One of the questions that I didn’t get to during the Question Box sermon was, “What propels evangelicals to believe their myths and strange convictions?” It’s a question that contains several other questions, about the basis of fundamental Christian theology, facing contradictions in sacred texts, and the one I am led to answer today, the rigors of what Stephanie Drury calls “Christian Culture.”
Drury, a journalist and blogger, grew up as an evangelical preacher’s kid, and having left that religion and that culture, looks back at some of the more intriguing (and sometimes funny) elements, while holding a community that has been harmed by some damaging theologies and behaviors with love and support.
In her blog, “Stuff Christian Culture Likes,” Drury outlines some of these things in great detail; some of it’s rather fun to look at from the outside, like the propensity of men to call their wives “smokin’ hot” as though that’s the only public compliment allowed, to the expected persona of the youth pastor. But much of what she writes about points to the very thing Unitarian Universalists can’t abide: the need for certainty.
It hit me while reading Drury’s post on “Things that Edify:”
Edification is mentioned several times in the New Testament, basically saying we should do stuff that edifies ourselves and each other. It’s a lovely concept and Christians want to take it seriously. But the Bible doesn’t give a whole lot of specifics as to what is edifying and what isn’t. Christian culture wants to know exactly what that means, so they have filled in the blanks.
Over and over again, whether talking about social issues, church organizations, or family, she points to the need for certainty. They fill in the blanks so there is no unsurety, and all subsequent issues get measured against that created doctrine. Whether it’s blasphemy, homosexuality, money, or movies, there is such a need for certainty that certainty often overtakes reason.
And that is why we as Unitarian Universalists often have such a hard time. We value reason – some suggest it is our deity – but at the very least, we cherish our doubt, honor our ability to see many points of view, celebrate our plurality and variety, both in matters spiritual and cultural (although we’re more dogmatic than we’d like to admit in regards to our culture – but that’s a topic for another day). The point is, we are so strongly attuned to questioning, reasoning, debating, that we don’t know how to handle certainty – particularly when it goes against all reason.
I bring this up, because it is a failing on our part to not understand this mindset.
We know, as Kevin Smith wrote in his film Dogma, “You can change an idea; changing a belief is trickier,” but we have a hard time recognizing that what we think are ideas are beliefs for others. We are so tied into following ideas to a logical conclusion, we can’t understand how people simply take things on faith. We dwell so easily in a sea of uncertainty, we can’t understand how some people drown in it.
In a presentation at General Assembly a few years ago, Ellen Cooper-Davis encouraged us to learn more about the cultures we find ourselves in, and learn how to speak to others about our own faith in the context of their faith. At a St. Lawrence District Assembly, Fred Helio Garcia reminded us that we must be literate in both ideas and language – “Words matter,” he said, because “those who control the words control the world.”
We must get better at approaching those who are swimming in the pool of certainty, not by chastising their lack of logic, but by showing them love beyond the pool – showing them the beautiful shores, glistening with hope and openness, showing them the gentle waves of compassion, showing them the rich waters of love and faith. We can’t do it by shoving them off the pier. We have to do it by meeting them where they are.
We can combat the sin of certainty and open minds and hearts to the awesome, expansive, inclusive, healing love that some call God, when we know what we’re saying and how it is perceived. Let us be loving and gentle to those whose certainties we are shaking.