Monday, April 5, 2010
The Line in the Sand . . . and Olive Oyle
I digressed a bit on Popeye yesterday. I will try and finish my thought on this topic.
I was sitting in the large Presbyterian church yesterday and felt a kind of comfort or ease that I often don’t feel in my normal evangelical world. You know how it is, sometimes the reason for a particular feeling is ambiguous and it is hard to get a linguistic handle on it. I meditated on it during my drive Seattle and come up with one answer at least. And this answer is what reminded me of Popeye.
The pastor made a comment yesterday that I don’t think could ever be made from the pulpit in my own church. She alluded to a point that no one in the church had certainty in their beliefs. The way it came about was when she was introducing the teens who were finishing their confirmation class. She said one of the girls, Kate, came to her earlier in the week and said, “I can’t be confirmed. I don’t have total faith. I have sometimes have doubts.”
The pastor looked over the congregation of about 400 and said to us, “I hope that you don’t mind but I spoke for you. I told Kate, if you are required to have total faith, with no doubts, then we would have no members at all.” There was a soft chuckle that moved across the congregation.
But a statement like this would not be considered appropriate in my home church or even in my evangelical world. Within this world, faith equals certainty. This, I think is the crux of the matter and how I now feel more comfortable outside of evangelicalism. This “crux” might, (forgive the blending of metaphors), the line in the sand that separates the evangelicals from the true believers but who are non-evangelicals.
The problem with this faith equals certainty is twofold. First, I believe that our sense of reason is fallen, just like the rest of us. Therefore a fallen reason can never reach certainty. But this doesn’t lead to despair, as some philosophers have suggested. You can know truth and know it often . . . just that you can not know it with complete certainty.
The second problem is that the evangelicals have placed such a high respect for total faith, (and a misunderstanding of faith) that they have applied the same standards of belief far beyond the essentials. If you hang out in the evangelical world, you not only have to be 100% confident that God is there, the Bible is true, that Jesus is divine, that Jesus died on the cross for our sins (okay, just paste in the Apostle’s creed here) but you become certain in many non-essentials. For example, you have certainty that the earth was created 6,000 years ago, the Republicans are God’s party, that all American wars are justified, that Jesus’ return is eminent, that God does not want states to have Gay marriage laws, that life begins at conception, that dispensation is how God works in history, that tattoos are signs of the devil . . . and I could go on and on.
I personal don’t have certainty in anything, but certainly not those non-essentials.
Now, I will look at the issue of faith and doubt (and to get back to Popeye). Os Guinness did an excellent lecture series on doubt. I used it as the foundation of a Sunday school class, which I taught. The most important thing that he did was to define doubt and difference between the forms of doubt. When the Bible speaks negatively about doubt, it is speaking mostly of a doubt that means an act of unbelief. This is a willingness to go against God’s command, because we choose not to believe what He has said.
Another negative kind of doubt is what Os defined as “being in two minds.” The Greek word was very close to schizophrenia (meaning split mind). In the psychological definition, “schizophrenia” obviously means a split between the mind and reality. But in the meaning associated with doubt, the meaning has to do with a mind that wants to go in two different directions at the same time. Another term that might relate is “wishy-washy.” I’ve heard radio pastors speak of doubt being “like a ship on a stormy sea, tossed one direction and then the other.”
When my thoughts went there, I immediately thought of Olive. In the video I posted last time Olive is singing about Brutus’ accolades (I guess I should say “accolade” has he has only one . . . being large) and how he is a good catch for a husband. But at the same time, notice, she is packing her bag to run away from him. That is this kind of doubt. In a later scene, she is so confused that she literally tries to walk in opposite directions. Her big, brown, booted, clumsy, right foot pointed in one direction and her left foot pointed in the opposite. She spun around and actually fell down.
But this is the kind of doubt that the evangelicals bestow on you if you express anything less than certainty. I remember that any time I expressed doubts when I was a Nav (doubts ranging from God’s existence to doubts about orders, which I had received from my local Navigator leader) that I was told that it was a sign of spiritual immaturity. I was accused of being an Olive.
The problem with a church or Christian society that believes in certainty is that such a lofty goal is not obtainable. When what you believe does not mesh with reality, then you must choose to live dishonestly . . . or change your views. Anytime you build a paradigm based on an untrue, the whole social structure becomes a farce and true communication stops. I can’t discuss the pros and cons of the age of the earth with my evangelical peers. I have no certainty in what I believe but they do. So they are not interested in the cons to a 6000 year old earth. Psychologically they can’t accept any possibility of another way of looking at it. They have a fear of being an Olive! The opposite then, is to be certain.
So that’s the bottom line. The line in the sand between the two groups comes down to the willingness to doubt and to doubt in the right way.
Posted by MJ at 9:12 PM