The Contradiction of Fundamentalism

The Contradiction of Fundamentalism January 8, 2015

Most powerful being

Via The Christian Left on Facebook. This really gets at the heart of the matter. It is the point that is made well in the Biblical story of Gideon, even though it is forgotten in much of the Bible as well. If a deity is offended, that deity can fight his or her own battles. In claiming to “stick up for” a god, you are implicitly indicating the deity’s weakness. That’s why violence in the name of a deity, far from honoring that deity, is an admission of the deity’s impotence.

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  • Ian

    He can feed, clothe and shelter his own creation too.

    Violent religionists kill for their God for the same reason that others might preach for their God, or perform acts of mercy: because they think that is the task God has called them to, and the task that would please him.

    “Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
    [God] has no [weapons] now on earth but yours.”

    I get the reaction to want to insult the faith of these people, as a contrast to their own declared motivation, but it seems like a pretty lame tactic. I can’t think of any reason to take the person who claims God has called them to go staff a soup kitchen any more seriously theologically than the person who claims god has called them to kill a blasphemer. Unless you’ve first and independently determined that God is more likely to make the first call than the second.

    • I actually find both theologically problematic, although I find one less problematic in terms of the morality of actions inspired by it. Saying that your theistic, anthropomorphic God wants everyone fed, and has infinite power and could feed everyone, but then does not do so because he wants his followers to do a poorer job of it on their own than he could, is not better logically than the violent extremist’s theology.

      • Ian

        Thank you. I agree, and I like your consistency. I agree that *morally* there is no comparison. And, I think that we tolerate (perhaps more than that) when the effects are moral.

        So would you be willing to write “That’s why mercy in the name of a deity, far from honoring that deity, is an admission of the deity’s impotence.”? It strikes me that is harder to write, because “in the name of” could mean either “on behalf of” or “inspired by” – and only the former has the bad theology.

        • I think that whether either is bad theology also depends on whether the insistence that “God needs our help” is coupled with assertions of divine omnipotence. If a process theologian responds to the lure of the divine and engages in acts of compassion, it makes good sense, since they don’t believe that God can do everything.

          Perhaps the Biblical authors were being more consistent than we give them credit for on this point, too. After all, the Bible for the most part depicts the God of the Israelites as most powerful, not all-powerful. If you are not able to simply will evildoers into non-existence, then you might have no choice but to ask people to drive them out, or to unleash forces of chaos (and hope that the one guy you want to save from it all manages to build the boat and gather the animals).

          And so perhaps the inconsistency in fundamentalism exists at least in part because of tensions between assertions of divine omnipotence on the one hand, and stories which reflect a different theological perspective, which are part of fundamentalists’ tradition/scripture?

          • Ian

            Got ya, thanks.

        • Wait a minute. The way I understand it, God wants us to help each other and feed the poor, not because God needs us to do it, but because we need to do it. I don’t need my kids to help with the housework. I certainly could do it better and faster myself– especially when they were younger. But they need to help with the housework, so there’s no way I’m going to do it all myself! Even if it means the house isn’t as great a place as I could make it on my own.

          However, there is no way I can see it as a need or for people’s own good that they commit violence to defend God. Developing reasoned arguments, yes. Learning to understand and relate with a person who disagrees with them, yes. But violence– no.

          • Ian

            That’s another thing again. And I agree, if you adopt that theology, then the symmetry is harder.

            It isn’t impossible, however. (But before I give it a go, let me say that I’m not advocating this theology, nor either of those I outlined above, I’m interested in where they lead, and interested in avoiding the facile comparisons, I don’t actually believe this).

            You’re outlining a ‘benefit’ argument. And in that case, I’d guess that the violence isn’t considered to be the benefit. But something like, ‘holiness’ or ‘commitment’ or ‘righteousness’. In that model, living in tolerance with blasphemy is living in implicit support of it. If you walk past it everyday, you condone it by your inaction. So God doesn’t need you to be violent because he wants you tobe a violent person. But God wants you to be all consumed with righteous zeal, to the extent that law, the so-called-rights of the infidel, and any other consideration is secondary. God wants to develop the characteristic of intolerance to sin and blasphemy, and a commitment to righteousness and holiness, whatever it may cost.

          • No, I wouldn’t have thought being violent was the benefit. However, arguably, the moral degeneration caused by committing an act of violence outweighs any benefit in supposed holiness or zeal.

          • Thanks for making these points – and sorry for taking so long to chime in again. On the one hand, I find the notion that a world in which we struggle and develop is better than one in which we have things handed to us on a platter. The analogy with children is apt – if we do everything for them, it is not in their best interest. On the other hand, the sheer amount of suffering in the world seems to go beyond anything strictly necessary for us to learn such lessons, as far as I can see. And so I find myself uneasy with any appeal to this reasoning in the interest of theology.

          • Ian

            The analogy with children is apt – if we do everything for them, it is not in their best interest.

            I struggle with this line of reasoning. Because one has to ask why is it not good to provide children everything they need? It is not good because by doing so we don’t prepare them adequately to fend for themselves, or to to provide the necessary support for their families. What is the analogous reason for God to have us toughen-up and be independent? It is particularly dubious in among theologies of heaven or the new creation, which seem to suggest that there will be a time God does provide everything, and that time will be sinless, perfect and wonderful.

          • I think that, even in a context in which the adult child would have no need to work to provide for their family – let’s say the family’s wealth is sufficient so that there would be for the children to do anything other than live off interest from savings – one could make the case that it is still in the children’s best interest to learn, grow, and become mature independent adults.

            But I agree that this line of reasoning does not fit at all well with a theology that claims that there is a future perfect world which is unchanging and which people can be instantaneously made suited for. And so my point is not that I think this line of reasoning can help bolster traditional theistic systems of thought, but only that it has an important insight in it – perhaps one that ought to transform and change traditional theologies, but at the very least one that relates to our mundane human experience.

          • arcseconds

            I’m with James here.

            I want to live in a society of autonomous adults who take responsibility for their lives and are engaged in meaningful work (which could be, say, writing novels. It’s hard work if you do it properly), at which it is possible to do well or badly, or maybe even fail.

            This will inevitably mean that there is at least some conflict, some struggle, some risk, and not everyone will get exactly what they want.

            And of course I’d want children and teenagers to be raised in such a way they can exist in such a society.

            That to me seems vastly more preferable than a situation where everyone gets everything handed to them on a silver platter. As far as I can see, that would just result in everyone being ineffective couch-potatoes.

            As far as some future state is concerned, I’m kind of with Kant here. Moral perfection may take forever, so eternal life is just an opportunity to continue doing one’s duty. As Ben Harper put it “And if you get up to heaven…
            It’s gonna be cruel there, too”.

            But I could kind of see heaven as a retirement home for people who have already done the hard graft.

          • Ian

            I think I probably expressed myself badly, then. Because I’m with James too on that point.

            The point I’m making is that there are reasons why we don’t give children everything. We want them to be independent. And so using this as an analogy for why God allows sin and evil in the world, is poor.

            If I say “God has to toughen us up because he’s like our parent, and we want our children to be robust adults.” the analogy fails, because it assumes we’ll be independent of God, which just begs the question.

            The underlying issue has nothing to do with heaven (except that, the model of heaven put forward shows that the people making the “if…” argument aren’t totally committed to it). It is to do with a hypothetical alternative creation where sin and struggle are not present. To say, that this is the better creation than that, on the basis of the analogy with raising children, is very weak, imho. That’s all I’m saying.

          • Ian

            Of course, I agree. I personally think it is more than just ‘arguable’, but self-evident.

            However, I’m trying to distinguish between what I (or you) think, and the logic of people who do this kind of thing out of a sense of religious zeal. For them, I suspect they’d say it is arguable that a lifetime of compromise and implicitly supporting injustice is a worse moral life than a targeted act of violence aimed at remedying that sin.

            Do you see what I’m trying to say? Not that they’re right, but that their logic is not theologically inconsistent. Unless we can anchor these questions outside theology, then it seems a vile theology is as consistent as a beneficial one. Once we agree standards of morality independent of theology, then we can make moral judgements about theologies and the acts they inspire.

  • That’s why violence in the name of a deity, far from honoring that deity, is an admission of the deity’s impotence.

    This needs to be repeated. Often.