23 January 2012

Why I Am No Longer an Evangelical, part 1: Authenticity

About two years ago, I stopped being an evangelical Christian (I stopped being a Christian at all, but more on that later). It took me a little longer to fess up to it. It didn't happen in a single moment, which is why this topic will comprise a series of posts. People aren't usually so simple.

Evangelicals, as a group and as individuals, face an authenticity crisis.

We're in a tricky place already; authenticity exists at the edge of language. I'd prefer not to give a specific definition because I'd rather not prescribe a narrow way of living on others. Rather, I'd like to talk about inauthenticity and imagine authenticity as, well, not that. One quick, short idea (among many) is that inauthenticity is any instance in which an individual purposely subverts their internal feelings or beliefs about what's right in favor of external feelings or beliefs, especially for the sake of the perception of others.

Let's also dismiss the idea that I stopped being a Christians because certain Christians behaved in overtly inauthentic ways. Those people exist inside and outside Christianity. You know who they are. I know who they are. They're so mired in their images rather than their selves that Christians can safely call it idolatry, and in this context, I'm fine with that description. My criticism is of the evangelical belief system itself, specifically that it makes inauthenticity a systemic problem.

Although it is nuanced across many churches and denominations, a reasonable and fair assessment of the fundamentals of the evangelical belief system would be that it is based on the Great Commandment and the Great Commission. The first says to love God and love your neighbors. The second says that a good way to love God and love your neighbors is to tell your neighbors all about how much God loves them and the world by sending Christ to die.

How this plays out depends on how we think about the word "love." I think we can agree it's not merely warm feelings, all fuzzy and whatnot. The evangelical definition is self-referential— to love a neighbor means to tell them about God's love. In short, to do your best to convince them to believe that God loves them. The action of loving is always associated with the gospel message. The belief system requires that the act of love violate the subjective experience of another; it implies that any non-Christian doesn't fully understand love by virtue of simply being a non-Christian (or even a non-evangelical).

Suppose, though, that you'd prefer love mean living in the space created between two people with their own subjective truths who both choose to encounter each other and have their respective views of the world changed and challenged by each other. That's a definition of love I prefer, and I even know some evangelical Christians who'd prefer it, too.

The problem for individual evangelical Christians arises when the definition of the belief system encounters the definition I've proposed. Again, it's a definition I'm comfortable with and that I prefer. It doesn't need to apply to everyone, but it is part of why I'm no longer an evangelical Christian. The point is that the conflict between the belief system and the individual idea means they can't both be true. And to reject my own idea of what love means in favor of that prescribed by a belief system is fundamentally inauthentic.

Evangelical Christianity, in my experience, expects the individual to repent of any action or feeling if it goes against the Great Commandment, or the Great Commission. It's also my experience that the Commandment becomes subject to the Commission.

I couldn't live authentically if I felt I needed to love by expecting a certain belief out of others. So I gave up Christianity. What I find now is that I'm able to be open and honest with others, regardless of their beliefs. I also find that evangelical Christians seem to have a problem being fully open and honest with me. I think many of them want to, but they sense the conflict between their own inclination of what is right and the demands placed on their actions by their religious beliefs.

This is a continuing series, and so is the discussion, so please comment. I'm happy to take questions and to talk about this in more detail.

5 comments:

Tryonk said...

"The second says that a good way to love God and love your neighbors is to tell your neighbors all about how much God loves them and the world by sending Christ to die."

I believe it's more accurate to say it's a command to spread a message rather than a suggested way to love. Of course, if it is something a loving God is commanding us to do, it would necessarily be a loving act.

"Suppose, though, that you'd prefer love mean living in the space created between two people with their own subjective truths who both choose to encounter each other and have their respective views of the world changed and challenged by each other."

I take from this that you reject the notion of objective truth. I believe people can have subjective perceptions or beliefs, but I'm kinda old fashioned about truth. Even at that, if part of love is challenging another's views, how then is presenting another worldview (e.g., Christianity) necessarily unloving or inauthentic?

Tyler Gagnon said...

You're correct, Tryonk— I reject the notion that truth can be comprehended by a human being in an objective way. The nature of human being is to be localized in time and space, in a specific place in history and in the world.

Human being is therefore subjective, and I don't see any reason a person would need to claim objective truth. In fact, the cases in which I usually see it are those in which somebody wants the weight of objectivity behind them in order to tell others what to do.

Ken Tryon said...

Hrmmmm, we're not that far apart. Given the particularity of our existence, the human perception of truth is necessarily subjective. I still believe in absolute or objective truth as an abstract concept, just not that I necessarily have knowledge of it. I do believe God possesses absolute truth and can reveal it to us through various types of divine revelation, but that's a hard case to make to an agnostic.

I strongly agree that most people who claim to posess absolute truth are either trying to buttress a weak argument or have something to sell.

Tyler Gagnon said...

Ken— here's the issue I have with God possessing absolute truth and then revealing it: he needs to translate it into some kind of human language, or else the human does. So even a direct divine revelation becomes subjective.

Ken Tryon said...

Yeah. The question of how inspiration occurs is less than straightforward. The article of faith is that God assures the truth is transmitted regardless of the exact process