“Evangelical” is a sticky term. It’s hard pin down what is meant when people use it. I’m going to be writing a lot about Conservative Evangelicals; so, it’s important that I define who I mean because I want to make a clear differentiation between Conservative Evangelicalism and Christianity at large. There is a clear difference between Catholicism, Universalism, Southern Baptists, and Calvinists. My purpose is not a broadside swath of attacks against Christianity at large or even Evangelicalism in the broad sense. It is therefore important that I distinguish between groups to avoid offending innocent parties or repel potential allies.
Check out my article Touching the Sacred to get an idea about how I feel about religion in general. But I’d like to expand on the ideas in that article, if you’ll indulge me.
My father, a hardline Calvinist minister, used to say that “Man is inescapably religious”. He pointed to the religions around the world and used the fact that human culture cultivates organized religion as evidence of a soul. He used this to “prove” that God must be therefore real (and by implication, his particular God must be real by default). Going into how desperately wrong this idea is (let alone the whiff of sexism in the expression) won’t add anything to this article, so I’ll leave the argument against this idea to others at another time.
But there is a grain of truth in the sentiment that “Man is inescapably religious”. I think that spiritual, non-linear thinking is as natural to humanity as speaking or picking things up and walking with them. I’m not a biologist nor a psychologist nor a sociologist nor an anthropologist but my gross ineptitude on these topics won’t stop me from forming an opinion. I’m an American, dammit! It’s what we do. I think that “spiritual” thinking or symbolic ceremony are built into our language, combined with our ability to imagine cause and effect, mixed into our amazing ability to imagine situations happening non-locally. Mix those three things together and spiritual thinking or religious thinking become inevitable.
And so, even though I’m probably an atheist and most definitely a non-theist and absolutely a humanist, I think we cheapen our human existence when we deny ourselves our most human traits. Namely, we deny our human nature if we don’t participate in “spiritual” or religious-ish thinking. It would be like a world without poetry. Where that line exists between “spiritual thinking” and “superstitious authoritarianism” is a discussion for another time.
I am not anti-religion. I do not accept the neo-atheist argument that religion itself is to blame for superstition and bigotry. For every religious asshole bigot out there, there is also an atheist asshole bigot, 4 religious people who just want to be left alone, and one saint whose religion has inspired her to greatness. I believe that religion bashing is not only fruitless but considering that it may be a natural result of our human brains, it may be unreasonable to expect humanity to “escape” that mode of thinking. Also considering that atheists run the same probability of being a bigoted asshole, I remain unconvinced that ridding the world of religion will make the world any better.
So, who are these Conservative Evangelicals who have so earned my ire? Let me try to carefully define them so that I may go about the business of ranting and screaming about them with some degree of precision. Check out Wikipedia for a more in-depth history and description of American Evangelism. But here are the markers I will use to define what I mean by “Conservative Evangelical American”.
First, Conservative Evangelicals think that they believe that the Protestant Bible is the perfect, unerring, and true Word of God. I say “think they believe” because they don’t believe that, actually. In reality, they ignore large swaths of the Bible (slavery laws) and insert all kinds of stuff that isn’t there (capitalism, gun rights). Eternal Hell for disbelief is nowhere in the Bible as far I as I can tell. But they will loudly proclaim that their imaginary version of the Bible is the final authority in all matters. If science discovers overwhelming evidence that the Earth is immensely old (for example), Evangelicals reject this based on what they think the Bible says on the matter. They believe the Bible informs them on all matters. They do this to avoid actually thinking about complex ideas. All religious extremism is, at its heart, intellectual laziness.
Second, Conservative Evangelicals believe that they, and only they, will go to heaven when they die and that all others will suffer eternal torture in Hell. They believe that they will go to Heaven because they astonishingly believe their own ideas (wow), not because of the kind of person they are. This is an important point that a lot of people outside the group miss. Conservative Evangelicals believe that they will go to Heaven forever not because they are “good” but because they believe that Jesus Christ was the Son of God who died on the cross for their sins. This distinguishes them from every major religion in the world. They will go to Heaven not for helping the poor, or being kind, or loving others. They will go to Heaven for stubbornly clinging to ideas everyone else thinks are insane. They take pride in this. “See? We’re different” but conveniently forgetting that every religion has something unique about it. Some sects of Buddhism set themselves apart by claiming that animals can reincarnate into people, for example.
Third, Conservative Evangelicals think that they are politically conservative. They aren’t, of course. They are actually radicals and revolutionaries intent on overthrowing the US as it has been for 150 years and impose a political philosophy that has never existed in America and has never even been tried. More of this later. Conservative Evangelicals have made the party of Ronald Reagan (only 35 years ago), pro-choice, anti-marriage equality, small government, and the GOP party line as central to Christian doctrine as the supposed historical “factuality” of Christ’s resurrection and Holy Baptism. I have heard more than once that a person cannot be both a progressive and a Christian from Conservative Evangelicals. Strangely, the religion founded by the Prince of Peace are rabidly pro-military and turn a blind eye police brutality.
Fourth, they harbor a martyr complex that is simultaneously tragically unhinged and vexingly abusive. Jesus spoke of “The World” in way that most Christians use as a means to separate Christians from everyone else. “The World” is kind of like the way “Gentile” is used by some Jews. “Them” and “Us”. Conservative Evangelicals hold strictly to the idea that The World hates them and wants to destroy them. And let’s be honest, most of us wish they would just go away. We are definitely working to throw them out of politics and the social arena in general. The problem is that they think we’re sick of their shit because they believe in God (like, we hate how holy they are) rather than we’re sick of their shit because they’re bigots and bullies who constantly work to undermine social harmony.
I think this will do as a working definition of Conservative Evangelical as I will be using it in this blog. This definition may be refined or change over time.
Next, we’ll jump into the weeds by addressing the stubborn refusal of Conservative Evangelicals to join reality and the human race through their adherence to the silliest, most childish philosophy in human history: Sola Scriptura. Well… okay… that was overstated. There are dumber ideas than Sola Scriptura. Flat Earthers are dumber. But no other idea in Western thought has done more to encumber human progress.