Part of the way I approach life is by challenging assumptions. I always try to start with my own, but I apply the challenge equally to the ideas, beliefs, organizations, and arguments of others. I encourage everyone to do this as a way of sharpening their own views and cultivating their personal growth.
This practice accounts for why I had to move beyond the faith of my fathers. After twenty years in evangelical Christianity, most of which was spent in various forms of ministry, it occurred to me that the underlying assumptions of my faith tradition no longer upheld me spiritually. In some cases, they were even hurting me.
If I had to boil down the evangelical mindset to three basic assumptions, they would be these:
1. It is not ok to be anything less than perfect. You can talk all you want about divine grace or the "messiness" of life, or the belief that God became one of us to sympathize with our human frailty. As wonderful as all that sounds, at the end of the day, God still demands perfection and simply cannot abide with anything less. So, you've either got to be perfect yourself (and none of us are, obviously), or you must attain perfection in Christ, who offers his righteousness in exchange for our sinfulness through "faith."
This story has definite appeal for those who embrace the underlying assumption, but again, at the end of the day, you're still left with a God who demands absolute perfection. Even though this belief provides an effective answer to the proposed problem, it remains problematic itself on a number of levels. Aside from the fact that "perfection" as we understand it (being without flaw or moral defect) is an abstract philosophical concept that does not exist in reality, such a belief is alienating from the person - in this case, God - who demands it. Just ask the older brother of the prodigal son, who apparently lived with this assumption all of his life and was none the better for it. His torment didn't end by exchanging his sinfulness for his father's perfection, but by realizing that his father wasn't demanding perfection to begin with. Good news.
2. Your needs and desires are fundamentally bad. Or, in the words of one oft-quoted verse, "The human heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick" (Jeremiah 17:9). Therefore, self-denial is the order of the day. You can't trust your own body, so you have to depend on outside authorities to tell you what is right and wrong. How much abuse has been perpetuated within Christian circles on the basis of this assumption? Invariably, it leads leads people into all sorts of psychological conundrums, not least of which is an unhealthy repression of their dark side - what Carl Jung referred to as the "shadow" - which passes for selflessness but often results in serious harm being done to both themselves and others at some point down the road.
3. Other worldviews are essentially evil, resulting from and leading to deception. Once a person has been indoctrinated into the faith, especially from childhood, I'll admit that this is an effective way to keep them on the team. As a core belief, however, it stifles genuine curiosity, learning, and creativity. Add to this the fact that it fosters an attitude toward other people that is essentially fearful, bigoted, and stigmatizing, and you have a recipe for social disaster. Many evangelicals try to soften the impact with an emphasis on "tolerance," but such condescension is ultimately not a helpful way of living in harmony with those who see the world differently than you do.
It's hard to get evangelicals to challenge the assumptions they hold, however, because, you know, "The Bible says." But what is the Bible other than a collection of voices composed by multiple authors and compiled by editors over hundreds of years? Not all of those voices convey the same message, you know, but we're supposed to believe that they do.
Quick example: "God is jealous" (Exodus 20:5) v.s. "God is love" (1 John 4:16) v.s. "Love is not jealous" (1 Corinthians 13:4). Which one is it? All the mental gymnastics in the world can't honestly account for such discrepancies. Those who insist that the Bible speaks with a single voice will tell you they can, pointing to the orginal languages or various theological concepts, but the simplest answer is usually correct. The writers of scripture just had different views on certain things.
Accepting this as self-evident is unacceptable to some people, though, because it challenges their assumptions. In order to produce a single "biblical worldview," then, they further assume that God somehow overrode the biblical authors' human limitations, transcending their individual and cultural perspectives to provide one universal, objective truth. This assumption is known as "divine inspiration."
Even if this assumption is true, however, the product of such inspiration is still up for personal interpretation. Not only did the biblical authors write from their own limited viewpoints, but those who read the book today are also coming to the table with their own set of mostly unconscious assumptions. This means that no matter how you look at it, there's no escaping our very limited human subjectivity.
Either way, we end up right back where we started, with "every man doing what is right in his own eyes." Some people just like to believe that their rightness is divine. God bless 'em, I guess.
Here's the irony, though: an individual who fears their own personal subjectivity seeks an objective standard in the collective subjectivity of multiple authors and editors whose own beliefs were spread out over hundreds of years within multiple cultural contexts. In a seemingly noble effort to escape its own subjective viewpoint, the evangelical mind chooses to adopt a mash-up of other people's subjective viewpoints, applying all of the unspoken assumptions outlined here to its application in everyday life and calling it "the word of God."
I'm not saying I don't get it, I'm just saying it doesn't work for me. You do you and I'll do me. Just don't tell me I'm going to hell for being honest and then expect me to not push back.