The all-or-nothing lie of fundamentalist Christianity (part 1)

I wound up having a lot of fun at the Slacktivixen’s 25th high school reunion. It was kind of like going to a wedding reception without the wedding beforehand — a big, friendly party where everyone just happened to be one year younger than me and a lapsed Catholic. Good times.

I think 25th reunions are more relaxed than 10th or 15th reunions, where some folks are still competing and comparing. By your 25th, everybody can admit they’re on Plan B or Plan C in life and no one seems to have the desire or energy to pretend otherwise. (Church, I think, should be more like a 25th reunion in that regard.)

I haven’t been back to Jersey for any class reunions or homecomings in a long time, but hearing all those stories of the ‘vixen’s high school years got me thinking again of my alma mater, Timothy Christian School.

TCS, which I attended from third grade all the way through high school, is a fundamentalist private school. It’s not “evangelical,” but full-on fundie. I’m talking a literal reading of an inerrant, infallible King James Version Bible, with young-earth creationism taught in science classes and Hal Lindsey and Josh McDowell books used as textbooks in Bible class. It was about as effing undie as fundie can be.

And that meant I was taught the very same house-of-cards construct of faith that I’ve often criticized here.

Fundamentalist Christianity is a package deal — an inseparable, all-or-nothing bundle of teachings and ideology that says every piece depends on every other piece. If any one piece of it isn’t true, fundamentalism insists, then it all falls apart and none of it is true.

That’s a cruel construct that sets you up for a miserable future. It guarantees an eventual crisis of faith that can lead either to a lifetime of white-knuckled denial and desperate pretense or to the abandonment of the whole enchilada.

Viewed from the outside, this all-or-nothing claim doesn’t make much sense. From the outside, the separate components of fundamentalism’s package deal do appear separate and separable. From the outside, it just seems kind of silly to insist that, for example, belief in the Golden Rule requires and is somehow dependent on belief that the universe is only 6,000 years old.

But from the inside, within fundamentalism, this all-or-nothing message is pounded home again and again with such frequency and urgency that it seems true to those shaped by that world. Belief in Jesus, in forgiveness, or in faith, hope and love, really does come to seem contingent and dependent upon all those other beliefs in inerrancy, literalism, creationism, and whichever weird American variant of eschatology your particular sub-group of fundies subscribes to.

And that means, for those shaped by fundamentalism, that belief in Jesus, faith, hope and love are all constantly imperiled by even fleeting glimpses of reality. Some such glimpse will eventually penetrate the protective fundie shell — the recognition that maybe all sedimentary rocks didn’t come from Noah’s flood, the realization that the Synoptic Gospels can’t be easily “harmonized,” the attempt to evangelize some Hellbound Episcopalian that results in them getting the better of the conversation. And when that happens, the whole edifice threatens to topple like some late-in-the-game Jenga tower.

At that point, the reality-punctured fundie is trained to believe they have only two choices. Either they can fiercely decide to pretend it never happened and that they never caught such a glimpse — thus becoming the sort of person who is increasingly capable of such pretense and denial. Or they can chuck it all and embrace the nihilism and meaninglessness that they were always taught was the only alternative to this fragile fundie faith.

We were taught that at TCS too. Such all-or-nothing fundamentalism was what we were constantly told was true.

But we were also shown something healthier.

This was, I think, an accident — an unintended fluke of providence or luck. But for me and for others who were shaped by Timothy Christian, it was a saving grace. It was something that equipped us and enabled us to escape the all-or-nothing lie at the center of the house-of-cards fundie faith.

In part 2, I’ll discuss what this saving grace was, and why it mattered for me even if, at the time, I barely noticed it.

(Part 2 of this post is here.)

  • http://twitter.com/WayofCats WayofCats

    I never realized it at the time, but my 7th grade fundie school had the same approach; at least in Part 1. Since I was already familiar with “my way or the highway” it didn’t even register.

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

    Well, yes. That’s what it means to endorse, not just an idiosyncratic ontology or ethics, but an idiosyncratic epistemology.

    That is, if we disagree about what exists in the world, or about what right action consists of, we can agree or disagree piecemeal. But if we disagree about how I can know things, the result is necessarily an all-or-nothing construct: to challenge any piece of it as false, or even as unknown, is implicitly to challenge its epistemological underpinnings, which in turn challenges everything that rests on them.

  • lowtechcyclist

    “At that point, the reality-punctured fundie is trained to believe they
    have only two choices. Either they can fiercely decide to pretend it
    never happened and that they never caught such a glimpse — thus becoming
    the sort of person who is increasingly capable of such pretense and
    denial. Or they can chuck it all and embrace the nihilism and
    meaninglessness that they were always taught was the only alternative to
    this fragile fundie faith.”

    Man, even after all the years I spent hanging around with various types of fundies and evangelicals, I’d never realized how fundamentally cruel fundamentalism is.  I mean, I’d heard the “you’ve got to believe it all, or none of it” line, but even when I was a young Christian in my teens, it just struck me as too incredible to believe; I couldn’t even believe that the people who were feeding me this line believed it themselves.

  • rrhersh

    “Viewed from the outside, this all-or-nothing claim doesn’t make much sense.”

    On the other hand, I have more than a few times had the discussion/argument with an atheist in which the atheist insists that as a Christian I am obliged to espouse the most damnfool reading of the Bible imaginable.  My declining to do so typically provokes a response either that I am not a real true Christian, or I am weaseling.  My pointing out the many centuries of such readings seldom makes much of an impression.

    Now, it is entirely possible that some of these disputants are former fundamentalists.  (Garrison Keillor observed, IIRC, that in Lake Wobegon even the atheists are Catholic or Lutheran:  they all don’t believe in God, but it is distinctively the Catholic or the Lutheran God they don’t believe in.)  In this model, the former fundie Christian becomes a fundie Atheist, never imagining that there is anything in between. 

    I have, however, known the background of enough to know that this is not the only explanation.  Some have never been part of any organized or quasi-organized religion.  Everything they know about Christianity they learned from popular media.  In this model, they look at whatever damnfool stuff filters through popular media, observe that it is damnfool, and fail to consider the idea that the media filter is selective about what it lets through, or that most everything is pretty damnfool once it works its through the popular media filter.  Once that idea gets lodged in their heads, there is nothing for it, for those who are pretty darned damnfool themselves.

  • ReverendRef

    From the outside, it just seems kind of silly to insist that, for
    example, belief in the Golden Rule requires and is somehow dependent on
    belief that the universe is only 6,000 years old.

    I personally would have gone with . . . is somehow dependent on belief that Adam, Eve, Cain and Abel were literally the only four people on the earth, but Cain managed to find a wife elsewhere bit.  But the point is the same.

    the attempt to evangelize some Hellbound Episcopalian

    Yeah . . . lotta good that did me, as I got myself ordained into said church.  Oh well, I’ll take pushing “all means ALL” over a very special exclusive brand of heaven any day.

  • Madhabmatics

     It’s as old as the hills, peep this section of a Chesterton essay on american morality:

    “By righteousness she means, of course, the
    narrow New England taboos; but she does not know it. For the inference she
    draws is that we should recognize frankly that `the standard abstract right
    and wrong is moribund.’ This statement will seem less insane if we consider,
    somewhat curiously, what the standard abstract right and wrong seems to mean
    – at least in her section of the States. It is a glimpse of an incredible world.

    She takes the case of a young man brought up `in a home where there was an
    attempt to make dogmatic cleavage of right and wrong.’ And what was the
    dogmatic cleavage? Ah, what indeed! His elders told him that some things were
    right and some wrong; and for some time he accepted this strange assertion.
    But when he leaves home he finds that, `apparently perfectly nice people do
    the things he has been taught to think evil.’ Then follows a revelation. `The
    flowerlike girl he envelops in a mist of romantic idealization smokes like an
    imp from the lower regions and pets like a movie vamp. The chum his heart
    yearns towards cultivates a hip-flask, etc.’ And this is what the writer
    calls a dogmatic cleavage between right and wrong!

    The standard of abstract right and wrong apparently is this. That a girl by
    smoking a cigarette makes herself one of the company of the fiends of hell.
    That such an action is much the same as that of a sexual vampire. That a
    young man who continues to drink fermented liquor must necessarily be `evil’
    and must deny the very existence of any difference between right and wrong.
    That is the `standard of abstract right and wrong’ that is apparently taught
    in the American home. And it is perfectly obvious, on the face of it, that it
    is not a standard of abstract right or wrong at all. That is exactly what it
    is not. That is the very last thing any clear-headed person would call it. It
    is not a standard; it is not abstract; it has not the vaguest notion of what
    is meant by right and wrong. It is a chaos of social and sentimental
    accidents and associations, some of them snobbish, all of them provincial,
    but, above all, nearly all of them concrete and connected with a
    materialistic prejudice against particular materials. To have a horror of
    tobacco is not to have an abstract standard of right; but exactly the
    opposite. It is to have no standard of right whatever; and to make certain
    local likes and dislikes as a substitute.”

  • esmerelda_ogg

    I’d never realized how fundamentally cruel fundamentalism is.

    Oh, believe it. I spent several years in my early teens terrified of hellfire because I just couldn’t swallow everything my church claimed – and if you believed logic or evidence over the King James, then God was just waiting to say “Gotcha! You’re going down.” (Besides, I was also told that I was sure to go to hell for playing cards with my grandmother. Even at ten, that seemed like overreacting.)

    Life is much better as one of them there Hellbound Episcopalians, where the base assumption is that God loves you.

  • Carstonio

    Some have never been part of any organized or quasi-organized religion. 
    Everything they know about Christianity they learned from popular
    media.

    I admit that part of my own knowledge about Christianity came from the media. Also, I refuse to inquire about other people’s beliefs out of respect for their personal boundaries, so I only learn about people’s religious affiliations if they volunteer these. And the vast majority of the time, these are people interested in recruiting others. So most of the Christians I know are probably non-fundamentalist and I’m simply not aware of it.

    But ultimately non-fundamentalist religion of any sort doesn’t make sense to be. The expectations that I perceive from them seem deceptively mild, and I’ve learn from sad experience that there are too many people whose expectations are never going to be satisfied. I attended UU services for a couple of years, and even there I wondered at first if these folks were really strongly doctrinaire and I had misunderstood. I don’t remember whether I scanned their bookshelves for telltale copies of Duane Gish and Hal Lindsey, but I can imagine myself doing that.

    Even when I’ve volunteered for secular organizations, it has often felt that they wanted me to be involved as much as possible. I perceived myself, perhaps inaccurately, as having to either please the volunteers or please my wife, or risk getting one or both angry at me. And my wife isn’t quick to anger, and neither were the volunteers, and of course my wife would come first if I had to choose between her and the volunteer group. Since religion appeared to involve expectations for me or my behavior, it seemed reasonable to me to worry about a similar conflict. The theology or the organization could increasingly demand that I put it first over everything else in my life, particularly since the former involves a being of immense power whose Old Testament resumé doesn’t inspire comfort.

  • MelodicC

    @rrhersh “In this model, the former fundie Christian becomes a fundie Atheist, never imagining that there is anything in between.”

    Thank you. I’m a liberal Christian that recognizes discrepancies. Talking to my Atheist sister, her attitude is very “if this part of the bible is untrue, how can you believe any of it is?” How do you explain to this mindset that that is not the point of the Bible. It’s a collection of genres non of which were meant to be historical or scientific.

  • Jill H

    “Fundamentalist Christianity is a package deal…”I will be reading this post in chunks over days–holy mackerel! I find it near impossible to explain to outsiders the depth to which fundie indoctrination affects your ability to hold concepts like faith, hope, salvation, compassion, etc. in your body after you’ve abandoned fundie religion. Fundamental, literalist, legalistic faith is severe– there’s just no other way to classify it. And it severely impacts your life when you are raised to structure your life around and on it. The trappings of my once-severe faith have been gone for nearly 2 decades, but the residual emotions and synaptic pathways are still alive and kicking, especially since I’ve decided to re-examine Christianity for myself. It’s like I’m running a metal detector over a minefield. All kinds of fun…

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

     

    How do you explain to this mindset that that is not the point of the
    Bible. It’s a collection of genres non of which were meant to be
    historical or scientific.

    One place to start is to talk to them about your own experiences with the Bible, and whether there’s anything special about the Bible in those experiences. If there is, you can talk to them about what that special thing is, and what makes the Bible special in that way. (If there isn’t, then perhaps you can explain why you pay the Bible any particular attention at all, and whether you believe anyone else ought to.)

  • LL

    Hal Lindsey used as a textbook? (shakes head)

    Your parents and that school owe you an apology.

  • rrhersh

    My usual approach (which meets with only limited success) is to expand on the “genre” bit by using passages which are obviously metaphorical.  Even most fundamentalists who insist on a “literal” reading of the Bible understand that “The Lord is my shepherd” is a metaphor, even if they will refuse to use that word.  If your interlocutor can accept that this passage is metaphorical, you can then discuss what literary genre (e.g. lyric poetry) it falls into.  Once that door is open, you can discuss the genre of various other passages. 

    Persuade your interlocutor that “Near Eastern creation myth” is a genre, and you are practically home free.  The difficulty is that while lyric poetry has an unbroken tradition from the ancient world to the present day, Near Eastern creation myths do not.  Not only did people stop writing them, they forgot how to read them–or that they even existed–until they were rediscovered in the 19th century.  The opening of Genesis is the notable exception, and much confusion derives from its literary context having been forgotten.   The Psalm being a lyric poem is immediately obvious.  The genre of the opening of Genesis, on the other hand, is much more subject to misunderstanding, with much wackiness ensuing

  • Andrew Wyatt

    rrhersh: It sounds like the atheists you’re discussing/arguing with are fairly poor at reasoning, or at least at elucidating the reasons for skepticism.  Saying to someone, “How can you not believe in Creationism? You’re a Christian!,” strikes me as a classic example of “category as cudgel.” Speaking as an atheist, I wouldn’t presume to tell anyone what they do or don’t “actually” believe, or judge whether that jibes with the category in which they profess membership.
    I think the correct criticism that atheism has vis-a-vis the baby of Christian ethics and doctrines and bathwater of goofy “Biblical literalism” is this: The atheist rejects the Bible as an authority. We don’t see it as providing much of anything useful, whether on topic of cosmology *or* ethics, and we see no reason why it would be afforded any more authority than one would normally grant to the highly edited anthology of loosely connected Bronze/Iron Age literature that it is.

    If there’s a good working, expansive definition of “Christian” that tends to capture all the people who would self-affix the label, it’s probably “People Who Think the Bible is Special and Important”.  Atheists see no reason to afford it such specialness and importance.

  • EllieMurasaki

    If there’s a good working, expansive definition of “Christian” that tends to capture all the people who would self-affix the label, it’s probably “People Who Think the Bible is Special and Important”.

    Relies on a specific understanding of the word ‘Bible’. Lots of people think the Tanakh is special and important but have no particular feelings about the New Testament, other than perhaps frustration at the common belief that the Tanakh is the prequel to the New Testament. And while I know the Tanakh and the New Testament aren’t as important to Muslims as the Qu’ran is, I do have the distinct impression that they are still important–there’s got to be a reason Christians and Jews are [supposed to be] treated with respect as fellow People of the Book, respect that members of non-Abrahamic religions and no religion don’t get [at least not for that reason], right?

    As usual I don’t know how to categorize Mormons. Are they still Christian now that Romney’s lost?

  • Andrew Wyatt

    Well, let’s say, “People Who Think the Bible–Consisting of the Old and New Testament–Is Special and Important to the Exclusion of All Other Texts”. That excludes Jews who don’t regard the New Testament as Important as the Tanakh, and Muslims and Mormons, who regard later texts as arguably more Important, perfect, or final. Still leaves plenty of room for sects to argue over what are OT/NT apocrypha what aren’t.

    Of course, I’m not keen on applying such categories myself, as I noted. It’s all the same ball of wax to this atheist anyway. People can call themselves whatever they want, but when their belief systems distill down to “non-rational” it just blurs together for me.

  • aproustian

    I’m an atheist not least in part because I choose “nothing.” It took a few years of transitioning before I knew that it really wasn’t a choice for nihilism–it never felt like it was, but hey, you grow up learning one thing…

    I remember when one of my sisters (who is now a very liberal Christian) told me how jealous she was that I didn’t have to worry about reconciling things like dinosaurs and the age of the universe and the Bible.

  • http://lliira.dreamwidth.org/ Lliira

    There are fundies of every kind. People get fundie over sports teams, ffs. Most atheists are not fundies, though certainly a high percentage of internet ones seem to be. But then, a high percentage of any internet anything seems to be fundie. 

  • http://lliira.dreamwidth.org/ Lliira

    The atheist rejects the Bible as an authority. We don’t see it as providing much of anything useful

    Speak for yourself there. While I reject the Bible as an authority, the idea that one of the most important documents in the world, historically-speaking, cannot provide anything useful, makes me want to scream. 

    Not to mention that I do in fact find some very valuable ethical tales in the Bible. Some of them are likely not meant to have the lessons I take from them, but that does not matter. They are stories. Good stories are always “useful”. Good poetry is always “useful”. History is always “useful”. 

    Any time any atheist says “atheists believe”, it never ends well. One of the points of being an atheist is not to believe stuff just because other people believe it. Maybe my belief in this is why I tend to get along so much better with most left-wing religious people than with most atheists, at least atheists on the internet; left-wing religious people don’t tell me what I supposedly believe.

  • esmerelda_ogg

    “People Who Think the Bible–Consisting of the Old and New
    Testament–Is Special and Important to the Exclusion of All Other Texts”

    Um, I would say it’s more accurate to define “generic Christian” as someone who thinks Jesus is* supremely special and important.  That still doesn’t settle the question of Mormonism (though as I understand it, from an LDS point of view they are Christians), but it does clear up any confusion about Jews, Moslems, and others.

    *Present tense verb deliberately chosen, since by our beliefs he continues to be a living man/God.

  • http://lliira.dreamwidth.org/ Lliira

    I’m an atheist. I think the Bible is Special and Important. So is the Bhagavad Gita, the Qu’uran, and etc. Anyone who dismisses documents that have influenced cultures for thousands of years as unimportant is someone I have a serious problem with.

  • Andrew Wyatt

    Anyone who dismisses documents that have influenced cultures for thousands of years as unimportant is someone I have a serious problem with.

    Well, I wouldn’t dismiss the “importance” of those documents in an objective historical sense, I have no doubt we’d be a lot better off if we disregarded whatever backwards lessons they allegedly impart regarding the right way to live. One is much better off relying on one’s own moral judgment.

  • Andrew Wyatt

    I suppose I should say, “As an atheist, I reject the Bible as an authority. I son’t see it as providing much of anything useful. ”

    As for its utility as an artifact historical or aesthetic object, I’m not really denying that in any sweeping way. When I say, “useful,” I mean it in the context of Fred’s original post: as a text from which one might draw conclusions about the nature of God and lessons about morally correct action in daily life.  Fred self-identifies as an evangelical Christian, so I think it’s safe to assume he doesn’t regard the Bible’s only/primary value as historical/aesthetic.

  • EllieMurasaki

    I have no doubt we’d be a lot better off if we disregarded whatever backwards lessons they purport to impart regarding the right way to live. One is much better off relying on one’s own moral judgment.

    I want very badly to agree with you. The trouble is there are a great many people who think that atheists have no morals because atheists have no religion and morals come from religion; at least some of these people specify that they don’t know why atheists refrain from killing annoying people, because murder is only wrong because religion says so. This implies that the thinkers only behave morally (for whatever value of ‘morally’, including but not limited to not killing annoying people) because of their religion. That implies that these people have no moral judgment, not even enough to realize that killing annoying people is bad for reasons unrelated to religion-says-so.

    And that implies that if we were to take religion away from these people, they would stop behaving morally, which in some cases would include killing annoying people.

    That scares me.

  • Andrew Wyatt

    Well, let’s call it a “text-based definition,” then. Perhaps many Christians would define their beliefs independent of the Bible, and therefore it’s not accurate to tether the definition of a Christian to the holy text. However, wouldn’t it be the case that every uniquely Christian belief that a Christian could espouse necessarily originates from the Bible? (Or at least from traditions and doctrines that allegedly blossom from the text?)

    Again, I don’t want to get too hung up on definitions, since one of my original points is that categories just end being used to beat up on people.

  • Andrew Wyatt

    I’m not sure how you “take religion away” from someone, so the thought experiment might be moot, but…

    Anxiety about the hypothetical depraved behavior that might be exhibited by an individual who is only barely morally restrained by religious belief: That doesn’t strike me as an adequate justification for perpetuating falsehoods about the nature of the universe. As an atheist, I think that holding fast to objective truth is an unalloyed good, and not something that should be held hostage in the name of protecting society from hypothetical near-madmen who will go on murderous rampages if Hell doesn’t exist.

  • EllieMurasaki

    As an atheist, I think that holding fast to objective truth is an unalloyed good

    And as an atheist myself, the hell is ‘objective truth’? How do you know—not ‘how are you ninety-nine point bar nine percent sure’ like I am, how do you know—that there are no gods, rather than no gods who care to talk to you?

    Given that chance that I am wrong about gods, and given that religion absolutely does have beneficial effects sometimes, I am not down with trying to convince anyone to stop being religious. Minimize the harm religion does, yes, of course, which certainly can include convincing people that there are no gods provided they’ve indicated a willingness to be so convinced. Hope religion dies a natural death, yes, that too. Work to make religion go away? No.

  • Andrew Wyatt

    Um… I think it’s obvious what “objective truth” means in this context: the Earth revolves around the Sun, humans and chimps evolved from the same ancestor, polonium has four oxidation states. Stuff like that. As opposed to subjective/aesthetic statements like, “Coffee tastes awful” or “The Third Man is a great movie.”

    The existence or non-existence of gods is self-evidently an objective question, unless the definition of “god” is so meaningless that it becomes a meaningless question.

    Granted, one has to retain a certain level of uncertainty with respect to the aforementioned “objective truths”. All statements of fact are, on some level, provisional. But outside of a philosophy class or a late-night pot-brownie feast, I don’t regard it as particularly productive to get fixated on epistemological wankery along the lines of “Yeah, but how can you ever, like, really *know* anything, man?”

  • EllieMurasaki

    The existence or non-existence of gods is self-evidently an objective question

    Is it? Because from here it looks unfalsifiable. The two aren’t mutually exclusive, of course, but it’s damn hard to prove the objectively true answer to an unfalsifiable question.

  • Andrew Wyatt

    I think so; maybe we’re talking past each other at this point. Is there a common definition of God that is *not* independent of the consciousness of humankind? Most theists seem to believe that God is an independent entity that has a reality apart from the belief in Him/Her/It.

    To clarify: I tend to self-identify as atheist, but I think that I can more accurately be described as “Ignostic”: All definitions of god that have been advanced to date are either easily dismissed as not objectively true or are so content-free and insubstantial as to be meaningless.

  • EllieMurasaki

    Suppose I didn’t exist in hospital or DMV or IRS records, and I were communicating with you, only you, and only when I’m not being recorded. How would you prove I exist? How would someone with whom I don’t communicate prove I don’t exist, over and above proving that there is no record of my existence other than your recorded statements that you say are you quoting me?

  • Andrew Wyatt

    To get back to your point about religion acting as a check on the “naturally immoral”: Setting aside the question of whether we should perpetuate untrue beliefs because of their social utility… I think that, as an atheist, how much one worries about this depends to some extent on one’s views of human nature. Are people naturally disposed to be decent and good or depraved and evil?

    While I recognize that human beings are, at bottom, tribal apes, and therefore brimming with animal urges, short-sighted thinking, and nasty xenophobia, Meng Tzu’s famous parable about a child falling down a well has always  struck me as having more truth than not. Put a city-born Swedish child on the rim of a well and a rain forest hunter-gather adult from Papua New Guinea will instinctively try to stop them from falling in. (The reverse also holds true re: Papuan child and Swedish adult.) We seem to have evolved some measure of instinct that creates a rudimentary species selection effect. The “normal” person reacts with revulsion to pain inflicted on members of their own species, independent of enculturation.

  • EllieMurasaki

    The “normal” person reacts with revulsion to pain inflicted on members of their own species

    Except for the minor detail that a lot of people don’t consider large swathes of the species to actually be other people.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    The onus is on the person claiming the existence of an otherwise not obviously physically verifiable phenomenon to prove the claim.

    The onus is NOT on anyone else to DISprove the claim.

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

    As an atheist, I think that holding fast to objective truth is an unalloyed good

    As a postmodernist, I find the idea of “holding fast to objective truth” to be kinda suspect.

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

     @Invisible_Neutrino:disqus Will thousands of eyewitness accounts over thousands of years do ?

  • esmerelda_ogg

    wouldn’t it be the case that every uniquely Christian belief that a
    Christian could espouse necessarily originates from the Bible? (Or at
    least from traditions and doctrines that allegedly blossom from the
    text?)

    Answering you from within a Christian perspective (and, no offense, but your dialogue with Ellie Murasaki leads me to think that you would probably consider such a perspective worthless verging on harmful), this takes us into complicated and disputed territory. In other words, there are scholars who make careers out of disagreeing over the nuances of whether what you said is true or not (I’ve read / tried to read a number of them; J. D. Crossan and N. T. Wright are two prolific examples.) So I want to reply somewhat cautiously and tentatively, merely offering additional points to look at.

    First, from the fundamentalist point of view as I was taught it, the entire Bible was dictated to its human authors by the Holy Spirit, rather as Moslems hold that the Koran was dictated to Mohammed by the angel Gabriel. But from the non-fundamentalist position, we have to consider the question, “where did the people who wrote the Bible, and especially the New Testament, get their beliefs and information”?

    At a very early stage, it must have been the case that the text blossomed from traditions and doctrines. From there out, traditions and doctrines and text-as-understood-and-applied interacted with each other in complicated ways. Fundamentalists, and the Anabaptists they develop from, like to believe that they’re leaning on the text and nothing but the text; but even they start with ideas about the right way to interpret it.

    Words to live by: It’s more complicated than that. Everything’s more complicated than it looks at first glance.

    Finally, I really don’t like getting into vehement unresolvable arguments, and I suspect we’re heading into one. So I’m probably going to bow out now. Have a good life.

  • EllieMurasaki

    Shockingly enough, I do know that. I also know that there is no reason to object to $PotentiallyHarmfulBehavior unless and until it leads to $ActualHarm, and belief in entities that may or may not actually exist is a potentially harmful behavior, not actual harm.

  • Cor Aquilonis

    My issue with the perspective that the Bible has value aside from being a holy book is that, once I start lining it up with its genre competitors, the Bible simply fails to be competitive.  Comparing the Bible as poetry to just about any major poet is to find the Bible utterly disappointing.  Comparing the Bible as a historical reference to modern history books is is to find the Bible beyond pathetic – downright false.  To use the Bible as a moral guide is, even if you only use the New Testament (ad disregard the horrors int he Old Testament), pretty weak when I compare it to modern thought.

    Beyond the Bible’s use as a Holy Scripture that will show you the character of God and guide you to Everlasting Life in the Heavenly City, I see no value.

    (Please forgive the weird sentence structure, it’s been a long Monday.)

  • EllieMurasaki

    So something has to be good art to be art at all? Recorded oral tradition is of no literary value, and due to its lack of scientific rigor, no historical value?

  • http://abb3w.livejournal.com/ abb3w

    Learning about religion only from the popular media is actually relatively unusual in the US; only about a quarter of atheists were raised without a religious background. Most were brought up either Protestant or Catholic, with the ratio between about that for the overall population.

  • http://abb3w.livejournal.com/ abb3w

    The question may be more about what basis you have for your choice of hermeneutics, and why you constrain your choice to one that still leads to Christianity rather than one of the alternative hermeneutics which does not.

  • Madhabmatics

     That actually doesn’t clear up anything about us Muslims. Lots of older Christian writers have argued that Islam is actually a Christian heresy, so if “thinks Jesus is supremely special or important” or even “Thinks Jesus is coming back one day” is what makes someone a Christian, all us Muslims are Christian.

    also why are you using “moslem” are you a time-traveller from the 1800s

  • http://abb3w.livejournal.com/ abb3w

    “Zealous” would be a more precise term.

  • Madhabmatics

    who is the onus on to not turn everything into a high-school debate match

  • esmerelda_ogg

     Re your example of the child on the rim of a well – actually, this probably even goes past species boundaries. I read a news story several years ago which reported that a toddler had managed to fall into the gorilla enclosure at a zoo (don’t remember where). One of the female gorillas went to the child, picked it up, and carried it to the door where zoo staff normally came in and out of the enclosure. She waited there with the baby until human staff came to retrieve it.

    I’m reasonably sure gorillas have no religious beliefs.

  • vsm

    [blockquote]Comparing the Bible as poetry to just about any major poet is to find the Bible utterly disappointing[/blockquote]
    Really? You find things like the beginning of Genesis, Job’s speeches, Ecclesiastes, The Song of Songs, Ruth’s speech to Naomi, Jesus’ sayings, the Gospel of John, St. Paul in his more poetic moods and the Book of Revelation aesthetically disappointing?

  • http://abb3w.livejournal.com/ abb3w

    You might look back through your Popper; he noted that empirical testing used parsimony as well as falsifiability, even if he got the philosophical justification wrong.

  • esmerelda_ogg

     No offense intended on spelling – that’s the way I was taught to spell it over fifty years ago, and I lose track of which transliteration is the approved current version. Thanks for the clarification re Muslims and Jesus – how would you distinguish between the two religions, then?

  • Carstonio

    There are questions that are unfalsifiable because of their premises, and there are other questions that are unfalsifiable because evidence either way is out of our reach. the existence or non-existence of gods falls into the latter category. Gods either exist or they don’t, and we simply have no way of knowing if they do or not.


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