Do as I Do, Not as I Say

By T. M. Luhrmann, The New York Times

An excerpt:

It's election season, and once again Democrats are flummoxed by evangelical voters. They think that “those people” vote against their own self-interest. They cannot believe that same-sex marriage matters so much to so many people. They don’t get why Obamacare is controversial. To them, evangelicals don’t make sense.

That’s because evangelicals and secular liberals (the most puzzled Democrats) think about life — and therefore politics — in such utterly different ways.

If you want to understand how evangelicals conceive of their political life, you need to understand how they think about God. I am an anthropologist, and for the last 10 years I have been doing research on charismatic evangelical spirituality — the kind of Christianity in which people expect to have a personal relationship with God. They talk to God, and in some way or another, they expect that God will talk back. This is a lot of people. In 2006, the Pew Forum reported that 23 percent of Americans embraced this kind of “renewalist” Christianity and that 26 percent said they had received a direct revelation from God.

What someone believes is important to these Christians, but what really matters is becoming a better person. As I listened in church and participated in prayer groups, I saw that when people prayed, they imagined themselves in conversation with God. They do not, of course, think that God is imaginary, but they think that humans need to use their imagination to understand a God so much bigger and better than what they know from ordinary life. They imagine God as wiser and kinder than any human they know, and then they try to become the person they would be if they were always aware of being in God’s presence, even when the kids fuss and the train runs late.

 Read the article.

Photo courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons.



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