(School of Athens, Plato and Aristotle in the center)
A few weeks ago after church, Eric and I sat in his office talking. A few days before—while on my early morning walk—I felt this pull to seminary, and I wanted his insight on the matter because I didn’t know if I had been “called” into some type of ministry. He leaned back in his chair, “Do you want the short answer or the long answer?”
“Go ahead and give me the short answer.”
“Ok. What’s the long answer?” He went on to tell me how he has seen me grow in the last twenty years—especially the last year. Though we have different ideas on faith, I respect Eric’s opinion and friendship.
Religiously speaking, Eric and I disagree down the middle as he takes a more conservative view of Christian practice and the scriptures while I hold a liberal view. But over the years we figured out our disagreements are peripheral because at the core of our issues there is agreement.
One example is Eric is pro-life and I am pro-choice.
We talked about those differing views and he told me he holds to a quality of life view beginning at conception and ending at death. It’s not enough that someone is born, but they also deserve to eat consistently and healthy, a quality education, decent health care, etc. Eric isn’t pro-birth—which is what many pro-life people are—but he is consistently pro-life. As he told me his stance, Eric cited philosophical arguments to support his point of view. I was impressed. “God! Thank you for supporting your pro-life position with a philosophical argument rather than mindlessly quoting Jeremiah and Psalm 139.”
“I do see a place for these ideas in how I read the bible.”
“Right! But you didn’t behave like a lazy parrot, and I appreciate that.”
Where Eric and I disagree is when life begins. I do not think life begins at conception, but there are philosophical and scientific grounds to argue for the beginning of life six days after conception. I also think the longer a pregnancy goes there needs to be stronger arguments made by both pro-life and pro-choice. I also disagree with the Right’s willingness to control women and their reproductive rights, and, as far as I am concerned, if you don’t have a uterus you don’t have a say.
I have friends who have had abortions and from what they have told me, and what I have observed is abortion is the last resort. There is no support system because family and/or a particular religious community shunned these women, and they are put in a desperate position. These women do not have the resources to provide for themselves let alone a baby, and they have to face angry protesters who hold signs and shout rather than adopt her baby. It’s not enough the baby is born, but what kind of life can it have? This is where Eric and I agree. A quality of life is of the upmost importance.
Granted abortion is a hot button issue, and has been since the Moral Majority created the platform to galvanize Conservative Evangelicals in the early 1980s, but abortion is one of many topics where Eric and I fundamentally disagree. How we handle disagreement over the issue serves as an example to the Conservative Evangelicals who go on social media and start imposing their particular doctrine on other people, and use poor argumentation and logical fallacies in the process. When Eric and I debate we do not force the other into a particular narrative so there can be a win. That’s not a debate. That’s a quarrel. We also ask questions and answer honestly.
I think the art of dialogue is lost among modern American Christians—particularly Conservative Evangelical Christians. This group offers nothing but shouting, condescension, and dismissal of those who disagree with their point of view including other Christians. I am of the opinion Conservative Evangelicals, generally speaking, are still at the adolescent stage of development where everything is black and white, and their point of view—though limited in perspective and experience—is the correct view. I also think Conservative Evangelicals are scared children who are insecure about their beliefs.
I understand how what I said can come off pompous, but that is far from the truth. When life is overwhelming and unstable a black and white view of the world grants the illusion of stability. I completely empathize with that because I was the same way in my late adolescence and early twenties. I come from a violent background where “God” was treated like a blunt instrument that bruised me and broke my bones and where my great aunts and great grandmother dehumanized me for not being masculine enough to their liking. They knew my orientation before I did, and hated me for it. This black and white faith I held to granted me something solid in an otherwise chaotic world. But as I wandered across the continental United States, I broke my teeth on the territory and realized the black and white paradigm is a delusion of safety for people too scared to live.
I saw this fear unfold as I watched friends having kids, going through divorce, and watching their fathers die. Life became too real too quick, and they regressed into their adolescent faith. I don’t blame them, and I have nothing but compassion for them, but there is no more relationship because what they espouse and state communicates to me they don’t think I am fit to live. To be fair, though, if I confronted them about their views towards me they would deny any hate, and I would believe them. They’re not contradicting themselves, but trying to find some sense in a life that went from zero to absurd at a break neck speed. This dichotomy, I think is what fuels their insecurity.
I think, on a rational level, my Conservative Evangelical friends understand how their paradigm is immature and cruel in its expectations. These friends are unable to measure up to what their doctrine demands, and lead a life full of guilt, self-loathing, and sometimes hate. Hatred for God is out of the question, but they also think God has a low opinion of them so they fortify with outward appearances and slogans. That’s why the Christians who have the worst behavior are the ones with the Christian bumper stickers, the ones who decorate their desk at work with bible verses and Christian kitsch, and vocally proclaim themselves a person of God. They’re not hypocrites in the strictest sense of the word, but I do think they are dishonest. These friends want a world a certain way, but the world as it is does not coincide with their safe doctrines, and blame themselves instead of their doctrines—and won’t even dare to wrestle with God.
In a sense Conservative Evangelicals need to grow up and face the world as it is, and accepting the world as it is without any judgment. Instead of dismissing people who don’t fit in their narrow view, I think Conservative Evangelicals would do well to put aside their opinions, realize at best they have a good idea like everyone else, and listen to people who do not believe as they do. They don’t have to change their beliefs, but they do need to approach their faith with humility. They also need to approach others with humility. The savage and childish behavior of Conservative Evangelicals—historically and recently—keeps a few of my Atheist friends at bay. They can tell you why they are an Atheist, but they will also go into great detail why they reject the Christianity preached by Conservative Evangelicals. They don’t hate God, but they are angry at arrogant theists who presume their opinions as facts and fiercely impose these presumptions on non-Christians and Christians alike. Jesus was humble and approached people in humility. Conservative Christians would do well if they listened to Jesus instead of their fears.