Fundies Don't Read! (Creeping Fundamentalism VIII)

hall_o_fundiesAn essay by the Rev. Dr. Giles Fraser in Monday’s Guardian begins on a promising enough note: he criticizes BBC2 host Nick Page for describing Prime Minister Tony Blair as a Christian fundamentalist.

Fraser writes:

Page is right to highlight the fact that Christian fundamentalism is creeping into the heart of middle England. But to describe the prime minister as a fundamentalist is flippant nonsense that seriously misplaces the meaning of the term. Using the F-word as a generalised insult for all those with religious convictions allows the real thing to slip by unchallenged.

So far so good.

But later there is this jaw-dropping bit of provincialism:

It is no coincidence that fundamentalism flourishes in places of low literacy. The US Bible belt is not a place where books are commonly read for pleasure or enlightenment: information comes from the radio and TV. For all their emphasis on the sacred text, fundamentalists are generally unfamiliar with the culture of books.

Fraser nowhere defines the boundaries of the Bible belt, or how he has determined the reading habits of fundamentalists. GetReligion decided to conduct a quick and nonscientific survey: Consulting Amazon’s Purchase Circles to survey the great divide of cultural literacy.

Inside the Bible belt

1. Christmas at the Ranch (Texas Heritage Series, No. 1) by Elmer Kelton, H.C. Zachry
2. The Book on Writing: The Ultimate Guide to Writing Well by Paula Larocque
3. Love Is a Wild Assault by Elithe Hamilton Kirkland
4. The Matisse Stories by A.S. Byatt
5. Plants of the Metroplex by John Howard Garrett, Howard Garrett
6. Lincoln at Gettysburg: The Words That Remade America by Garry Wills
7. Tales from the Dallas Cowboys by Charlie Waters, Cliff Harris
8. Lone Star Literature: From the Red River to the Rio Grande: A Texas Anthology by Don Graham (Editor), Larry McMurtry
9. The Lazy Person’s Guide to Investing: A Book for Procrastinators, the Financially Challenged, and Everyone Who Worries About Dealing With Their Money by Paul B. Farrell
10. Texas Almanac 2004-2005

Greenville, S.C.
1. The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom
2. How I Became a Pirate by Melinda Long, David Shannon
3. The Da Vinci Code
4. Dilbert 2004 Day-to-Day Calendar by Scott Adams
5. Absolute Friends by John le Carre
6. The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien
7. The Gnostic Gospels by Elaine Pagels
8. Split Second by David Baldacci
9. Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier
10. The Ultimate Weight Solution: The 7 Keys to Weight Loss Freedom by Phil McGraw

1. The Praktikos Chapters on Prayer by Evagrius Ponticus
2. Wisdom of the Celtic Saints by Edward C. Sellner, Susan McLean-Keeney
3. Gregory of Nyssa: The Life of Moses by Abraham Malherbe
4. Athanasius: The Life of Anthony and the Letter To Marcellinus by Robert C Gregg
5. Goodbye, Little Rock and Roller by Marshall Chapman
6. Celtic Spirituality by Oliver Davies, Thomas O’Loughlin
7. Discipline for Life: Getting it Right with Children
by Madelyn Swift
8. Bernard of Clairvaux: Selected Works, edited by G.R. Evans
9. Meister Eckhart: The Essential Sermons, Commentaries, Treatises, and Defense, edited by Edmund Colledge, Bernard McGinn
10. The Rule of St. Benedict: In English by Benedict, et al

Springfield, Mo.
1. The Complete Far Side: 1980-1994 by Gary Larson
2. Bleachers by John Grisham
3. Shepherds Abiding by Jan Karon
4. Bushwhacked: Life in George W. Bush’s America by Molly Ivins, Lou Dubose
5. The Ultimate Weight Solution
6. Dude, Where’s My Country? by Michael Moore
7. The Automatic Millionaire: A Powerful One-Step Plan to Live and Finish Rich by David Bach
8. The Da Vinci Code
9. The Purpose-Driven Life: What on Earth Am I Here For? by Rick Warren
10. 500 Low-Carb Recipes: 500 Recipes from Snacks to Dessert That the Whole Family Will Love by Dana Carpender

Outside the Bible belt

1. The Dog Lover’s Companion to Chicago: The Inside Scoop on Where to Take Your Dog by Margaret Littman, Phil Frank
2. Outside Magazine’s Urban Adventure: Chicago by Lynn Schnaiberg
3. Bridges of Memory: Chicago’s First Wave of Black Migration by Timuel D. Black
4. City of the Century: The Epic of Chicago and the Making of America by Donald L. Miller
5. The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America by Erik Larson
6. Chicago Then and Now by Elizabeth McNulty
7. Chicago 2004 Calendar by Ron Schramm
8. Christmas at the New Yorker: Stories, Poems, Humor, and Art
9. Bronzeville: Black Chicago in Pictures, 1941-1943 by Maren Stange, International Center of Photography
10. A Guy’s Gotta Eat: The Regular Guy’s Guide to Eating Smart by Russ Klettke, Deanna Conte

New Hyde Park, N.Y.
1. Lidia’s Italian-American Kitchen by Lidia Matticchio Bastianich
2. The Amateur Marriage: A Novel by Anne Tyler
3. The South Beach Diet: The Delicious, Doctor-Designed, Foolproof Plan for Fast and Healthy Weight Loss by Arthur Agatston
4. The Da Vinci Code
5. The Five People You Meet in Heaven
6. The Ultimate Weight Solution
7. A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson
8. Deception Point by Dan Brown
9. The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd
10. Dude, Where’s My Country?

1. The Way We Cook: Recipes from the New American Kitchen by Sheryl Julian, et al
2. Wild & Scenic Oregon 2004 Calendar by Terry Donnelly, Mary Liz Austin
3. Oregon Geographic Names by Lewis McArthur
4. Wildwood: Cooking from the Source in the Pacific Northwest by Cory Schreiber, et al
5. Living Faith Day by Day: How the Sacred Rules of Monastic Traditions Can Help You Live Spiritually in the Modern World by Debra K. Farrington
6. by Kaie Wellman
7. Living in the Presence: Spiritual Exercises to Open Our Lives to the Awareness of God by Tilden H. Edwards
8. B Is for Beaver: An Oregon Alphabet by Marie Smith, Roland Smith
9. Flora: A Gardener’s Encyclopedia by Sean Hogan
10. What’s for Dinner: 200 Delicious Recipes That Work Every Time by Maryana Vollstedt

Washington, D.C.
1. Antarctica: Journey to the Pole by Peter Lerangis
2. Capital Losses: A Cultural History of Washington’s Destroyed Buildings by James M. Goode, Richard Longstreth
3. Best Addresses: A Century of Washington’s Distinguished Apartment Houses by James M. Goode, et al
4. The X-President by Philip E. Baruth
5. The Georgetown Ladies’ Social Club: Power, Passion, and Politics in the Nation’s Capital by C. David Heymann
6. Sugarloaf: The Mountain’s History, Geology and Natural Lore by Melanie Choukas-Bradley, Tina Thieme Brown
7. Mr. Bridge by Evan S. Connell
8. The People’s Catechism: Catholic Faith for Adults by Raymond Lucker, et al
9. Tommy the Cork: Washington’s Ultimate Insider from Roosevelt to Reagan by David McKean
10. One Fish, Two Fish, Crawfish, Bluefish: The Smithsonian Sustainable Seafood Cookbook by Carole C. Baldwin, et al

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  • Mary Kinn

    But it’s true. I went to a Christian family practice residency in Oklahoma, and very few of my patients (or faculty) read books while waiting for me. Here in Massachusetts, a very secular culture, book reading is widely enjoyed and encouraged.

  • Steve

    Wow! What’s happening in Nashville?!?! Evagrious Ponticus! Gregory of Nyssa? Athanasius???? Something serious is going on in the Country Music Capitol of the world!

  • Joe Perez

    The thought that fundies don’t read is absurd. I mean, really. Look how many of them leave flattering remarks in your comment boxes. ;-)

  • Marinda R


    Doesn’t read in the waiting room = doesn’t read? I never read in waiting rooms/at bus stops/on trains, etc. because I hate piecemeal, interrupted reading (and I live in Massachusetts). I wonder if the difference you observe has more to do with Northeast etiquette toward strangers being based on inobtrusiveness as opposed to the social availability so common elsewhere? Just a random thought, it seems such an odd conclusion you’ve drawn.

  • tmatt

    First of all, where is the stupid @ sign on this keyboard here in England?

    Methinks Doug hit a home run with this one. Don’t you? It reminds me of all the brilliant Western Anglican bishops talking about the backward thinking of the African bishops when it turns out that the Africans have far more graduate degrees than their brothers (and sisters) in England and the USA. Doug? Can you find a link to a version of that info somewhere?

    Oh, and Joe: What is your working definition of FUNDAMENTALIST? Just curious.

    tmatt, on a public terminal in Heathrow

  • Mike L. Wood

    Really, can anyone shed any light on why Nashville is reading so many, as another commenter put it, “pre-schism” books? I cannot think of too many good explanations and it doesn’t seem possible that it could be coincidence. Perhaps a large reading club has selected those works?

    By the way–I’m a fundamentalist and I get paid to read and write all day.


  • Mike L. Wood

    And another thing… I find it interesting–and entirely explainable–that Doug would choose Greenville, SC, the place where I am typing right now, as a quintessential fundamentalist town of the Bible Belt.

  • MrAcheson

    Of course all this neglects the most common thing fundamentalists are reading. I’m talking about the Bible of course. Last time I checked bible study was one of the essential concepts of Fundamentalism. Evidentally Frasier doesn’t consider the study of the Bible, Biblical Philosophy, or Theology to be “enlightening”.

  • Karen B

    Great post. Interesting to notice the only duplicates among the cities:

    The DaVinci Code and the Michael Moore book. Hmmm…

  • Warren

    I’m really tired of the Brits bashing American religion, especially fundamentalists.

    Especially when they have no concept of what fundamentalism actually is — especially the differences between historic fundamentalism and modern fundamentalism.

    And I hate it when people repeat words over and over again — especially especially. (lol)

    I was raised modern fundamentalist, and still consider myself an historic fundamentalist. I’m currently in the middle of about ten books, ranging from a history of biblical interpretation to a theological history of the Reformation. I guess I’m just a poor, illiterate fundie after all. Never mind the fact that I live in a very rural community, full of non-Christian people who refuse to read.

    Literacy is not tied to religious belief. Unless you’re a writer with an axe to grind.

  • Douglas LeBlanc

    Hey, Mike, no offense intended in my listing Greenville as a Bible belt city — unless you’re bothered by being listed alongside the classics-loving citizens of Nashville. I was careful to identify Dallas, Greenville, Nashville and Springfield only as cities within the Bible belt. The point of our posting regularly to a category known as Creeping Fundamentalism is to mock the notion of creeping fundamentalism.

  • dw

    Two things.

    First, you left off Tulsa, aka “The Buckle Of The Bible Belt,” which makes an even better case against the Guardian’s broad brush.

    1. The Darkest Night by Jodie Larsen

    2. Tales from the Sooner Sidelines by Jay Upchurch

    3. Letter from Home by Carolyn G. Hart, Carolyn Hart

    4. Breach of Trust: How Washington Turns Outsiders Into Insiders by Tom A. Coburn, John Hart

    5. Woe Is I: The Grammarphobe’s Guide to Better English in Plain English (Expanded) by Patricia T. O’Conner

    6. Death and Justice : An Expose of Oklahoma’s Death Row Machine by Mark Fuhrman

    7. Charles Faudree’s French Country Signature

    by Charles Faudree, et al

    8. Barry Sanders: Now You See Him : His Story in His Own Words by Barry Sanders, et al

    9. How to Read a French Fry: And Other Stories of Intriguing Kitchen Science by Russ Parsons

    10. Bitten (Women of the Otherworld, Book 1)

    by Kelley Armstrong

    Apparently those charismatics and fundamentalists in T-Town sure love non-fiction.

    Second, one thing you’re leaving out is that the author and other “intellectual” types aren’t saying that fundies don’t read and can’t read. What they’re saying is that they’re dumb yokels because they’re not reading the sorts of books that the intellectual elite considers superior to all other printed media. In essence, Okies don’t spend their summers engrossed in Donna Tartt, and therefore they must be hicks and yokels.

    I suffer from some of this myself, mind you. My sister-in-law’s Amazon wish list is filled with chick lit and VC Andrews and Da Vinci Code ripoffs. I think it’s all tripe. But she does read voraciously, probably more than the Guardian author does. To say she is illiterate or aliterate is bigoted.

    Dubya reads quite a bit; he just doesn’t whip out “The Corrections” whenever he has a spare moment.

  • Marion R.

    “[T]he written word is wholly unsuited to the transmission of a single message. A text, particularly one as fecund and multi- layered as the Bible, cannot be ring-fenced. Meaning scatters off the page in a multiplicity of directions.”

    Rev. Dr. Giles Fraser




    10. The indemnifications clause in your rental car contract.

    9. “The following items are not permitted on board the aircraft . . . ”

    8. Article 3(1)(a) of the ‘Geneva Convention relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War’, 12 August 1949.

    7. That note from your wife.

    6. “Every child a wanted child.”

    5. “[T]he written word is wholly unsuited to the transmission of a single message. A text, particularly one as fecund and multi- layered as the Bible, cannot be ring-fenced. Meaning scatters off the page in a multiplicity of directions.”

    4. “This note is legal tender for all debts public and private”

    3. “Lowest prices on Viagra!”

    2. “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

    1. That stop sign you just passed.

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