In my last posts I explained why I think evangelical Christianity is a worthwhile subject and how I want to navigate it. My current concern is to clarify that while this project focuses on ideas, my interest is in people.
Please do not misconstrue this point. As per my last post, my guiding presupposition is the co-centrality of love and truth / truth and love to human existence and Christianity. As such, I am NOT interested in “souls.” I do not really know what a soul is. I have never met a soul. Rather, if Christianity is real, it is real ‘here and now’ in my present with tangible indicators that I can both relate to and that bear upon my lived reality. It must be true “for me.” So this is not about saving souls or converting people—it is about love and truth in our current existence. Enough said.
Two points contextualize the subject at hand. First, how we think about and understand a topic has a significant impact on how we situate ourselves relative to that topic. Further, it is not only the ideas but their formulation that makes the difference. In much of what follows I take issue with the formulations that have been handed to us.
On the one hand, I dispute the traditional Christian formulations of certain doctrines and perspectives on how Christianity does—and particularly does not—interact with other areas of human existence (i.e., science, popular literature, economics, etc.). On the other hand, I take issue with various cultural formulations (or more accurately, the absence of any formulation) regarding personhood, relationships, readers and texts, etc.
Second, who we are thinking about, and what motivates them to think as they do, is equally important. I am not assuming that I can put myself in the “shoes” of all parties. But through personal and interpersonal analogy I think we can highlight several prominent motivators. And by better sensitizing ourselves to the poignancy that these ideas hold I believe we may better understand why they have been formulated as they have (and consequently, why evangelical Christianity engenders such polarized responses).
Concerning Christians, what is often at stake is fear: fear of the possibility that one’s beliefs may not be valid (or that one may not be able to express one’s sense of their validity), or intimidation in the face of navigating the many choices that accompany a belief system.
Moreover, it is my contention (to be fleshed out later) that the evangelical church has inadvertently fueled this by woefully under-informing and misdirecting Christians as to how to interact with science, culture, and much of the world around them.
Concerning non-Christians, what is often at stake is feeling profoundly disrespected at being treated like objects—being viewed as a soul to be saved, rather than a self to be known. Worse, such Christians typically claim while so acting that “we love you,” “we value you” or, worse, that “God loves you,” whatever that may mean. In essence, one feels thoroughly off-put not only by this ‘loving’ objectification but by the apparent obliviousness of Christians its absurd contradiction.
Understanding such experiences may help Christians realize why their best efforts with non-Christians often create little other than disdain (from feeling objectified) or dismissal (from the incomprehension that comes from wondering how anyone can possibly believe something so utterly ridiculous and then, believing that way, think that their perspective is of any relevance to the world around them).
In both cases, my wager is that understanding each other more—through listening more—will amount to better knowledge of oneself and the other, which in turn allows for more authentic interactions and greater acceptance: more truth, more love.