Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Comfort is King

To say I grew up in the evangelical bubble would probably be an understatement. It helped that from second through eight grade I lived in rural Vermont where we only got three fuzzy TV stations and, of course, being a pastor's kid, my life revolved around church. Anyway, while my personality was such that I never felt quite at home in that context, it does feel like home - if that makes any sense. Even today, when I hear news or see something, usually my first instinct is shaped by how it would fit into that worldview.

Reactions are usually pretty predictable and if I have a strong reaction to the "evangelical" reaction, it's usually because some nerve has been touched - something I once believed and came to unbelieve bruised my ego or brought up painful memories. This sounds like I'm a "survivor" or something - I'm not - I still consider myself to be an evangelical; I'm just not really comfortable with the culture that surrounds it in US society.

Anyway, when some evangelical reaction pops up, typically my emotional response is a strong one and an active one - anger, resentment, shame, etc. So when it came out that evangelicals voted more strongly for Trump than any other Presidential candidate ever, what should've been shock was really more wonder, disbelief. His lack of morality and general human decency works completely against everything the evangelical bubble is built on; this is the same group that decided because Amy Grant cheated on her husband, her music wasn't "christian" anymore, at least for a while, anyway. I've written on this plenty, so I don't want to rehash the particulars, but it was surprising, but one that sent me somber and perplexed more than outraged. It was like being told your parents were really Russian spies or something.

All this to say, there's only been one other time when the evangelical response to something surprised me. It's usually oh, so predictable - especially for a native like myself. But in thinking about Trump I realized it gave me the same feeling as when evangelical culture decided to embrace rather than object to the leggings fashion craze.

That's going to seem super silly to a lot of people, but hear me out. Evangelical culture has a lot to do with modesty and generally avoids talking about sex like the plague - to the point where many, many evangelicals deal with serious issues when they get married, namely associating sex with sin or evil so deeply it's hard to enjoy it. As teenagers, there was a pretty clear message that boys are uncontrollable hormone monsters and girls need to make every effort to keep from triggering them. When women started wearing leggings around in public (especially those who do so in place of pants), I thought the modesty police would be all over it in condemnation.

It started that way, but it was pretty quickly shut down by women who stood up for themselves saying, "Men are responsible for their brains and their bodies, not women." Now, I agree with that completely and I think it's a far healthier message than anything I was taught growing up, but it was still a knock me over shock - at least as much as the Trump support.

I've been thinking about those two things in concert for a couple months now, trying to figure out how they might be connected and how I was so absolutely blindsided by what is typically a very predictable cultural block. The only conclusion I've come to is that, like for most every human being, comfort really is king.

Generally, people don't like ambiguity. We have to go out of our way, with great difficulty, to really and truly believe something has no real answer. Even if we keep an open mind theoretically, we usually have taken a side deep down. Evangelicals are no different; in fact they're largely openly hostile to ambiguity in the first place. They've embraced the comfort of definitive ideas and opinions so well, its not hard to take and defend them. That's how the subculture arose in the first place - a wall against godless society. Yes, of course morality and biblical interpretation has something to do with it, but there's a lot of comfort mixed in.

I suspect the same goes for Trump and for leggings. When it comes to clothes, actual comfort is very apparent. In fact, everywhere and every time the modesty "rules" have been relaxed, it's around comfort - wearing pantyhose all the time or skirts and dresses to church aren't really about modesty, but comfort. Modesty is defined by the society and what's acceptable ends up being what no one opposes.

When it comes to Trump, comfort is in the 1950's mythos he built his campaign upon. Evangelicals are nothing if not American; in many places it's difficult to tell the difference between the American dream and the gospel. Recalling the un-factual myth of a 1950's utopia is precisely the kind of thing that brings comfort - a society where evangelical values are closer in line with societal ones. Nevermind the fact that this was a period largely of cultural abandonment by evangelicals, when culture was considered just as scary and dangerous as it is now (not to mention violence and race relations, along with gender equity and overall health were all much poorer). It feels familiar and safe.

As I said, it's not as though evangelicals are the only ones who operate more on comfort; it's the human condition. I could easily have picked out any subculture of American life and found similar examples where the reaction differed from the expected response for reasons of comfort. This is just the one I know. I also know that sacrificing principles for comfort is something just about everyone would condemn and just about everyone would do... does.

I doubt there's really a lesson here - at least no one we don't already know - except maybe, it's ok to desire comfort, safety, familiarity, but perhaps, maybe, its healthier for everyone if we're just willing to admit that's why we do things. We're not perfect people - and the desire to be so is not just something that consumes the evangelical bubble, it's obvious everywhere. I know it's not ok, but, you know, it's really ok. I don't think admitting it is going to keep anyone from striving to be better. I just don't. If anything, refusing to admit we're imperfect is the quickest way to believing we're worthless - and that's a far more dangerous lie in which to live.

Comfort is king. That's ok. Maybe, let's just not let the King do whatever he wants. Sound good? Great.

1 comment:

Alan Scott said...

I thought you already knew about our Russian spy phase...oops.