Stories of Hateful Fundamentalists Coming to a Theater Near You

A new film premiered at Worldfest-Houston, one of the oldest and largest film festivals in the world, caught my interest. It’s called Hell and Mr. Fudge, a feature length film narrating the true story of a young Bible-belt preacher, Edward Fudge.

This curious film takes place in the early 1980s in Alabama and tells the true story of a preacher who changed his mind about hell. Yes, that’s h-e-double toothpicks, as in the place of torment and suffering, the opposite of heaven, the site of perpetual weeping and gnashing of teeth.

The story uses dramatization to play out key moments in Pastor Fudge’s life. A key plot point involves the unexpected death of an “unbelieving” teenager. The shock of his death provoked Pastor Fudge to question whether the destiny of this young man was indeed a place of eternal damnation. Is that what happens to him? Believing the Bible to be absolutely true, he began an intensive Bible study on the doctrine of hell.

What he found changed his view away from traditional ones. While Fudge eventually wrote a 500-plus page tome to argue it out (The Fire that Consumes: A Biblical and Historical Study of the Doctrine of Final Punishment, now in it’s third edition), at the time his conclusions provoked the malice of formerly-congenial brethren. His “heresy” cost him his job and his pulpit.

The specifics of Fudge’s views on hell are not what interest me most.  What does interest me is that such a fairly minor story of doctrinal dispute based on changes in religious conviction can sustain the considerable effort and expense of a mainstream movie. Movies aren’t cheap. Writing, producing, and acting in any film requires a lot of time and a measure of faith in the future of the product. Yet this film is not only professionally produced but also won the 2012 Platinum Award at the Houston International Film Festival in the “Theatrical Feature Film – Christian” category, beating out nearly 5,000 entries. It is an excellent film.

Even more, who is interested in such a quirky theme? I found myself intrigued–and then I quickly thought that the theme of re-working conservative Christian belief and practice may indeed be the order of the day. With so many ex- and former- and too-embarrassed-to-admit- conservative Christians out there today, a story about reacting to conservative doctrine has potential. The angst of working out one’s own convictions in the face of enormous pressures toward standard responses may have a wide base of appeal.

I suggest that this film is important because it highlights that there is an audience for sharing stories of hateful Christian fundamentalism. It immediately provides a counterpoint to the passionate reactions faced by Rob Bell with his recent book Love Wins. It also connects with the imperatives behind Donald Miller’s recent film Blue Like Jazz which also ruminates on the definition of what it means to be a faithful Christian in the face of strict orthodoxy. It also brings to mind news stories of groups like Westboro Baptist Church whose definition of correctness clashes with those of other Christians.

Very few people desire to be a hateful fundamentalist. But I suspect just about everyone has stories to share about them. And the Hollywood industry has more and more Christians who understand the doctrinal and experiential nuances and have the time and talent to craft their stories for a broader audience.

 

Religious Prejudice in Sociology Gets Slammed

In academia, in general, and sociology, in particular, we constantly hear derogatory, prejudicial statements about religion. While it’s easy to just accept this religious prejudice as a given, Christian Smith has written a compelling challenge to it. For his whole essay, click here (page 14). Here are the first several paragraphs:

“The time has come for American sociology to stop being so ignorant and dogmatic about religion. As someone who knows something about the real history, cultures, and organizations of religious traditions, I am regularly appalled by the illiterate prejudices about religion that are routinely expressed by sociologist colleagues. It is embarrassing for our discipline and galling to those who know better.

For example, in a recent Contemporary Sociology book review, the reviewer, a senior sociologist from an Ivy League university, chides a book author for not knowing enough about religion. The reviewer then asserts that the real “net effects of religion and faith” operating “on a macro level” are “a few thousand years of horrible wars, genocide, slavery’s ideology, sexual exploitation, torture, devaluing others as not human, terrorism, and organized hatred.” That opinion is not uncommon—I frequently see and hear it expressed by sociologists.

News flash: this view of religion is so simplistic, ideological, parochial, ill-informed, and historically naïve that it can only be called ignorant or bigoted, or both. It simply parrots the polemics of 18th century skeptical Enlightenment activists and the New Atheists, like Voltaire and Richard Dawkins or Christopher Hitchens (or the combined “Ditchkins”), as if they were historical and scientific fact. It substitutes caricature for scholarship, ideological politics for academic analysis, and understanding. If such sophomoric views were applied to any other area of social life, experts who knew better would laugh and scream…”

Small Enough to Hate: Anti-Muslim American Behavior

I teach at a faith-based university, one that identifies itself as particularly Baptist and broadly Judeo-Christian. What this means exactly is often the subject of much debate, but it’s been clear to me after 8 years of teaching that this identity is not a requirement of the students. Based on student self-report this past Fall there were 74 Buddhist, 98 Hindu, and 117 Muslim students out of 12,575 undergrads. It’s not much but these numbers are large enough for student groups to function and provide support for one another in an environment that may seem somewhat alienating depending on how often they are exposed to the rhetoric of being in a Christian university. As someone who studies race and ethnic relations, the experience of being a minority whether racial or religious often carries with it certain patterns of experience. One doesn’t quite feel fully a part of one’s social surroundings, one is aware that he or she stands out in some ways. (I can say this in particular as a non-white faculty person where all of us account for 11% of 935 fulltimers).

But one of the serious challenges that one faces as a minority is the threat of violence from those who harbor ill feelings toward one’s core identity. This was the case back in 2006, when one of our Muslim students was assaulted on campus. The incident reached major news outlets and became the topic of a televised pseudo-experiment called What Would You Do. (Back then there were 66 Buddhists, 76 Hindus, and 114 Muslims out of 11,831 undergrads in case you were wondering). Perhaps it seems obvious but when one is part of a minority, one is more susceptible to discrimination. But the way this works at least with respect to the 0.6% of Americans who identify themselves as Muslims is a little more complicated.

One of the “most requested” research studies [Read more...]

Those Protestant Muslims Next Door

In a previous post I talked some about the non-Christian religious diversity among Asian Americans, and I mentioned some of the research that shows that since 9/11 most white Christian Americans still know little of their non-Christian friends be they Buddhist, Hindu, or Muslim. Intrepid media makers have tried to address this problem by showcasing life in one of the densely-populated Muslim American areas in the country: Dearborn, MI. The first one (which has been very helpful in the classroom) is the 30 Days experiment by Morgan Spurlock.

David Stacy in 30 Days as a Muslim

For those unfamiliar with this series, director Morgan Spurlock asked his friend David, a white evangelical Christian from West Virginia, to try to spend 30 days as a Muslim in Dearborn. His task is to 1) act according to Muslim traditions including appearance and diet, 2) study the Qur’an daily, and 3) grow a beard. [Read more...]


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