Day 2: Into Ideology
Welcome back to the main theme of this blog: walking through the Evangelical camp I attended as a high school student twenty-odd years ago. In my last post from camp, I unpacked the 2-hour lecture from the end of the first day, which set up a framework of worldviews that safely cordoned off Theism from other Isms and outlined fairly convenient boxes which with to house them.
Today, we’re going to look at both the fairly-unstructured morning talk of day 2, followed by a series of notebook pages that truly turn the corner from religion into ideology.
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This camp is explicitly intended to equip children with the tools they need to make it through college with their beliefs unscathed. As I’ve mentioned before, my opportunity to attend was explained to me as a sort of “Deluxe” experience that I was privileged to undertake, and I attended with no knowledge of the history, identity, or reputation of any of the speakers.
Were I that age in today’s world, I don’t know if that’d be the case; I’d probably have looked some of these guys up on Wikipedia. I imagine it’s significantly harder to run a camp like this in 2022 than it was two decades ago – hell, I think information availability is driving the growth of religious deconstruction in general. Public figures’ histories are more readily accessible, and social media exposes kids to people who aren’t like them in a way that’s a lot harder to cordon off now than then.
But this wasn’t 2022, I was essentially a child, and previous decades or generations seemed an eternity removed. These men were just figures of authority on stage, just like at church or Bible camp, their bios nonexistent in our workbook.
I learned years later that the speaker for day 2 made his name in the 60’s through pamphlets describing rock music as a “Soviet plot to brainwash the youth” – someone who didn’t just think secular music was sinful, but that it was literally tantamount to hypnotism and communism. Even as a Christian kid who had just recently obtained their first non-Christian album (a friend gave me Weezer’s Blue Album for my birthday, which contained a “god damn” in one track that I kept secret from my family out of fear of their disappointment), I’d probably have laughed at his ties to anti-rock Red scare rhetoric. But in the context of the camp, this was just someone with authority and a pulpit, someone to listen to, free of the baggage of his own history.
Navigating a flood of concepts & assertions
In my notebook, instead of an outline & visual aids like most other talks, this speaker’s segment was accompanied by a single blank page for notetaking. I remember this talk both years as being a sort of laundry list of concepts and ideas; this particular speaker had been in a place of leadership at the camp for decades, and the morning of day 2 was clearly his opportunity to work through his full list of pet topics.
I have 2 pages of handwritten notes from 2 different years of the same talk, so I’ll just work down the page roughly in sequence, interspersing the years. There’s no overarching narrative to my notes, which I think is accurate to the scattershot nature of his talk in general.
This is a very ground-floor concept; I wouldn’t have hesitated in writing down the above – and the negative framing here is important and intentional. This is not a religion-oriented recognition of the soul as holy – it’s a way to firm up the idea that people who don’t believe in a soul are ignoring their God-given source of conscience, intellect, reason, and so forth. It’s very important to continually establish the Christian concept of the soul & absolute morality as the source of all reason; to not believe in the Christian concept of the soul is therefore to reject the part of your being that provides reason.
“Fascism” as a concrete concept was not something I was clear on until my late 20s, at best, but here it is as a sort of sibling to Nazism and communism. I think at the time I’d have been able to tell you Italy in World War 2 was fascist, but not what that truly meant. The packaging of all of these concepts together is something we’ll revisit in later camp sessions. Evolution, on the other hand, I was well familiar with, as a kid raised as a young-earth Creationist (we’ll also definitely revisit that).
Here is another instance of framing up Evangelicalism’s dogma against an equally dogmatic opponent. This provides a clearer enemy to fight, but also softens any discomfort around the dogmatism inherent in the Evangelical side – you can always say the other side is doing the same. This is a sibling to “atheism is a religion” arguments.
This is a kind of “got ‘em” argument that went over my head at the time. Now that I’m reading it again, there are many nonreligious 501(c)(3)’s, so if there was a specific organization the speaker wanted to roast here, it’s lost to time.
Here’s a line that frames logic & reason as partners to faith, which is intended to push against the typical contrasting of Faith and Reason as opposites. Evangelicalism’s wide set of prescriptive concepts requires an establishment of ideology as inherently rational; if they present themselves as religious first, they don’t have the foundation on which to build supporting structures for social & political concepts that extend past religion.
This is also why “anti-intellectual” is not an effective pejorative to swing at an Evangelical. This belief system self-identifies as fundamentally rational and intellectual – if anything, the idea that Evangelicalism is more rational than other systems of belief, because of its basis in God’s objective truth.
Not that this doesn’t place faith anywhere else in position relative to logic & reason – it’s just not the opposite of logic & reason. A different polar opposite appears to take that slot instead (“irrationalism”, which is a convenient shadowboxing opponent, I suppose). Faith & reason can both be available as rationale for a given decision or principle, depending on the need of the situation.
Anyone who is surprised by the movement of ‘civil war’ rhetoric from the symbolic to the real in the post-Trump era was just not keeping tabs on the last 80-100 years of Evangelicalism. Culture War framing has deep roots.
This humdinger is actually halfway up my page of notes, but it’s heavy and might be pretty weird to you (depending on your background) so I saved it to the end of this section.
Baal is a false god (or collection of gods, see Wikipedia) that appears a few times in the Old Testament. The idea posited here is that Old Testament pagans who worshiped false gods such as Baal also practiced worship of elements of creation (the Sun) and engaged in sexual immorality – much like, in today’s culture, people worship false gods and have sinful morals.
An ovearching theme this brushes against: Evangelicals by and large do not believe in “social progress”; society is instead constantly at risk of sliding back into worship of false gods & paganism. This strain of Christianity is constantly at war, bunkered up in a society seen as disintegrating, devolving, reverting.
As for the “child sacrifice” section here … I’m not sure if I’ll ever take on writing an abortion post, but I’ll try and use excerpts like this to emphasize how very, very deeply the issue of abortion sits with Evangelicals, and how very, very dangerous God’s anger (characterized as righteous anger) is. My notes transcribed:
Every destruction by God he gives us reasons [sic]
Almost every time, one of his reasons: child sacrifice
Whether the God of the Bible always provides a reason for his destruction is already less of a settled matter than Evangelicals believe, and I’m sure you could try and research how true the child-sacrifice claim is, but the word “almost” creates a certain flexibility there that allows the claim to shake the nerves of an audience of children, regardless of its veracity.
That’s it for my notes from the morning session – scattered lines representing scattered concepts that hint at where various classes & sessions will go in the subsequent days of the camp. I know that was a pretty piecemeal journey, so what I have for you as a sort of bonus are a series of inserts from my notebook that directly proceed the above.
Re-emphasis of Worldviews
I don’t remember if this visualization was spoken to directly, or was just an extra insert prior to the next lecture – regardless, this visualization contains key Evangelical concepts that deserve explanation.
The Psalm verse at the bottom carries a lot of weight. This is the General Revelation concept restated once more – the idea that certain truths about God are considered to be self-evident merely by observation of the world around us. That’s not a concept unique to Evangelicalism, but laying it as the foundation for the remainder of this pyramid is extremely meaningful.
Basically, this pyramid can work up and down, for and against, as control and as a weapon. The middle layer here illustrates a unified system of ethics, law, sociology, and so forth – an ideology, not a religion – that is founded upon a recognition of the basic realities of God’s creation. This tills the soil for later in the camp where concepts like capitalism are presented as inherently Christian in nature.
This is why typical arguments like “Jesus would have been a socialist”, which may in particular seem like a rhetorical layup if you’re just going by what’s in the New Testament, won’t land with Evangelicals. They’ve largely already been equipped with arguments & defenses for all sorts of religion-adjacent schools of thought, and those have already been tied back to a fundamental understanding of the nature of God. If you’re pushing on an Evangelical’s political beliefs, you’re poking their entire system of belief and understanding of God.
The pyramid can also work down from its peak: one can use it to point to someone’s aberrant behavior as evidence of a corrupt worldview, or a rejection of the basic truth of God. For example, an Evangelical has told me that they viewed Obama as a reprobrate (essentially “unsavable”, destined for hell) because of his decisionmaking and views around abortion – that his behavior reveals a corrupt core, and a denial of the very nature of God. This is a flexible model, though: this same person also supports Trump, using the rationale that God can use anyone for His purposes.
The next page in my notebook is a poem called “Creed”, by a man named Steven Turner. I’m not going to transcribe it here; you can Google it yourself – there are a scant handful of sites republishing it, and I’m not going to be one of them.
“Creed” is a satirical poem, a dozen or so stanzas, ostensibly from the point of view of the enemy (a Secular Humanist). Both times I attended the camp, the reading of “Creed” was prefaced with an explanation that it’s very serious; a warning that it’s borderline offensive to even read; that it was what we’re up against; that we needed to sit through the whole thing even if it made us uncomfortable. I’ve heard the entire thing read to me twice in my life, and that’s two times too many.
While I’m not going to transcribe the poem, I do want to call out one adjustment that the camp itself made. The first line of the poem was changed from only referring to Marx, Freud, and Darwin to the following (I’ve photoshopped this to isolate that single opening line:
The “Dirty Dozen”. Some of these names I never heard again in my educational career (I went to Christian colleges) – Derrida, Foucault, Bloom, Dewey, Sanger, Gramsci, Lukacs. But they were all laid out here for me, all representatives of the opposing team.
This is the final stanza of the Creed. I still remember how quiet the room was afterwards. I still remember how scared I felt.
Yank the Steering Wheel
And now for something completely different: the very next page in my notebook is entitled “The Pagan / Occult Influences on Israel”. I don’t want to copy the whole page into here, but I’ll grab you some glimpses.
Evangelicals’ relationship to Israel, Judaism, and Zionism is something I can truly only speak to from the perspective of my experience with it, and I’m not sure how valuable my voice is in that space – I am not Jewish, and this is already a very long post – but I include this mainly to further illustrate the breadth of the tablesetting of the first few days of camp.
I remember this map being a little overwhelming, but also fascinating, sort of like a “real-life” version of what I’d read online at the time about lizard people, the illuminati, other conspiracy theories. Here was something that felt like a conspiracy theory, but was real! This provided a little of the same exciting feeling of being connected to both the beginning & end of history that the Left Behind books (very hot at the time) did. It reinforced that Christians are persecuted, that we’re survivors, that Christianity is under threat; that Israel itself is holy and precarious and surrounded by foreign influence – all of those concepts, muddled together.
Everything is tied together, from ancient Israel and Baal to modern-day psychology and political systems. Every concept and behavior has an underlying basis in a God-given or God-rejecting dogmatic worldview. Everyone either believes in a soul or has rejected their internal source of reason. Everything was packaged, presented, and stitched together for a bunch of kids who were hearing many of these names and concepts for the very first time.
At this point, the camp will move into areas of philosophy (argument that Christianity is the only truly rational belief system), capitalism vs. socialism, and young-earth creationism. That’s our path forward together. Thanks for sticking with me.
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