Got this in yesterday:
Hello Mr. Shore. Thanks for your writing—I find your ideas inspirational. I have what is probably an obvious question, but I have yet to truly understand the answer. I’m curious how fundamentalists, who take the Bible as the literal word of God, are able to rationalize only adhering to certain of the Bible’s tenants. For instance, how did they become so focused on the rules around sexuality, but not around slavery, clothing, etc.? What is the rhetorical mechanism/rationalization that allows them to justify living by only some of the rules, yet get a free pass on the others? I mean no disrespect; what one chooses to believe is their right. I’m just wondering how a literalist would justify and defend against charges of hypocrisy. If it makes any difference, I’m a secular humanist Jew living in Boston, and am trying to understand all this. Many thanks for any insights, observations or resources. Best, T.
What a great question.
Here’s what I think it’s like inside the mind of a guy who’s a fundamentalist:
Hey, who turned out the lights?
Wait. Sorry. Lemme try again.
My sister is hot.
Sorry. Unforgivable joke. Sorry.
One more time.
I like my children’s Bible just fine. Lookit all the pictures!
Wait. This is getting ridiculous.
Check it out! If I get naked, I can count to twenty-one!
Okay, this failed.
Let me just try the more normal approach to answering this.
Obviously, for fundamentalists it’s not really about critical thinking. It’s about a very conditional emotional security. Mainly of course through the influence of his culture and upbringing, the fundamentalist has ultimately surrendered himself to the considerable seductive powers of the simplistic.
It’s so easy not to think. It hurts to read, concentrate, analyze, logically process—especially if your education has left you without a lot of the tools for engaging in that sort of endeavor. No one enjoys riding in a car with flat tires and lousy steering. Better just to stay where you are.
Venturing outside the neighborhood in which you are comfortable can also take a bit more courage than most people are inclined to muster. It’s scary to wander away from everything you’ve known and been taught.
The fundamentalist goes: “Any fool can question and doubt. But you start using questions to punch holes in the house that is your belief, and pretty soon you might as well be outside. Others may not know what they believe, but I do. I know what I believe; I know what my family believes; I know what my pastor believes; I know what everybody at my church believes. Let others pick God apart, whittling Him down till He’s no bigger than they are. Let them set sail on waters so choppy they can’t do anything but get tossed this way and that, and go nowhere. My boat is sturdy; my waters are calm.
“Keep your endless questions; I’ll take God. And the Bible is the pure and uncomplicated word of God. Believe that—believe in the simple, righteous message of the Bible—and be saved. Doubt it, and good luck staying off that slippery slope straight down to hell.”
The Christian true fundamentalist denies any hypocrisy inherent in his belief system by simply refusing to acknowledge that there is anything inherently contradictory in the Bible. Asking the fundamentalist to apply logic to his or her belief system is like asking a cat to fetch your slippers. Not going to happen. Not in the nature of the beast.
To the Christian fundamentalist, questions pointing to any kind of inherent problems with taking the Bible literally reveal but one thing: the person doing the questioning doesn’t have the Holy Spirit. If they did, they’d be so full of knowledge and certainty they’d have no reason to ask any questions at all.
* * *
Lest anyone think I’m too harshly anti-fundamentalists: A bit o’ fundy love, to name just one such piece.