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 never openly wrestled with difficult questions or admitted to feeling insecure, for that would require being honest about our doubts and fears, which would be a sign of weak faith at best, 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, we were to see that as 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.

Religious gaslighting.

I tell you, the fear and anxiety these mind games cause… The lack of self-confidence. The inferiority complex as a female. I actually felt guilty to use my own brain and form my own opinions. The only safe thing to do in those days was to block conclusions contrary to the evangelical view (read: dissociate) and go back to parroting conservative beliefs. Thinking for yourself is just not allowed. And this is precisely how the masses are indeed controlled: fill ’em up with spiritual pride (accolades aplenty for “correct” thinking), and with fear (timidity that breeds diffidence), and then tell ’em what to do. Obedience is the only acceptable response. If you deviate from the path marked out for you by the church, you’ll be punished with shaming and the threat of lost Salvation (which means hellfire in the next life). It’s quite the lasso.

On the face this sounds malicious, as though such controlling manipulation were deliberate; but the truth is much sadder.

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The Vanity of Enlightenment

Life’s a journey, as the cliché goes. Some of us remain on the same pathway our entire lives, while others reach a fork or tow in the road and change course. That was me.

The first fork I encountered as an evangelical Christian led me down a trail from regular conservatism (Baptist) to ultra-conservatism (a legalistic, Vineyard-like denomination). In other words, from stoic to charismatic, with much stricter rules. After a couple of bewildering years in this 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 was a second fork in the road for me, challenging and changing 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 you might call me progressive, or a left-leaning conservative.

So with that background aside, what I want to talk about here specifically is something I’ve observed again and again throughout these experiences:

Every denomination (Catholic and Protestant alike) believes they are the only ones with the fullest truth, the fullest enlightenment.

Why is this a problem?
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