Saturday, April 14, 2012

Church Language - Simplicity

In my experience with Evangelical, fundamentalist and charismatic churches, I've found that they tend to view the world through binary lenses. Everything is either morally good or morally evil, with nothing -- nothing! -- amoral or in-between.

The classic example is music. Churches, particularly youth groups, are big on convincing people to destroy their "secular" music collections and listen exclusively to "Christian" music (in short: Christian music really only refers to an artist's record label, not their lyrics, actions, or actual religious views). A speaker at a youth group event I attended once shouted, "Secular music will drag your soul down to the pit of hell!" The reason is because of spirits in the music -- no matter what the singer is saying, if the musician is not a Christian then the devil is inhabiting the music for the sole purpose of getting teenagers to have sex and become atheists. No music is neutral, it either a force for good or a force for evil and you'd better make sure you're supporting the right side.

This attitude can be extended to anything -- clothing, movies, brands of food, local businesses, whatever. Not all churches take it to the same extremes, but it's there.

Part of the problem, I think, has to do with the way they approach the Bible. Somewhere along the line, the Evangelical community decided that the only way to read the Bible was to assume that:

  1. Everything in the Bible was written directly by God himself and is meant to be interpreted as literal, historical and factual (known as inerrancy) "whenever possible". When the inerrant writings of God seem to contradict themselves, then you can start considering the possibility that maybe one of the passages in question has some kind of cultural explanation and isn't mean to be taken entirely literally.

  2. Everything in the Bible is either a command or a prohibition.

This stark reading of scripture can't lead to anything but perpetual judgment of all things as "good" or "evil". So, when pastors start decrying books and movies from the pulpit, the laity says, "He studies the Bible more than I do. He must be right!" and BAM! culture war. It leads to intense division (which is a whole other topic in itself) and perpetual witch hunting.

I view the Bible, particularly the Hebrew scriptures, as a collection of stories or fictionalized historical accounts written by people who had specific ideas about God and morality that they wanted to convey. I don't believe that God would order the slaughter of women and children after the army defending them was defeated, but I do believe that someone could use that as a literary device to make a point about something else. I believe that Jesus really lived, really died, and really was raised from the dead, but I also believe that the writers who provided us with accounts of those events were also thinking about presentation and probably fudged some things for the sake of creating a compelling narrative.

But, I majored in English and enjoy creative writing, so I have trouble thinking of fiction as anything but honest and true. If God were to task me with writing a holy book, my first step would be world-building and probably rolling up some character sheets.


  1. I was one of "those" christ

  2. I was one of "those" christians during my christian days. I was so on fire with God. I wore the t-shirts and listened to only christian music. Shutting out the rest of the world views. But life happens and God began to change my views on music and life. I was able to expand my music catalog with numerous bands and artists that aren't christian. I still tune in to the christian music scene to see what's going down. But that's about it. As for the christian t-shirts I retired many of them or donated them to Goodwill in exchange for lots of converse.

    I've learned to push the boundaries and challenge myself to see why I believe the way I do, why I live the way I do, and why I act the way I do. many christians lose sight of what Jesus would really do, We can speculate as to what he would do in today's world But I know he wouldn't be happy with a lot of churches these days