Performative Ecstasy

Morgan Guyton (via Fred Clark):

There’s no way to distinguish fairly between people who are genuinely fired up about Jesus and people who are performatively On Fire For Jesus, but a culture that promotes zeal as a value in and of itself creates a lot of pressure to put your piety on display for others.

The post is mainly concerned with evangelical Christianity, but the dynamic it points out should be concerning for any faith that makes feeling it the primary unit of worship—like, say, Quakers. There’s a passage in Beyond Majority Rule where Michael Sheeran, a Catholic priest, compares Quaker worship, particularly the phenomenon of the gathered meeting, to the Catholic rite of the Eucharist. He notes that, while Quakers like to say that the experience of God in the gathered meeting is like the presence of Christ in the bread and the wine, Catholic doctrine holds that the presence is there whether the worshippers experience it or not. So much of our spiritual life revolves around being led, being accompanied, touching and even tasting the Spirit; but if it’s not there, what fills the void? Or rather, what are we willing to call the presence of the Spirit, even if its provenance is doubtful? As Guyton notes, evangelical culture promotes zeal for zeal’s sake, or a sort of enforced positivity; among Quakers, I’ve seen everything from white middle-class ethics to revolutionary politics fill in as substitutes. We should take care, then, not to baptize our own passions, or make them into idols.

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One thought on “Performative Ecstasy

  1. You wrote: “but if it’s not there, what fills the void? Or rather, what are we willing to call the presence of the Spirit, even if its provenance is doubtful?”

    Idolatry is such an old, serious problem that the first commandment of the ten counterchecks it. Whether it’s rising up to play (Exo. 32:6) as did the Hebrews; or, for the religious (such as the Pharisees and later, those confronted by 17th-c. Friends), sacralizing the tradition and its language (“You will say, Christ saith this, and the apostles say this; but what canst thou say?”); or whether its the contemporary Liberal Quaker idolizing the “beloved community” (and his place in it), it’s all idolatry—in every time and place. And it all comes from the same “root of the old corrupt tree” (Penington). The prophets have always laid an axe to the corruption by speaking the Word of truth, which reveals itself to those who have foregone the inferior gains that come with compliance to something other than truth. That compliance is idolatry. The spiritual meaning of the virgin birth is that Christ is born within the pure soul, which hasn’t given itself to anything but the God of truth.

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