Why I’m Sorry About Being Sorry

You may have noticed that I haven’t updated the blog in awhile1. A big reason for this is that my posts had fallen into a rut, and I got frustrated.

Here’s my recent formula: I start with a very evangelical topic–prayer, missions, youth pastors, etc. I then carefully (oh so carefully) broach my difficulties with the topic. I do this through portraying myself as a sneering jerk lobbing unfair criticisms. But then I realized I was a jerk. After this breakthrough, I am free to love the topic, and admit that the only real problem was me.

There’s a reason all my posts hit these same beats–I didn’t want anyone to get mad at me.

I don’t like it when people are mad at me. I mean, I really don’t like it. Whenever I’ve offended someone–even if it was an accident–I obsess over it until I “fix it” by getting them to like me again. The thought that somewhere in the world, there may be someone who isn’t thrilled with everything I do keeps me up at night. In the real world, this isn’t the healthiest habit. But it’s mild as far as neuroses go.

In the blogging world, it’s paralyzing. Especially given the theme of my blog.

As my About Page proclaims, my goal to be clear-eyed about evangelicalism’s problems, but without descending into cynicism or self-righteousness. This goal risks offending two very different groups. I’ll call them the Church Parents and the College Cynics.

I call the first group the Church Parents because they’re generally middle age or older, with kids who are young adults. They’ve been evangelicals a long time, and hold to all its tenants–both cultural and theological. They suspect criticism of evangelicals comes from either bad attitudes or worldliness, and worry over signs their kids are falling into these same criticisms.

The second group, the College Cynics, are young adults (or young-ish adults). They were raised evangelical, but now have an axe to grind against their childhood faith. They believe that evangelicals are deluded and wrong about more or less everything, and enjoy pointing out the reasons why.

It’s impossible to write this blog without offending at least one of these groups per post. Sometimes I may offend both of them at once. Whenever I criticize something about evangelicalism, I risk the Church Parents thinking I’m a pretentious jerk. Whenever I criticize flip cynicism and self-righteousness, I risk the College Cynics thinking I’m a naive sell-out.

I’d rather that didn’t happen. That’s why I’ve only criticized myself.

While all this self-loathing appeals to those neuroses, it can’t work long term. Some of the reasons include:

  1. It’s not (always) my fault. Yes, many of my “problems” with evangelicalism were actually my own pride or blindness. And yes, these things can easily creep into any criticism. But that doesn’t mean that all of my criticisms are wrong. I can still be right in my critiques, even if I’m partly to blame. In other words, not everything is my fault. There’s no sense pretending otherwise.
  1. It won’t help anybody. If somebody is feeling cynical and struggling with their faith, reading about my own self-blame isn’t helpful. In effect, I’d be telling them: Don’t worry about the hypocrisy around you! Ignore those doubts! If something seems wrong, that’s only because YOU’RE being a jerk! Just blame yourself and forget it! It’s easy!

If someone is genuinely struggling with doubt and cynicism, the last thing they need is trite question-shaming. So instead, I’ll just try to be honest about evangelicalism–both the good and the bad.

  1. I can’t please everybody. Here’s a final irony. Even when I blamed only myself to make the blog as inoffensive as possible, I still offended people. This is inevitable, especially online. Certain types of people just read articles long enough to decide they hate it. Once that happens, it doesn’t matter how careful the author was. They’ll just look for more reasons why the author sucks.

I’m tired of worrying what those people think.

Going forward, this means my blog will probably step on more toes–both for the Church Parents, and for the College Cynics. I’ll try to do this fairly, but also honestly. And of course, I’ll remember the many (many2) times when I share in the blame.

Whew, that was stressful. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go to the corner and curl into the fetal position.

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1  And if you haven’t noticed, just pretend you did. It makes me feel more important.

2  Many

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Photo by Dennis Yang

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