How wrong? Fractally wrong.

I heard a very evocative description in mid-April, and it has stuck with me.

I believe it involved a religious question, which the speaker could not possibly even begin to answer because the question itself came from premises so false that the resulting question was simply incoherent to him.

He described the question as “fractally wrong.” If you put it under a microscope and zoomed in, you’d find the wrongness pattern repeated over and over again at ever-more-microscopic levels.

I feel as if that might be a useful framing of the difference between Orthodoxy and Evangelicalism (maybe Protestantism more broadly, but I’ve never really been a mainstream Protestant, so I hesitate to say that).

Let’s start off in Eden, Genesis chapters 1-3. I think Evangelicals would see the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil as simply a test God set up to see if humans would obey; He never wanted them to know evil at all. In contrast, I think Orthodoxy sees it as something there for humans — eventually, like when they had prepared and were ready for it.

But they jumped the gun, eating of that tree when they were not yet ready (and God hadn’t green-lighted it), requiring that they be removed from the Tree of Life lest they live forever in their fallen state. That’s Orthodox. Or maybe they disobeyed God, requiring the punishment of banishment. That’s Evangelical.

Sin is like crime (Evangelical) or like cancer (Orthodox), requiring, respectively, punishment or healing.

We inherit sin from our parents and are wicked right from the womb, deserving God’s wrath (Evangelical); or we inherit mortality, and the fear of death, which inevitably leads us into reactive behaviors including sin — missing God’s mark. (Orthodox).

And so on and so forth. I’ll soon be above my pay grade if I’m not already.

Thus if Evangelicalism is wrong, and I absolutely think it is, it’s fractally wrong. We don’t even share premises, let alone answers.

That, along with Orthodox reliance on intuitive modes of knowing, makes fruitful discourse, like questions and answers, very difficult.

I know this because I’ve been Evangelical and have analyzed our miscommunication a bit. Other Orthodox may have experienced it, but more with bafflement. They and Evangelicals may both be making the provincial mistake that H. Richard Niebuhr identified: “There is no greater barrier to understanding than the assumption that the standpoint which we happen to occupy is a universal one.”

The only way out of it may be for the Evangelicals to “come and see,” though if they do they’re rather likely to leave Evangelicalism.


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