Should we embrace moderate Christianity?

May 12, 2008 at 11:33 pm 47 comments

Ok, maybe not embrace, but befriend?

Recently on a whim I bought a book from the new books display at my local bookstore (what else is new, right?). The title is The Fall of the Evangelical Nation: The Surprising Crisis Inside the Church. I’m on page 53 right now, and I had to stop to think and write about something that’s been on my mind since Sam Harris’s first book came out. I’ve been thinking about it even more since I read about half of Chris Hedges’s latest while having coffee at the bookstore a few weeks ago (I decided not to buy it).

Here’s the question: Is fundamentalism the authentic religious voice?

My answer is “no”…. but I seem to be in the minority of opinion.

The media features fundamentalists or extreme conservative believers every time a topic regarding morality comes up, as if these are the only people who can speak for believers, as if they have authority to speak for all people of faith on these issues. Not only are atheists and agnostics left out of the conversation, but moderate and liberal believers often are as well. They are not taken as seriously as those who are literalist or extremist in their views, and are often considered “soft” or “lax,” as if they were not “true” followers of the faith. When journalists act this way, they are echoing the fundamentalist point of view.

The new atheists seem to agree. In The End of Faith, Sam Harris wrote that fundamentalists, who take their scriptures literally, are in a very real sense the best practitioners of their faith because they follow their scriptures most closely. Richard Dawkins also belittles those of moderate faiths when he insists that religion never changes because it is tied to the ancient writings of scripture, an entirely fundamentalist viewpoint (and entirely wrong, but that is another issue all together).

I really have no answers today, I just wanted to share a bit about what was on my mind. I would like to think that Jimmy Carter John Shelby Spong, not James Dobson, is the better example of authentic Christianity. I would like to make people who value the compassion of Christ, not people who value the punishment of the law, spokespersons for faith. I would like to make fundamentalism irrelevant, and the way to do that may include taking a more positive view of those with liberal interpretations of their religion.

Sam Harris and many others often claim that moderate religious groups give cover to fundamentalists by honoring the holy books that they use to build their walls of doctrine. I used to agree, but now I’m not so sure that’s true. No, we shouldn’t have to respect beliefs that are based on a foundation of straw, but we can respect people who share many of the same goals that we do, even if we do not share the same beliefs regarding religion. Just because I think all religion is a waste of time, doesn’t mean I have to think that all believers should be shunned or ridiculed.

I don’t know about you, but I, for one, would rather encourage a moderate, liberal kind of faith where people are free to cherry pick what they want to believe while they conform to modern, secular values and use skepticism to make decisions in daily life. I think I’d like to befriend people with this type of faith and work together with them to keep fundamentalism in check, to preserve the separation of church and state, and to protect the benefits of a scientific and secular society. I’d like to see society become less polarized, not more. I’d like to see people talking to each other instead of fighting with each other.

So what’s the skeptical way to look at this issue? I really don’t know. But I think that asking hard questions is a good place to start.

- writerdd


Cross posted on Skepchick

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47 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Walking Away  |  May 13, 2008 at 12:48 am

    I like your view on this, I too would like to see less division and polarization…and I think its possible over time. I’m kind of in a unique position as far as choosing who I socialize with. I am newly de-converted and have to keep silent about it or else risk losing my job. I work for a very conservative ministry so am surrounded by evangelical fundamentalists 40 hours a week. There are no moderates in my office, I’d say the majority of people in the entire ministry (one of the largest in the world) has a propensity toward people like James Dobson. Sigh. I’m writing about it on my blog and trying to find humor in it because years of being angry, hurt and amazed over their ignorance has only worn me out.

  • 2. Hugo  |  May 13, 2008 at 5:13 am

    I’m in a highly Christian country, which contains a lot of moderates, especially at our University town. (Stellenbosch, South Africa.) Our town also plays host to a couple of pentecostal/fundamentalist churches, importing US evangelicalism. And a number of my cousins/aunts/uncles have fallen to the influence. I’ve deconverted, and am trying to make the best contribution to fighting the fundamentalist plague.

    On the one hand, I would love it if the moderates or emerging church people could be mobilised (emerging church is getting a good grip on the other two big churches in town, and in the theological faculty). Also, people disregard your criticism of fundamentalism when it looks like you’re pushing an atheistic agenda. This encourages me to try to hide the atheistic part of my worldview, and focus only on the problems with the fundamentalism. With good knowledge of liberal Christianity and emerging church ideas (having followed that path out), I could probably do that quite well. But it is a strain on me, having to remain ambiguous about issues “peripheral” to the problems with fundamentalism.

    And then I see other moderate Christians saying “each relates to God in their own way”, an explicit defence of “well, the fundamentalists are not perfect, but they’re okay”… I could swallow that more easily, if there wasn’t any animosity to non-theists… which gets me to the key factor in cooperation:

    I want cooperation. But I think it would require a positive attitude from moderates towards the non-religious. That might be found amongst the liberal believers, but I’m not so sure about the “moderates”. What is a “moderate” anyway? I consider McLaren, Borg and Spong to be “liberal”.

  • 3. writerdd  |  May 13, 2008 at 8:55 am

    I have trouble defining moderates, too. I first listed Jimmy Carter as my example, then I thought, well he’s really a fundamentalist/evangelical who is just not politically conservative, right? So I switched my example to Spong who, admittedly, is very liberal. Who is in the middle? I’m sure there are a lot of evangelicals who are not really as extremist as Dobson et al, so perhaps Carter is a better example of what I mean after all.

  • 4. kat  |  May 13, 2008 at 9:46 am

    yah while fundamentalism isnt an accurate portrayal of the religious in general, they are the ones following the rules more day to day – other than the hate and the sex scandals. and its true that the ones who are more “liberal” are ones who are following the rules of their religion less and less – i mean otherwise we’d all either own slaves or be slaves

    maybe amish people should be the ones to set as an example.

    media need to interview the different demoninations of religions when covering moral issues and getting religious opinion because only going to extremes is one sided, and potentially dangerous, and could be deemed propaganda. im not impressed with the media – of what i’ve seen on satellite at my bf’s. i dont watch enough mainstream news outlets to know how much fundy crap they show, but the last weekend – out of the few hours i saw tv, cnn or something was interviewing that ‘god hates fags’ chick – the crazy one – i only watched it for like 15 seconds cause i dont like her

    in my experience the more “liberal” with the religion people are, the more easy going they are and i’d rather be friends with easy going people than people who only wanna talk about god to me cause they wanna argue or want me to agree with them, or ppl who act like they’re so great cause of god – hello so annoying! i like to party so stop acting like such a dipshit!
    luckily, most ‘religious’ ppl i meet are what u would call “not practicing”

  • 5. writerdd  |  May 13, 2008 at 9:52 am

    Kat, my entire argument is that fundamentalists are not following the rules of their religion any more closely than anyone else. For Christians, each group has made their own interpretation of the Bible and follows what they believe to be the correct “rules” to the best of their ability.

    Many groups do not use the Bible as the sole orator of truth and have a religion that has grown over the centuries to be more mature and more in line with science and modern civilization. This is not less valid form of religion simply because it is less dogmatic about following every command in the Bible. In fact, Jesus himself said, more or less, that the law was abolished by grace.

    I think we do a disservice all around to say that fundamentalists are truer representations of their religions than anyone else. We are buying into their narrow minded bullsh*t when we say that.

  • 6. The Barefoot Bum  |  May 13, 2008 at 10:05 am

    [Dawkins is] entirely wrong, but that is another issue all together

    If the truth or falsity of Dawkins’ assertion (assuming you’ve represented him accurately) is another issue, then in what sense are you saying that the truth matters? And if the truth is beside the point, in what sense do you call yourself a skeptic?

  • 7. writerdd  |  May 13, 2008 at 10:16 am

    I don’t call myself a skeptic. I call myself an atheist or a bright.

    Truth — or reality — certainly does matter but I don’t see what my aside about Dawkins being wrong about religion never changing has to do with that at all.

  • 8. kat  |  May 13, 2008 at 10:51 am

    “Jesus himself said, more or less, that the law was abolished by grace.”

    i thought jesus said that he came not to change the law but only to add to it

    fundamentalists follow what the religion teaches. christians who go on birth control, disobey their parents etc are only as ‘religious’ because of loopholes like confession. just because the new testament goes on and on about moral crap and some moral christians wanna credit their morals to the new testament doesnt mean they’re religous or a better portrayal of the true meaning of the religion. you talk about how some denominations have grown with the times so to speak, adapting, like maybe how its ok for catholics to eat meat on fridays now? i guess when they make it official it represents another acceptable way to practice christianity, equal with fundies, but if its unofficial and all u have is “sinners” eating meat cause they like it, and u have fundies following the rules better, who is a more accurate portrayal? until gay marriage is officially allowed in the catholic church, i dont think catholics who support gay marriage can qualify to represent their religion. as far as representing the religion goes, fundies would win out

  • 9. The Apostate  |  May 13, 2008 at 11:08 am

    writer, what is an “authentic religious voice”?
    Can authentic be replaced with “genuine”? In that case there, in the view of an irreligious person, there is either no such thing or everyone has an authentic religious voice. Authenticity harkens back to its original form, does it not? In that case, someone like Spong may be on to something, but he hardly follows it – in fact he outright denies it. Spong is a nontheistic Christian of sorts. But he also believes, and rightly so, that the first Jews that called themselves Christians (or were called Christians) were devoutly and passionately monotheistic.

    Maybe I am just pulling apart too much, but it seemed like that question of authenticity was at the root of your post.
    I just see nothing authentic about people who tick off the “Christian” box during census reports and polls, go to church once every four weeks, pray at Thanksgiving and Christmas, and then go on their merry way. These people barely have anything to say about their religion, and so I have no qualms with them, but I can hardly have an in depth conversation with them because my interests lie in philosophy and religion.

  • 10. kat  |  May 13, 2008 at 11:09 am

    actually u know, i was just thinking, as far as i can tell fundies dont follow the new testament very good like most of what jesus taught was love thy neighbour and stuff. idk why they call jesus their god if they just ignore what he teaches lol
    so based on the fact that both fundies and more liberal christians ignore scripture and pick and choose what to follow, they’re equal portrayals of the religion – they portray half of it – like, fundies being the old testament and the others like the new testament

  • 11. TheDeeZone  |  May 13, 2008 at 11:29 am

    While I am certainly not a fundie I am also not a liberal. I guess some would say I am a moderate. As for having an authentic faith I try to. Breaking down the word Christian, Christians are to be Christ-like. That is my goal. Do I accomplish it? No, but I try.

    For me my faith is real. It is a relationship. As I have said before a faith that does not effect one’s life is useless. My faith does effect my life.

  • 12. LeoPardus  |  May 13, 2008 at 11:46 am

    I had the same question as TA, e.g., “What is an authentic religious voice?” Seems like anyone with a religion would be authentic in representing their religion.

    I suppose in any given country “authentic” could mean “representing a large/majority voice”. In that case fundamentalist Christianity is pretty authentic. (If we ignore the fact that it’s fragmented into 1000′s of squabbling factions.)

    If TA’s statement, “Authenticity harkens back to its original form.”, is true, then fundamentalism is completely unauthentic. You’d have to do to the Catholics, Orthodox, or the handful of other ancient denominations.

  • 13. Jay Jay  |  May 13, 2008 at 11:51 am

    If one is not a believer then the idea of what is an authentic Christian becomes pretty much a semantic argument. The real question becomes is disabusing others of wrong belief the ultimate goal in life?

    Take two people who live pretty much the same lives, but one is an atheist and the other a theist (and finds comfort in god). Do I really need to go after that belief or can I just let it slide?

  • 14. Brad  |  May 13, 2008 at 11:55 am

    This is an EXCELLENT article. Let me add a little to the conservative-lliberal debate….

    Fundamentalism, while theologically conservative, is also culturally conservative. With the advent of the Enlightenment/Modernism, some in the church tried to fit the biblical worldview into a modernist philosophy. But the Bible was not written from a Modernist’s perspective, it is not answering the questions that Modernism is asking (while very general, i’d say it answers the “why,” where Modernism asks “how”… again, very general, I know). The result is fundamentalism.

    In many ways (but not all), Liberalism is a reaction to fundamentalism. It realizes how off track Fundamenatalism is, and wants to restore love to the Fundie-overemphasis of truth and judgment without love. But this reaction is an overreaction.

    I wholehearedly embrace writerdd’s advocation of “moderate” Christianity. The way I use it is not in a “less religious” sense, but combining a conservative theology with a liberal cultural perspective: A Christianity that advocates the love of Christ with the holiness of God. A Christianity that values the arts and provides a prophetic voice for change.

    Thank you for this article. It is excellently written, and even more impressive is the spirit in which it was written. I would also recommend anything written by Tim Keller (especially his most recent work: “The Reason for God, Belief in an Age of Skepticism”). Seriously, awesome post.

  • 15. LeoPardus  |  May 13, 2008 at 11:57 am

    Some other thoughts/reactions to the article:

    Not only are atheists and agnostics left out of the conversation, but moderate and liberal believers often are as well. They are not taken as seriously as those who are literalist or extremist in their views,

    I wouldn’t go that far. First off, there are a lot of atheists or agnostics in media. They do get heard. Secondly, I’ve definitely seen moderate and liberal believers consulted (PAW for example). And thirdly, I don’t know that those of literal/extremist views are taken seriously. I think they are held up as caricatures oft times.

    Sam Harris wrote that fundamentalists, who take their scriptures literally, are in a very real sense the best practitioners of their faith because they follow their scriptures most closely

    Can’t agree at all. Fundy’s don’t take their scriptures literally. They take them selectively. Some examples:
    -There are a number of passages that say clearly that the Church is the pillar of truth, the source of the Gospel, authoritative, etc. Fundy’s insist that the Bible is all of those, despite the Bible not even being in the Bible.
    -The scriptures are explicit in saying the bread and wine ARE the body of Christ. Catholics, Orthodox, and some others take that literally. Fundy’s refuse to do so.
    -There are plenty of verses that say gluttony is a sin. When’s the last time you heard that being screamed from a fundy pulpit (by a fat pastor looking over a fat flock)?

    I could provide much more, but I think the above is a good start.

  • 16. Brad  |  May 13, 2008 at 12:48 pm

    Leo,

    “And thirdly, I don’t know that those of literal/extremist views are taken seriously. I think they are held up as caricatures oft times.”

    Case in point, a hilarious (and scary) article in a recent issue of Rolling Stone:
    http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/story/20278737/jesus_made_me_puke

    “Can’t agree at all. Fundy’s don’t take their scriptures literally. They take them selectively. ”

    I pseudo agree with you… I’d agree that they do so selectively, and err more consistently on the side of literalism. But I’d say that issues like the eucharist (and other errors) are due to a lack of grammatical or genre consideration. For example: The psalms are obviously metaphorical because they are the genre of prose (some more than others). There are many factors to consider, but many errors stem from a lack of hard exegetical work or reductionist readings. Literalism can be both good and bad, but the difference lies in genre.

  • 17. LeoPardus  |  May 13, 2008 at 1:00 pm

    issues like the eucharist (and other errors)

    Amusing.

    are due to a lack of grammatical or genre consideration … psalms are obviously metaphorical because they are the genre of prose …There are many factors to consider, but many errors stem from a lack of hard exegetical work or reductionist readings. Literalism can be both good and bad, but the difference lies in genre

    Too bad God can’t write clearly enough for folks without degrees in linguistics to ferret out His meaning.

    The psalms are obviously metaphorical because they are the genre of prose

    Uhm. Don’t they contain literal prophecies of Christ’s coming?

  • 18. Brad  |  May 13, 2008 at 2:11 pm

    Leo,

    “Too bad God can’t write clearly enough for folks without degrees in linguistics to ferret out His meaning.”

    I guess you were sick for 3rd grade English then? Come on Leo, you and I both know a degree in linguistics is not necessary to notice the poetic structure to any English translation of the psalms. If I said “roses are red, and violets are blue,” would you correct me in saying violets are actually violet? Or would you point out that some roses are white, yellow, pink, or any other color? You just proved my point that asking questions the bible is not trying to answer leads to nowhere.

    “Uhm. Don’t they contain literal prophecies of Christ’s coming?”

    Many roses are red, but some are not. I’m speaking of the genre as a general whole, there are many subcategories and exceptions as well. There are stylistic differences in exalted prose (the creation account), praise prose (Psalm 107) and prophetic prose (Is. 53:5).

  • 19. karen  |  May 13, 2008 at 3:00 pm

    I don’t know about you, but I, for one, would rather encourage a moderate, liberal kind of faith where people are free to cherry pick what they want to believe while they conform to modern, secular values and use skepticism to make decisions in daily life.

    I’m with you completely on that one. It also seems that moderate faith encourages its adherents to think for themselves (something totally forbidden in fundy faith), and those who do are more likely to ease away from religion entirely. We see it here (and I’ve seen it elsewhere, too) where a common path to deconversion is to go from fundy to moderate to finally giving up on religion all together.

    I think I’d like to befriend people with this type of faith and work together with them to keep fundamentalism in check, to preserve the separation of church and state, and to protect the benefits of a scientific and secular society. I’d like to see society become less polarized, not more. I’d like to see people talking to each other instead of fighting with each other.

    Definitely. And it’s really not optional. Completely secular people are a small (but growing) minority in the U.S. If we want to accomplish anything on a purely pragmatic level, we have to work with religious people who have similar sensibilities on important issues like those you listed.

    Since the fundies simply won’t work with us (their bible tells them we are fools and worse), our only choice is to ally with the moderate and liberal religious people.

  • 20. LeoPardus  |  May 13, 2008 at 3:41 pm

    Brad:

    I guess you were sick for 3rd grade English then?

    You did genre analysis, hard exegetical work, and reductionist reading in third grade??!!!! Sorry. I did not realize what a prodigy I was dealing with.

    But since this is all such third grade stuff (for the exceedingly gifted at least) perhaps you can explain why the entire church never figured out the “eucharist error” for centuries. Or why the Catholics and Orthodox, where one finds many of the intellectual elite of Christianity, still haven’t figured out this third grade analysis.

  • 21. RM  |  May 13, 2008 at 7:06 pm

    The reason fundamentalists are the people that the media talks to is because anyone who doesn’t take a literal view of their scriptures is by their own definition a heretic.

    If you believe that the scriptures of your chosen religion were inspired by God, written by God, or are the Word of God, then you should follow them AS THEY WERE WRITTEN. If your God is omnipotent and omniscient than they knew what the future would hold and they designed their scriptures with that in mind. You don’t get to pick and chose what parts you keep and what parts you ignore.

    You either take the entire Word of God as the Word of God or you are not following the religion, you are simply taking the parts you like and ignoring the inconvenient parts that might interfere with your life.

  • 22. writerdd  |  May 13, 2008 at 7:09 pm

    The reason fundamentalists are the people that the media talks to is because anyone who doesn’t take a literal view of their scriptures is by their own definition a heretic.

    How on earth did you come to that conclusion?

    Just because fundamentalists believe everyone else is a heretic does not mean the media believes that. Or are you saying that you agree with the fundamentalists? Are you a fundamentalist?

  • 23. Gary  |  May 13, 2008 at 7:19 pm

    Leo, I think you are right in pointing out that the deviations from orthodox forms of tradition are modern aberrations. In this way, even fundamentalists are ‘liberal’. Yet I would go so far as to suggest that the majority of disagreements are superfluous, in so much as they all deviate from the one most important point – what Jesus was actually about. To me, his message can be summed up in two words – compassionate justice – which is really only another way of saying Do to others as you would have them do to you. Everything else is window dressing, even what you believe about the nature of God, it is all abstraction.

  • 24. The Apostate  |  May 13, 2008 at 8:38 pm

    Brad (in comment 14),

    Fundamentalism, while theologically conservative, is also culturally conservative. With the advent of the Enlightenment/Modernism, some in the church tried to fit the biblical worldview into a modernist philosophy. But the Bible was not written from a Modernist’s perspective, it is not answering the questions that Modernism is asking

    How would you define “modernist philosophy”? Are you then saying, as many “emergent” theologians claim, that fundamentalists are those that try to fit their Bible into a “modernist philosophy”? If so, could you provide some examples? In my experience, fundamentalists generally focus on pre-modernity rather than modernity. But I suppose this depends on how one wants to define “modernity.” In my experience with progressive Christianity, they seem to clamor onto the word without actually knowing what it is or mistaking it for something completely different.

  • 25. The Celtic Chimp  |  May 14, 2008 at 4:58 am

    Should be befriend moderate insanity?
    I’d rather not personally.

    Only in a religion soaked world could you call someone who believes there is an all powerful mindreader living in the sky a moderate.

    You may think this view harsh but I think we need to treat religious belief as the absurdity it is.
    Did some entity have something to do with the origins of the universe. I can’t say for absolutely certain (though it seems highly unlikely) Attributing characterists to that most improbable entity and believing it influences the world and reads your mind is nothing short of insanity. Unfortunately it is an accepted and hugely prevalent form of insanity.
    It may be more desirable than the ‘bible is the inerrant word of God’ variety but would you encourage an insane person to persue the less harmful of their delusions?

    Fundamentalism is definatelty the more harmful but I just don’t see that as a good reason to befriend moderate relgion. I can’t help but agree with Dawkins and Harris that moderate religion does provide an aire of acceptablity to fundamentalist belief. If belief in Gods was considered ridiculous in general, fundmentalists would not have even a fraction of the credibilty they are afforded. To put it another way, if not for moderate religion, anyone proclaiming that a two thousand year old book was the inerrant word of God would be immediately dismissed as a lunatic. As it is, fundamentalists are just going one step futher with the whole faith thing.

    On the idea that religion never changes. I would agree that it does sometimes change but only when nessesary and only when it lacks the influence to enforce its position. In the west, when the dogmatic teachings of a religion start to fall too far behind secular vlaues, religions usually bend. For how much longer can the ‘no contraception’ non-sense continue. With the devestation it is wreaking in Africa, the church will eventually have to give up on this particular hangup. Will gays always be villified as abominations?

    This is assumnig that the religion does not have too much power. How much has Islam changed for example. They still stone people and execute gays to this day. Islam has not changed becuase it has not needed to. It is a dominant force in many countries and can enforce its will.

  • 26. LeoPardus  |  May 14, 2008 at 10:19 am

    Gary:

    I partly agree and partly disagree with you. If you’ve nailed down “what Jesus is all about”, then yes, people need to get on that bandwagon. But who’s to say that you’ve nailed it? You’ve got a zillion other ideas of “what Jesus is all about”. What could possibly guarantee that you got it right?

  • 27. Luke  |  May 14, 2008 at 10:25 am

    ” think I’d like to befriend people with this type of faith and work together with them to keep fundamentalism in check, to preserve the separation of church and state, and to protect the benefits of a scientific and secular society. ”

    hello! present and accounted for!

    “Liberalism is a reaction to fundamentalism.” -Brad
    actually it’s the other way around. Modernism came first. this can be accounted for in any history of Christianity but i first encountered it from Mary C. Boys Educating in Faith which covers the various forms of education in religion.

    it’s funny that fundies get the most air time. i think this is due to the jerry springer phenonminon. put on what gets ratings. fundamentalism is NOT an authentic voice, it’s just the loudest.

    here’s a quote from Matthew Fox: “Fundamentalism in all its varieties–Christian (Protestant or Catholic), Islamic, Jewish–all appears to be based on fear: fear of the universe, fear of science, fear of the loss of self, fear of nothingness, and Aquinas observes that ‘all fear deprives us from love.’”

  • 28. Gary  |  May 14, 2008 at 5:24 pm

    Leo, sadly it does seem that Jesus can never be a unifying figure precisely because there are many who would say my definition does not even fit him. Even the growing inter-faith dialogue that seeks for commonalities will inevitably divide more than it unites.

  • 29. Hugo  |  May 14, 2008 at 7:48 pm

    @kat and @Brad:

    kat: …and its true that the ones who are more “liberal” are ones who are following the rules of their religion less and less – i mean otherwise we’d all either own slaves or be slaves

    Brad: In many ways (but not all), Liberalism is a reaction to fundamentalism. It realizes how off track Fundamenatalism is, and wants to restore love to the Fundie-overemphasis of truth and judgment without love. But this reaction is an overreaction.

    Not quite (@kat), and Brad is talking about “liberalism”, I’m not sure if he’s referring to “liberal Christianity” as a serious scholarly approach to the Bible, or just “liberalism in general”. Borrowing from this comment on RLP. “Liberal Christian” refers to a particular trend in modern Christian bible study, where the “human imprint and prophetic imagination” is recognised in the New Testament gospels, rather than only in Genesis. (That’s liberal versus moderate, I’d say.)

    Maybe RLP can serve as a good example of a “moderate”, even if he’s liberal-leaning. He isn’t an all-out “liberal Christian” like Spong. Or more accurately, if he is, he’s in the closet, and just presents a more moderate viewpoint.

    @kat again:

    i thought jesus said that he came not to change the law but only to add to it

    Jesus came to “fulfil” the law. The fundies read that as “add to”, while I would, with a liberal angle, argue that the law was necessary to understand that grace and value-driven lives are necessary. Law brought death. I.e. I see “fulfil” as saying something similar to “abolish”, but much more nuanced.

    A local emerging-church-influenced pastor pointed out that “the idea is not to remove the law, the idea is to remove the person that needs the law” (uh, something like that, i.e. rebirth into compassion-driven life, which doesn’t need hard and fast laws to guide them by).

    @The Apostate:

    How would you define “modernist philosophy”?

    I have a Marcus Borg book here that explains the influence of “modernism” on the way the Bible is read, but can’t condense it into a comment right now. Another that explains this kind of sentiment, is Karen Armstrong, and the wikipedia page quotes her explaining it well under the Religious position section, the last sentence of the quote reading “Fundamentalism is a child of modernity, and fundamentalists are fundamentally modern.”

  • 30. Brad  |  May 15, 2008 at 9:16 am

    Leo,

    Dude. You can read a fairly accessible commentary and get some genre analysis out of it. I’m not talking about the process of exegetical work being done in third grade, but just the understanding that poetry is largely metaphorical. I apologize for the initial sarcasm, and I recognize yours was largely (if not exclusively) a response to mine.

    TA,

    Re: to modernist philosophy…. I can see how fundamentalism uses many aspects of pre-modernity, but their conclusions, and the assurance of them, seem to be modernistically driven. For example, many aspects of the bible appear in (western logic-based) contradiction to each other. That’s not a problem for a pre-modern, who values mystery. But fundies slam their fist down, state that it is one way, and are not open to discussion. This is a more often than not a reaction to the 100% certainty and scientific proofing stemming from the Enlightenment. They apply an enlightenment model to a pre-modern text, and it comes out… ugly.

    Emergent/Emerging (liberal/conservative respectively) absolutely agree with that. The Emergent crowd generally swings the pendulum back too far by adopting both a liberal theology and a liberal cultural perspective, while the Emerging crowd swings it back a little more moderately with a conservative theology and liberal cultural perspective. Does that make sense? It’s tough to categorize anything in the spirit of postmodernism!

  • 31. The Apostate  |  May 15, 2008 at 11:15 am

    Brad,

    I can see how fundamentalism uses many aspects of pre-modernity, but their conclusions, and the assurance of them, seem to be modernistically driven

    As someone fascinated by Christian history, surely you do not dismiss the “modernistically driven” fanaticisms of the majority of Protestant reformers, Catholic popes, various medieval ascetics, and, most importantly, the so-called “founding church fathers.” With the exception of perhaps Origen and St. John of the Cross, I see very little difference between those earlier Christians and today’s fundamentalists (militancy, vulgar understanding of reality, fervent disregard for others, etc.). One only has to pick up a passage of Ignatius in one era, Martin Luther in a another, and Jerry Falwell in the last to see that fundamentalism is hardly “modernist.”

    For example, many aspects of the bible appear in (western logic-based) contradiction to each other. That’s not a problem for a pre-modern, who values mystery.

    Ah, the phantom contradictions – of course, it couldn’t be because the Bible was written by different people in different times with even opposing viewpoints, no, it must be solely for mystery.
    Mystery in the medieval sense is no different from blatant ignorance. I will, however, agree with the lack of mysticism and mystery in fundamentalist – but the same goes, once again, for the majority of Christians in the past 2000 years. Once again, Origen most likely had it pegged when he mocked the fundamentalists of his day for taking the bodily resurrection of the Lord literally.

    This is a more often than not a reaction to the 100% certainty and scientific proofing stemming from the Enlightenment. They apply an enlightenment model to a pre-modern text, and it comes out… ugly.

    My only response to this is to read the words of Paul, Ignatius, Irenaeus, Clement, Tertullian, and many others. Read their words. Read it as a psychologist trying to figure out his/her sociopathic client. How much “mystery” do you find in those text? What do you believe about their “certainty”? How about Augustine and Athanasius and their not-so-loving opposition to the Pelagianists and the Gnostics? Do their words come from a gracious sense of mystery? Apparently not.

    Brad, it is easy to see the fanatics of our day and point to a certain period of history as holding the key to the problem. My point is, however, that the root of fundamentalism is in the religion itself, not in a warped concept of modernism.

    I understand the daunting task of explaining one’s view of modernism, but perhaps a paragraph-sized summation might be due. What time frame are we looking at? What is the main idea underlying modernism? Maybe from their we can try to touch base with why you believe fundamentalism is infused with modernism.

  • 32. Brad  |  May 15, 2008 at 11:37 am

    TA said:
    “… I see very little difference between those earlier Christians and today’s fundamentalists (militancy, vulgar understanding of reality, fervent disregard for others, etc.).”

    Heh, then yes we are using the term “fundamentalist” very differently. In the sense that a fundamentalist believes and acts upon the “fundamentals” of the faith, then I would ascribe myself to the term. But in the context of modern (chronologically, not philosophically) Christianity that is largely condemning, verbally abusive, close-minded, and obsessed with a religion of legalistic moral righteousnessness, I would definitely NOT ascribe to. These are the types that I am mostly referring to when I use the term “fundamentalist.”

    To have certain convictions, and convictions with certainty, does not make one a fundamentalist. I would consider the majority of Protestant reformers (Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, Spurgeon, etc.) a fundamentalist of the former kind (fundamentals of the faith). There’s a signifcant difference. As far as the Catholic side of the house, I’m not as familiar with their history apart form the reformation, so I’d be speaking out of ignorance there.

    “My only response to this is to read the words of…”
    I’m not really sure what you’re getting at in this paragraph as a whole… There are some aspects of mystery, and some of certainty. The Bible has both. We should be (respectfully) certain about those things that the Bible speaks with certainty about, and hold loosely what the Bible holds loosely or communicates with whatever degree of mystery. Many early church fathers (Tertullian is a great example) were fighting heresy in the early church that had very serious implications for the future of the church. Sometimes it gets heated (as it often does on this blog, and not necessarily involving a Christian).

    The difference between modern fundamentalism and the heated dialog of the Protestant Reformers and the early church fathers, is that fundies personally target non-believers for judgment (which is not biblically sound) and the others were correcting/rebuking/judging those WITHIN the church. OT prophets often make some of the judgments voiced by fundamentalists (and are cited as authority by them to do so), but they forget that the prophets are speaking to believers who have voluntarily held themselves to those standards.

    That felt like a tangent because I’m a little unclear as to your main point, but I hope that helped communicate my position a little more. I’ll have to do some thinking about a workable (and short) definition for modernity and get back to you. I just knocked out my last final, so my brain will need some time to recover. Thanks.

  • 33. The Apostate  |  May 15, 2008 at 4:54 pm

    Brad,
    As a Christian with a thirst for history I ate up everything I could about my theological heritage, whether Anabaptist, Protestant, or simply “orthodox” Christianity. You could imagine my shock when I stopped reading the spoon-fed histories that Christian textbooks give you and started reading the primary sources. I’m not sure if you have studied the works of Ignatius, Tertullian, Calvin, Luther, etc. but you quickly recognize that their words seldom differ from today’s most anti-semitic and narrow-minded preachers. For these people, their theology was completely tied into what they thought about humans other than those that agreed with them.

    I am not speaking strictly of theological convictions, so please do not obscure the matter. However, when someone has such strong theological convictions, they generally turn into a narrow-minded leech.

    “My only response to this is to read the words of…”
    I’m not really sure what you’re getting at in this paragraph as a whole…

    What I am getting at is the utter dismissal by today’s Christians of the hatred for people with differing belief systems in early Christianity – a glossing over of the “fundamentalist” mindset that is common in the founders of Christianity as it is in today’s Pat Robertsons and Jerry Falwells.

    The difference between modern fundamentalism and the heated dialog of the Protestant Reformers and the early church fathers, is that fundies personally target non-believers for judgment (which is not biblically sound) and the others were correcting/rebuking/judging those WITHIN the church.

    This is the possibly the main difference, yet appears more to do with chronology than anything else. The earliest christians were hardly in the position to say what non-Christians should be doing. Some church leaders even appealed to Rome to convince them that they weren’t all evil. The Protestant Reformers, on the other hand, were immersed in a completely Christian continent, with paganism long stamped out and non-belief completed discredited in all walks of life. The non-believers that were around to be judged were negligible and seen to be closer to insanity than remotely evil.

    Many early church fathers (Tertullian is a great example) were fighting heresy in the early church that had very serious implications for the future of the church. Sometimes it gets heated (as it often does on this blog, and not necessarily involving a Christian).

    It certainly did get heated, but you make it sound like a little tiff. It was nothing like the debates on this blog. Public humiliations, divinely-inspired condemnations, anti-semitic obscenities and far-fetched accusations of wild orgies are hardly a common occurrence here.

    OT prophets often make some of the judgments voiced by fundamentalists (and are cited as authority by them to do so), but they forget that the prophets are speaking to believers who have voluntarily held themselves to those standards.

    Whether they were speaking to fellow Yahwist’s or not – “repent or die” is still somewhat psychotic. Furthermore, “believers” is somewhat anachronistic. Ancient Judaism was not about “belief” – everyone believed in their own god. There wasn’t the sort of choice between “belief” and “non-belief” as there is today. The choice was, according to the prophets, between obedience to the Law or disobedience.

  • 34. vjack  |  May 18, 2008 at 9:35 am

    I understand where you are coming from with this post, but I’m not sure we need to encourage any sort of faith. I am still trying to figure this out for myself, but I tend to think that faith itself is the core problem, regardless of whether we are talking about moderate or extremist versions. It is the willingness to believe whatever we want without sufficient evidence that seems to get us in trouble again and again.

    I agree that working with moderates may be useful, but I cannot equate this with encouraging moderate faith.

  • 35. writerdd  |  May 18, 2008 at 9:46 am

    I agree that working with moderates may be useful, but I cannot equate this with encouraging moderate faith.

    vjack, I think I agree with you although I probably didn’t express my thoughts clearly enough in that post. I wrote in on the spur of the moment when some ideas came into my mind as I was reading.

    I do not think that faith is a virtue. In fact, I think that faith is detrimental and that irrational decision making is harmful to individuals and to society. I just think that moderate religious folks don’t actually use faith to make their day to day decisions the way that fundies do.

    Of course, I have to clarify in the differences between faith in my husband (which is based on evidence of his past experiences and which has been earned) and faith in God (or blind faith which is based on nothing but wishful thinking).

  • 36. Diane Vera  |  May 19, 2008 at 6:15 pm

    I fully agree that that a broad alliance is needed to counteract the would-be theocrats.

  • 37. cipher  |  May 19, 2008 at 8:10 pm

    In the sense that a fundamentalist believes and acts upon the “fundamentals” of the faith, then I would ascribe myself to the term. But in the context of modern (chronologically, not philosophically) Christianity that is largely condemning, verbally abusive, close-minded, and obsessed with a religion of legalistic moral righteousnessness, I would definitely NOT ascribe to. These are the types that I am mostly referring to when I use the term “fundamentalist.”

    To have certain convictions, and convictions with certainty, does not make one a fundamentalist. I would consider the majority of Protestant reformers (Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, Spurgeon, etc.) a fundamentalist of the former kind (fundamentals of the faith).

    Brad,

    You’re kidding, right? Calvin? The man who who had Michael Servetus arrested (and ultimately killed) for heresy? Calvin wasn’t “condemning, verbally abusive, close-minded, and obsessed with a religion of legalistic moral righteousnesses”? And Luther – who advocated the destruction of Jews’ homes and synagogues, the confiscation of their property and the restriction of their liberty, helping to lay the groundwork for the Holocaust? He was a riot! We Jews have been amused by his antics for over four centuries.

    There’s something I’ve wanted to say to you for some time. From the time I first encountered you and Mike, you’ve been touting the virtues of “civility”. In fact, Mike once made a remark about my lack of it. Yet, you’re Calvinists; you believe (I assume) that God has determined, from the beginning of time, who is to be saved and who is to be damned. Your attitude (whether or not you choose to admit it or even recognize it consciously) is, “Why, yes, you’re going to hell – but there’s no reason we can’t be polite to one another in the meantime!” I find this absolutely appalling. I’d rather, any day, engage a Christian who was a perfect asshole, but not a predeterminist and certainly not a salvific exclusivist, than one who behaved like a gentleman, but who was entirely prepared to wave me cheerfully off to eternal perdition on the Day of Judgment. And the fact that no one ever takes you to task over it is a large part of the reason that I no longer post comments here.

    Is this heated enough?

  • 38. James McGrath  |  May 20, 2008 at 1:24 pm

    I’ve been having a conversation with Larry Moran (an atheist) about my own view (a progressive, symbolic Christianity) between my blog and his. Perhaps you’d like to join in the conversation – I’d be interested to hear more of your thoughts on the subject, in view of what you posted here and some of the difficulties in communication that have arisen in the conversation so far.

  • 39. wirterdd  |  May 20, 2008 at 1:51 pm

    James, not sure I’ll have time to check it out, but I do understand. I don’t think people who have never been believers can really comprehend the language used by believers. And many believers have no clue that they use language in such a weird way that they sound completely crazy to most outsiders. We who are de-converted can become a type of ambassador to bridge the gap there.

    An interesting book that might be worth checking out is Rapture Ready! by Daniel Radoth. It’s about Christian pop culture. I’ll be interviewing him soon and will post that here. He thinks we can use pop culture as a mode of communication to bridge the gap.

  • 40. James McGrath  |  May 20, 2008 at 7:23 pm

    It is on my list of books I hope to read this summer – thanks for the recommendation (I’ll move it up the list!)

  • 41. Yurka  |  May 24, 2008 at 12:52 pm

    writerdd, you do know what you are doing, right? And you should know that it is not honorable.

    If you think an organization is wrong in it’s beliefs, be up front about it and argue against them. Show how they are wrong. Don’t send spies and moles into it who pretend to agree with it with a view to pulling off a coup.

    This is exactly what liberal Christianity is – and it has had succeeded brilliantly in decimating Christianity in America – they don’t need your help.

    I don’t mean to be offensive by not taking your words at face value. Honestly, it seems to me that when you cite ***Spong*** as an example of authentic Christianity, you must be using irony and admitting you just want to destroy it. Because of course Spong is an atheist. He repudiates Christianity with all the contempt and naturalism of a Dawkins or Hitchens. You do know that, right?

  • 42. writerdd  |  May 24, 2008 at 2:31 pm

    Yurka, Spong was not my first choice as you see. I did select Jimmy Carter but then I wasn’t sure if he’s really moderate. I don’t know enough about his theology, although it’s obvious that he’s politically liberal and from watching his actions I am comfortable using him as an example after all.

    Spong is on the far liberal end of the spectrum so I agree that he’s not a perfect example either. But it’s not my place to say he’s not a Christian.

    I think Randall Balmer is probably a perfect example, but I’m not sure that enough people know who he is.

    But I disagree with the rest of your post completely. I am all for infiltrating churches with moderates and liberals and pulling off a coup. I don’t really care if they still believe in God. I just want to get rid of the mean, hate filled, bigotry and the wrong headed reactionary politics.

    Who am I to say that Spong is inauthentic? Who are you to say that? You are just proving my point that the media and fundamentalists have made it the status quo to think that extremists are the only authentic Christians. To that I say, bullsh*t.

  • 43. Yurka  |  May 24, 2008 at 3:53 pm

    writerdd, let me assure you – Jimmy Carter would indeed fit perfectly what you describe. His teachings are indeed far to the left and he believes nothing that would conflict with agnostic secular humanists. See here for a critique by Albert Mohler.

    But at least Jimmy Carter believes in God and Jesus, so he can claim to be a Christian. So though I disagree with him on just about all his theological positions, it’s at least justifiable to talk of him as Christian. At least he’s sincere. But read these 12 theses by Spong. Spong is a militant atheist, as you can see by the theses. Him calling himself a Christian is the only thing Christian about him! To steal an analogy from Todd Friel, it’s like someone claiming to be a member of PETA and then you see them eating a juicy 16oz ribeye at Outbacks!
    So it’s not a case of me judging – this is clear deceit on his part.
    He is seeking to destroy Christianity. Again I apologize for my strident tone – it seems you weren’t aware of how off he was.

    I’ve never heard of Ballmer – seems to be similar to Barry Lynn and Jim Wallis (concerned with politicization), again – I can see calling them Christians, but Spong is just too far gone for that. He has no faith left.

  • 44. bipolar2  |  June 13, 2008 at 3:34 pm

    ** an atheist’s unapologetic apology **

    “Theology is the subject without an object.”

    Don’t forget big-4 monotheistic belief is not only optional; it’s really unfit for human consumption.

    There is no supernatural realm. There are not two worlds – the *spiritual* one superordinate to nature – Eternity is a fiction, No god whatsoever exists.

    Xianity, like its murderous near eastern brother islam, its mysoginst father judaism, and its hate-filled grandfather zoroastrianism, arose late in recorded history and it has been decaying at an increasing rate since 1600 CE.

    Enough of this heresy born of Paul’s perverse twist on hellenistic judaism and overlaid with rites and symbols gleaned from the back alleys of slums in the eastern roman empire. Batman is more real than “Christ” ever was . . .

    Enough xian intellectual nihilism and perversion of sexuality and hatred of woman and self-righteous revenge seeking. (1Cor1 1:end)

    “God’s only excuse is that he does not exist.” — Stendahl

    What a relief!

    bipolar2
    © 2008

  • 45. pinkunicorn  |  June 13, 2008 at 3:55 pm

    All parts of a religion should be rejected, because you can’t just keep part of it alive. Imagine if we magically disappeared all the fundamentalists. Will fundamentalism disappear forever? Of course not; it will reappear quite soon. The so called “moderate believers” are the soil on which fundamentalism grows. Attacking only fundamentalist beliefs would be like trimming weeds instead of uprooting them; they will regrow.

    My aim is to eradicate all religion, but as a gay man I have a particular disgust towards the abrahamic faiths – not that religions like Buddhism aren’t free of homophobia, but they have not caused anything akin to the millennial old prosecution of homosexuals the abrahamic faiths have caused.

    Do I hate Christianity? Of course I do. In fact, I’m worried about gay men who do not hate religion; it’s a bad sign. I know that my kind of people will never be free as long as religion exists; and therefore, it I try to do whatever I can to wipe off this wickedness off the face of this planet.

    The Bible is to gays what Mein Kampf is to Jews.

  • 46. Improbable Capricorn  |  September 20, 2009 at 5:11 am

    I agree with this articles premise that Fundie’s are a problem.
    but I am beginning to a clearer picture of what is happening now in Churches with a Evangelical Message. I work for a sound company that primarily deals with installing Video Projectors and PA, Plasmas and LCDs and such. It has been a learning experience and I have some conclusions. The problem is that Christians such as fundies have made the official church system because of our history here in America. We all know the stories of abuse of power and such. But now the issue is more that these people are victims and they don’t even perceive it. Case and Point. FOX News. FOX news is now the defacto standard for the Religious Right, these people will condemn Abortion, but support war, they will state their position with absolutism, but their views are a relative subjective nonsensical display of emotion. I have people that I am very close too, that are trapped in the mindset of Political Religious attitudes and they can’t seem to grasp the idea of where politics begin and religion ends. These people are not bad people always. It is just a problem that seems pervasive in our society right now. Moderates and Liberals are considered to be from the Fundy side a type of Social Pariah. A mere heresy that they can simply avoid by being more “Tough on Sin” You may as non believers consider Moderates and Libs to be part of the problem. But it is really the people who don’t give a shit either way that makes this issue continue. And those people are not always even Moderate Christian or Liberal. Those are sometimes atheist and agnostics who just want to live their lives without religion interference. You know we should at least give FOX News is due, it knows how to brainwash the public religious sentiment into any position that it wants. I would not at all be surprised that if it became a fiscally conservative issue that abortion itself would not only be seen as “allowable” it could be seen as the ultimate good.

    I am of the opinion that Moderates and Liberals should take on
    the Religious Right. Atheist and Agnostics cannot make a dent into this type of mentality. But the Moderate (especially) definitely has a better shot than Penn Jillete, Sam Harris, and the Immoral Richard Dawkins.

  • 47. Patrick Neavin  |  April 9, 2010 at 5:49 pm

    I think Rick Warren is the prime example of a moderate Christian. Although he opposes abortion and same sex marriage, he does tend to show grace to those who practice such things, not condoning such practices, but realizing that this is reality. God has to deal with these people on an individual basis anyway. I do not think that beating these people over the head with the Bible is necessarily the best solution, especially since half of everyone of these people claim to be Christians anyway (fancy that, Christian Abortion Doctors and Christian Gays, hmmm….). Yep, strangely, we worship God with these people everyday. Honestly, the second one of those people really does not bother me, so much as the first. I can live with the idea of gay Christians, as I know Clay Aiken and Ray Boltz are. However, to be a Christian abortionist sounds a lot like a contradiction in terms.

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Attention Christian Readers

Just in case you were wondering who we are and why we de-converted.

de-conversion wager

Whether or not you believe in God, you should live your life with love, kindness, compassion, mercy and tolerance while trying to make the world a better place. If there is no God, you have lost nothing and will have made a positive impact on those around you. If there is a benevolent God reviewing your life, you will be judged on your actions and not just on your ability to blindly believe in creeds- when there is a significant lack of evidence on how to define God or if he/she even exists.

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