The Seduction of Pond Scum Theology

“So what this is basically saying is, ‘God made humans perfect, but somehow every one of ‘em is screwed up.’ The evidence is not in God’s favor here.”

—     Kyle Simpson, on Ecclesiastes 7:29

 Getting home has seldom been harder. I was finally able to convince my dad to let me come and spend Christmas—and New Years’, and, well, maybe a few weeks thereafter—with him in League City. But the day after I bought my plane ticket (on Monday) I belatedly remembered that I don’t have any identification. Both my Texas state ID and my passport were stolen in midsummer. So I tried buying a train ticket instead. Turns out, you can’t ride an AmTrak train without a state-approved ID. So it was either take the bus, or catch a ride with Nicholas, who has no rational justification for visiting Texas except that he really loves driving, but he insisted on taking me, so I’m considering my options. If we left, we would leave on Saturday.

When I found out that Booth wasn’t flying in until January 10th, I extended my stay by about eight days. I’ll probably spend the entire last leg of it with him and the Pauleys—this is assuming that some final mad act of God doesn’t put Nicholas in the hospital just before we’re getting ready to leave. I feel like I’ve grown enough in the last year that it shouldn’t be horribly awkward, and might actually be really uplifting. Now I have a bad case of nostalgia for the things that always made Christmas special in Texas—movie nights and game nights and gumbo and arguments about politics and trips to the bookstore and hanging out listening to music and relentless but good-natured teasing. I’ve gotten to the end of this year and I’ve realized, people aren’t all that bad. I don’t know where I’d be without them. Even the people I’m not allowed to talk to. It hurts, but I enjoy them. I like them.

I guess a huge part of growing up has been letting go of that fundamentalist mindset. I was always a fundamentalist at heart, and that’s one of the things that made trying to reason with me such an arduous task. Yesterday’s “Left Behind” post on Slacktivist made an excellent point about the blasphemy of Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins’ anti-human worldview:

 We spent a great deal of time discussing the absurdity of the way the anti-nuclear miracle in the first book seems not to have changed anyone’s opinions on the existence of God. (One would think that the destruction of the entire Russian nuclear arsenal by an all-but-visible Hand of God might be a factor in considering that question.) But we haven’t considered what such an explicit act of divine intervention would mean with regard to the problem of evil.

The anti-nuclear miracle sets a precedent, indicating that neither human choice nor the physical laws of the universe in any way constrain God from intervening to prevent suffering. That miracle turns every other instance — every occasion on which God does not miraculously intervene — into an instance of deliberate divine non-intervention.

In other words, why did God protect Jerusalem, but not London (home to nearly a quarter million Jews)? Intervention in the first case entails divine complicity in the second.

The authors don’t address this because they’re not really interested in the problem of evil. As far as they’re concerned, that problem is solved. Suffering, evil and death, they say, are all deserved. They subscribe to a variation of that hyper-Calvinist theodicy which holds that all humans, everywhere, are indistinguishably and infinitely loathsome in the sight of a holy God. (Rachel Held Evans calls this “pond-scum theology.”)

This isn’t really a solution to the all-good/all-powerful dilemma. It dodges that question by redefining God’s “goodness” as something wholly other than what we humans understand as good — something that actually, from our human perspective, appears monstrous.

Believing that people are totally evil means worshiping an evil God. Look at my list of all the things that I loved about Christmas in Texas growing up. In reality, they’re things that I’m only right now, at this moment, beginning to love about Christmas in Texas. Why? Because when I subscribed to this ridiculous, hyper-Calvinist, fundamentalist perception of people, this “doctrine” that people are vile and loathsome and infinitely worthy of damnation, anything I did with other people was, by extension, evil. My friends at Southwestern always complained that I hated relationships and hated having fun. Their task of trying to change me was made all the harder by the fact that my understanding was, to me, rooted in the Bible (“their throat is an open sepulcher, with their tongues they have used deceit, the way of peace have they not known”). Literalist that I was, I never saw beyond the surface of a few scattered words to the substance of the Scriptures. I was grasping after proof-texts like flies in the wind. If people, by definition, have “the poison of asps” under their tongues, then relationship with those people is necessarily wrong, and to be avoided; and avoiding those relationships is inherently noble and worthy of praise. And all the fun, wonderful things that those people love doing—arguing, reading, making love, basking in the warm glow of a fire, drinking hot cocoa and playing Scrabble until four in the morning—they might seem enjoyable to us, but that’s because our minds and hearts are totally diseased (“the whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint”), and we don’t have the clarity to realize that the only things worthy of enjoyment are sitting and reading our Bibles and listening to “Petra.” Thus, the definition of evil is not “that which destroys love by causing pain to God, myself, or others,” but “that which brings pleasure to humans.” If we could see the world the way God sees it, if we could somehow span the chasm between His infinite holiness and our lack of it, we would realize that this world and all the people in it and all the vain things they do together are worthy of being destroyed. Right?

No; the whole notion is depraved, it’s heresy. Fallen though we are, we bear His image. If God were only good according to His own definition—a definition which all humans found reflexively, instinctively repulsive—He would not be worthy of our worship. We would be right to resist Him.

But I’m not interested in proving that from the Scriptures, although I could easily do so (see: the life of David; the entire book of Ecclesiastes; Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John; etc.). The reality is that bad theology is made by wounded people. Wounded people read the Bible through distorted lenses. Then they come up with distorted theologies to justify their anger, hurt, and bitterness towards others. Then, when other people confront them about it, they pull out their Bibles and turn to the book of Romans, or the book of Revelation, and say, “Look, it’s in the Bible!” And they’ll gesture at this verse and that verse, but no one else sees what they see, because they’re not actually reading the Bible. They’re viewing it through hate-colored glasses.

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