Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Evangelical Christianity and self-selection

Evangelical Christians have the goal that everyone within their fold adhere to norms such as abstinence from premarital sex. Clergy and active congregants adhere to the norms most of the time, but many evangelical teens have sex lives only slightly more conservative than the average American or European teenager. I've long wondered whether the reason for this discrepancy is that evangelical Christianity includes many people who, for whatever reason, are unlikely to adhere to all the norms.

Comparing religions can only be done in the spirit of "All models are wrong, but some are useful", so with that in mind I thought about religious self-selection in the context of some youtube videos making their way around some progressive Jewish blogs with enthusiasm and modern Orthodox blogs with hesitant, tepid approval, apparently spurred by an article in the Forward, a US Jewish newspaper.

This is a fantastic video of a secular Israeli girl band called "Woman of Valor" (Prov. 31) singing "Open our eyes to your Torah, cause us to cleave to your commandments, and unite our hearts in love and awe of your name" a line from the liturgy repeated over and over*. They also sing "On the rivers of Babylon" (Psalm 137) and "The angel who saved me" (Genesis 48). In the US, I would guess that this would be fairly standard evangelical Christian popular music, but in Israel it is Tel Aviv secular, performed at the Gay Pride parade, and so extremely exciting and outrageous**.

If the evangelicals are including the equivalent of the Tel Aviv secular who obviously connect to some aspect of the Bible and yet for whatever reason are not interested in some of the religious norms, programs like virginity pledges may reach only the Jerusalem religious who would abstain anyhow.


(*) It begins "That we shouldn't ever be bashful or ashamed or stumble." There's also a rap segment in the middle that isn't a text also about connecting with the divine.

(**) Comments on the video are outraged. My translation of some of them:
- If they really believed what they sung, they would dress differently and they wouldn't dance like that and they would seem even slightly like daughters of Israel. G-d should have mercy on us, what a desecration of G-d's name.

- When someone sings to open our eyes to your Torah and be caused to cleave to your commandments when she is, pardon me, half naked is really not respectful. It's like going to the synagogue to pray in a bathing suit. Does that seem right? It's like the Maimonides's example of going into a ritual bath holding an impure reptile, doing something good but in an improper manner.

- I don't understand the connection between the meaning of the text and the clothing. They say they want to be open to G-d's commandments and they are not fully dressed.

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