Show Notes episode 38
Reclaiming Your Identity
John 3:30 – “I must decrease so he can increase”
Evangelical religion is built and predicated upon the concept of conformity. It is based on notions like dying to yourself and letting your individuality blend into the background while Christ lives through you (Eph. 4:20-24). Your body doesn't belong to you (1 Cor. 6:19). Your mind doesn't belong to you (Rom. 12:2 – renewing of your mind). You BELONG to Jesus now. (1 Cor 6:20 – bought with a price). What kind of people are “bought with a price?” Think about it. Your own religion wants you to think of yourself as a slave to it and to the god behind it. Slaves don't get to explore their individuality. They exist to serve the master and that's it.
In short, you, as an individual, don't really matter in this religion beyond being controlled. Surrendering your sense of self is necessary just to swallow the insanity they throw at you.
The concept of being born again – this is the first step toward stripping the believer of their sense of self. The basic message of being “born again” is simple. Everything about you has to change. Everything. You need to literally start over. You need to go through your own personal flood and drown the parts of you that a sinless god cannot accept in his presence. In this instance, that deluge comes in two forms: the blood of the lamb and full immersion baptism. This is why so many evangelical denominations teach that baptism is necessary. In deciding to be baptized, you acknowledge going under as a purgation of sin. What emerges is a “clean” soul that is no longer subject to the wages of sin.
This “total change” and “all things made new (2 Cor. 5:17)” approach to the individual, however, is completely lost when you look at evangelical Christianity as a whole.
The findings in numerous national polls conducted by highly respected pollsters like The Gallup Organization and The Barna Group are simply shocking. "Gallup and Barna," laments evangelical theologian Michael Horton, "hand us survey after survey demonstrating that evangelical Christians are as likely to embrace lifestyles every bit as hedonistic, materialistic, self-centered, and sexually immoral as the world in general."
Divorce is more common among "born-again" Christians than in the general American population.
Only 6 percent of evangelicals tithe... NOTE: That number is high. VERY high.
White evangelicals are the most likely people to object to neighbors of another race.
Sexual promiscuity of evangelical youth is only a little lower than it is for their nonevangelical peers, according to Josh McDowell... but he'll still take the royalties for “True Love Waits” and pass the plate at TLW rallies.
Alan Wolfe, famous contemporary scholar and director of the Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life:
“Today's evangelicalism [exhibits] so strong a desire to copy the culture of hotel chains and popular music that it loses what religious distinctiveness it once had... The truth is there is increasingly little difference between an essentially secular activity like the popular entertainment industry and the bring-'em-in-at-any-cost efforts of evangelical megachurches."
There are so many ways that evangelical Christianity attempts to carbon copy popular culture, one really has to wonder how committed they really are to the concept of “coming out from among them and being separate” (2 Cor. 6:17). I've said it before: listen to What About Love by Heart and Never for Nothing by Margaret Becker and tell me these songs don't share common artistic DNA. Ditto Seen and Not Heard by Petra and Heaven's On Fire by Kiss.
With all this copying going on, where does the concept of individuality come from. The notion of coming out from among them is billed as the ultimate expression of individuality, and yet the protocols involved have nothing to do with cultivating any sense of self or individualism. You're an individual to the extent that you listen to Margaret Becker and not Heart, but you are pressured to conform to how all the other “individuals” who share your beliefs act and behave.
“If you want to be one of his, you gotta act like one of us.” - Steve Taylor. Again.
And as we just demonstrated, it flat out doesn't work because... here comes one of my standard mantras: people are going to do what they want and no religion is going to stop them.
George Barna of the Barna group: "Every day, the church is becoming more like the world it allegedly seeks to change.”
Tell me... what ever happened to being in the world, not of it (Jn 17)?
These avenues of crosstalk are significant, but they are just the beginning. I'll also state that the fact that most evangelicals don't follow their own tenets and even come up with carbon copies of the greater “worldly” culture that's out there is actually encouraging because it means that people still think self-expression is important. Their personal likes still matter. They like popular music. Ok... here's What About Love with a heaping helping of indoctrination. Does that satisfy your need for a fix? Yeah, not really. Heart still does it better.
Top Gun evangelical style
As evangelicals we are always being watched. It's not paranoia. I have the cards telling me I was missed this week in Sunday school to prove it.
Watched by our peers
Watched by our pastors
Our words are under constant scrutiny
Our behaviors on all levels from how we behave on youth trips to how we behave with our girlfriends and boyfriends are all being judged all the time, usually silently, but sometimes very vocally.
It all comes back to the concept of conformity. “If you want to be one of his...” We change our words, our actions, our behaviors, all to ensure the continued acceptance of those in our peer groups. This is a people thing, not an evangelical thing, but, in secular circles, a) a lot of these things don't matter (like who you're sleeping with) and b) if people don't like the way you're living they just back off and let you live your life. A lack of friends and social life might get some people to rethink a few things, but in general, people are going to be who they are regardless of any social consequence. This is not always a bad thing. Lack of social acceptance isn't always a sign of sociopathy. Some people are just out there on the fringes and that's that.
In evangelical circles you get assaulted with judgmental, legalistic, and dogmatic responses to your behavior. Conformity is critical in Christian circles. If I can't drink on the weekends, neither can you. If I can't have sex with my girlfriend, you can't have sex with yours. If I can't see an R-rated movie, don't let me catch you buying YOUR ticket. It just snowballs from there.
Acceptance was always a key element that kept me in (youth programs, good public speaking ability, and musical talent were my anchors). BUT... whenever I showed the first sign of having an “unpopular” opinion, the acceptance was taken away, swiftly, violently, and conspicuously.
The crazy part is that I was always being judged by people who weren't doing any better than I was. I was also the one doing the judging more often than not. Most of the time it came down to one central issue: jealousy. Christians get very jealous when they see other Christians doing things that are questionable in terms of faith and agreed-upon morality. “If I can't have it, neither should you...”
And just to make the point clear of how irrelevant the concept of conformity really is in evangelical religion, again from Christianity Today...
Graham Cyster, a Christian whom I know from South Africa, recently told me a painful story about a personal experience two decades ago when he was struggling against apartheid as a young South African evangelical. One night, he was smuggled into an underground Communist cell of young people fighting apartheid. "Tell us about the gospel of Jesus Christ," they asked, half hoping for an alternative to the violent communist strategy they were embracing.
Graham gave a clear, powerful presentation of the gospel, showing how personal faith in Christ wonderfully transforms persons and creates one new body of believers where there is neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female, rich nor poor, black nor white. The youth were fascinated. One seventeen-year-old exclaimed, "That is wonderful! Show me where I can see that happening." Graham's face fell as he sadly responded that he could not think of anywhere South African Christians were truly living out the message of the gospel. "Then the whole thing is a piece of sh—," the youth angrily retorted.
The bottom line is that this religion isn't real enough to most Christians to follow it day to day or to even want to keep its tenets in front of other people. Most people get in and stay in for a short list of reasons: social connectedness and peer acceptance, being perceived as moral, and being entertained. Most people show up at church on Sunday, bible in hand, putting up the smoke screen and letting their friends see them raising their hands and speaking in tongues and then go right back to living their largely secular lives throughout the rest of the week (Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Christian – White Heart). In other words, walking the walk is necessary, even though nobody does. But hey, that's what grace is for, right? Uh oh... no it isn't because “God is not your alibi.” Got it.
How the music I listened to solidified these concepts:
Not Gonna Bow by Russ Taff – Shunning anything that non-christians say is bad and sticking to your evangelical cloister. The messaging in this song works on BOTH SIDES of the table, though, particularly with the messaging in verse 2.
Lead Me To Reason by AD – enigmatically titled song about being trauma bonded to your religion and choosing faith over reason. More cross-talk.
I Have Decided by Amy Grant – standing firm on Christian beliefs and shunning any secular opinion about ANYTHING
Can't Stand Too Tall by Rick Cua – Strength in numbers, accountability, you're safe in your Christian cloister, but if you succumb to the temptations of this world, you'll fail as a person.
It Don't Matter by Crumbacher – one of the most toxic songs ever. It flatly shuns things like science, logic, and free thought even to the point of saying, “I think I'll just stay unenlightened...”
Barrier by Greg X Volz – Judging someone for looking beyond their faith
Mine Field by Petra – The dangers of backsliding
Jenny by Steve Taylor – Living life on your terms and exploring your sexuality will literally kill you
I Miss the Way by Michael W. Smith – guilt and judgmentalism toward someone who loses their faith
Heart of the Matter by Debbie Boone – same as MWS above
The same Steve Taylor who decried collective consciousness mentality in I Want to Be a Clone, also decries free thought in his repeated criticism of having an open mind. Bad Rap (Who You Tryin' To Kid, Kid?) and Whatcha Gonna Do When Your Number's Up? both suggest strongly that being open minded or a free thinker is a bad thing. Why? Because if you have an open mind, you also develop your own opinions of things and that is NEVER good in evangelical terms.
Having a mind of your own is a good thing. A NECESSARY thing.
Liking things that your religion says you shouldn't is inevitable.
Failing to live by “godly standards” is impossible, hence being constantly encouraged to rededicate your life and still see yourself as a worthless sinner who constantly needs to reaffirm before yourself and everyone else that you still believe.
So how do you reclaim your identity?
1. Start by telling yourself it's ok to have your own thoughts, opinions, likes, and dislikes.
2. Recognize that whether you stay in or get out your sense of self is always going to vie for purchase. There's a reason for this.
3. We are individuals by nature, even though we are largely alike. There are plenty of people who think and act the way you do, but you will never find them all in one place, especially if you're looking to faith communities to find that commonality.
4. Assess what you've been taught to be sin and see if it makes any sense. In the grand scheme of things, most of the sins you've been avoiding are victimless crimes in terms of what sin actually is, and the very concept of sin is too subjective to whittle down to definitions that apply to specific thoughts, actions, or behaviors. Someone else decided it's a sin. You don't have to listen to them. What do YOU think?
5. If the things you want to experience don't bring harm to yourself or others, they can't possibly be as bad as you've been led to think.
6. Some decisions are bad for other reasons. Abusing your body with drugs that can harm you is a bad idea. Using other people sexually is a bad idea. Being dishonest as a point of character definition is a bad idea. These things can harm you and others. Assess wisely whether or not they belong in your life based on what you understand about right and wrong.
7. Purpose to live your life in a way that, when you're lying on your deathbed, you can tell yourself with confidence was how you tried to be the best you possible. If you missed the mark once in a while, that's OK. What did you learn from the experience? If you did damage, did you address it? Did you make changes to your lifestyle based on your own personal assessment of things and the desire to just be a good person? Have you made amends with people you've harmed? The more yes answers you can give yourself here, and the more you consciously strove to learn more about yourself as you lived your life, the more confident you can be that you've done things right.
8. Let other people have their opinions, but remember that's precisely what they are: their opinions. Yours matters every bit as much and even more. Why? Because at the end of the day, none of your accusers have to live with the choices you make. You do. So do things in a manner that makes living with yourself easy.
9. Learn to love yourself. There's no god out there waiting to shower you with love for doing things his way. Even if you succeed in that, he won't acknowledge it, not just because he's fiction, but because it wouldn't jibe with his nature even if he was real. Do things your way, and in a way that feels right to you and are confirmed right by the lack of negative consequences they create in your life.
10. Engage in self-assessment, not self-criticism. Until you're dead, you have time to make the changes needed to feel more centered and able to love yourself. “In the long run, there's still time to change the road you're on...” - Page/Plant
All of these things together will help shape the person that you are and ensure that the shape of things in your life is one with which you can be satisfied. Don't try to live in ways that please other people because people will always judge you no matter how hard you try to win their approval. It's time for you to assume the role of the judge and to be honest with yourself about who you are. Because once you know who you are, once you have a sense of identity that isn't tethered to other people's notions of who you should be, it's at that point where you will find yourself feeling, acting, living, and being truly and permanently unbound.