Monday, February 29, 2016

The Facade

In a book I'm reading, the author tells the store of the downing of the South Korean airliner in 1987. The woman who was behind it had a very calm demeanor when she was questioned about it. The Japanese foreign minister asked her how, having traveled the world and seeing how North Korea lies to its people, she could still kill 100 people. She admitted that she had traveled throughout the West but that she had been trained that what she saw was just a veneer over the awful capitalist reality. She had been trained to not believe what she was seeing.

This is what it can be like in Evangelicalism, particularly Fundamentalism. I grew up just on the edge of Fundamentalism. Generally, the churches we went to were Evangelical, but there was just enough crazy to make me worry.

If you are an conservative Evangelical, you can't believe what you see, particularly in the sciences. Science tells us that the universe is 13 billion years old. A tortured reading of Genesis leads some people to say that we can't believe science. But, if we can't believe astronomy, then we need to quit sending people into space. Biology very clearly tells us that there is a "bush" of life (the tree of life metaphor isn't working well these days). Again, though, some would tell us that scripture would tell us that this is wrong.

I walked through my college years in a bit of a fog because I was trying to figure out what was real and what wasn't. Were my college professors REALLY so stupid as to buy into this evolution thing or did they know it was bunk and they were just lying to me? And, then I was learning to read real research, and it was like looking at something with my own eyes. I was seeing something real. But, if I was going to be true to the Young-Earth Creationist perspective of my church days growing up, I'd have to close my eyes to what was in front of me. And that wasn't going to happen.

For some reason, Evangelicals have also decided that global warming is also not a thing. I have no idea why. Maybe because we'd have to put some effort into recycling and using less energy and generally being more responsible people? In any case, this is another of those walking through the world and pretending that what we see is just a veneer. If we don't look at the global temperatures going up, it's really not happening. Most importantly, if our favorite meteorologist disagrees with 98% of the climatologists, then we can ignore the climatologists. I am still flummoxed as to what climate change and Evangelicalism have to do with each other, but it is another of the cognitive dissonant topics.

One of my favorite issues in which Evangelicals pretend that their version of truth is real is American History. I became acutely aware of this when we were homeschooling our kids. Many homeschool curricula are promoting a version of American History called "Providential History" or "America's Christian History". It sounds lovely until you get down to reading it and finding out that there is a lot of whitewashing going on. The colonists are portrayed as heroes without any discussion of the real conflict with Native Americans. Slavery and The Trail of Tears get short shrift while the Founders are portrayed as modern day Evangelicals and full and honest discussions of major historical figures are often minimized. American History is complicated in the first place; coming into it with an agenda makes things even more complicated.

And here is where I have to add my obligatory paragraph about David Barton. He is the most notorious of the pseudo-historians. It's frustrating to listen to him talk and use half-truths or use facts out of context. History is more complex than just a set of facts. Those facts need to be understood in their time and sociological place. When you go looking for good history books from a Christian perspective, I'd recommend starting with John Fea or Mark Noll.

One of the great things about living in the United States is that we have freedom of expression. We have this great marketplace of ideas. I can write about all kinds of things on my blog. I can say what I want. I can believe what I want. I can't imagine living in a place like North Korea where you are told what to believe, what to say, what to do all the time. And then, as a North Korean going in to the West, to not believe anything that you see. To think that it's all just a facade.

And being a Fundamentalist of any stripe makes you kind of like that North Korean woman. You walk through the world and don't believe that any of it's real. I've been fortunate that I was raised just on the edges of Fundamentalism. But, it's easy to get sucked it. No, I can't believe in global warming. No, America has always been explicitly Christian. Don't take those truths from me! But, maybe those are the facades. And the truth is behind it.

Giving up my Young-Earth Creationism made me much more free in how I could interact with scripture. Reading several history books helped me see that one tight view of "providential history" was limiting. Looking past these veneers lets my mind go free to think about more possibilities instead of tying me down.

Your thoughts?

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