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Why Everything Makes Sense in the Evangelical Bubble

living in bubble

I recently wrote a post detailing Evangelical Lori Alexander’s advice to women who want to be more attractive to their husbands. Alexander, a promoter, defender, and practitioner of patriarchal Christianity, believes wives should submit to their husbands in all things. She has been accused of defending male violence towards women. I can safely say that Alexander is anti-woman, a devoted follower of Jesus who pines for the days when women were barefoot and pregnant, uneducated, and slaves to their husbands’ sexual desires.

It’s 2021. Women burned their bras over fifty years ago. Feminism has won the day. Yet, scores of women — mostly white Evangelical women — don’t want freedom. They want what their grandparents, parents, and pastors have told them are “old-fashioned” complementarian marriages. These women yearn for “Biblical” marriages and families. They have been conditioned to believe that something is missing in their lives, in their relationships with their spouses and families. Thus, the Lori Alexanders of the world find scores of women who will willingly submit to their teachings.

This kind of behavior is not the domain of Evangelical women alone. Beginning in the 1980s, groups such as Promise Keepers began preaching the gospel of masculinity. Believing that Evangelical churches had become feminized, these groups called on “real” men to reassert their masculinity. Men were taught the importance of complementarian/patriarchal marriage and family structures. Want to have a marriage/family that is pleasing to God? preachers would say. Reassert your God-given authority and headship. In other words, put that woman of yours in her place.

Non-Evangelicals often have difficulty understanding how it is possible that people would willingly and openly submit to such teachings and practices. My friend Astreja best illustrates this in her comment on the post titled, Christians Say the Darnedest Things: Lori Alexander Tells Women How to Become Attractive to Their Husbands:

But what is the appeal for Alexander’s fans? That’s what I could never figure out: Why cede control of your life and obey prefabricated rules? Responsibility and self-actualization are scary at first, but incredibly rewarding once you get over the fear.

Evangelicalism is what I call a “bubble.” Not singular, of course. There are numerous sub-bubbles within the larger Evangelical bubble. These sub-bubbles allow individual Evangelicals to organize around specific theological and social beliefs. Thus, within the Evangelical bubble, you find sub-bubbles for Christians who are Calvinists, Arminians, or believe the King James is the one and only Word of God, along with a plethora of other defining beliefs and practices. I have spent years trying to educate non-Evangelicals on the complex tribal influences found within Evangelicalism. One cannot understand Evangelicalism without understanding how Evangelicals define themselves and how they organize into these sub-bubbles.

Bubbles are self-contained units. Generally, Evangelicals find everything they need pertaining to life and godliness in their particular bubble (and sub-bubbles often overlap). Within a particular bubble, everything is theologically, socially, politically, and economically consistent. Simply put, everything makes sense.

The air within these sub-bubbles has a base element: the inspiration, inerrancy, and infallibility of the Bible. Evangelicals breathe in this element every day of their lives, exhaling certainty that their beliefs and practices are the one true faith once delivered to the saints. Imagine breathing in this air every moment of your life. Imagine being convinced by your parents, pastors, and Sunday school teachers that your beliefs are one with the mind of God; that all other beliefs are wrong; that God specially chooses you; that unlike most of the human race, past, present, and future who will burn in Hell for eternity, God will reward you for believing the right things with eternal happiness and bliss. Is it shocking, then, that Evangelicals see or understand no other world but their own?

While some Evangelicals escape their sub-bubbles, most do not. Sure, an increasing number of Evangelicals are exiting their churches stage left. Sure, ex-Evangelical preachers such as myself are exposing where the proverbial bodies are buried. These circumstances should not obscure the fact that most Evangelicals are resolutely ensconced in their respective sub-bubbles. Most Evangelical preachers will die with their boots on. When your life is totally invested in a system of beliefs and practices, the older you become, the harder it is to pop the bubble and escape. My counselor told me that it is rare for preachers my age — I was fifty when I deconverted — to walk away from Christianity and the ministry. Too much time and money invested to choose a new path. It happens, but not often.

Several months ago, I had a lifelong Evangelical bubble dweller contact me. After almost fourteen years and thousands of emails and comments from devoted Evangelical Christians — including former congregants and ministerial colleagues — I am no longer as willing to engage in discussions with such people. This time, however, I decided to interact with this follower of Jesus. Over the course of several weeks, we traded emails. I hoped to lead the man into a discussion about the nature and history of the Bible. I learned long ago that if you can disabuse Evangelicals of the notion that the Bible is inerrant and infallible, it is possible to reach them with truth. Otherwise, their minds are typically shut off from rational, skeptical thought.

I asked this man if he had read any of Dr. Bart Ehrman’s books? He told me no. It took time, but I eventually got him to read one of Ehrman’s books. I know believing the Bible is inerrant and infallible will not survive an honest, open reading of Ehrman’s books. The information he presents is a fatal blow to the irrational belief that the Bible is without error.

While I wish I could report that this man left the Evangelical bubble, as far as I know, he has not. After reading Ehrman’s book, he sent me several questions, and I answered them. And then . . . silence. Such silence is not uncommon. What often happens to the Evangelicals who contact me is that they can’t make what they learned about Bible from Ehman’s book fit within their bubble. Faced with waves of cognitive dissonance, they withdraw from the source of their doubts and confusion. And that’s fine. My goal has never been to convert Evangelicals to atheism. While this does happen at times, I am content to see people move away from the inherent Fundamentalism in Evangelical Christianity. Any move away from Fundamentalism is a good one.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

You can contact Bruce via email, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

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5 Comments

  1. Avatar
    BJW

    We all live in a bubble. We can just hope we are in a bubble that is open to new ideas. I’ve known people stuck in a fundie type bubble, complaining of the bubble others are in! Ridiculous.

  2. Avatar
    MJ Lisbeth

    Bubbles exist because people want certainty and safety. That’s why it’s so difficult to leave them.

    The same can be said for a closet. Trust me, I know! I have left both.

  3. Avatar
    Sage

    Back when I was pretending to be someone that I really wasn’t, I went to a Promise keepers event. I knew immediately that I didn’t belong in that huge display of testosterone. The hyper-masculine, real man, chest thumping display of so called christian maleness was disturbing, and the whole event was led by the pinnacle of masculinity – a male college football coach. Ugh, it was a horrible circus.

    My favorite part was all these men saying they had to be manly, portray gods ideal man in charge of church, home and family, be that god ordained leader, and most of all, be a man. Then all of this he-man display was followed up with discussions about how important it was for wives to help men control sexual urges, because these poor manly men have no control over thoughts and urges and it’s so hard to keep their hands off of women.

    I was listening to my fellow church attenders discuss this topic and I really wanted to say that I enjoy both genders, which means I have twice as much temptation, but I have no trouble with self control. Maybe, just maybe, you are making excuses? But I said nothing because that most certainly would not help them.

    Fortunately I escaped the abusive bubble/closet. Leaving both behind has made me a better person, and free of the guilt and self hatred I carried for decades.

  4. Avatar
    William

    This gospel of masculinity stuff, being a real man, i have no idea what it means. Some say being a man is being an arrogant person who has to have his own way (a leader) and who is not emotional and does not acknowledge weakness (a coward or someone in denial, everyone has feelings). Truth is even in the Bible men would laugh, cry, sulk, be afraid and have all sorts of so called non manly weaknesses.

    The truth is there is no such thing as being a man, when fundamentalists talk about it, what I keep thinking is what they mean by being a man is that women should not be allowed to have opinions or choices of their own. Being ‘a man’ really means a woman should continually submit herself to a husband. Being a man means a woman not being allowed to be a woman. Pretty sad if you ask me.

    As I recall a woman saying, ‘I am a woman who was once a child, so fundamentalists have always hated me.’

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Bruce Gerencser