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Of Christian Conservative Squishes

A non-believer critiques the complacency of rightish Jesus folk
When ever two or three are gathered… (Olga Popova/Shutterstock)

In a comment on another thread, Matt in VA, who is not a Christian, says that Christian conservatives are a lot more co-opted by the culture they presume to critique than they think:

I live in a college town in the South where there are many college students in Bible study groups who come out of an evangelical Christian culture that is, of course, fairly common in the south, especially in the suburbs. They are often quite open about being Christian (meeting in large groups in the student center, etc.) and it’s a large part of their identity. And I’m sure many of them do believe orthodox things even on the subject of human sexuality and even while living in the context of a national culture hostile to orthodox belief on that subject.

And yet. Plenty of them really are soft squishes. There’s no doubt about that. These are the kind of kids and twentysomethings who go into marketing or whatever and tell themselves and others that they’re going to use their Communication degree or whatever other crap they “studied” to share the message of Jesus’s love in an effective manner and really increase “engagement” among “important demographics.” You listen to them talk about God and Jesus Christ and everything, literally everything, that comes out of their mouth is in the language of consumer capitalism and therapeutic culture. Their entire brain’s operating system runs on that of the USA in 2018. There is an intellectual softness and squishiness here that is really depressing — these poor kids are absolutely permeated by our vile shallow culture.

No, liberals are not any better, and are probably worse in the sense that they often seem to have zero beliefs or convictions that aren’t based on the conventional wisdom of the moment (“How can X person believe Y? It’s 2018!”). But that isn’t an excuse for conservatives and their tendency to act like orthodox beliefs are in themselves enough, no fighting for those beliefs are necessary, and simultaneously to pretend that they won’t keep losing communities, cities, countries, to their ideological opponents.

This is a great point. Yesterday, I quoted Cardinal Robert Sarah’s sermon, in which he cited this T.S. Eliot quote:

“In a world of fugitives, the person taking the opposite direction will appear to run away.”

A reader e-mailed to say that Eliot quote does a good job of explaining the Benedict Option, against those Christian critics who say that it’s all about heading for the hills. The whole point of modernity is to be a fugitive from traditional Christianity, and its demands. We embrace our fugitive status and call it freedom. As Matt in VA observes from his vantage point outside the church, so many of us Christians who consider ourselves to be conservative in our faith are living in what Sartre called “bad faith,” in the sense that we are really desperate to align ourselves with the fugitives, and thus use the language and concepts of faith to justify accepting what we should not accept.

I think of this Evangelical couple who, 20 years ago, sent us a form letter raising money to support their missionary efforts to, yes, supermodels. They pretty clearly wanted to live in a world capital and hang out with the fashion world, and saw ordaining themselves as apostles to supermodels as the way to do it. I don’t think they were cynical at all, in the sense that they knew what they were doing. I think they wanted to have fun as fashionistas, and they figured out a way to justify it not only to themselves but to those church people who had the means to subsidize their lifestyle.

That’s an egregious example, but this is the kind of thing Matt in VA is talking about.

UPDATE: In the comments, Matt says he is a believer in Christ, though gay and married to a man. I assumed from the way he usually writes — of Christians as an “other” — that he was not a believer.