Conversation with a Fundamentalist

Conversation with a Fundamentalist January 3, 2013

I’m not sure if this particular Fundamentalist is a Catholic or not, but he makes very clear that he reads the Bible through Fundamentalist lenses and not through those offered by the Church and the best in orthodox Catholic Scripture scholarship. It’s a common problem here in post-Protestant America where a lot of Catholic laity are formed by a) Protestant understandings of revelation and b) the conviction that Catholic Scripture Scholarship is equal to and co-terminous with Pointy-Headed Intellectuals who are bent on undermining their faith. It’s true that there is no dearth of theologians who hold the Faith and the Magisterium in contempt and wish to appoint themselves as a pseudo-magisterium. It is not the case, however, that rejecting their machinations involves the embrace of a flat-footed fundamentalist reading of Scripture. Hopefully, this conversation, taken from my comboxes, will help illustrate why fundamentalism is a danger when reading scripture.

we are to read the bible literally unless there is a reason not to.

We are to read for the literal sense (and the other senses).  We are not always to read literalistically.  So Jesus is not literally a grape plant when he says he is the vine.  Nor are we bound to believe in six 24 hour days of creation 6000 (or 10,000) years ago.

I see no reason not to.

Then you are ignorant of what the sciences are discovering about the age and evolution of the universe.

How do you “know” what the author of Genesis intended to say?

Because I am familiar with the information revealed both by the teaching of the Church and relevant work from Scripture scholars, as well as the relevant physical sciences documenting, for instance, that the universe is about 13.5 billion years old and the earth is about 4.5 billion years old.  Since scripture is inerrant, it therefore cannot be that the author means to be making a scientific claim about the age of the universe.  Nor has the Church ever bound us to say he is.  That said, I don’t claim to “know” in fullness what the sacred author means to say since it is the work of the Church over the ages to fully comprehend the meaning of revelation.

Perhaps he intended to say the universe was created in six literal days. How can you say that the flood was “local?”. Peter didn’t think so.

Note that you leap from saying we can’t know what the author of Genesis thought to saying you are certain what he thought, based on a false certitude about what Peter thought.  Meanwhile, the Church commits us to neither proposition.

He says that the world was deluged with water and perished and compares that with the end of the world which obviously won’t be “local. ”

Jesus compares the destruction of the Temple to the end of the world too.  Both he and Peter understand what “types” are.

Jesus compares his second coming with the days of Noah where He says the flood “swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.” Jesus’ second coming won’t be local.

See above.  You are committing yourself to a fundamentalist reading of Scripture re: the Flood that the Church does not require and the sciences do not support.  I’ve watch Christians  go down this rabbit hole before, trying to figure out ways to magic up a volume of water sufficient to  drown Mt. Everest (it ain’t there even if you melt the polar caps).  Eventually, one woman was reduced to saying that the Flood was accomplished with “spiritual water”.  I think it’s a lot more sensible to not bind myself to things the Church never required in the first place.

Yes the Catechism says that figurative language is used in Genesis 3 but it doesn’t say what that figurative language is. Could it be that God “walked” in the garden? Does a spirit actually walk? Is Genesis 3:15 figurative? I hope you don’t think so.

I’m not sure what you are getting at.  But absolutely Genesis 3:15 is figurative.  The Woman and her seed are figures of Mary and Christ and the serpent is a figure of Satan.  Revelation 12 says as much.  I get the sense you don’t understand what “figurative” means.  A thing can be real (like, say, the ark of the covenant) and a figure (as the ark of the covenant is a figure of Mary).  In the case of Genesis 3, we are not bound to believe that Satan is literally a talking snake.  Rather, the serpent is a figure of the spiritual being “who is called the devil and Satan”.  We are not bound by the faith to believe that a literal dragon or snake will literally have Mary or Christ literally stomp on its literal physical head.  This is fundamentalism, not Catholic faith.

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  • Confederate Papist

    Fundies are so fun to talk to…

    • T. Claude Weaver

      When do you get to talk to them? To me, they just keep talking and refuse to engage. Inside the Catholic church, they are a Trojan horse.
      And like a condom, they offer little protection against the culture of death with their Fundie logic.
      Years back, NOR warned about them but no one wanted to listen, especially after the ID mov’t got going.

      • Rosemarie


        Steve Wood is a convert from Protestantism. If I remember his conversion story correctly, he became an atheist in his teens after asking his minister about creation -vs- evolution and not getting a satisfactory answer. He later returned to Christianity via Evangelicalism, then became PCA before converting to Catholicism. However, because the evolution question caused him to lose his faith, he is convinced that children who are taught evolution will also lose their faith. So he promotes creationism – probably picked up during his Evangelical days – as the antidote to keep teens Catholic.

        I’m not so sanguine about this. I’ve read testimonies of people who were taught creationism as children who experienced a crisis of faith in college when confronted with the scientific evidence for an old earth. Here are some such testimonies:

        It seems creationism, particularly the young earth variety popular in Evangelicalism, can also pose a danger to a child’s faith. Some of these people eventually embraced old-earth creationism or theistic evolution while others just decided the Bible and Christianity are bunk and became atheists. Not surprising for people who were repeatedly told while growing up, “Scientists promote evolution because they wish to undermine the Bible. Either the Bible is true or evolution is true – you can’t believe both.” Then when they discover flaws in the “creation science” they learned in homeschool or Christian school, they logically decide that the Bible is not true. How else do we expect them to respond when they’ve been trained to think in terms of such strict dichotomies? Bible or evolution; either/or, never both/and.

  • Lizzie

    I totally agree with you but you might want to refrain from using the argument that there isn’t enough water upon the earth to cover Mount Everest. In Genesis Chp 7:11, the Priestly redactors present a picture of the return to primordial chaos, in which the waters both below and ABOVE the firmament are unleashed, and the windows of heaven are opened. So a literal translation of the bible provides plenty enough water to flood the entire world. 🙂

  • Steve T.

    “Eventually, one woman was reduced to saying that the Flood was accomplished with “spiritual water”.”

    Ah, another devotee of the Rex Mottram school of theology:

    “Then again I asked him: ‘Supposing the Pope looked up and saw a cloud and said “It’s going to rain,” would that be bound to happen?’ ‘Oh, yes, Father.’ ‘But supposing it didn’t?’ He thought a moment and said, ‘I suppose it would be sort of raining spiritually, only we were too sinful to see it.'”

    • If she’s willing to posit something called “spiritual water” then she’s left the world of physical literalism she was demanding we hold to in the first place.

    • kath

      The Rex Mottram School of Theology. Theraflu coming out of my stuffy nose, thank you very much!

  • michaelp71

    Fundamentally I am confused. Seems I may have been taught incorrectly when I was young and now need to be COMPLETELY retaught…where to begin?!?!?!

    • S. Murphy

      Start with the Catechism.

  • The Deuce

    The point about Satan is especially pertinent. If you actually read the account of the Fall literalistically, then our First Parents were caused to fall not by Satan, but by an actual snake, which simply happened to be smarter (and for some reason evil) than the other beasts of the field. But it’s clear just from the internal evidence of the story that the serpent is meant to stand for something more than its mere description, and Revelation later made explicit that it is a figure for Satan.

  • Norris

    Spectator I: I think it was “Blessed are the cheesemakers”.
    Mrs. Gregory: Aha, what’s so special about the cheesemakers?
    Gregory: Well, obviously it’s not meant to be taken literally; it refers to any manufacturers of dairy products.


  • T. Claude Weaver

    When do you get to talk to them? To me, they just keep talking and refuse to engage. Inside the Catholic church, they are a Trojan horse.
    And like a condom, they offer little protection against the culture of death with their Fundie logic.
    Years back, NOR warned about them but no one wanted to listen, especially after the ID mov’t got going.
    Posted in Error on other link

  • michaelp71

    @S. Murphy. Thanks and I will.

  • Rex Mottram

    “Eventually, one woman was reduced to saying that the Flood was accomplished with ‘spiritual water.'”

    Seems eminently reasonable to me.

  • David

    If life evolved over millions of years then we would see verifiable evidence of life that old. As far as I know we have yet to find that . We have an earth that is millions of years old because it was created mature, just as the universe may measure billions of years old. Frankly, if we find evidence of life in some glacier 200,000 years old that would be good enough for me, but we don’t find it. If amber could be dated that old then it would be proof, but as far as I know it is dated by the age of the rocks not by the amber itself. As far as the evidence shows the young earth (age of existence) theory remains viable. Regardless of age, the evolutionary theory is statistically impossible and shouldn’t be taught. It still looks like most people still fail to understand the difference between a micro evolution (adaptation, differentiation) and macro evolution (dinosaurs turning into birds).

  • David

    Similarly, we don’t believe that the Church evolved into existence. It was instituted. It was created. Yet, it continues to evolve or change within the established boundries of its existence. We don’t believe that marriage evolved into existence. It’s a scandal to even let people think such nonsense and that is what many Catholics do with their promotion of the evolution. Life never evolved into existence. It would be interesting to discuss, but I’m leaning toward the idea that no mutation can be called good. God created everything good, so mutation would have begun after the fall. Just thinking.

    • Jon W

      I’m leaning toward the idea that no mutation can be called good

      When it comes to material creation, “mutation” just means the corruption of a material entity, the passing of one form and the assumption of another. This is perfectly compatible with a Christian understanding of pre-lapsarian creation. At least, the medievals thought so.

      • David

        I’m talking genetic mutation. They couldn’t have been talking about genetic mutation. Perhaps the concept could apply, but I don’t see it right off.

  • Alexander Anderson

    Mark, you are cheating. You’re supposed to twist biblical interpretation so far that every conclusion you come to is patently ridiculous and thus easier to reject. Your refusal to do so is super super unfair. You MUST be trying to rationalize your faith that I KNOW deep down is patently ridiculous. Trying to refute you is HARD. It’s not FAIR. So please, just state the conclusions I know you’ve made that would go against common sense or scientific reasoning. Otherwise, people might think you’re actually right.

    • Jmac

      I could do that for you, but then I’ll just pull out the Omphalos hypothesis and sit smugly in my unfalsifiable bubble.

      • Mark Shea

        I think Alex is speaking tongue in cheek.

        • Jmac

          As was I. I keep forgetting those Gorram [/sarcasm] tags.