Some Catching Up On God Stuff
First, and most importantly, I want to point out that my statements about "evangelicals" are, necessarily, vague statements that can't possibly apply to all evangelicals. I mention this because I spoke to my twin brother the other day and he said that the evangelicalism I'm assailing in these pieces doesn't resemble anything he's ever believed. I would do him and many others a disservice if I didn't point this out.
I think to some extent this is a matter of language (for example, what I describe as "fear" is what many evangelicals experience as the everyday nature of the universe, so it feels different from actual terror and may escape their notice; I might even prove it later in this post). But the evangelical church really IS diverse, even though they all (well, 95%) vote consistently Republican and think abortion is the #1 moral issue of our time. You have "liberal" evangelicals like Ron Sider and Tony Campolo who adjure the faithful to live lives of social justice; you have folks in the "emergent church" movement who tend to be more accepting of, say, drinking, swearing, and homosexuals than your average Joe Bible Study. And on some issues, it's hard to find much consensus at all: on evolution, for example, although the party line is still pretty much Intelligent Design, you'll still find young-earth creationists worshiping right beside actual Genesis-is-a-myth evolutionists, and it's almost impossible to tell who sits where. As my brother pointed out to me, even James Dobson doesn't care much at all about the dangers of masturbation.
And since the evangelical church, like Islam, operates without a single overarching authority or imprimatur, I'm going to try to do two things in future posts: 1.) rely, when I have to generalize, on the literature I see. For example, I think it's safe to say that, if I go to a religious bookstore (as I did once in Tallahassee) and see TWO books listed as national bestsellers that both advise teenagers to avoid masturbation, I think it's safe to say that that's the mainstream party line. And then if I read James Dobson and his I-don't-care-about-masturbation teaching is hedge on all sides by worries that he may offend a lot of people---which it is---I'll assume I've correctly judged the evangelical temperament on this matter, since who would know this audience better? I'm aware that some books have been popular because they're controversial (for example, the technically bestselling I Kissed Dating Goodbye, which argues that dating the way the world does it is inherently unchristian, was probably hurled against thousands of Christian college dorm-room walls). But when the thoroughly pious The Purpose-Filled Life goes into its dozenth printing, I think that's a safe sourcebook for my observations. Ditto---with some caveats for age---for any of the perennial biggies in Christian publishing: Oswald Chambers' My Utmost For His Highest, C.S.Lewis's Mere Christianity, etc.
And then of course, sometimes I just have to rely on my own experience and memory. Because I think it's probably a given that most evangelical Christians believe that the book of Revelation is an actual prophecy that will be fulfilled sometime in the future near the end of time, when the world really will be imperiled by a literal Antichrist in charge of a one-world government. In my experience, no evangelical Christian could ever get away with doubting this interpretation of the scenario: the best a liberal could do is say it wouldn't happen for thousands of years, and argue for a radical, non-Scofield late-term rapture. But I can't point to any books on this topic; so occasionally you'll just have to trust me. And I hope if I make an ass of myself on some major topic, my friends like Angie and Mark will put me straight.
By the way, since some people have asked, Angie is a former A student of mine with a great sense of humor who I always enjoyed talking to after class, so we stayed friends. Brian, who urged me not to apologize, is a former roommate of mine and one of the only other people I know who identifies as an atheist. For what it's worth, Brian, I would never apologize for beliefs that I think are reasonable and carefully derived. I do, however, apologize for beliefs that are inelegantly or unhelpfully expressed. This is why sometimes, when I seem to have dug myself into a hole, I rarely get out of it---I simply stop digging and make the hole look nicer.
Okay. This post is long enough, so let me get to my next topic under a separate heading.