Wednesday, November 06, 2019

One of the things I loved most about attending Quaker churches--including ones that had pastors--was that plenty of space was made for anyone to speak.  The hope was that those who spoke had done some personal due diligence of discernment so that they weren't just expressing their own thoughts but were relaying something they had received from Spirit.  Things didn't always work out that way, but there was plenty of grace and patience extended.

I recall one Sunday morning when a dear woman from a Charismatic Christian background stood in the midst of a Quaker meeting and began excited recounting a story about a miracle: a person who's amputated arm grew back, while up on stage at a Pentecostal revival meeting in Africa.  The woman at our meeting recounted the story with great passion, almost as if she had been there and seen it herself.  But she hadn't been there and didn't see it.  The story came to her from a well-known evangelist who's local revival meeting she had recently attended.  The evangelist had likely heard the story from someone else, who likely heard it from someone else.  The tale was likely embellished along the way.  Who knows what actually, originally occurred (or even if there was an original, actual occurrance).  But our dear Friend was excitedly telling us the tale, as if she had seen it herself.

This is an example of what has been labeled as "Anecdotal Christianity."  Anecdotes are passed around and accepted with little scrutiny.  To question, to critique, to ask for proof or compelling evidence is looked upon as having a lack of faith.

This anecdotalism is particularly prevalent in the Charismatic and Pentecostal sectors of Christianity.  As a result, wild claims are made and then swallowed whole and then later regurgitated and spread around.  Skilled tellers of tall tales (aka bullshit artists) can draw crowds and build ministries for themselves.  Doubters tend to keep their doubts to themselves, not wanting to suffer ostracization for having "little faith."

These anecdotes aren't just tales of amazing, physics-defying miracles (always occurring somewhere far off where cell phone videos aren't yet available).  They also often spill over into urban legends, political rumors and conspiracy theories.

I've often wondered why (based on my experience of 25+ years in that subculture) Charismatic/Pentecostal Christians seem to be so prone to imbibing and repeating tall tales and outlandish conspiracy theories.  Did these folks become Charismatic/Pentecostal because of their susceptibility to uncritically believe anecdotes?  Or did their tendency to uncritically believe anecdotes develop as a result of being in a Charismatic/Pentecostal form of Christianity?  Or is the correlation merely a product of my own perception?  I don't know, but please don't ostracize me for asking.


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