Evangelicalism, Religion

Evangelicalism and Ahistoricism

Saturday, 21st January 2017

From Jan. 21, 2017

I want to know the numbers of marchers not just in DC but in all the marches across the country, total. I’m sure some news source will add this up at some point. I know, truth and justice aren’t a popularity contest, and having the most votes or the biggest crowds says nothing about what’s right. But it does tell us what can’t be ignored. And, if the President decides to ignore this, as he no doubt will do, or simply dismiss it in a juvenile tweet, he will be reminded again and again that his position does not represent the majority in this country.

Even though he as a reality TV personality craves ratings and popularity, the ideologues around him likely don’t. Their sense is that what they believe is correct, and the fact that they are outnumbered merely makes them the faithful remnant, the few who truly understand. That’s a convenient narrative to have for an authoritarian – having the majority means you’re right, and being in the minority also means you’re right.

It’s part of an evangelical narrative which has permeated political and cultural life in this country. Even when evangelicalism isn’t explicitly mentioned, it’s storyline is there. There’s a difference between faith and a narrative about faith, and not much has been done to distinguish those two things. It is crucial, at this point, to do so. We might add to that the epistemology, that is, the assumptions about what constitutes knowledge (as opposed to opinion), how knowledge is acquired, how it is justified, and so forth. Even if we are willing to admit that faith is a matter of the heart and of personal conviction, the narratives in which that faith is couched and the epistemology that undergirds it are not. They have a history, they are the result of a series of battles and events to this point which have led to the development of what we think of as a faith position. This is true for any faith.

What is remarkable about evangelicalism is its complete rejection of its own history. Check it out for yourself – go into a Christian bookstore that caters to evangelicals. It will be almost completely empty of books about its own history, or any other history. It is as if faith started 2000 years ago, and then jumped to last year. You’ll find various branded versions of the Bible (I enjoy looking at the Duck Dynasty Bible when I’m there). You’ll find lots of religious merchandise, what the singer Keith Green used to call “Jesus junk”. You’ll find devotional stuff, and fiction, and cookbooks. You won’t find anything about the Reformation, or the Great Awakening, or anything else that would contextualize the history of evangelicalism.

There’s a reason for that. To contextualize it would mean that it could be understood using the same tools used to understand any other phenomenon. It would bring it to earth. It would disguise the fact that its practices are scripted, there are narratives everywhere that are not in the Bible at all, but are accepted as if they are. There are epistemological moves that are thoroughly modern, but are accepted as if they were spoken by Jesus.

This conflation of faith with narrative and epistemology has to be unpacked. This is something I’m working on – the story that evangelicalism is not faith but something else, something that has been covered over and disguised as faith. It is what has allowed a great many evangelicals to abandon virtually every moral standard they claim to have and vote for someone like Trump. The morals are not what matters, the narrative is, and that’s what they voted for. It is an antidemocratic narrative (has the word “democracy” ever been uttered by an evangelical in a positive manner? I’m not sure, except when they are trying to advance their own antidemocratic narrative).

It is a narrative that takes over words and defines them in a specific, and problematic, manner. Freedom. Individual. Choice. Faith. Equality. Rights. Every one of these and many more have a meaning because they exist as part of this narrative. Every one of them has to be redefined, but more than that, a different narrative has to take hold. The evangelical one is not only bad for the country, and for non-evangelicals, it is bad for evangelicals as well. In the end it is the abandonment of faith in favor of power and domination.

So, I’ll periodically be working out some elements of this. It is a necessary step on the way to a new narrative. Without understanding this, it is simply a matter of popularity. And, with the White House, the Senate, and the House in control of this narrative and this epistemology, a lot of people think they have won.

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