Thursday, June 15, 2006

Conversion's Fine Print

UPI Column

This week's column continues last week's journey - how my conversion experience occurred and the subsequent adoption of theology without enough reflection.

Thanks for all your comments. And for the record, my kind editor has changed last week's title based on all your comments and my request! For the moment, it reads: "My due diligence failure" and may change again. But at least for now, it's not the previous one. If you have a title idea that uses the "smart girl" theme, I'm all ears. We have a character limit so my original title was too long.

Anyway, fun chatting with all of you regulars and newbies too!



Larry Moffitt said...

Julie, apparently the Religion & Spirituality Forum website's super-strict title length character limit -- like the shelflife of fresh-cut flowers and peace treaties -- is an inexact science.

Our editorial system accepted your original suggested headline: "What's a smart girl like you doing in a belief like that?" I loved that one best from the git go, but was a prisoner of my assumptions (and what the marketing director told me).

By the way, in Gio Marin's column it's clear you have finally acquired his goat with your doubts about Noah's global flood.

He may be thinking that next you're probably going to come out with some grad school notion about the world not being created in the space of a literal union work week, because he heads that one off at the pass in today's column as well.

Me? I figure the creation took as long as it took.

Anyway, I know you are a charitable soul and can see that Gio Marin is you five years ago. Or ten.

This piddling little note has taken me an hour and a half to write because I had to watch my guys from Argentina beat Serbia 6 - zip. I lived in Buenos Aires for two years and got infected with futbol mania. When they beat England I'm going to run out into the street without my shirt and start kissing strangers.

I hope they have wi-fi in jail.

Larry, the editor

julieunplugged said...

My God - can you all see why I love my editor? Thanks for retaining the original title, Larry.

I wish I lived near your street so I could get a victory smooch!


(Who will visit you in jail with laptop concealed in large cookies for Wi-Fi access)

Kansas Bob said...

I think that your experiences are fairly common among religious people. It kind of revolves around the authority figures that get put into our lives in our "young and impressionable years". I submit that the issues are not limited to the Evangelical community. Family, Higher Education, Corporate America, traditional expressions of religion and other institutions all have authority figures that, each day, promulgate thier own spin on life, success and God ... to name a few :)

Learning the lessons that you have learned are difficult and sometimes lifelong pursuits ... some people never learn them. I've often prayed asking God for an easy life ... unfortunately, I think that the old cliché may apply - 'no pain no gain'.

Adela/Amy said...

Wonderful, Julie! Talk about parallel universes we two have lived in!

Love your clear-as-glass and cutting-as-a-knife frankness.

Love the comment on Crusade.

Love your editor too. :)

julieunplugged said...

So I'm going to comment on my own column in hopes of stirring up some discussion because I really did want to discuss this one.

What do you think of the idea that some of us are trained in what I called a "hermeneutic of protection"? Do you think that is a valid characterization of how we defend the faith as evangelicals?

Did you convert before you knew all of the doctrines implied in your conversion? How did you respond as you were taught what your conversion constituted?


Kansas Bob said...

What attracted me to the faith was my (first) wife Ellen. She was outrageously changed when she asked Jesus in her heart and was healed of blindness. Her life was radically changed ... it was an amazing thing to watch. When I came to Christ 8 months later I also had a surreal experience with the Holy Spirit that changed my life. I did not know the bible or Christian dogma before I converted.

After conversion I had an intense desire to know what I believed. What started out good got skewed as I read the bible many times in different translations. As time went by I began to live my faith out of my head ... problematic as faith (and trust) is of the heart and not the head. This kind of living caused me to see knowing the scriptures as an end in itself rather than a way to know God. This kind of living caused me to become a charismatic fundamentalist where I looked spiritual but spent most of my time controlling rather than walking in faith.

I think that religious seductionis not limited to Christianity ... we are all deceived in some way ... it is sad that the hermeneutic of protectionism kicks in more often than transparency and vulnerability.

I like what you are doing here Julie ... feel that it is an accepting place.

Dave said...

What do you think of the idea that some of us are trained in what I called a "hermeneutic of protection"? Do you think that is a valid characterization of how we defend the faith as evangelicals?

I think that this hermeneutic of protection dates back to early stages of Christian development as it became increasingly necessary to indoctrinate the young and new members of the community in order to fend off the influences that could cause people to think differently than the leaders believed was necessary to keep the group unified. As with so many other modern innovations, "progress" has refined our abilities to develop strong apologetic arguments that become virtually airtight as long as one stays within the boundaries of what are and are not acceptable lines of inquiry.

Fundamentalists have an increasingly tough time maintaining this defensive/protective stance because they are the most intent on preserving a "pure" pre-scientific view on as many aspects of Christian belief as they plausibly can. Thus they rely on separatism, "preliminary strike" apologetics (discrediting potential alternatives before they are understood by their followers) and heavy-handed pressures to conform or face expulsion both now and in the life to come. Basically, they pull out "most" (but not all) of the stops, istm.

Did you convert before you knew all of the doctrines implied in your conversion? How did you respond as you were taught what your conversion constituted?

No, my conversion was more based on circumstances, emotion and a sincere, serious interest to explore Christianity rather than continue rejecting it as I had throughout my teenage years. I was basically worn down at rock bottom, sick of the negativity and wierdness of how I'd been living and ready to try "going straight" for a prolonged period of time. I wound up getting absorbed into conventional suburban Christendom in my hometown much more quickly than I ever would have thought possible, made a bunch of new friends and within a short time was fascinated with the abundance of "new knowledge" that I found in the Bible. My long-established bookishness earned me many admirers and I rose to a level of prominence that satisfied my ego needs to feel like I'm smart and good at something. I also began dating nice, wholesome, pretty Christian women. Life was good! But no, I didn't really have an adequate grasp on what doctrines really meant or implied before I stood up, got baptized, began teaching Sunday school and offering my testimony to audiences of Christians who were eager to hear my tale and as amazed as I was at the unanticipated changes that God brought about in my life when I surrendered my heart to Him.

julieunplugged said...

Hi Bob and Dave.

Thanks for your further thoughts. Bob, I know just what you mean about charismatic fundamentlaists. Are you by any chance affiliated (or were a part of) the Kansa City Fellowship? We attended a conference there back in 1992, I think. I was a fan of all things Mike Bickle at the time.

The logical extension of biblical literalism is faith in the supernatural happening today in dramatic, tangible ways. I admired the Vineyard for this bold stance and in many ways, still do. They are trying to live up to the cosmology they say they believe.

Dave, thanks for your explanation of how it worked for you. I wonder if it would be possible to lead a college Christian student group that related to Christianity with a modern cosmology, with a postmodern sensibility and a 20-something need for purpose and mission...

So many of us found a way to be young adults with sincere goals of living clean lives with integrity through Chrsitian faith. I wonder if it is possible to achieve that without all the absolutism...

What do you think?


Dave said...

You asked if young adults could get access to the benefits of Christian living without the absolutism and archaic cosmology. I think that's an excellent question. I would like to think, yes. That's a large part of what I look to people like Brian McLaren and others to articulate. I myself am trying to articulate that as well in my own way. I led a devotions at my job the other day with the young people in one of the homes where I talked about how I don't believe that Jesus was necessarily perfect and obedient as a child or teenager or young adult because I have no reason to think that he was all that different than anyone else. His reputation was earned in his service to God and his people towards the end of his life, and we really don't know all that much about what happened before. My emphasis was more on how we can learn from and be like Jesus and less on how perfect and different he was from us. One of the girls remarked that she had never heard anyone speak about Jesus like that before and she seemed to appreciate it.

At the same time, one thing that draws in a lot of people to Christianity is how it fulfills a lot of the conspiracy-theory thinking that so often seems to explain "what's really going on" in this world. The Bible's aura of mystery and secret knowledge available nowhere else is very unique and compelling and hard if not impossible to replicate or imitate. The Bible is important because it's been SO important for such a long time. In that sense, Christianity will not have any serious rivals in the minds of many people for a long time, if ever.

suds said...

Frankly, I'm scandalized that anyone would even consider the possibility that "sincere goals", "clean lives" and "integrity" might NOT exist outside of Evangelical Christianity!!! Those labels fit me when I was in high school, college and beyond (as a Catholic)and fit most of the people I hung out with (other Catholics, atheists, Jews) then and later. (It sounds like all the non-Fundies you knew were perverted.) And the few Fundamentalists I knew back then came off mostly as "intolerant", "self-righteous", and "judgmental"...I wonder how many of us would be surprised/enlightened at the impressions we make/have made!

Kansas Bob said...

Regarding ...

So many of us found a way to be young adults with sincere goals of living clean lives with integrity through Chrsitian faith. I wonder if it is possible to achieve that without all the absolutism...

... absolutely :) Often integrity is an evidence of a changed life but many people seem to have it at a DNA level ... they seem to be good people. For me faith and spirituality is more abut being whole than it is about outward manifestations of being whole. I put it this way when I was talking to a friend this week:

I don't want to dance for God any more ... I want to dance with Him.

Being whole cannot be achieved by performance ... obeying Pharisaic rules ... it can only come relationally ... knowing God loves us ... loving Him ... loving each other. I find that religious absolutism, generally speaking, is never about loving but about rules.

julieunplugged said...

Bob, I loved your comment - dance with God rather than for God. Nice image.

Suds: Good to have you slap my hand and remind me of all the moral, upright young people who don't have to rely on fundamentalism to get a sense of right-side-upness with the world.