If you’ve spent any time at all reading about creationism online, you’ll be familiar with the infuriating experience of attempting to have a reasonable conversation on the subject. Creationists are notorious for quote mining, for a seemingly wilful ability to misinterpret the clearest of arguments, for ad hominem attacks, and for repeating the same arguments after they’ve been addressed. This has been so widely observed that it’s led to the internet adage that arguing with a creationist is like playing chess with a pigeon: They’ll knock over the pieces, crap on the board, and then strut about clucking like they won.
What’s really interesting, though, is seeing creationists use these same tactics on each other. I first observed this when I was a kid, and I should have seen through the whole enterprise back then.
My family got internet access for the first time in 1996 or 1997. I remember excitedly going online for the first time to hunt for web sites about my favourite thing in the world, Christian rock music. We had a 28.8k connection, and the modem sounded like this:
[TRIGGER WARNING: NOSTALGIA]
This was when search engines were rubbish and most Christian rock bands didn’t even have websites yet, so the only thing I could find was a page called Christian Rock: Blessing or Blasphemy. I began reading, initially confident that, like any sensible person, the writer would conclude that Christian rock was a powerful tool for spreading the Gospel. And the more I read, the more upset I became, until by the end my skin was hot with anger and I could hardly stand the injustice of what I was reading.
It wasn’t that the author believed Christian rock was evil. I could have handled that. It was that the author, Terry Watkins, constantly and (it seemed to me) deliberately distorted what Christian rock artists said in order to make them look worse. Incredibly, the page is still online, unchanged from how I remember it back then.
Watkins’ description of every artist is a work of distortion and mendacity, so I’ll pick a few that particularly offended me back in the day.
One of [Steve] Taylor’s songs is amazingly titled “Jesus Is For Losers“. What a BLATANT and WICKED contradiction to the words of the Lord Jesus Christ!
The title of “Jesus is for Losers” is, obviously, a play on words. Rather than the negative connotation usually associated with the phrase, Taylor is saying that, if you are a loser (as, to Taylor, we all are), then Jesus is the answer. I couldn’t believe then and I can’t believe now that Terry Watkins didn’t see this.
Steve Taylor known for his mockery of the church, in his song “This Disco (Used to be a Cute Cathedral)”, about a church that is turned into a disco:
Sunday needs a pick-me-up?
Here’ your chance
Do you get tired of the same old square dance?
Allemande right now, all join hands
Do-si-do to the promised boogieland
Got no need for altar calls
Sold the altar for the mirror balls
Again, Taylor is satirising. He think that churches which have replaced altar calls with glamour have missed the Gospel. He agrees with the author of this article.
Ecclesiastes 1:9 says, ” . . .there is NO NEW THING under the sun.” But that was before dc Talk came along, as they sing, “God is doin’ a NU THANG through our music” (they can’t spell either!).
Here, Watkins is doing what fundamentalists call “proof texting”. The logic goes like this:
- Every verse of the Bible is the Word of God.
- The Bible contains no contradictions or errors.
- Therefore, if you can find any Bible verse to support your claim, you have proved your point.
But I knew, and Watkins must have known that DC Talk’s song was based on a Bible verse. Isaiah 43:19:
Behold, I will do a new thing; now it shall spring forth; shall ye not know it? I will even make a way in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert.
If I’d been a bit brighter, it would have made me question the entire practice of proof texting. But I wasn’t, and it didn’t.
The entire page is like this. And the crazy thing is, the whole argument is irrelevant. Terry Watkins believes that Christian rock is wrong in principle, so these specific arguments are meaningless anyway. I didn’t come up against another example of fundamentalist mud-slinging until a couple of years later…
I found Hank Hanegraaff’s Christianity in Crisis in the shop where I bought all my Christian CDs. It promised to be an expose of the Word of Faith movement, so I flicked through it in the shop. Again, I found my skin prickling with fury. I had grown up with those beliefs. I recognised the quotations used, because I’d heard the original sermons. Sometimes the quotes were out of context, and sometimes it was just that Hanegraaff’s interpretations bore no relation to what I understood from the same words. I knew what the Word of Faith was; I knew what my church, my family, and I believed. And this wasn’t it. Hanegraaff told me that, as a member of the Faith Movement, I believed that I was a god, and that God himself was small and weak. I had no idea what he was talking about.
Nowadays, attacks from conservative Christians on the Word of Faith always leave me with a headache, because it’s hard to believe how much wrong can be packed into such a small space. As you know, I am now firmly of the belief that the Faith Movement, as it’s also known, is harmful and wrong. There are a thousand reasons to condemn it. Somehow the fundamentalists who do criticise it manage to avoid all of those good reasons, and offer total bullshit instead.
What do we make of all this?
I think we conclude that here is the harm of fundamentalism: it can force people into unreasonable thought patterns. In these arguments, it is more important to win then it is to be honest. That’s not a helpful way to get through life.