Believe Something Already: Emergent, LaBeouf, & the Growing Senselessness of Doubt

Believe Something Already: Emergent, LaBeouf, & the Growing Senselessness of Doubt October 27, 2014

Elijah then came near to all the people, and said, “How long will you go limping with two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.” The people did not answer him a word. 

Last week, two seemingly unrelated blips appeared on my Internet radar and struck a strangely similar chord: Tony Jones’s statistics about the emergent/emerging church, and Shia LaBeouf’s interview on Interview Magazine. 

I’m not entirely sure what point Jones was trying to drive home by reporting that, at least apparently, Christians identifying as “emergent” are not necessarily as liberal as one might think. My guess is that he’s hoping to disprove the common accusations that the emergent/emerging church is just a younger iteration of classic (skeptical) liberalism, and that it is thus a dying/dead movement lacking in any substantial “new” characteristics. I very much appreciated Tony’s book The Church is Flat which capably pushed back on the latter assumption that the movement is dead or without unique, vibrant, or expanding expressions.

But if the research Tony is citing is correct, then my takeaway is more that the majority of those ministries and leaders still “going” and identifying as emergent/emerging are likely closer to the center theologically. Rather than skeptical liberalism there is a core of committed belief. This seems true of Tony himself, and also true of famous emerging mainline leaders like Nadia Bolz-Weber. To be honest, I think Nadia is basically an evangelical, though I’m not sure she’d be super psyched on the label :).

Which brings me to the Shia LaBeouf interview.

Celebrity conversions are a major pet peeve for me. I can’t help but mega-eyeroll the Bieber’s and Kanye’s of the world putting their devotion to Jesus on blast, you know, right before spitting out the most misogynistic lyrics imaginable or maybe assaulting people after hitting their car with an ATV. Jesus has enough douchebags claiming to rep him. We don’t need notorious billionaire prima donnas lining up to be the next Gary Busey, and pastors lining up to be their promoters.

And let it be known that Shia LaBeouf has been a douchebag – kind of a lot lately. Without a doubt. And maybe that was before the filming of Fury, I don’t know, but whatever the timeline, it’s true. And the immature narcissism even comes through in this interview. Without a doubt.

But.

Shia’s conversion on the set of Fury, and his explanation of it in this interview, feels a bit different to me. There is something substantial, even authentic, here. (Not to mention, there seems to be a genuine contrition for his recent behavior.) And, if nothing else, LaBeouf gives a rather cogent (if precocious) description of how the current generation may be swinging back towards Christian faith as a viable option in a confounding, pluralistic age. Here’s what I mean:

I found God doing Fury. I became a Christian man, and not in a f—king bullshit way—in a very real way. I could have just said the prayers that were on the page. But it was a real thing that really saved me. And you can’t identify unless you’re really going through it. It’s a full-blown exchange of heart, a surrender of control…

I’m going through it myself. I’ve been going through an existential crisis. If you look at my behavior, it’s been motivated by a certain discourse. Metamodernism has influenced a lot of my action in the public in this last year and a half… You have both modernist commitment and postmodern detachment—sincerity with a wink. It is all things. It’s a feeling that comes after deconstruction: the ripping apart, or the going to shit of a society, the environmental crisis, the financial crisis, the existential crisis. Metamodernism is the feeling that comes after that… 

After calamity comes hope. And I do feel a deep hopefulness in my life and in my work. Whereas originally I was a very cynical dude, I was very postmodern. The way I dealt with the crises in my life, I was very cynical…

David [Ayers, director of Fury, a Christian] is the f—ing best dude I’ve ever worked for. He’s not the observer; he’s going through it with you. It’s real. There’s no rehearsed fight scenes. You’re getting punched in the face for real. There is no room for actors. It was like becoming Christian—you subject yourself to everything that’s coming. You relinquish everything.

The interview is definitely stream of consciousness on a slightly manic level, but do you see the line of thought here? It is saying something, perhaps something like what Tony’s statistics are saying, if we have ears to hear. Namely, that the postmodern, deconstructive, cynical elevation (idolatry?) of doubt has proven rather useless in a world of uncertainty, calamity, and chaos. 

Elijah’s ancient charge to the lukewarm people of Israel is stunningly relevant – How long will you go limping between two opinions? Believe something already! Choose who you’re going to follow!! And this, not in the old, individualistic sense of the hellfire and brimstone threats, or perhaps even fundamentalist felt-board guilt trips, but in the corporate sense of people deciding to become and to join in communities of belief. 

Indeed, it is a wonderful thing that the fundamentalist idolatry of certainty has met its end in postmodern deconstruction. And, it is an even more wonderful thing that churches are becoming spaces wherein individual doubts can be safely expressed and addressed as part of the life of faith, rather than inimical to it. Yet doubt and cynicism at a corporate level, if they become definitive values of churches and movements, will carry no weight in these metamodern times – nor will they even make sense to those increasingly looking for sense in the wreckage of senselessness.

Doubt, as a corporate thing, is completely unsustainable.

That’s heavy, I know.

But blame this precocious celebrity kid Shia for getting me revved up, and blame Tony’s statistics for saying something (I think) about both the failure of emergent ideologies of doubt and the successful emerging into authentic streams of Christian belief.

I, for one, am happy to go on being an evangelical, however emerging or whatever, and giving up my control to the beauty of belief.

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