What Fundamentalists Worship

What Fundamentalists Worship December 15, 2012

Quite a number of people are discussing t-shirts like this one (or the wider use of the sentiment expressed on it) in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy:

I am glad that fundamentalists are finally being a bit more honest about what they mean by “God.”

They clearly do not mean an omnipresent being who cannot be excluded from any place. It’s quite a different notion from that encountered on more than one occasion in the Psalms, for instance. The ancient Israelite author never said “Where shall I go to flee from your presence? I know – a public school!” And in the Book of Jonah, the main character’s attempt to flee from the one who he himself says “made the sea and the dry land” on a boat is depicted as a fool’s errand. And could you imagine any ancient Israelite or Christian author taking seriously the notion that God could be kept out of somewhere?

But even though creating laws that exclude a real and omnipresent God from public school would be utterly futile, there are in fact no such laws in the United States.

What is excluded is the use of state power and influence to promote religion in general or some sectarian religious dogma in particular.

And so I think that, when fundamentalists say that their God is excluded from public schools, they are speaking the truth. The God they worship is not the true God, the one that is omnipresent and ultimate, but political power and coercive imposition of their views on others.

That is what fundamentalists worship and serve. That is what they lament seeing expelled from public schools. And that is what they opportunistically use tragedies like the recent one to promote.

Those who know or seek the true God will not bow before such idols, and will call those who do so out, and seek to expose them for what they are, namely worshippers of false gods.


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  • Well played. That’s a nice critique: exposing the custodians of God’s sovereignty for what their true concerns are: their own sovereignty.

  • Joss

    You are right. They are a shame for Christians, and I think that they are not so different from somo military atheists who try to use this tragedy to promote their non belief.

    I think this was a sad even that we should not use to judge others or blame anything.

    God bless you and thanks for this article.

  • nakedanthropologist

    Thank you.

  • AZ

    Ummm…somehow this seems along the same lines…no?
    (And no I’m not a fundamentalist…just trying to find my way and not make others stumble)

  • Nicely said! As an atheist, I’m used to seeing Christians eagerly cross the line, and yet the separation of church and state benefits the Christian just as much as it does the atheist.

    Public Square

    • It has been suggested, rightly, I think, that the reason that the US is much more religious than Western Europe is because the US has never had an established church. Ironically, Jefferson uttered the famous “wall of separation” phrase in response to the fears of Baptists (like Mike Huckabee, one of the first out of the gate with this terrible meme) that there would be an establised religion (that wasn’t theirs).

  • Rene’

    This logic forgets that the first school shooting of the year was at Oikos University, a private Christian college in Oakland.

  • I think the real lesson is that we should allow Allah in our schools. After all, he allows children-killing earthquakes if women just show their breasts. He’s even crazier than the fundamentalists’ god and we should propitiate the biggest lunatitc.

  • domy

    “What is excluded is the use of state power and influence to promote religion in general or some sectarian religious dogma in particular.”….

    No, Prof. McGrath, what is excluded is the possibility for a child to write the word ‘God’ in a poem dedicated to her veteran grandfather. This is worse.

    • Ian

      I think it was pretty clear that the mother, not the child, wrote that. And the word did not need to be removed from the poem, but for the recitation of the poem in an assembly, where the girl’s poem was the only one being read.

      Now, clearly, it was an idiotic decision, and the poem should have been left alone, but subtly misrepresenting the situation to make the most of your point reinforces the stereotype that Christians have poor integrity.

      • domy

        if the poem was written by the mother then ALL the poem should be removed from the recitation.
        The removal of the only reference to God shows that the doubts about who wrote it are entirely specious.
        The child had to speak about the grandfather. Her grandfather was a religious man ? if so why this should be removed from the poem?

        • Let’s not get distracted from the central points, which are:

          1) Can God be removed from schools?

          2) Does the removal of formal prayer from schools result in killers coming in from outside to massacre children, and if so, what is the connection, in your view?

          As for the matter of the poem, I don’t think anyone would dispute that, whether in attempting to avoid lawsuits or in attempting to avoid offense, those who oversee schools sometimes make errors of judgment, and sometimes it results in the very sorts of lawsuits they were trying to avoid, or at the very least controversy and outrage of the sort they wanted to avoid. If you understood me to be suggesting that, in an effort to have an appropriate separation of church and state, all school officials make decisions I would consider appropriate, then you’ve misunderstood me.

        • Ian

          My point wasn’t that I agreed with the decision. But that you subtly misrepresented the situation to make it look worse than it was. The central point of this whole process is the way that some folks misrepresent or misinterpret situations to try to score political points. I agree the superintendent was over-zealous, but I think that entirely irrelevant to what the real issue is.

          • domy

            sorry but if I wanted make it look worse the episode I just had to copy the title of the article I linked (“school officials force girl to remove word from veteran’s poem “). I do not know if WSOC-TV is a partisan or political/religious oriented TV misinterpreting situations in titles to try to score political points but just to be as neutral as possible I avoided that title.

  • LHD

    w00t. couldn’t have said it better.

  • Tim Johnson

    Dear God, Why do you allow priests to molest boys in CHURCH? Are you no longer in your own house?

    • Ian

      Catholics aren’t *real* Christians, so no, God doesn’t go to those kind of churches either…

      • Monika

        um excuse me? “Catholics aren’t real Christians . Catholicism was the first established Christian Church in the entire world and stayed that way for 1000 years (the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Catholic both count in this). All other branches came later. They were the original Christians So how can you say that? You are just like the Fundamentalists mentioned in the article. God goes everywhere, to every Church. And what is your definition of a real Christian? Christians are those who believe Christ is their savior and they follow the teachings of the Bible. I think Catholics fit that category. So please don;t sound so ignorant. Your comment stood out from all the intelligent posts here.

        • tiredofitall

          No, the Catholic church broke off from the Orthodox church because they wanted more power.

          • Ian

            That answer would get you a C in a church history course. 🙂 The causes and timeline of the East-West schism are very long and complex. But it certainly isn’t clear cut who “broke away” from whom, or when.

          • billwald

            Agree. I could easily convert to Orthodox if it was the only Christian game in town but I am to old to change horses. Don’t think God will hold it against me.

        • Ian

          Sorry Monika, if there’s one thing that’s certain about comments, its that sarcasm is totally undetectable. I was suggesting why the child abuse scandal in the catholic church has no theological effect on most fundamentalist evangelicals. Because the fundamentalists at core think catholicism is theologically bankrupt.

          I agree, anyone making that argument in seriousness (as do many people I’ve met in real life and online) deserves your criticism. I, perhaps, need to put a smiley at the end or something…

        • Ian

          “Christians are those who believe Christ is their savior and they follow the teachings of the Bible.”

          That’s one definition of Christian, but sounds awfully like western protestantism, even there, with its emphasis on belief and the bible. Catholicism defines Christianity quite differently. Then there are lots of progressive Christians who wouldn’t fit that bill. Defining Christianity is a fools errand (as is defining anything). Ultimately I am happy to accept anyone who chooses to take on the Christian label as being a Christian. Whether fundie or Christian atheist (which is also a thing).

          I, I should point out, am not a Christian.

          But that’s probably too much tangential pedantry…

        • girl920

          The Catholic church is not the original church. True, they have been around for centuries, really mostly as a political and power-hungry organization more than anything, but the true, original Christian church to look to are the early Christians, within the first century after Christ’s resurrection, such as Paul wrote to in his letters. The Catholic Church bears no resemblance to the original, early Christians, IMHO. So when people try to argue that Catholicism is the “original” Christian church… no, it’s not, sorry.

          • Paul D.

            The original Christians included, and were possibly even dominated by, groups like Marcionites, Valentinians, and Ebionites. So if you reject the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches as the oldest extant versions of Christianity and try going back further, you might not like what you find.

  • Peter Denshaw
  • Ian

    A Christian friend of mine posted this on her facebook feed. I replied

    “Are you sure you want to worship a God who will sit by and watch 20 little children killed to prove a political point? Sounds like a vile monster to me.”

    To which she removed the post and said “I posted it out of emotion, not logic” and “[I have the] potential for misrepresenting God, whom I know is much bigger than that, I am glad you said something”

    I think sometimes that we read a level of malice into Fundamentalism that is better explained by thoughtlessness. (though I struggle to believe there isn’t malice in some corners).

    • Dana

      Good for her in responding in an intelligent and thoughtful way rather than just getting pissed off at you. That’s not easy to do.

  • Arleen Barber

    I so agree with this well-written article. I have been posting similar things on my Facebook wall when I see this type of post. Here is my last one in regard to Huckabee’s similar statements:

    Huckabee and many others simply don’t “get” it! Here’s why:

    ☛ ☛ We CANNOT KICK GOD OUT of public schools, the USA or ANYWHERE! Do we not believe that God is EVERYWHERE? Don’t we believe that God is ALL-POWERFUL? How can a mere mortal remove GOD from anywhere? It can NOT be done! God is with us always and NO laws can legislate Him/Her away!

    ☛ ☛ What we HAVE removed from public schools, with good reason, is prayer. Those who advocate prayer in public schools would be up in arms again if we decided to put prayer back in school because, no doubt, it would not pass their version of what should be said/their beliefs. “Christianity Today” says there are 38,000 different denominations of Christianity. BTW, Catholics are the largest group–would we choose that? (I can already feel some of you getting ready to pounce on that one!) What about those who are Baptists? Methodists? Mormon? What about Buddhists? Muslims? Or others? If you want your child to pray in school, there are options for religious schools of your choice.

    ☛ ☛ Another option available — SURPRISE! ! Your child can learn to do as we all do–take advantage of small,quiet moments throughout the day to pray quietly. Isn’t that what it’s all about anyways? Communication with God? (See Matt 6:5-6)

  • alcjnc4

    I agree. I have always felt that people who talk about their great, wonderful, omnipresent God are hypocrites when they announce He’s not in our schools. They truly don’t have much faith, then.

  • Brad

    write up, but not true. Here is an example of Free Speech being
    smothered in Canada. There are even more examples of the Right to Free
    Speech being smothered in American Schools. That is what the shirt is
    is an example of the school districts violating Canadian Free Speech of
    a Christian. Note this is a liberal site that is supporting his right
    to Free Speech according to the Canadian Charter of Rights. While they
    do not like the kids shirt they recognize his rights unlike most school
    districts in North America.

    • School officials often struggle to balance allowing freedom of expression with not allowing attire that distracts from the educational experience that is a school’s raison d’etre. There are, as you point out, instances where it is arguable that the restrictions go too far. In many of those, we hear about the, in the news, precisely because they do not go unchallenged, and that in turn is because of the legislation that we have protecting freedom of speech (I assume Canada has something comparable?) So was your point precisely that, when attempts are made to infringe of the freedom of speech even of minors, they are typically not successful precisely because of the safeguards our society has in place? If so, it is an important point – and then I can only assume that the introduction to your comment was intentionally ironic?

      • Ian

        Schools should also be places where students feel safe. And it is entirely reasonable not to let students promote views that explicitly condemn other students. Whether it be a shirt that says people of a different religion are wasting their life, or a shirt that says people of a different race are worth less than others, or a shirt that says people of a different sexuality are less entitled to love. Since when did a high-school be a place that allows students to exercise the same free speech rights as they would as an adult? Students have a whole bunch of additional restrictions adults don’t. Hopefully, so that control can stand in for their developing sense of personal responsibility and discipline. It seems fair to say to a student “that shirt you’re wearing is offensive – now, one day you’ll be able to wear what you like – you’ll be able to choose to be a dick in that way, but here in this school, that kind of dickishness is not allowed.”

  • bearzee

    They also want to confine God to a 24-hour day and believe He only lives in America and only blesses rich, white American males. MY God is bigger than that.

  • I think you have diverted the point to fit your agenda. What has happened is that reminders that there is an omnipresent God have been taken out of schools, that is, prayer, the Ten Commandments, and Scripture reading. If that is fundamentalism then so be it. Huckabee said what needed to be said because it is true. Now, don’t be a fence rider either speak up for God or get off the fence. Have you ever read how Jesus talked to the religious elite and those that were intent on miss using Scripture? They weren’t sugar coated words…

    • Were you thinking perhaps of Jesus’ words about public prayer? I think perhaps you are misunderstanding what Jesus said, because you assume that hthose he denounced must correspond to your enemies, and what he advocated must correspond to your own approach and practices?

    • Kate

      I’m actually a little confused… the shirt implies that removing God from schools either 1) led to the massacre or 2) kept Him from being able to intervene and stop the tragedy. The point of the article is that it is impossible to keep God from a space merely by not overtly worshiping in that place. Do you disagree? If you agree that God cannot be kept from a place, it appears that you are saying that it’s not that God was unable to stop the tragedy, he chose not to because of the lack of reminders of God in school. Am I reading that right? Because to me, that’s even worse.

      And yes, teaching your religion to other people’s children is fundamentalism.

  • girl920

    So well said, thank you!

  • Lee

    “What is excluded is the use of state power and influence to promote religion in general or some sectarian religious dogma in particular.”

    Hear, hear! Atheist of the new variety here, just applauding good reason wherever I find it. Thomas Larson sent me here.

  • Jean Purcell

    There is nothing new about forming one’s own definitions and descriptions of “fundamentalists” (or any defined group, including “liberals” or “conservatives”) for purpose of trying to knock down any and all of their ideas and opinions, based on one’s easy stereotypes.

  • billwald

    Dutch Calvinists agree with Kuyper that God controls every cubic inch of the universe. Unfortunately, they (we) ignore the logical conclusion of the assorted doctrines: If God is good and loves the world then the null case must be “elect for Heaven,” not “elect for Hell.”  

    Our doctrine of Common Grace teaches that truth is where you find it, also generally ignored. Can’t pay the bills by preaching that everything is OK? see http://www.crcna.org 

  • newenglandsun

    not even Jehovah’s Witnesses (who don’t believe god is omnipresent) would argue this
    (they believe that it is his spirit that is everywhere and not him personally)

  • LeslieFish

    Please allow me to recommend a book: “Offensive As Hell: The Joys of Jesus-Freak Bagging”, available on Amazon — a collection of real-life tales which covers much the same ground as you have. Enjoy!