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the sky is falling, overreactions, and facts

sky is falling

If you have conservative Christian friends on facebook, then you’ve probably seen this article on how Christians are about to be court martialed for talking about Jesus. The first time I saw this article appear in my news feed, my eyebrows shot up into my hairline. A few years ago I would have begun immediately panicking and doing everything I could to stop this terrible atrocity from taking place (i.e., signing this petition). But, that was then. Today, I searched for the headline, realized that there wasn’t a legitimate news source reporting on it, and I also noticed that most of the places running the story were . . . well, corners of the internet I’m familiar with, and no longer trust. Yesterday, the Washington Post covered it, and they actually went and obtained some facts. Like, an actual statement from the Pentagon, instead of the inflammatory, inciting words of a rather intense political idealist.

But, my instantaneous thoughts when I read all of the original articles were tempered by my own personal experience. I’m a military brat, so I have a passing familiarity with military procedure and policy, and military culture. It has been long-established military procedure to reprimand anyone who gets pushy about their faith– or non-faith. It’s just not allowed, especially because of the rank system. That’s one of the first things people miss: military life is absolutely nothing like civilian life. We don’t even operate under the same court system. Military personnel are required to live by a stricter code; they still have First Amendment rights like every other American, but the practice of those rights is a helluva lot more limited than it is for say, someone like Westboro.

And, as someone who feels a tear-jerking patriotic swell anytime I see a “God and Country” bumper-sticker, I can tell you, honestly, that the Christian culture in the military can be obnoxious at times. Just like Christians everywhere else, we can get pushy and demanding and get carried away and do or say something ridiculous. Which is what Weinstein, the man who called proselytizing “treason,” is reacting against. I’ve been there, I’ve seen it happen, and it’s not pretty.

In short, the sky is not falling.

So why did so many people run around acting like it was?

The answer lies in something called the persecution complex. This is not a new idea, and it’s certainly not limited to Christians. I’ve seen it happen in pretty much any group of people who collectively feel passionately about something. Sometimes the concern is valid, and should not be dismissed as merely the persecution complex when that’s not what is happening. Marginalized groups who talk about racism aren’t reacting to nothing, and when feminists start talking about the War on Women, we’re not making it up. But, sometimes, our passion and fervor can run away with us and we start jumping at shadows.

In my experience, however, conservative Christians are almost entirely reacting against a perceived threat that just doesn’t exist. Just because our government isn’t operated purely on fundamentalist views of “biblical principles” doesn’t mean that Christianity is under attack.

One of the problems with the persecution complex and how it shows up in Christianity is that there’s a couple of verses that have been twisted in order to teach that if you’re a Christian, you should expect opposition:

“Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” — Romans 9:33
“Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you.” — I John 3:13
“If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.” — John 15:19

There’s a tactic that shows up a lot in Christian sermons and discussions, and it’s illustrated by the above. When there’s more than one verse that sounds like they’re talking about the same thing, then, suddenly, it’s perfectly alright to ignore context– having more than one verse means that you are using Scripture to “comment on Scripture,” and that’s supposedly sound hermeneutics. Wrong, but that’s worth its own post. So, before we move on, let’s look at context.

John’s passage is in the middle of Jesus’ explanation of the role of the body here on earth, where he uses the Vine & Branches metaphor. He follows that depiction of grace, growth, community, and love with a warning: our life isn’t going to be a bed of roses, and sometimes, people are going to despise us. On occasion, whole governments have tried to expunge Christianity. This happens, I’m not going to deny it (although Christians aren’t the only ones singled out for their beliefs). This passage, however, does not give Christians free license to believe that simple disagreements are persecution. Just because someone doesn’t think the way we do and feels strongly about it doesn’t make what they’re doing “hate.”

I John, 3:13 is in the middle of verses that are focused entirely on the body of Christ loving and caring for each other. In my Bible, the section is headed “Love One Another,” and its concluded with an entire portion dedicating to laying down our lives, and not closing our hearts to the needy. So, it seems pretty clear that if the world does hate us (and again, disagreement is not hate), what’s our reaction supposed to be? Run around screaming and Signing All the Petitions? Not exactly– we love,  and we continue on with our lives.

The Romans passage is probably the one that’s been the most twisted and the one most harmed by terrible applications. This is the verse a lot of people turn to when they start talking about the Gospel being inherently offensive (which, problems), and the fact is that the context has nothing to do with how it usually gets applied. First of all, it’s in the middle of Romans 9, which I will be honest and say I barely understand. But, it appears at the end of the chapter, after a thorough dissection of justice and the law. And, verse 33 follows Paul’s question about how some have conflated the Gospel with the Law. He’s making a reference to Isaiah 8:14, which, ironically, is preceded by this little gem:

For the Lord spoke thus to me with his strong hand upon me, and warmed me not to walk in the way of this people, saying, “Do not call conspiracy all that his people calls conspiracy, and do not fear what they fear, nor be in dread.”

So, a verse that in the New Testament, completely removed from any context, has been used to say that “the Gospel offends people,” is actually a reference to not believing in conspiracies and living in dread.

Huh. Irony.

I’ve seen the damage that this “persecution complex” can do. It allows people who claim to be Christians to be filled with vileness and hate. It’s been used to justify the actions of so many preachers and evangelists who use this verse as a “get out of jail free card” anytime they want. Oh, you’re offended? Obviously, it’s not me and what I’ve said and how I’ve treated you, it’s the Gospel! You’re just offended by Jesus, and the Bible, and you think it’s foolish. That’s not my problem, it’s yours. And oh, poor me, the world hates me and says I’m a bigot and a hater, welp, the Bible said they’d say that! I’m just preaching truth here!

Things like this are why it’s hard for me to stay quiet. Because this, this is wrong. Not every single person who posts conspiracy articles on facebook are like this, and I’m not accusing them of that, but this is where that mentality leads. This is how Scripture, which is overflowing with love and grace, has been used to hurt and wound. Because of three verses surrounded on all sides by a call to love, Christians have formed an entire system for evaluating each other: how persecuted are you? Because, after all, a good Christian is one who everyone hates.


definitions and a history lesson, part two


With the writing, publication, and dissemination of The Fundamentals, the modern Christian fundamentalist movement began in the early part of the 20th century. What is important to note about this development was that the fundamentalist movement began as a reaction against a perceived threat. The threats the early fundamentalists saw were scientific, cultural, and philosophical– and many Christians were perceived as being corrupted by modernity. This reaction is still happening, and has led to what many have identified as an “us vs. them” mentality or an isolationist stance.



Darwinian evolutionary theory was painted as the attempt by science to diminish God’s power and sovereignty. They argued that evolution was a weak ploy by the atheists to ignore God. This attitude still exists today, as anyone who is familiar with Answers in Genesis or the Institute for Creation Research can attest to. Keep in mind that the fundamentalists felt threatened by evolutionary theory– they were only capable of seeing it and engaging with evolutionary theory, and science itself, as the enemy. This was not helped by events like Oxford Evolution Debate  or Nietzsche’s case that “killing God” was a horrible necessity for progress. These issues are extraordinarily complex, but one thing I’d like to highlight is that the “death of religion” was encouraged by modern thinkers as “necessary”– because of the attitude of established religion. The Scopes Monkey Trial occured during this time, which contributed to the hostility. If you want a break down of the interplay between the established church and the birth of modern science, I highly recommend Age of Wonder by Richard Holmes.

We have a hundred years of history separating us from the initial context, and a few things have happened. First of all, the modern scientific approaches to chemistry, anthropology, geology, and biology barely resemble what they were like in the early 20th century. No evolutionary biologist turns to Origin of Species or Descent of Man as a credible way of studying the life sciences– however, modern fundamentalists frequently portray modern Neo-Darwinian evolutionary theory as if it is exactly the same. They portray the study of geology as still dominantly Uniformitarian (“the present is the key to the past“)–which is not the case. Modern geology is practiced under Catastrophism now– and no one treats the geological column as something that actually exists. It’s a simplified teaching tool, nothing more.

These attitudes have led to the outright dismissal of science. Oh, they won’t say this– they’ll argue that they believe that science and the Bible don’t contradict, it’s the Bible and Neo-Darwinian Macro-Evolutionary Theory that contradict. However, in conversations with literal six-day young earth Creationists (which fundamentalists usually are, with few exceptions), after a long and extensive discussion, they’ll usually admit to something along the lines of “the Bible is true, and we just have to accept that we don’t really understand science well enough. One day, we’ll understand science enough to see how it goes perfectly with the Bible.”

Which, honestly, isn’t very intellectually rigorous, and has a pretty basic problem: this statement assumes that it’s science that will change, and not their interpretation of the Bible. Historically speaking, this is NOT the case (Galileo? Copernicus? Newton?). Science has usually been what altered our perception of the Bible, not the other way around. Fundamentalists who are truly being honest are usually terrified of this fact– and I’ll get to why in a bit.


Culture & Economics

Now we come to the Industrial Revolution and the Social Gospel. Honestly, I’m not exactly sure how to sum up what I’ve found in a way that doesn’t over-simplify too horribly. From what I can tell, one of the first people in Christianity to make a move in this direction was Washington Gladden, who wrote Working People and their Employers— which was basically a treatise on why Labor Unions were A Good Idea (also, he helped found the NAACP, so there’s that). There was also Walter Rauschenbusch, who wrote Christianity and the Social Crisis. In his book, Rauschenbusch articulated this idea:

Whoever uncouples the religious and the social life has not understood Jesus. Whoever sets any bounds for the reconstructive power of the religious life over the social relations and institutions of men, to that extent denies the faith of the Master.

The Social Gospel can be summed up in the idea that Christians should endeavor to bring the Kingdom of God to earth– they believed in practicing “God’s will be done in earth as it is in heaven.” They encouraged Christians to work in their communities– to help the poor, to feed the hungry, to heal the sick. In more modern terms, they focused on redeeming the physical world.

Parallel to the rise of the Social Gospel was the rise of the Fundamentalists– Charles Finney and Billy Sunday being two early examples. I chose these two men because they are representational of how Fundamentalists slowly began opposing proponents of the Social Gospel– they were evangelists, and were a part of the Second Great Awakening. They were Revivalists, and their focus was much different. Instead of reaching out to the world in a physical way, they sought to heal the world through a spiritual redemption– and their focus became spiritual redemption to the exclusion of social or physical redemption. They began to see people like Rauschenbusch, who downplayed the substitutionary atonement, and Gladden who was a Congregationalist minister, not as colleagues, but as just another form of the enemy.

You can see these things echoing down to today– fundamentalist attitudes toward things like the NAACP, labor unions, socialism, charity organizations, welfare, The New Deal, and the ACLU are usually extraordinarily bleak, if not outright hostile. Although, to be fair, the conservative evangelical and Republican attitudes toward the aforementioned are not really any better, although fundamentalists get more heated about it.


Philosophy & Academia

Here is where we get to the crux of the matter: German higher criticism. To reiterate my earlier post, German higher criticism was a lot of different things, but the fact that it is also known as “historical criticism” reveals a primary focus: it took a historical, anti-supernatural, naturalistic approach to the Bible. This created some problems for Christianity, because all of a sudden they had to deal with people questioning the validity of the Bible. Scholars and critics began treating it simply as a religious document from the Bronze and Iron Ages, no more deserving of our time and attention than Homer or The Epic of Gilgamesh. Not that they dismissed the Bible’s literary or cultural importance– and not every single German critic was hell-bent on destroying religion. They just started treating the Bible like any other book.

Here is when we first start seeing the terms inerrancy and infallibility. And here is where the beating heart of fundamentalism lies– and it deserves its own post.