The Comfort Of Certainty

I love great preachers.   The best of them really touch my heart as they create a smooth and graceful testimony, pulling me along with stories and wit.   I love the ride, wherever they want to take me, from warm caring to fire & brimstone on a divine rant casting out the demons seen in the world.

I used to enjoy watching televangelists as they spun their sermons out, delighting in their rhetorical tricks and smooth delivery, delighting in the flow of their absolute faith.

Now, that doesn’t mean I turned my brain off.   I still hear the tricks they use to gloss over facts, how they just pop out unfounded assertions as facts and move on, never acknowledging doubt, only on any anecdote that supports their case.   My smarts rear up a bit at that point, knowing power of selective engagement, only accepting inputs that support your case, but I still get the emotional satisfaction of the plea.

I wrote a few days ago about why artists make horrible missionaries because they need to ruthlessly create rather than to repeat.   The process of creation is always the process of doubt, of living in the telling question rather than in the certain answer.   Who, What, Where, Why, When is the dogma of the creator, the karmic questioning of a restless soul rather than the dogmatic polish of one who is sure they know the answer and just want you to get it too.

Still, I understand the religious urge in people, the peace and comfort that comes from the beauty of ritual.   Old school churches vested their ritual in liturgy and art, in music and architecture, but the American way was to vest ritual in preaching, in the music of the human voice and the architecture of rhetoric.

To me, watching Oral Roberts or Jimmy Swaggart was like going to a cathedral.  It wasn’t the tent or the arena they preached in that was sacred, rather it was the preaching itself that carried you away.   As an auditory person with a feminine heart, I understood this transfiguration, why a profane preacher in a public event felt possessed of the spirit as he poured out his passionate words.

Feeling a part of something larger than us is wonderful.   It is why so many volunteered for Extreme Makeover Home Edition or on building Neolithic monuments over the years and worked harder than they would have worked for pay or for themselves.

Demanding allegiance to doctrine to feel that connection seems only to use that impulse to build organizations.  We may have to pay for the religious experience somehow, pay for the tents and the TV time and the travel and all, but Michels tells us that quickly the key goal of any organization is to perpetuate itself.

I have come to believe that the key difference between atheists and believers is not the presence of God, rather it is the presence of an interventionist God.  I have written about why many preachers feel the need to reject evolution to maintain the belief in a direct, interventionist God.   Atheists, on the other hand reject the idea that somehow God can directly help or punish us, reject the idea that there is a God who concerns themselves with the details of an everyday human life.

An interventionist God becomes a tool for preachers to use to demand compliance and offer rewards without any real proof.  A universe with spiritual modalities cannot be used that way, even if it still offers us a sense of being connected to something greater than ourselves.

Still, for me, being swept into the majesty of great and energetic preaching is a delight, even if their twisted logic and unfounded assertions often set off alarm bells about manipulation beyond clear thought.   The emotion and vitality of a confident and certain preacher lets me feel their energy, rather than just evaluate their arguments.

I understand the comfort many get from the certainty of their message, even if I know that comfort is both false and dangerous.  But it is another reason that being a missionary just comes hard to me, because certainty has never been in my heart.