The Sin of Certainty

“The letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” (2 Cor. 3:6)

I was raised right-wing, conservative, Baptist. And one thing I remember in particular from those days was the complete sense of doctrinal certainty that went with the territory. Not just Baptist territory, but in any overly conservative denomination. We had the in with God and were safely headed for heaven—why? Because we had the correct theology. We thought we had all the answers and knew exactly how to interpret the Bible: with a “plain reading of scripture.”

We didn’t openly wrestle with difficult questions or admit to feeling insecure, for that would require being honest about our doubts and fears, which would likely be seen as a sign of weak faith at best or rebellion at worst. If we ever experienced the discomfort of cognitive dissonance, we knew to suppress it and dissociate. Doubt was the Enemy and the Seducer.

Any questions or red flags regarding doctrine were viewed as traps to be avoided: “don’t read that author, read this one instead!” If our heart or our ability to reason led us to a conclusion that didn’t square with fundamentalism, that was the Devil successfully having deceived us (especially if we were women—Eve). So not only did I learn to distrust my own opinions, I also learned that I was even more likely to be deceived due to my gender.

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The Vanity of Enlightenment

When we believe that our particular tribe holds the greatest and fullest truth, the temptation is to pride ourselves on it: becoming self-righteous and arrogant. In a word, bigotry.

I first became aware of this a couple of decades ago when as an evangelical Christian I left a stoic Baptist church to attend a legalistic, charismatic denomination. After a couple of bewildering years in that church I extricated myself and returned sober to mainstream Christianity—only to realize that what I’d experienced in that cult was merely evangelicalism on steroids. The problematic base doctrines were still the same: no women in leadership, male headship (the husband has the final say), “eternal conscious torment hell” for the unsaved, and the exclusion of LGBTQ Christians.

A couple more years of church-hopping followed and my husband and I unwittingly landed in a conservative denomination that allows (and affirms!) the ordaining of women as pastors. Scandalous, I know. 😉 This challenged and changed my beliefs regarding gender roles, and we’ve been attending this church for more than a decade now. Labels don’t leave much room for nuance, but today you might call me progressive, or a left-leaning conservative.

Having journeyed this far throughout Christendom (dissecting/comparing the gamut of Calvinism, Arminianism, Open Theism, Annihilation, and Universalism along the way), I’ve now had ample time to experience many levels of dogma from opposing angles. And what I’ve found is that both sides (left-wing, right-wing, and everything between) are saturated with pride and self-righteousness. Continue reading The Vanity of Enlightenment