“Truth is I thought it mattered. I thought that music mattered. But does it? Bollocks! Not compared to how people matter.” (Chumbawamba, “Tubthumping“)
I used to think theology mattered.
Because, for a long time, I understood ideas better than people…
Because I hated how it felt when certain authority figures didn’t trust my word, and played armchair psychoanalyst to accuse me of motives I didn’t possess…
Because I saw the suffering in the lives of friends who acted on impulse, and who never sought the guidance of tradition about what was moral and good for human flourishing…
Because I experienced emotional chaos and “gaslighting” in my family and unchecked bullying in my peer group…
…I overestimated the importance of explicit, conscious beliefs, as compared to subconscious beliefs and psychological patterns, as determinants of people’s behavior.
…I imagined there could be a system of thought that would make people humble and trustworthy, and insulate their community against abusive dynamics, if only they properly understood and thoroughly implemented those beliefs.
…I cared too intensely about establishing a community where everyone agreed on the fundamental facts and values–one where each individual was not stuck inside her private and uncommunicable “true-for-me”. Though I didn’t realize this for years, that politically correct liberal ideal was triggering memories of being in a relationship where my pain was not visible to the other person and her version of the facts was impervious to correction.
…I needed the privacy afforded by abstraction, when talking about matters that were close to my soul. (This is still somewhat true, and will be the subject of a follow-up post if I ever find the time.) Theological discussion, unlike the personal sharing that goes on in Christian small-groups, allows people to connect via their common passion for knowing God, without exposing personal vulnerabilities that the other person may exploit to attack your theological position. Again, I did not realize right away that this was my concern; under the lingering influence of Objectivism, I was more likely to dismiss personal factors as irrelevant, rather than simply unsafe to reveal indiscriminately.
Why am I writing about this? First, to apologize for being a self-righteous bunghole in any of my past theological screeds. Second, because I don’t think my particular sore spots and accompanying defenses are all that unique.
Based on my recent explorations of trauma theory, I think it’s safe to say that at least 10-25% of any congregation has an abuse history or some other serious traumas in their past and/or present. The ones who are temperamentally inclined to resist rather than reenact the chaos of their past may well be drawn to fundamentalism (religious or otherwise).
Be compassionate to these people. Not in a patronizing or intrusive way, but in your own heart. Understand that their “attachment to views”, as the Buddhists would say, may have been a life-preserver when their attachments to other human beings were disrupted by loss or betrayal. Call them out (discreetly) when their ideology or methods are hurting others, but first establish a safe space, founded on God’s grace, for them to face their faults.
If you want them to believe that people matter more than theology…first show them that they matter to you.