This morning I noticed an ad for a company I had never heard of before, a watch company. The name got my attention, as did the slogan:
I don’t wear a watch, but I must say my first impulse was to buy one.
Leaving fundamentalism is an arduous affair. When you are trying to leave, the difficulty is seen as evidence that you are leaving a community of truth-lovers for a dangerously compromised and compromising world. Once you have left you realize it actually was because such groups spin a cunning web of guilt and fear to keep their members in line. When there is no safety to express doubts, raise questions, and explore challenges to faith, when withdrawal from the world is imagined to be righteousness, when life gets divided into spiritual and physical (meaning less spiritual) spheres, and when there is pride over the purity of “our” beliefs and practices compared to everyone else—the web gets spun even if no one sets out to do it.
The fundamentalism of my childhood put great emphasis on biblical prophecy, and St John’s book of Revelation was often featured in sermons. Newspaper headlines were listed as proof that we were in the “last days.” Christ would return soon, which was always the point in the sermon when non-Christians were warned their time was running out. This is the theology that gave rise to the Left Behind series, and to Hal Lindsey’s book, The Late Great Planet Earth.
In the final days a horrible beast would arise out of the earth, incite the world to crass idolatry, and bring the global economic system under its control. The beast’s number, which would appear on people’s forehead or hand, was 666 (Revelation 13:11-18). One elder mentioned he’d never knowingly buy a car in which 666 appeared in the VIN number, just in case. We were warned to be on our guard, on the need to be withdrawn from a dangerous world, and assured that all those who remained true would never receive the dreaded mark of the beast.
Hear that enough times and of course it becomes hard to break away.
One of the legacies of my fundamentalist background was an almost a physical revulsion for the last book of the Bible. All my life I had heard dire warnings about interpreting it wrongly, but try as I might I couldn’t keep the convoluted diagrams and tortuous explanations straight in my head. Even after I broke away to discover a biblically orthodox Christian faith that was grace-full (rather than legalistic), safe and free (rather than fearful and defensive), and that spoke to all of life and culture (rather than withdrawn), my distaste for Revelation continued.
Anyway, in my next post on Fundamentalist legacies I’ll share some reflections on St John’s Revelation, and why I have come to cherish the book. Here, I’ll end with a discernment exercise.
The discernment exercise is this. Would it be wrong for me to buy a watch from 666 Barcelona? (This is a thought experiment only, since I can’t afford one—still, I must confess having a deep desire—is it a perverse desire?—to trumpet my freedom by wearing one!)
[to be continued]