his helmet and shoulder pads on a Thursday night at Applebee’s.

• This butterfly exhibits female traits on the left side and male traits on the right side.

So is this butterfly sinning? Is it disobeying God? And is it legal to show this photograph to schoolchildren in Florida?

• Diana Butler Bass’ “Evangelical Wreckage” is a helpful reminder that a great many “ex-vangelicals” are not people who chose or decided to leave evangelicalism behind, but who got pushed out, kicked out, or “farewelled.”

She was writing from a conference setting filled with such involuntary exiles, so her piece focuses on their experience, which “included religious trauma, familial rejection, and the loss of friends, jobs, and community.” Those folks are candid and honest about their experience because, after all, they’ve already lost all of that, so there’s no point being fearfully euphemistic, timid, or trepidatious now.

Which bring us to one other large group of people often overlooked in all of the discussion of “ex-vangelicals” — those who still, for now, retain their standing within evangelicalism and its institutions, clinging to it as the basis of their friendships, jobs, and community after watching all of those other former colleagues getting pushed out, kicked out, or farewelled for sometimes the mildest of infractions. Their story is important for anyone who wants to understand the current state of white evangelical Christianity, but their story is also almost impossible to hear or to tell because, well, people tend to be not quite as candid and honest when there’s a loaded gun pointed at them.

As long as they don’t contradict any of the core essentials of white evangelical identity they don’t need to worry about getting cast out like their former colleagues. The problem is, those core essentials of white evangelical identity can change very rapidly, and without warning:

This is the problem with white evangelical identity: It’s contingent on partisan political calculations beyond its own control. What is or is not acceptable for the white evangelical mainstream changes based on the shifting winds of the current Republican enthusiasm or Fox News’ outrage of the week.

That quote is from a January, 2016 post here: “The Perpetually Unsettled Identity of Evangelicalism.”

That post is notable today, eight years later, because of one failed prediction and one accidentally correct one.

The first was my admission that white evangelical professors generally, and Dr. Warren Throckmorton specifically, were probably not in jeopardy of getting kicked out of evangelicalism just because the Republican Party was rapidly Bartonizing. It was a few years later, but Doc Throck got Cizik-ed off of the evangelical channel here in just the way we’d been discussing back in 2016.

To this day, we don’t know why that happened. We don’t know what Throckmorton’s real or imagined infraction against the inviolable mandates of evangelical identity was. Those rules of identity are unknowable and subject to change without warning.

White evangelical identity is in flux and in dispute because it is linked to — and determined by — white conservative Republican identity. And white conservative Republican identity can adopt a brand new mandatory dogma at any time without warning, depending on the latest Truth Social post or Fox News rant or 4Chan meme.

And thus, I wrote back in January 2016:

Issues previously unpoliticized seem on the verge of becoming items of partisan dogma. As recently as eight years ago, Republicans were allowed to acknowledge that carbon traps heat in the atmosphere. By 2012, that fact had been anathematized. In 2000, torture wasn’t a partisan issue. Today it is.

And so, “right now,” we have no way of knowing what other positions or principles might soon be forbidden or required. Contraception? Vaccination? Fluoridation? No one can be sure.

“Vaccination” was supposed to be a joke there — an exaggeration, an example of the whackaloon fringe of nuttery that surely was way too out there to become a matter of partisan political dispute and thus, also, a matter of white evangelical identity.



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