Fundamentalists Treat Christianity Like It Is Just Another Religion

It is often interesting to note the disconnect between the explicit claims a group makes and what their stances and attitudes imply in practice.

Take for instance the viewpoint (widely held among fundamentalists) that their Scripture, understood to be inerrant divinely-revealed truth, can be taken as the starting point, an assumption to which everything else must be subjected.

They think that in doing so they are defending Christianity, in the conservative form that they understand it. But they are doing precisely the opposite.

You see, anyone can start by merely assuming that a particular text is divinely revealed. If you do so, you will always find ways of harmonizing apparent discrepancies, and anything external to the text that conflicts with it can be dismissed as a demonic lie.

And since anyone can do that, and the conservatives of many religious traditions do precisely that, when conservative Christians approach the Bible this way, they are in fact communicating that their own religion is no different than any other. It is merely the same circular reasoning applied to one particular sacred text rather than another, but no different in kind.

If you really want to claim that Christianity is distinctive, then you have to live as though you actually believe it. And that means not merely assuming that it is, but believing that it can be shown to be distinctive when investigated skeptically, without assuming what needs to be proven.

You are obviously free to continue arguing in circles. But if you don’t have the faith to actually treat your belief system as different, then do not be surprised that others have the impression that your religion is just one more conservative religious system among others, and not worth taking more seriously than any other.

If you really believe Christianity deserves better, then show it. As one meme image I saw several times during the past year says, if your faith is capable of moving mountains, then it is surely capable of withstanding criticism – and holding up under skeptical scrutiny.

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  • John Hawthorne

    James: I’ve enjoyed reading your stuff over the past few months. But this is one of the finest things I’ve seen on the blog. It’s not mean to Fundamentalists (at least to me) and explains why faith is too significant for reduction to easy talking points.

  • jesuswithoutbaggage

    Well said! This is one of my favorite posts of the month.

    • James F. McGrath

      I was really touched by your comment – until I realized that it was June 1st and this was the only thing I had posted this month! :-)

      • jesuswithoutbaggage

        Ahhh… I did not communicate very well. I did not mean this is among my favorite quotes from YOUR writing; it is among my favorites of all I have read, and I read a lot! Also the month is not the month of June but the last 30 days or so (I keep a record).
        I must speak more clearly. Thanks for the chuckle; it brightened my day! I really do enjoy your posts.

        • James F. McGrath


  • DOH

    Thank you! I am a ‘fundamentalist’ in that I believe the inerrancy of the Bible and I agree that my faith must be able to weather the storms of this life and any mud the opposition may hurl my way. It is the legalists that steal one’s joy!

  • $14834813

    You nailed it! This is exactly WHY so many people don’t take Christianity seriously. Let them defend their faith rather than childishly insisting that we have to believe it or else!

  • Ian

    So the obvious question is, as a progressive Christian, do you believe that Christianity is distinctive? If so in a way could that be demonstrated skeptically?

    I assume not from what you’ve said before, but the question was hanging, so worth asking!

    I suspect that the doctrine of distinctiveness is important to many (though I agree it is a transparent invention), because otherwise the question is why follow it? To which the correct answer (because it is the faith I find most comfort in, the one in who’s culture I am embedded, and with who’s community I surround myself) might seem rather insipid.

    • James F. McGrath

      Well, I would certainly say it is distinctive. But you may be wondering whether I think it is uniquely true or superior, which is a different question. :-)

      • Ian

        But the more important one, surely.

        Particularly if one is not to just erect progressive Christianity as just another dogmatic claim to being right.

        • James F. McGrath

          The more important issue to address, probably, but not the only important question. I think distinguishing the two questions is itself crucial. I think a lot of people find a tradition or worldview helpful and personally meaningful, and jump from there to claims about its universal superiority or exclusive possession of the truth.

          But be that as it may, there is indeed always a risk of simply substituting one dogmatism for another.

          • Ian

            No indeed. I totally appreciate the cultural, community and inspirational grounds for being a part of a religious tradition, even if one doesn’t hold to the creeds of that tradition in an uncontrived way.

            But I do think it is important to be clear about that.

            As it is at the moment, large swathes of people in churches don’t believe in its doctrines in a straightforward way, yet most think they are unusual in that. Many ministers suffer with dressing up their own progressive faith in more rigid language they think their congregants demand. It is rare for churches to be frank and open and welcoming about their members actual state of faith, much less to explicitly value members who lack that faith.

            There is a veneer of talking the talk, which is a lack of honesty, I feel. And that could be dispelled by being more frank within congregations that the function of church is to experience a meaningful tradition, rehearse a religious culture, and to explore the unspeakable through metaphoric language without claims to unique or exclusive truth.

            I’d be very happy to be a member of such a church, but Baptist churches that are comfortable with that are as rare as unicorns, at least here.

          • James F. McGrath

            It’s a pity you don’t live nearer! :-)

            I appreciate your points very much. One reason for being so vocal on my blog about these topics is precisely because there is tendency to allow conservative voices to dominate the discussion, and for others to simply nod along or even use the same language in a manner that does not convey what they actually think. Thanks for being a part of the project! :-)