Fundamentalism vs. reality: How fundie faith destroys itself

Fundamentalism vs. reality: How fundie faith destroys itself April 22, 2013

Fundamentalist Christianity guarantees a crisis of faith for those indoctrinated into its all-or-nothing package deal. This is stupid and cruel.

Fundamentalism: Take out one piece and the whole thing topples to the ground.

It’s stupid because that all-or-nothing package deal includes dozens of things that are not so. Lies. Falsehoods. Easily falsifiable falsehoods projected into the Bible and then mined back out of it as holy writ.

That’s bad enough on its own. It’s immoral to teach such lies at all, let alone to teach them as “God’s Word.”

But the problem isn’t just that those indoctrinated into fundamentalism are taught things like that the Earth is only 10,000 years old, or that homosexuality is a sinful choice, or that Noah hung out with dinosaurs before the flood, or that God hates you because you’re not perfectly holy. The larger problem is that according to fundamentalism, those falsehoods are inextricably linked to everything else. Everything. So if it turns out that the Earth is actually 4.5 billion years old, then, according to fundamentalism, life has no meaning, happiness is impossible, love is illusion, Jesus is dead, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins, and we are of all people most to be pitied. And that is cruel.

But enough from me, I’ve written about this enough times that you probably don’t need to hear another variation of my rant on the subject. So let me instead direct you to a post from Defeating the Dragons. DtD is a new-ish blog — started just this year — but it’s earning some well-deserved attention with its candor, honesty, deeply personal storytelling, and terrific writing under the name “forgedimagination.”

Here is the most recent post, “What Christian fundamentalism means to us,” which takes on the all-or-nothing, package-deal aspect of fundie faith by looking back at it from the other side of its collapse:

For those of us who grew up and left our fundamentalist nests, it was caused by our engagement with reality – for most of us, for the very first time. We befriended people in the LGBTQ community, and realized that everything we’d been taught about homosexuality (the BTQ part was completely dismissed) was either deeply misguided or just plain wrong. We encountered science for the first time, and for many of us who were taught that Genesis 1-11 was the bedrock of the entire Bible, finding out that AiG and ICR misrepresented evolutionary theory was the first nail in our theological coffins. For many of us, it was simply meeting people. We made friends with Christians who weren’t fundamentalists – we made friends with people who weren’t Christians, and it shook us profoundly. We met atheists and agnostics for the very first time, and suddenly, all our “right answers” couldn’t make sense. For many of us, the psychological dissonance was so bad we abandoned Christianity completely.

Sometimes, we abandoned Christianity for a time, but then we came back – and our Christianity looked utterly different. Some of us are Unitarian now. Some of us are Progressive. Some are Universalist. Some of us are Catholic, or just liturgical. Some of us hold the basic truth that God loves us, and we are trying to see the world through that love and nothing else.

Which gives us another core problem to face in fundamentalism: the absolute certainty, the absolute necessity of possessing “all the right answers” is coupled with another concept known as foundationalism. It’s the notion that there are “bedrock” ideas (like inerrancy and young earth creationism) and that, if those fall,everything else falls with it. And this has held true in many of our lives – our faith, when we took it out into the real world, was nothing more than a house of cards. And it wasn’t because we didn’t believe enough, or weren’t taught correctly enough, or hadn’t been instructed enough, or that we were secretly never believers and just couldn’t wait to “get out.”  It was because of what were taught, it was because of what we believed – that Christ was not really enough.

Go read the whole thing.

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  • It also makes it sound like being God would be the most boring job in the ‘Verse.

  • aunursa

    Wow, that’s kind of strange. So some people who find out that your mother is Catholic and you father is Jewish just blurt out, “You aren’t Jewish”? Perhaps I’m not understanding the situation.

  • aunursa

    My response here has been removed for some reason.

  • Sadly, the Left Behind series features all of these categories. Oopsies, LaJenkins!

  • The_L1985

    It does. The Pearls insist that you should start “spanking” with a “rod” when the child is two months old. Not two years. TWO MONTHS.

  • The_L1985

    I remember my private school didn’t let us play cards–even Go Fish–because “cards can be used to gamble, and gambling is a sin.”

    Because kids gamble over the results of Go Fish all the time. 9_9

  • Wednesday

    Yeah, it happens a fair amount when the subject of my religious background comes up. (Which happens pretty much any time I make a mention of, eg, getting Hannukah gifts from my family, or what I did over Spring Break.) Some of it is people thinking out loud about what box to mentally put me in, some of it’s people disquieted by my not fitting into their boxes, and some is more hostile.

    It’s not the _only_ response to the subject of my religious background, just a very common one.

  • Samantha C.

    I’m just kind of glad to see someone else say they hate services – I started to get very creeped out by being in temple around the time i started abandoning Judaism. I was always convinced that I couldn’t be the only one just going through the motions, and being 13, I couldn’t imagine that anyone really DID believe when I didn’t. As I’m finding other tendrils into faith, the idea of worshiping together with other people is just…baffling. Why would I want that, when it’s something so intensely private? Nice to know I’m not totally alone.

  • At various times, my public school did the exact same thing. Except that they ended the sentence with “and gambling is illegal in this state”

  • Lorehead

    And given the choice between trying to make the prophecy of Israel being a light to the nations, swords beaten into plowshares, nation shall not make war upon nation come true; and the prophecy of Ethiopia, Persia, Gog and Magog invading Israel; well, there’s a very real if minor risk that the Messiah might not come when we’re expecting, and in the event he doesn’t, one of those two worlds would be a much better place to live in while we wait.

    Which I suppose puts me on the side of Nicolae Carpathia. If you can read a prophecy of death and destruction and think, “Obviously the work of God,” but a prophecy of peace and universal brotherhood makes you think, “The work of the Devil!“—you might be a RTC.

  • Dash1

    Yep. It also shows up in the hymns, especially in the hymns: “Would He devote that sacred head for
    such a worm as I?” “that saved a wretch like me” “unworthy” “vile” etc.

  • Dash1

    Actually, it’s because cards have sin germs on them. I thought everybody knew that. (So do golf balls; or so did they until certain well-known Christians started playing golf. Also, strangely, the sin germs do not infest the cards on the computer’s solitaire game.)

  • guest

    My surveying teacher used to say ‘one loud ‘I don’t know’ is worth a thousand words of bullshit.’

  • esmerelda_ogg

    Yes – that was exactly the argument my church used. Whatcha gonna do with people like that? (Get away. Get far, far away.)

  • esmerelda_ogg

    Laugh. Out. Loud.

  • Dash1

    OMG, yes! Thank you for that link. Here’s the sentence that I resonated with: “That’s why, in some respects, the people who come out of fundamentalism
    are not the ones who didn’t really believe it. They’re the ones who
    really did. They took it completely seriously and experienced this impotence.” That was me. I actually started questioning quite young when I realized that the people in my church didn’t actually believe what they claimed the Bible said.

    That’s what is so valuable about what Fred and those like him are doing in pointing out the internal contradictions. Objections from the outside (“you’re interpreting the Bible wrong, and if you go to our seminary, you can find out why”) aren’t as likely to be persuasive. It’s following the line of argument you started with and finding out that it doesn’t work that is, I think, most likely to be helpful to those who are trying very hard to take the Bible (as it was presented to us) seriously.

    I understand that the great Bart Ehrman also ultimately got out because he took the Bible seriously and followed the texts and the historical evidence where they led.

  • The_L1985

    “Old Rugged Cross” adds an extra layer of creepy, if you really think about it.

  • Jenora Feuer

    Though I assume the heavenly choir has Bach on the organ, which has to be pretty badass.

    A friend of mine once told me about what he considered to be the most amazing thing he had ever heard.

    You’re familiar with the concept of duelling banjos?

    Now imagine two cathedrals, across the street from each other, playing duelling pipe organs with Bach on the playlist.

  • esmerelda_ogg

    Course, you can understand the reasoning behind “a wretch like me” when you consider that the writer had been a slave trader in his youth.

  • I have no issue with “a wretch like me.” It’s when they start talking like “A wretch like thee” that I get twitchy.

  • Original Lee

    Fred, I want to thank you for introducing me to the Defeating the Dragons blog. I read the whole thing yesterday (not including comments), and I am reading the Kindle version of one of the books she talks about as one she wishes she had read earlier. Awesomesauce all around!

  • So a variation on the “The Bible Says It. I Believe it. That Settles It.” theme?

    I’m a Christian and have never worried about what happens after death, but not because Jesus purportedly said something. I think (personal opinion, mind you) that since cells and life have energy and energy cannot be created or destroyed, something lives on.

  • So…if we can’t go to Heaven unless we believe Jesus is our savior, this means Moses, Aaron, David, etc., aren’t saved?

    I think if you lead a good life, not an exemplary live, but a basically good one and love one another, you will go to Heaven, no matter when you were born or what you believe. Or even IF you believe.

  • I am not sure that plan would work. To have an effective space elevator the tether needs to be near the equator, and Mecca might be too far north. The nearest approximately suitable location close to that latitude would probably be in Kenya or Somalia.

  • Mark Z.

    Ah, you’re right. Stupid geometry.

    Anyway, I feel like a space elevator in the Middle East ought to be in Babylon, just for the սիմվոլիկ balioa будаўнічых একটি প্রকৃত 塔 di Babele dammit I hate it when that happens.

  • Valancy Jane

    Hi Matthias. I’m so sorry I didn’t see this before today. Don’t know how I missed it. Answer: Because in the religion I was in, there is a verse much discussed about how many Christians will, at the end, cry out “lord, lord!” and their god will cast them out saying he never knew them. In other words, these Christians were super-duper sure of themselves, but no way was their god letting them into his house party. My church (well, actually, every church I attended; I grew up Catholic and worked my way outward through the milder Protestant denominations until I hit the far right-wing fringe of United Pentacostalism before leaving) taught that this meant that you had to be super-duper zealous and careful about your “salvation” or you might lose it through some accident or wrong belief (which by wild coincidence happened to be “a belief that particular church itself doesn’t hold”). You had to keep the tank topped off, so to speak. My biggest fear was dying in a car accident with some minor sin unconfessed. Looking back, it’s just insane how scared I was of it; now it’s like thinking of the DEMON HAND that lurked under my bed when I was five years old as I try to understand that old fear.

    I still remember the terrifying day I realized that even people who seemed really together and strong in their faith were absolutely petrified of missing the Rapture or dying and going to hell. I know the fashion nowadays is to say that salvation is more or less a rubber-stamp into the club, that once you get it you have to do a lot before you lose it, and I know some Christians don’t even go in for a standard-issue Hell at all. It’s definitely not a universal belief anymore. I get this feeling that you’re edging toward a “well you were just doing it wrong,” and would like to gently remind you if you are that there are as many takes on the Bible as there are Christians, and every single one of them is absolutely convinced that he or she is doing it right and has the cherry-picked verses to prove it, and also would like to respectfully let you know that when you said that, you made me feel like my suffering (not to mention those of countless de-converts and those suffering in pews right now under that sickening belief) was being negated and minimized under the hand-waving of the True Scotsman. I hope that’s just me being a bit over-sensitive but wanted to let you know that’s how it came off.

    I haven’t been worried about the afterlife for about 25 years now, I guess. Do I know what’s coming next? No. Do I care? No. This life is the only one I’m going to get that I know of for sure, and if there are any good gods at all, they’re going to care a lot more about what I did to advance humanity and love my neighbors than about the theology that got me to the behaviors I displayed.