Faith or Foolishness?

By on January 31, 2014

“But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise.” – 1 Cor. 1:27

I would like to chime in on the incident two weeks ago regarding the preacher that visited UAB’s campus. I believe my colleague, Gerrie Lim, has already done an excellent job snapshotting the student reaction on campus and overall mood of the event, so I’m not going to rehash old points. I have little interest in being a pseudo-apologist and I believe if one were to desire an exhaustive assessment of the preacher’s theological validity, he or she consult Samford University’s theological department.

I do, however, want to hone in on a particular aspect of the fiasco; the disbelief of belief.

Let me elaborate: my fellow students were seemingly disenchanted by not only the instance of the (quite literal) Bible thumper, but the fact that he could have actually believed in what he was saying.

On Tuesday (first of three consecutive days), after he acquiesced to UAB Campus Police, he decided again that he would proselytize on the sidewalk, near the crosswalk to the Humanities Building. The irony. As his stilted voice pricked the usually subdued bustle of class transitions, students began to linger. Over time, he seemed to be employing some sort of magnetic device that mesmerized students who came within his field. By 1:30 PM that day, he was no longer a misplaced heckler, whose archaic views made him a source of free entertainment for the afternoon. Instead, he became a mini cultural phenomenon, robustly challenging the status quo.

Why do I say “mini cultural phenomenon?” Well, for one, he was seen and heard. I’m a junior, and in my experience here, I have observed this to be a pretty static campus. Folks go to class, go to work, study at Sterne, take part in extracurricular resume builders, party with their private circles on the weekend, and repeat the cycle weekly until Starbucks becomes the elixir of sanity during finals week. I’m not saying that nothing happens on campus (although relatively speaking I could argue that, and maybe that’s not a bad thing), but I will assert that this campus is not confrontational, especially when it comes to belief systems, whether they be political or religious in nature.

So Mr. Lapelly, preaching the gospel of stringent holiness, with his endless argumentative appeals to authority, was sort of an exotic exhibit on campus. Students ogled him with a type of childlike awe that parallels the zombie-esque gaze that drapes over kindergarteners’ faces the first time they experience the IMAX at the McWane Center. From his tortured hermeneutics of scripture by even conservative standards, to his politically incorrect and insensitive slandering and name-calling, to his all-too-eerily-serene wife who looked as if she had been animated from the lines of Giotto’s Madonna and Child, his fundamentalist tirade was bespectacled within the mind’s eye of bypassers who quickly became bystanders.

So what’s the point? Aside from being entertaining, asserting that 90% of the campus was going to hell, or proclaiming with all genuine sternness that “premarital hand holding”  is a sin, why did Mr. Lapelly draw so many students? I have a theory. It was his conviction.

Although the ardent, misdirected evangelism was a strenuous test for free speech, it inadvertently highlighted a possible apprehension in the culture of my peers: the right to unrelenting conviction. Whether motivated by unfeigned faith in an inaccessible or mischaracterized God (to some), or driven by the foolishness of filthy lucre extracted from a rousing, his strident message entranced the interest of many. It’s because he’s becoming an endangered species.

Reared in a world where polarized opinions or beliefs are the source of all evil, it can be posited that we Millennials have been socialized in a society that implicitly teaches us that “extreme is bad and regressive,” and to “relent and to qualify is good and progressive,” although most assuredly, this stark conclusion could be a generalization based on anecdotal evidence.

So in a case where Mr. Lapelly’s conviction heavily tended toward extreme, we were confronted with the option to either defy an errant gospel that was completely devoid of the love of God, or abstain from needless contention, and most definitely, we were compelled to interact with a person untenably committed to foolish faith or faithful foolishness, declaring his own gospel of misguided courage, without fearing any backlash.

His utter foolishness confounded us, the alleged wise of the present-future world, for he may have shown us–or we may glean from him–the catalyst to the progress to which we are so endeared: he showed us courage that we may soon find ourselves in need of.

Moreover, such a courage can only be termed as conviction comprised of equal parts “faith,” and equal parts “foolishness.”

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