Back to our discussion of converts and downward spirals….
Recently, an evangelical Christian youth group’s video, “The Thaw,” has been making the rounds. (For the video, a transcript, and Libby Anne’s take on it, go here.) Watching it brought back so many memories.
It was fascinating to see a process in action, laid out so clearly… that I had lived through, and that we had tried to put our kids through. A key part of the downward spiral that converts can so easily get caught up in… and that can end up mentally and emotionally trapping them in what amounts to an alternate universe.
Some of “The Thaw”‘s detractors have compared the military rhetoric it uses to a jihadi video. [Which is rather absurd, btw—do the folks who made that point seriously think that hymns like “Onward, Christian Soldiers” owe their existence to jihadi or Muslim influence? Just lol. Christians have never had too much trouble being violent all on their own.] But that’s not primarily what I’m talking about here. While we were steeped in this sort of militant rhetoric as well, what I found most striking about this video is the sense of entitlement that these young people have.
Righteous entitlement. For me, the most chilling part of the video was when the girl with the turquoise and white striped shirt and braces claimed that non-Christians “have stolen our country.” What an incendiary claim.
What on earth would have given her such an idea? The video attempts to support this claim with a mixture of several things: historical myths (e.g. that the US was founded as a “Christian nation”), making exaggerated claims that play to the audience’s fears (e.g. that sex ed materials used in schools are pornographic), appeals to the myth of the good old days (e.g. when the church was the center of the community), and constructing Christian students as a discriminated-against, marginalized Other.
Watching this, I realized that such toxic brew of half-truths and myths and rhetoric about persecution can be used to convince young (and not-so-young) people that they have been unjustly denied what they are entitled to… and that they need to fight (literally, or figuratively) in order to get it back. No matter what the so-called cause is. And once this process takes off, it feeds on itself—especially with young and idealistic people. A sense of excitement, of purpose, of dedication to a cause is created. It’s like a pep rally, but for the believers. More people join. It snowballs…. Who knows were it will end up.
And there is a backlash. As more people join the movement, voices are raised about the polarizing rhetoric, and enthusiastic zeal of some of the participants. But the movement is built around opposing their supposed “persecution”… and so any criticism or opposition only “proves” that they really are in fact the discriminated-against Other that needs to stand up for itself lest it be flattened by its enemies.
As converts, we found ourselves surrounded by entitlement rhetoric of this kind. About issues of practice (such as hijab, or halaal meat). About political cause celebres (no need to list them… alas). We often got caught up in it, without really asking ourselves whether all the claims being made were really accurate, much less where it was all going. Those who were spouting this stuff sounded so sure that they knew what they were talking about. Everyone in the community seemed to agree with it. It was emotionally compelling. There was so much pressure not to question, just to accept “the facts” that were being laid out, and not to discuss or acknowledge any gray areas.
And we soon lost our ability to see why anyone wouldn’t agree with this way of seeing things. Or why anyone would claim that this issue is “complex” when it was so obviously very simple. Or so we thought.
We were groomed to become pawns in the hands of those who had their eyes on a far bigger prize. And we didn’t realize it. More on this next time.