October 4: Revivalism is DANGEROUS

For those of you who don’t know what a revival is, let me begin with some video. 

In short, a revival is an event that usually takes place over a series of days (sometimes in a tent, church, rented hall etc.) where charismatic preachers come and attempt to “revive” the call to religion among the locals. These preachers usually work in conjunction with local religious leaders. The services are often marked by ecstatic preaching, healings, calls to prayer, etc.

Often these preachers and the associated groups will rally the participants to their brand of “righteousness”. These revivals are often held in response to a social or political ill that has “gripped” the community. The sermons invoke the power of faith, healing, and belonging as leverage against the threat (whether real or perceived). These messages range from benign social conservatism to outright hate speech and incitement to violence. And

For most of us, these kinds of services are a turn off. The kind of spiritual awakening we seek is much more private and profound. But for some, a revival can be the first step on the path to a wholly different spiritual experience. And while most of us think of evangelical Christians as having sole custody of this kind of religious experience, I assure you they do not. While the forms and languages used may vary, all religions have an ecstatic branch whose religious experience is short on substance and long on emotionalism. 

Hindus…

Buddhists…

And Muslims all have our own brand of dangerous, revivalist, preachers who make their bread and butter by sweeping into our communities and whipping up religious fervor to support a political or social movement. 

Unlike some people, I don’t think that all religion is bad. The fact that religion is used as a weapon and a tool by the wicked in no way turns me away from my faith. Instead, it encourages me to engage more deeply. Because one of the things that I have noticed about these revivals and the people they attract is that they can’t really hold up under too much scrutiny. 

Often their credentials are shaky. They haven’t done the years and years of hard scholarship necessary to speak about their religious tradition with authority. Often they haven’t done enough theological studies to talk about the nature of faith at all, regardless of the tradition they ascribe to. 

They often engage is circular logic and are quick to point out which sources are “authentic” and which ones aren’t. They engage in a lot of “the book is true because the book says its true” kind of scholarship. They are adverse to learning about or even hearing from people with differing opinions, even within their own faith traditions. They are quick to symbolically excommunicate people who don’t ascribe to their “understanding” of their faith. 

But most importantly, and perhaps most disturbing, is the lack of impetus to do anything to alleviate human suffering on a large scale. Sure, they will take up a collection for a homeless shelter or attend an anti-abortion rally, but when you dig a little deeper, they see no need to live differently. Thier faith and their goodness don’t require much introspection or self-reflection. They aren’t required to cultivate a deeper connection to others, themselves, or even God beyond the ecstasy of the movement. 

In fact, what often happens is that these people get very good at replicating that emotionalism. And that is why it is dangerous. Because if nothing about your faith must make sense… 

If you are told that simply by believing and belonging you are a force for good rather than being encouraged to DO GOOD, THOUGHTFUL DEEDS…

If your religion is mostly an identity, rather than a lens through which you view the world and your part in it…

If that is your experience, then I invite you to come out of the tent. You have missed the point. 

There is a reason why these kinds of groups and preachers are often encouraged by pro-government groups and governments themselves. There is a reason why “the evangelicals” voted for a man that is the antithesis of all that they say they hold dear. It is because these kinds of movements don’t require you to DO any of the hard work necessary in any legitimate spiritual movement. 

You don’t have to empathize with others unless or until their plight hits close to home. You don’t have to give up your consumer habits beyond keeping your debt under control so that you will be free to spend more later. You don’t have to cultivate self-control or love or empathy within yourself. because once you’re “one of us” all of your sins will be ignored, forgotten and/or forgiven anyway. All you have to do is believe and belong without question. Sadly, that ideology has been the core of every repressive, racist, genocidal movement on the planet. 

Believe in our message. Be one of us. Kill the interlopers! Everything will work out fine. But it never does, and it never will. 

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