The Evangelical "Alternative"

by Timothy R. Sunday
File under: Fake Culture07 Jun 2013 20:58 EDT

Though we at Fakenation consider ourselves broadly non-religious, we have some sympathy for spiritual searchers in this society of empty meaning. It is only natural that people should look for an escape from the mainstream civic religion of cheap celebrity. From the truly conservative embrace of European Neopaganism to American experiments in Mormonism, the Western world is in the process of trying to define alternatives to the traditional Christian religious landscape.

On the other hand, reactionary religious seekers searching for a more ardent embrace of Christianity may also consider joining one of the many aggressively proselytizing Protestant denominations known broadly as evangelical. Indeed, it can be said to have been the most successful American religious movement in the latter half of the 20th century, as fervent ministers like the Rev. Billy Graham took to the television airwaves and communicated a message that both admonished the licentiousness of the baby boomers and welcomed them to be 'born again in Christ'. Indeed, boosted into popularity by William Randolph Hearst, Graham became something like the country's chief priest, ministering regularly to American presidents to this day.

Even Mormon Mitt Romney kissed this American pope's ring while campaigning.

One wonders if this familiarity with power is what Christ meant by "render unto Caesar", but we digress. 

Thankfully, evangelicalism appears to be on the decline, and we would wager that we won't see pictures like these with Joel Osteen or Rick Warren being used as political campaign props thirty years down the line. 

But why? Surely Americans are not more spiritually content than they were in the heyday of Billy Graham's revivals, and have less worldly comfort and stability than ever before. So why aren't more people turning to the evangelical movement for answers?

The reason is quite simple: evangelicalism offers no answers. Indeed, given that the era since the end of WWII has witnessed the massive evasion of unresolved national problems, like the debt, for instance, it would make sense that a religion of non-answers would ascend during this time. 

What do we mean by this? Surely we're exaggerating, right? No, not at all.

If you investigate it, you realize that evangelicals really don't really have anything amounting to a worldview. Let's look at what a respected Christian college has to say on the matter:

British historian David Bebbington approaches evangelicalism from this direction and notes four specific hallmarks of evangelical religion: conversionism, the belief that lives need to be changed; activism, the expression of the gospel in effort; biblicism, a particular regard for the Bible; and “crucicentrism,” a stress on the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. Bebbington’s definition has become a standard baseline for most scholars. However, some consider his broad categories so inclusive that they would exclude few Christians of any stripe. Historian George M. Marsden has suggested a fifth characteristic—trans-denominationalism—which takes into account evangelicals’ pragmatic penchant for cooperation in support of shared projects and evangelistic efforts.

Notice the vagueness here, the emphasis on social definition and action over individual conscience. What's being described here is not a group of believers united by shared values and convictions, but, as is admitted, a highly insular, yet fragmented coalition of groups that unite primarily for activism, out of the cloudy sense that "lives need to be changed". This changing primarily consists of the self-referential act of people being converted to some sectarian branch within the evangelical movement.

Why should you care? Well, this mentality manifests itself in a wider fashion in Fakenation's culture. Remember, our semi-official national religious leader Billy Graham is an evangelical, and as much as the faithful try to draw distinctions between themselves and the mainstream, the psychologies are really quite the same, or at least mutually reinforcing. Think of how many secular movements are really evangelical in their approach. So much of our foreign policy springs from this impulse, as the rest of the world knows all too well. There's also the ubiquitous donation campaigns to ''change lives" in Africa, which are characteristically long on activism and short on reflection on the actual problem.

Consider further the repetitive media fixations, ripped of any context and presented with hysteria as problems we must crusade against immediately. Gun control, gay marriage, marginal adjustments to tax rates — however anti-evangelical the people who campaign for these narrow, isolated issues may claim to be, they're just reenacting, albeit in a secular form, the myopic 'crucicentrism' of boring evangelical preachers that drone on and on about their once source of inspiration, the King James Bible.

Of course, you can't expect this autistic, narrow message to win many followers, so trans-denominationalism becomes a necessity for survival. Again, the secular political parallel should be quite clear, as a highly dysfunctional, sectarian two party system endlessly schemes up ways to appeal to moderates, even as they write off those with actual universally appealing solutions as fringe extremists. There's no hope of dialogue where the parties have no basis for belief, and we're left with highly arbitrary divisions that suddenly heal in reply to common enemies. Call it 'bipartisanship' or the 'National Association of Evangelicals', it doesn't really matter which. 

This is more or less admitted as the definition of the term continues:

A second sense of the term is to look at evangelicalism as an organic group of movements and religious tradition. Within this context “evangelical” denotes a style as much as a set of beliefs, and an attitude which insiders “know” and “feel” when they encounter it. As a result, groups as disparate as black Baptists and Dutch Reformed Churches, Mennonites and Pentecostals, Catholic charismatics and Southern Baptists can all come under the evangelical umbrella—demonstrating just how diverse the movement really is. (emphasis added)

A superficially diverse population uniting around a hollow doctrine —​ this is supposed to be an genuine alternative to the ways of contemporary society?

For all its claims of otherworldliness, evangelicalism is the furthest thing from a conscientious objector to business as usual. The primary priority of universalizing the beliefs of a narrow sect demands that they conform to the culture they are somehow attempting to transform. This is the real reason why it is declining as a movement, and will continue to do so as its highly unsubtle messaging continues to ring hollow in a world that now more than ever demands a sophisticated reevaluation of its problems. 

To get a further sense of this, we suggest you visit your local evangelical gift shop and ask yourself if you, as somebody they likely view as a potential convert, would find any of these items at all resonating with your sense of the divine, whatever it may be:

Because more quick fixes are exactly what we need. Crude pragmatism is pretty big with this crowd...

... we're not sure if this is an ad for God or Rusty's Tire and Muffler down the road.

Comes with a guarantee to get your kid psyched to fight for Israel.

All we need is to do is to repeat over and over that we believe in the Bible (KJV) and the Constitution and all our problems are solved. 

Speaking of politics, this is just another fine example of free-market capitalism. In fact, I think Jesus himself made sure to get licensed before he started preaching.

How? We'll give you a hint. It doesn't involve uniting people around common values...

... but rather condescending them with token products...

...and brands. This is apparently the somewhat more silted evangelical version of FUBU. On earth as it is in heaven, indeed.

If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.- Luke 14:26, KJV

Also carried at Target, Walmart, and coming soon to your local 7-11.

You too can make evangelical art! First, you find a stock picture of a sunset, family, dog, or other general kitsch. Slap an inspiring Bible quote on the bottom, and you're in business!

That's about as unrestrained as they get.

Just in case you need more reminders.

This is supposedly an ongoing debate...

... but we'd say it's pretty much resolved. At least, that there should be stereotypically corny and awkward attempts to engage with pop culture.

Well... Justin Bieber is an outspoken Christian, isn't he?

But maybe we're wrong, and the movement does have a future making ironic wear for hipsters.

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