July 2006

This is mostly a link dump of the stuff I’ve been reading lately, but I’ll try to say something interesting while I’m about it.

The Post-Evangelical

In the pub on Friday, my spy in the ranks of the enemy told me excitedly that she’d read a book I must read also. It turned out to be Dave Tomlinson’s The Post-Evangelical. So I went and read it again to see whether I agreed with what I thought 6 years ago, when I liked the bits about evangelical sub-culture but thought his epistemology was crap.

I still think Tomlinson is at his best when he is describing the pressure towards conformity in evangelicalism and pointedly remarking on the astonishing similarity between evangelical mores and those of middle-class society. There’s nothing wrong with being middle-class, in my book, but to elevate the most caricatured aspects of it to the status of a religion is probably taking things too far. Tomlinson’s thoughts about that weren’t new even in 2000, as Pete Broadbent pointed out (apparently Pete’s a bishop these days, so there is something the Church of England got right).

I still don’t know quite what his proposed alternative to both evangelicalism and liberalism actually is. It might be something which takes those parts of evangelicalism which aren’t the middle-class bits and uses them as guidelines rather than as axioms. For example, Tomlinson tells us that post-evangelicals don’t believe in Biblical inerrancy, but do retain the belief that God will speak through the Bible.

Or it might be an attempt to make the whole thing fuzzy, using, in Tomlinson’s terms, “poetic” rather than “scientific” language. Regular readers will know that anyone who behaves like a scientist and starts asking questions about what their religion actually means and whether it’s really true must end up an atheist. In that case, perhaps the best way for religion to survive is to avoid finding the answers to questions. If evangelicals are caricatures of the middle-classes, are the post-evangelicals and emerging church people caricatures of arts students, as holyoffice tells us (you’ll need to search for “The Emerging Church”)? I suppose I’d need to ask a real live post-evangelical to be sure: is there one in the house?

While I was looking around the web to see what other people had said about the book, I came across Maggi Dawn‘s blog. She’s currently the chaplain at Robinson college, but was one of the people who worked with Tomlinson in setting up a church in which meets in a pub. There’s a lot of interesting stuff in the archives of her blog. A couple of things which caught my eye were an evangelical critiquing the idea of a personal relationship wtih Jesus, and the story of how the Christian Union at Birmingham University fell foul of Student Union rules.

Textual criticism

Rev Dawn also linked to the Washington Post story on Bart Ehrman, a university lecturer on the New Testament. Ehrman’s a former evangelical Christian who became an agnostic after studying the history of the Biblical texts. The Post does a good job of evoking what it must feel like to be in his position.

The comments on the article on Rev Dawn’s blog rapidly dissolve into the standard liberal vs evangelical slanging match (“by this all men will know you are my disciples, if you flame one another on the Internet”, as Jesus once put it). There is an interesting question she poses there, though, which is why people who have left Christianity devote so much time to criticising it instead of moving on.

LOL furriesChristians

There’s something in Tony B’s comment, I suppose: even if you’ve decided it’s not true, there’s an intellectual fascination there, and the feeling that it’d be nice if all manner of things really will be well. But there’s also something like the stuff Sam Harris talks about. Even moderate religion gives cover to fundamentalists by making belief in an invisible friend strangely more respectable than believing in alien abduction or that Elvis is alive, and by propagating the idea that criticism of a person’s religious beliefs is taboo in a way that criticism of any other belief strangely is not. The latter is a defence mechanism evolved by religions, as Douglas Adams rightly says. People who’ve left a religion have already broken stronger barriers than that, so it’s not surprising that they’re occasionally a little outspoken (who, me?)

Boingboing linked to From the Ball-room to Hell, a polemic against ballroom dancing written in 1892 by a dancing teacher who has turned from the evil of ballroom to the Lord. It’s always fun to see the holy being somewhat excitable in their descriptions of depravity. Quotes from his work ought to form the basis of next term’s CDC advertising posters.

She is now in the vile embrace of the Apollo of the evening. Her head rests upon his shoulder, her face is upturned to his, her bare arm is almost around his neck, her partly nude swelling breast heaves tumultuously against his, face to face they whirl on, his limbs interwoven with hers, his strong right arm around her yielding form, he presses her to him until every curve in the contour of her body thrills with the amorous contact. Her eyes look into his, but she sees nothing; the soft music fills the room, but she hears it not; he bends her body to and fro, but she knows it not; his hot breath, tainted with strong drink, is on her hair and cheek, his lips almost touch her forehead, yet she does not shrink; his eyes, gleaming with a fierce, intolerable lust, gloat over her, yet she does not quail. She is filled with the rapture of sin in its intensity; her spirit is inflamed with passion and lust is gratified in thought. With a last low wail the music ceases, and the dance for the night is ended, but not the evil work of the night.

The girl whose blood is hot from the exertion and whose every carnal sense is aroused and aflame by the repetition of such scenes as we have witnessed, is led to the ever-waiting carriage, where she sinks exhausted on the cushioned seat. Oh, if I could picture to you the fiendish look that comes into his eyes as he sees his helpless victim before him. Now is his golden opportunity. He must not miss it, and he does not, and that beautiful girl who entered the dancing school as pure and innocent as an angel three months ago returns to her home that night robbed of that most precious jewel of womanhood–virtue!

I’m not sure whether hardcore Christians still frown on ballroom. Nobody seemed to mind it when I was a Christian, but a more recent graduate told me that The Square Church regarded it as suspect. There are a lot of Christian dancers, so I assume that these days it’s the lesser of two evils when compared to going clubbing and pulling strangers.

I must report that the only time I have taken a lady from a dance to my waiting carriage, it was all her idea and I ended up refusing her very kind offer because at that time I was in thrall to CICCU. This, my friends, is why we must erase them from the face of the earth.

<lj-cut text=”Dr Who (spoilers for that but not the trailer for next week)”>Cybermen and Daleks, oh my! There was some real sci-fi, what with the void ship and the ghosts. The Doctor was a bit too whimsical and mad on occasion, but also made me laugh. So much better than last week’s nonsense. More free advertising for Bluetooth headsets is always welcome, too.

In other news, Engerland lost on penalties and are out of the World Cup, it’s hot, and it’s Saturday night. So now we can all just sit back and wait for news of the first stabbings to come in.

If you need cheering up, though, I’d recommend Bill Maher on abstinence.