Thursday, September 01, 2011


We think of St Paul as having a single, pivot-point change. There is certainly reason for that, but the Scriptures don't actually say he was consistently X before conversion and consistently Y after. In fact, a close reading reveals a long stay in the desert that seems important in the biography as well. Yet because the most important thing about him changed on a pivot, we automatically impose that narrative on every other part of his life as well. Perhaps he was similar in personality at 16 and 60. Perhaps personality went through slow changes over his life. We don't know.

I had a born-again experience in 1975. But even at the time, I was aware of a similar private experience just two months before, and related promises and resolves to be a good Christian and follow Jesus extending back to age 12, when I wrote in to a Billy Graham TV crusade after hearing him preach and got some material back. There were also renewals, some of them dramatic, after 1975. Which one was the "real" one? And given that I was baptised as an infant perhaps that...

Or, as the Scripture also says, Jesus called me before my own creation and the creation of the world.

I have changed my mind about things more often than most people, I am sure. Seldom have those changes been rapid. I left socialism/liberalism one issue at a time. Yet every time I would think "Hmm, I am probably better defined as a conservative now," I would run across some further issues or intense declarations that would keep me out. Postliberal really is the best descriptor. I have an automatic brain tic that reverses polarity when someone is too insistent or strident. Liberals chased me out with that, and conservatives fenced me out in similar fashion.

The science says that most of us acquire our faith and our politics as teenagers and then change little. Church camping advocates point to numbers that show the prominence of camping in the histories of adults currently in church, and I don't doubt that. Politically, the adage is that we look at what was happening in the world when a person was 18 to discover his or her politics. That can go many ways, however, as yearly cohorts do not all go green, communitarian, or libertarian. Yet it does seem to often be true that the die is cast then, with the shape changing only mildly thereafter.


Barb the Evil Genius said...

As a Lutheran, I believe that God imparts faith in us at our baptism. Our feelings change wildly; God's salvation is always there.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

We were Lutheran 1976-87, because we felt strongly that God was leading us to that specific congregation. (We had visited purely out of politeness to a relative and my heritage, as I, my mother, and grandmother had all been baptised there. It was mostly elderly Swedish ladies with hats, half of whom succeeded in dragging their husbands along any given week. We were 23, the next youngest couples were 32 and 33. Odd. But I believe we understood God correctly in attending.

Only briefly did I reject infant baptism as valid, and very soon came to see the scriptural case for it as stronger than believer's baptism.

My sons disagree, BTW. Also odd.

james said...

Some decisions and changes are clear pivot points: "I do" for example. But some decisions seem to spread out over time. Addictions seem like one such. There may be a hidden weakness that means that Joe can't resist booze; but he can resist the first drink, and the second, and the third. Somewhere along the line he can't resist anymore. But I defer to your greater experience with such problems.

I can point to people who cannot remember any time when they decided once for all to follow Jesus, but they plainly do and are closer followers than I am.

Come to think of it, "I do" isn't such a pivot point either unless subsequent decisions follow the new direction.

Texan99 said...

When I was 18 I was full of outrage that Nixon was a crook who'd been allowed to walk. For 20 years I assumed that I must be a democrat; they were the only ones who wanted people to be free of tiresome old orthodoxies, including those keeping women in the kitchen. Right about the time of the Contract with America, I fairly abruptly lost faith in the Democratic Party. It had a lot to do with working with federal agencies and realizing that the incentives were all wrong and that they were more than accidentally incompetent. I also lost faith in the idea that Democratic policies were more likely to fix the deficit problem.

In the meantime, I went from atheist to Christian to atheist, but the timing of these changes didn't line up with any of the political changes. It was nearly 20 years after I started voting Republican before I came back to the Church. And here I am, a fairly conservative Christian, with some quirks, and mostly a libertarian in my politics.