A couple of weeks ago I read a really great blog post about Evangelicals and Political beliefs. Around that same time I watched an emotionally stirring Ted talk about a woman who was in an Evangelical cult. The main point of the piece regarding Evangelicals and Political beliefs was that they came to those beliefs, not through a conscious rational system wherein reasons for every belief and every doctrine are explicit, related, and coherent, but through a form of tribalism. What I mean by tribalism is that those Conservative Evangelicals who supported various positions were marked by loyalty to persons and groups which mothered their beliefs. Their commitment was not first to sound reason, biblical exegesis, and systematic theology; rather, their allegiance was won by catchy slogans, appeals to authority, and shame. Their rule is simply submission to the group and to the personality at the top of the group. To my mind, there are at-least two prominent Evangelical narratives in the present Political spectrum. Some Evangelicals adhere to a “never Trump, abandon politics” narrative. After all, “The kingdom is not of this world” and “our citizenship is in heaven.” Yet others got with the Republican program and adopted a “Trump Consequentialism Narrative” – “Hey, atleast he’s better than Hilary and will protect the right to freedom of religion!” they say. These two Evangelical biases are united at one crucial point, – these Evangelicals come to their beliefs, not on the basis of explicit, reasoned, systemically rational, exegetically grounded conviction, but on the basis of tribal submission, bias, and propaganda.
How does this relate to the Tedtalk woman who left an Evangelical cult? Well, as I watched the Tedtalk I was absolutely certain that this woman was in an Evangelical cult. She saw physical abuse and was psychologically abused herself. This grieved me. Yet, she had transitioned, in time, to a better life. Undoubtedly she was more happy now. Before her exodus she wasn’t allowed to have a career. The cult controlled her life so forcefully that she wasn’t even allowed to wear lipstick. The climax of her speech came when she related the story of how she, being an introverted child, was forced to evangelize. She recalls the cult screaming the Gospel at people. In one of these evangelistic sessions, she related to the Ted crowd a very emotional experience she had at a street preaching evangelism session; an elderly woman came up to her when she was a youngster. The lady bent down and told the abused child “One day you’ll grow up and you won’t have to be a part of any of this.”
Fast forward, she grew up. She got the career she wanted. She seems very successful and is a part of Tedtalks. She can wear lipstick now. She is, pertaining to that Evangelical cult, free from all its abuse and terror – for that, I am thankful. I’m thankful she can have a career that she’s fulfilled in. I’m thankful that she can wear lipstick and have friends who are different from her. I’m most thankful that, regardless of whatever lifestyle she chooses to have, that she doesn’t have to be psychologically manipulated and controlled anymore. I’m thankful she is free from that abuse. I’m thankful she is, to some extent, happy. And yet I am deeply saddened and conflicted about her Tedtalk. I fear that, pertaining to her beliefs, she is still a slave. Bear with me; throughout the entirety of the Tedtalk, she appealed to the emotions of her hearers. She just wanted to wear lipstick. She just wanted to have a career. Her appeal was, whether she knew it or not, an appeal to the audience’s desire to be reasonable. Further, her appeal was also elitistic; she had joined a new group: the Tedtalky, scientific, success driven, moderate feminist group. You know, they are the group that writes all the self-help books and makes you feel like you need something from them. This group she now participated in granted her a newfound freedom, the freedom to exercise her desires. Yet it also granted her, in my estimation, a newfound sense of superiority. She didn’t fit the radical feminist, hair cut short, obviously immodest, scream at you at a pro-choice rally feminist camp. Yet she didn’t fit a conservative group either. Rather, she fit that self-righteous, Ted-talky, pseudo-intellectual, apparently scientific, self-righteous yet without any standard of righteousness, form (if you don’t think this is a thing watch five Tedtalks in a row, you’ll understand).
To my mind, the blog post about deficient Evangelical Political Theology and Enlightened Post-Fundamentalistic woman share a deep and intimate connection. The wickedness and weakness of a deficient intellectual system is a vice which transcends Political Theology. This is my point: To formulate your beliefs on the basis of tribal submission, emotion, and intuition without a reasonable, coherent explication of the rational foundation for said beliefs is itself a form of intellectual slavery. This, even if unintended by the author of said political piece, is the main point I took away from the article. Ms. Newfound Freedom Liberal helped me to see just how dangerous such slavery is. Ms. Newfound Freedom desired things without any apparent rational justification for her desires. According to what authority? According to what system of thought? According to what rational principle was she deducing or reasoning that to be free to have a career or to wear lipstick is good? I’m not arguing that it isn’t good. Actually, I think having a career can be good regardless of gender you are. What i’m arguing is that Ms. Newfound Freedom doesn’t, to my mind, have any rational foundation to justify her freedom from the Evangelical Cult. And if she doesn’t have a rational justification to justify her newfound freedom, then how can she honestly persuade me or anyone else that her freedom is, ultimately, better? If she is not conscious of her beliefs or any of the reasons why she moves from belief A to B apart from her desires, the goodness of which she cannot justify, then how could we in any sense call her mentally free? She could appeal to her feelings, that they are true. Yet what about the feelings of the cult leaders who abused her? By what authority can she condemn the one and praise the other? Maybe she could even appeal to the sentiments of the majority. But this is the fallacy of ad populum. The beliefs of a group, no matter how many adherents there are, do not necessarily justify a belief. If I told you that the whole of man believed that the Earth was flat it would not make it so. Your feelings, your intuitions, and your tribe do not ultimately provide for me or you any reasonable basis to accept, believe, and act upon the worldview which you adopted on the basis of your own desires, seemingly, alone. Sadly, pertaining to the mind, I fear that this woman is as much a mental slave as she was before. Before, they explicitly forced her, without rational justification. Yet Tedtalk Liberal cult forced her hand in a more deceptive way. They made use of her desires and gave her a slavery she’d love. Her newfound cult is, in some senses, even more subtle because it is implicit not explicit. This cult doesn’t stand on the street pressuring you to believe the Gospel. Rather, they pressure you with the temptation of elitism and the shame of being out of the in-crowd. Ultimately, I’m not sure which system of control is better – is it better to be ashamed and outside the in-crowd or in it and self-righteous? In either case, she is still under a form of sub-conscious mental control. And her slavery, unlike that of mine to Christ, is, seemingly, without rational justification.