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.

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!

TRENDING AT PATHEOS Progressive Christian
What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Fusina

    “As for Jews-by-birth, the Orthodox will accept you if your mother is Jewish. And you’re mistaken but the Conservative movement does abide by that rule. The Reform will accept you if at least one parent is Jewish and you were raised Jewish.”

    My father is Jewish. I have been told precisely this. So according to some, I am not Jewish, but I did research Judaism as half of my familial connections are Jewish and I was curious. And when my Catholic husband tasted my potato pancakes, well, he knows precisely when Chanukah starts, and by golly, I’d disappoint him mightily if I didn’t serve them that night. So my end point is that I am a Christian, but also Jewish. And no decree from anyone can take that away from me.

  • Fusina

    I have asked about the verse where Jesus is alleged to say, “I, if I be lifted up will draw all men to me.” Seems pretty straightforward–universalism from the founder of the religion. So I stopped worrying about where I’ll go after death and started enjoying here and now, and looking for what good I can personally do. I also don’t worry about other people’s life after death–more, how can I help you out now.

  • My step-dad is kind of an electrician, so it seems like it will be.

  • Oh, I had some pretty great lines at the time too, internal and actually said. Like remarking that, hey, Mom might have shrunk a couple of inches since I was last home, but at least now her head was beneath the smoke line! I had to duck so I wasn’t breathing it in. I also spontaneously shoved all my stuff back in my luggage bags in preparation to take it all outside away from the fire, had a thought of “Is this the most selfish thing I could be thinking of right now?”, then realized “Wait a tick, I’m on vacation, I wasn’t even supposed to be here!”

  • Fusina

    I would like to offer you virtual hugs, from another clinically depressed person who was utterly convinced she was going straight to hell, do not pass go etc…

    I am now utterly convinced that everyone will be in heaven, only some of them may think they are in hell–like the senator from North Carolina–with no one around who will bow to his obviously superior worth–don’t tell me that won’t be hellish for him.

  • Literature class was where I had to read it too, as one of the very first items. Horrible, isn’t it? I was so glad to get out of the 1600’s where there were so few rays of light (Anne Bradstreet being one — the first American [sorta; she predates the Declaration] feminist on record!)

  • I was in college and into angry atheism at the time, so my reaction to reading it was an immediate suspicion that I was going to hate the class, the instructor and anything to do with either. Thankfully, he turned out to be one of the wisest, funniest, most generous and wonderful men I’ve ever known and the three classes I took with him (and the two classes I took with his wife) are some of my best memories. It was just getting past that “RAWR FIRE HELL EVERYONE SUCKS” hurdle of Puritan literature. I was at serious risk of dropping the class when the first five or so readings were all heavily religious and downright painful to read.

  • When I was growing up, one of the common examples “proving” that humans were innately sinful was to point at infants crying. The argument was that infants would selfishly cry because they wanted something. It was all about them.

    Which sounds good until you really get thinking about it. What do infants usually want when they cry? Food. A diaper change. Help getting rid of gas. Affection. Things that if not downright critical for their survival, are at least essential to overall health. Things that they need and cannot get for themselves because they’re infants.

    So yeah, I grew up being told by some religious leaders that infants were inherently selfish and sinful because they employed the only means they had to try to get the care they absolutely needed to survive and be healthy.

    Talk about subtle, eh?

  • That is so downright shitty. I’m sure they thought they were being clever when they came up with that reasoning. (Makes me wonder whether that idea correlates with corporeal punishment…)

  • aunursa

    My point was not regarding whether someone can identify as a Jew, but whether the Jewish movements will accept a person as a Jew.

    I am on the board of my synagogue’s Men’s Club that is planning an upcoming Shabbat service. On Sunday we were discussing who could fill various roles for the service (e.g. reading the Torah, Haftarah, aliyah, etc.) We considered one particular member to lead the Shacarit שַחֲרִת portion. Then we realized that he is not Jewish, although his wife is. As a non-Jew, he would be ineligible to perform that role. It wouldn’t matter if he considers himself Jewish.

    You may identify as Jewish. But you would not be offered certain roles that can only be performed by Jews in prayer services under the auspices of an Orthodox, Conservative or Reform synagogue. But there are other roles that you could assume (e.g. opening and closing the ark), and most synagogues would love to have you provide latkes for a kiddush (provided they meet dietary requirements.)

  • aunursa

    Then sun never rises for several months, then when it does rise, it never sets for several months. How does one determine when to begin observance and when to end?

  • Carstonio

    Sounds like projection to me. I’ve struggled to overcome my assumption that my wants and needs are inconveniences or burdens for others, along with my defensiveness and fear of other people having wants and needs of me. Both stem from a fear of making others angry. I can imagine the religious leaders in your youth reacting to a crying baby not as a personal inconvenience but as a potential for tragic mistakes – a less than rational fear that doing the wrong thing with the baby could cause either psychological damage, or provoke anger from the baby’s parents.

  • SkyknightXi

    It’s probably tied up with the idea that “the laws of God are written in the hearts of men”. One of the laws in this case is absolute respect for your parents. The infant is supposed to trust that their parents will attend to their needs, and not pester them without need. Apparently, the possibility that even parents might get embattled with priorities and distracted doesn’t enter into the equation. Maybe the infant is supposed to trust that God will place a psionic suggestion into such parents?

  • Carstonio

    I didn’t realize that the lack of sunrise or sunset in space would have implications for some religions.* My understanding is that space agencies use UTC for the default, but that’s based on London local. Makes sense that Jews could use Jerusalem local or Muslims could use Mecca local.

    * I still don’t know the Christian denomination of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s grandfather in “Little House in the Big Woods.” The Sabbath began at Saturday sundown, and the prohibition on work included even saddling horses so they had to walk to church. I tried looking this up, and found the Focus on the Family rating of the book – revealing that the organization’s categories for rating books includes “Authority roles”, “Other belief systems” and “Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality.”

  • SkyknightXi

    It gets worse when you look at specifically supralapsarian Calvinists (I have no idea whether Edwards was supralapsarian or infralapsarian). That’s where the particular view of predestination is that it was charted BEFORE the Fall. Actually, before any actual creating was done. This means that the reprobate (who are going to be the far greater mass of humanity) were created WITH BEING HATED IN MIND. They’re there EXPRESSLY to become recipients of God’s infinite wrath. And of course, the REAL point of this is for God to accrue more glory. He can’t very well visit his wrath on the elect, after all, otherwise they wouldn’t be receiving his mercy and love. But the aspects of wrath, judgement, and patience need to be displayed and known somehow if they’re to be glorified. Thus, the creation of the reprobate. A spectacularly unempathetic and unsympathetic comment from Pastor Vincent Cheung, supralapsarian extraordinaire, comes to mind. This is in response to a fellow Calvinist pleading for advice on how to come to terms with the torment caused by his wife’s barrenness AND the ungodly thriving and delighting with children of their own. His prayer frequency had actually lessened.

    The question that Paul says we should not ask [in Romans 9] is precisely the one that you are asking: “Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?'” If you are a reprobate,
    then the matter is simple. This passage says that God has made someone like you so that someone like me can learn about his wrath, his power, and his patience – that he would tolerate someone like you for so long – and in contrast, about his riches and mercy toward me. So if you are a reprobate, this would be a satisfying conclusion to my response.

    However, our working assumption is that you are a Christian.
    Even so, the passage is relevant. Notice that God reveals himself to the
    elect not only through the objects of wrath, whom he has prepared for
    destruction, but those who are saved are objects of his mercy –
    they themselves have been sinners, only that God has decided to
    sovereignly show them mercy. “Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden” (Romans 9:18).

    As if that weren’t bad enough, Cheung later says that, because God has revealed his “yoke” as light and gentle, a true Christian is INCAPABLE of feeling embattled by God’s predestination; the knowledge that all will end in the believers’ paradise should at least sublimate, if not outright negate, all the frustration they feel about thriving reprobates. In other words, the querent is clearly not yet a proper Christian simply because he isn’t letting the “truth” of predestination and absolute control by God becalm him in everything.

  • esmerelda_ogg

    “God has made someone like you so that someone like me can learn
    about his wrath, his power, and his patience – that he would tolerate
    someone like you for so long – and in contrast, about his riches and
    mercy toward me. So if you are a reprobate, this would be a satisfying
    conclusion to my response.” – Pastor Vincent Cheung

    And this is why I find Calvinism and predestination so repulsive. It may possibly be logically airtight if you accept its starting premises (then again, it may not; I haven’t found the time to study it thoroughly enough to be sure, what with there being only twenty-four hours in the average day), but it also takes you to the logical conclusion that God is a sadistic monster. Not gonna go there.

  • So if you are a reprobate, this would be a satisfying conclusion to my response.

    I just uttered a few words. I think “fuck” was prominently among them in various noun forms.

    A satisfying conclusion?! So we should be content with our lot as those destined to spend eternity in Hell regardless of what we do, for the crime of having picked the short straw at the beginning of time? This is supposed to be satisfying? The lives we have are a demonstration of his patience?

    There’s that word again. Quite a lot of it actually.

    I was wrong, I can’t possibly be a sociopath with people like this in the world. That’s like suggesting a droplet is a lake with the ocean in view for comparison.

  • esmerelda_ogg

    Oh, you don’t even have to be gay to get that message. I grew up with the same thing. (Being told flat out that I was going to hell for playing 500 rummy with my grandmother kind of underlined the point. The fundamentalist God seems to search eagerly for trivial excuses to hate people.)

  • esmerelda_ogg

    And they don’t even have to be sexual desires. In the church where I grew up, desiring to learn about and understand the universe led you very directly into damnation because a lust for knowledge wasn’t compatible with an unquestioning acceptance of the official interpretation of Genesis. (I was a teenager before the invention of things like Answers in Genesis – in my time, everybody admitted that the evidence supported evolution. The argument was that God had planted everything that demonstrated an old earth as a trap so that he could send you to hell if you believed the evidence. Yes, my Sunday school teacher told us that.)

  • esmerelda_ogg

    I can’t say it better, so I’ll just second this.

  • Ah, Last Thursdayism, a better argument for Loki than YHWH. :p

  • LL

    The thing is, if fundamentalists of all denominations seemed happy at all, I’d understand why their “faith” is supposed to be attractive. But they don’t. Yeah, some of them attempt that creepy, forced-smile “happy” to try to convince others (if not themselves) that God is love, blah blah blah, but they are unconvincing to anybody who knows what actual happiness looks like.

    Then you have the bummers (like Phelps and his ilk) who would say it’s not about happiness, that being happy is unimportant and selfish and blah blah blah and that’s where I usually check out.

    When someone actually comes right out and tells you that the point of religion is not being happy, you know two things:
    1) They mean it
    2) They will go to a great deal of effort to prove it

    Not sure who’s worse: the fake happy ones or the ones who are at least honest about how miserable they are and how miserable they hope to make everyone else. At least the second group is upfront about it. The first group are like used car salesmen. Never a good thing in religious “leaders.”

  • esmerelda_ogg

    ” theology is a fun after-dinner conversation, but if we’re serious about
    our lives we’ll realize that the real question is “what should I *do*?” ”

    OH yes. The more I think and live and pray, the more I agree with James (writer of a letter in the New Testament, and probably the brother of Jesus so he must have known the guy pretty well) – “Faith without works is dead.” Stop sitting around fretting over whether you’re believing exactly the required stuff and get out there and help somebody who needs you. If it’s true that God is powerful and loving, he’ll take care of the rest of the details for you. If it were true that God is a hate-filled sadist, at least you would have done your little bit to thwart it. If it were true that God doesn’t exist, you’ve brightened the universe in your time. And so on. Win-win, however you interpret things.

  • I don’t know if it was college, or starting my first “grown-up” job, but I quickly adopted a phrase when I had to ask someone a question: “I don’t know is an OK answer, especially if you can point me towards someone who might.”

    “I don’t know” must be an acceptable answer when you ask someone a question, because otherwise if that person doesn’t know, they’ll be pressured to make up an answer and present it as an answer, and not merely a supposition or informed guess.

    Another phrase I quickly adopted was “the difference between thinking that you know something for certain and actually knowing something for certain is both very significant and very difficult to detect.”

  • Michele Cox

    Huh. I wouldn’t say that the point of religion is being happy — there will be plenty of times when you’re “doing” religion just fine and are still profoundly unhappy. But Phelps & co sometimes seem to think the point is to be as unhappy as possible, which seems at least equally counterproductive.

    If I were trying to figure out the “point” of religion, I think I might say something about being connected… /wanders off pondering…/

  • I hope he has his electrical licence. :O

  • If not to be happy, then to be fulfilled. If not to be fulfilled yet, then to hope one may get there.

    We are often not happy right now, but a religion that doesn’t even offer the hope that it’s all going to be all right in the end, somehow, from some perspective, is a religion that hasn’t met the minimum requirements for “worth it.”

    I like the “being connected” bit, but then I think being connected – to Deity, to the Universe, to all living things as part of an interconnected whole – is a good thing. So it’s all part of the being fulfilled, being happy/content, having something good and hopeful to work toward with my spiritual life.

    I’m trying to imagine a religion that seriously pushes its adherents towards being better connected to God or of perfect service to God but not experiencing that connection/service as some sort of emotional positive for the individual, and all I come up with is Hail Cthulhu.

  • phranckeaufile

    With love like that, who needs hate?

  • Cathy W

    I believe that’s the basis for Michael and Debi Pearl’s child-“training” methodology – the one where when an infant is learning to crawl, you put them on a blanket, and if they try to crawl off the blanket you smack them on the leg with a length of flexible plastic tubing. The baby is simply disobedient…

  • Cathy W

    I can even get a positive out of Cthulhu-worship: “He is pleased with my service, and will show it by eating me first and quickly.”

  • SisterCoyote

    Seconding the offer of virtual hugs. I’m so sorry you had to go through that.

  • > If I were trying to figure out the “point” of religion, I think I might say something about being connected

    I dunno what the point of religion is, but I often think of “sin” as an act that encourages me to be disconnected from the world.

  • SisterCoyote

    Yeah, that one never made sense to me. Our church taught that babies were innocent – that it wasn’t until they developed a sense of right and wrong that they could sin. (Toddlers, basically.) My mom used to point to my little brother, who would gleefully do exactly the thing she had just told him not to. The point was that we all, almost as soon as we obtained consciousness, used it to sin.

    …which, although a bit more logical, I think, is still pretty harsh.

  • SkyknightXi

    Now that I remember it, there’s a REALLY unpleasant quandary about God in supralapsarianism. All the reprobate were planned before the onset of creation. All the elect were planned before the onset of creation. Every bit of weal and woe was planned before the onset of creation.

    So…is there anything for God to portray acceptance or contempt towards that he didn’t expressly intend to be? When you have something like this, it makes ALL his love and ALL his wrath calculated in advance. No responsiveness, no spontaneity. So, can the supralapsarian God be said to be capable of GENUINE love or outrage?

  • Randomosity

    I’ve seen some truly epic-level self-hate stemming from beliefs like this. One particularly chilling piece was a post answering the question: Why do bad things happen to good people. The answer: Because there are no good people and that if people got what they truly deserved, there is no torture on this earth that could adequately equal it. And this eternal torture would be coming from a good God.
    Cognitive dissonance, my head explodeth.

  • LL

    I don’t mean happy all the time, but reasonably happy a reasonable percentage of the time, as opposed to always stressed and anguished at the thought of how unworthy of God and heaven you are.

    I guess I should have made that clearer, given the audience.

  • JustoneK


  • It also seems to eliminate any role of free will in one’s spiritual matters, making the demonstration of love/wrath entirely arbitrary. Yes, yes, witnessing eternal damnation is impressive, but what does it accomplish if there’s nothing you or I could do to change where we go anyway? Is it just to make one group appreciate their eventual fate more than the other?

    Again, a being I wouldn’t want to worship regardless of whether I was elect or not. My principles require me to demand damnation if paradise comes at such a cost.

  • so one thing I recall from high school or college was something a teacher demonstrated where if you ask a group of people the same question in succession and insist they each give a different answer, the first time you accept “I don’t know”, suddenly no one will answer anything else.

    I don’t know the broad applicability of this, but I bet it’s the reason that society tends to discourage people from considering “I don’t know” an acceptable answer.

  • Fanraeth

    That reminds me of how I could play poker as a kid as long as I didn’t call it poker. Made for some interesting reactions when I tried to get childhood friends to play this awesome card game I liked and they were all “Your parents let you play poker?!?” in tones of horror.

  • Randomosity

    That quote is a perfect example of Protagonist Centered Morality. Other people exist and go through crap just so I can be awed by the divine.

    Can I be a character in a different book?

  • Random_Lurker

    I have a similar phrase- ” ‘I don’t know’ may not be a very satisfying answer- but it often has the advantage of being true.”

  • Mark Z.

    I’ll answer for me.

    The picture of the afterlife that I got, growing up as an evangelical Christian, was fairly hellish. What we had to look forward to was apparently an eternal worship service. Now, I loathe worship services,* and at the time, they were full of people who made me miserable.** I sometimes have panic attacks just going into an evangelical church building. And I’m going to be locked in one of these things for eternity? All the problems of theodicy and universal versus limited atonement aside, I can’t imagine a loving God sending anyone to heaven.

    Of course we weren’t supposed to talk about that, because the entire faith as they understood it was completely built around the promise of spending eternity in heaven. Expressing any doubts about that meant I was “unsure of my salvation”, and would get aggressively prayed for and otherwise pressured into going along with the program. (I mentioned it to my parents once. They responded with the exact tone of voice and body language that they’d used when I told them I was getting a D in World History, and we never talked about it again.)

    Eternal life after death is not, in itself, something I want. I am a Christian because I hope for the resurrection of the world–for renewal, for healing of its wounds. Discarding most of it and turning the rest into a megachurch is not healing.

    * Though I assume the heavenly choir has Bach on the organ, which has to be pretty badass.
    ** Including, but not limited to, myself.

  • Well, remember, as a reprobate, you’re not a real true person; you aren’t really suffering in your damnation, not like a saved person would, because you’re rotten straight down to the core and therefore could not possibly enjoy heaven — salvation is so alien to your very nature that you could have no possible sense of what it would be. You aren’t really upset about being barred from heaven; you’re just acting like that as a challenge for the elect. See, as a reprobate, you’re basically an automaton, whose only real function is to provide demonstrative contrast as you burn in a lake of fire for all eternity. And if it weren’t for the fall, that would be patently obvious to everyone, and the elect would see clearly that there was absolutely nothing lovable or good about the reprobate — the fact that it sometimes seems like those non-calvinist folks over there are actually nice people who might not deserve eternal damnation is just an illusion caused by your fallen senses. They secretly eat babies or something.

  • Thanks to my deep bass tones, I got conscripted into performing it in a very weak stab at period costume a few times.

  • Mark Z.

    A related issue for Muslims is which direction Mecca is when in orbit. Of course it is in a specific direction, but figuring that out is a pain in the ass.

    (Long-term solution: Build a space elevator, tethered to Mecca. Face toward that. For the sake of convenience (and tradition), we can also put a big light on top, and turn it on five times a day. Correcting for light travel delay and relativistic effects is left as an exercise for the reader.)

  • The_L1985

    Bradstreet was awesome. It took until I was well out of high school to appreciate Sylvia Plath or Adrienne Rich, though.

  • Wednesday

    Apparently I need to clarify.

    I meant that roughly 90% of the people who tell me I cannot be Jewish _based only on knowing my mom is Catholic and my dad is Jewish_ are Christian, usually conservative. This “you aren’t Jewish” comment generally happens in complete absense of any questions of whether or not I had a bat mitzvah or what my practices or beliefs are, so it’s entirely based on my parentage. They are also the ones who treat my parents’ marriage and my personal existence as a hypothetical. (I didn’t mention Orthodox conversion because when I have these
    conversations, people can usually see from how I dress that I’m not an
    observant Orthodox.)

    The remaining 10% of the people who tell me I cannot be Jewish based only on my parentage (including the fact that my mom didn’t convert) are Jewish individuals who generally also treat my existence as something that shouldn’t have happened.

    When people say I’m not Jewish based on my beliefs, practices (or lack thereof), or the fact that I didn’t have a bat mitzvah, that’s an entirely different discussion.

  • Katie

    An alternative solution is to pray in the direction of Earth, since if you’re in outer space that is the closest you can reasonably get to figuring out the direction of Mecca.

  • God has made someone like you so that someone like me can learn about his wrath, his power, and his patience…

    That sounds like a variation on a comment over at the OP:

    I am not against homosexuals or atheist, bc they need us the most. But we aren’t to dwell in their homes or them in ours, bc no matter how good we are, if you put good with evil some evil will rub off on us.

    (Not sure I can link to individual comments; it’s Brooke’s.)

    We evil atheists are here on the planet either to be an object lesson in how awful it is not to be saved, or (better case scenario) to be witnessed to by the Christian in question. This comes up quite frequently on Christian radio: God put your nonChristian co-worker there for a reason–so YOU could teach him about Jesus! Unless you’re ASHAMED of the love of Christ, of course…