Posts tagged ‘fundamentalism’
Author’s Note: This is the third of a five-part series examining fundamentalism from an existentialist perspective. In what follows we begin to review the existentialist motifs that Irvin Yalom discusses in his Existential Psychotherapy. This post examines death and isolation.
Death - Yalom writes:
“It is one of life’s most self-evident truths that everything fades, that we fear the fading, and that we must live, nonetheless, in the face of the fading, in the face of fear.” (p. 30).
Existentialists often speak of this in terms of “finitude.” Finitude means an awareness that we are vulnerable creatures, with limited abilities and power to shape the world, and that we are subject to the passing of time and the loss that it brings – including, ultimately, death. Thus, it follows that grief is an intrinsic part of life – and the sweeter the living, the deeper the grief at its inevitable passing. The term “finitude” also includes death anxiety proper: a bedrock awareness that I, myself, and all those I care about, and all the things that matter to me, will not last forever. My life, all my cares, all my projects will eventually cease.
Yalom suggest we are all intrinsically aware of our finitude, though it is frightening and we often push it aside…
Author’s Note: This is the second in a five-part series examining fundamentalism from a existentialist perspective.
We will begin by looking at some of the themes that emerge in existentialist thought, and see how they can help make some sense of many of the features of fundamentalist Christianity. My thesis is this: fundamentalism is a response to these basic human (which is to say, existential) “givens” in life. It is a way to assuage some of the most difficult and vexing anxiety that comes part-and-parcel with being human. But in doing so, it separates the believer from full participation in life. It is, in the end, life-denying, not life-enhancing.
My guiding text will be Dr. Irvin Yalom’s wonderful 1980 Existential Psychotherapy. Yalom is a psychiatrist, psychoanalyst and writer working at Stanford who has written extensively on the intersection of existentialist thought and psychotherapy – a topic that could comprise a book in itself. Yalom’s book has become a classic in the field. His clarity and lucidity in representing existentialist concepts and placing them in a psychological context (for, really, where else could they be placed?) has no equal. It is relatively non-technical and I highly recommend it to the interested reader.
Yalom divides his work along four “themes” that were predominant within existentialist writing: death, isolation, responsibility, and meaning…
Author’s note: This article is the first part of a five-part series examining fundamentalist Christianity from an existentialist perspective.
From time to time there has been interest on this discussion board in existentialist ideas as they pertain to fundamentalist and evangelical Christianity. Since existentialist philosophy was extremely important to me during the course of my own de-conversion, I thought I would take this opportunity to expand on this issue.
This post will serve as part I, a brief overview of existentialism, which many people have only a cursory familiarity with. This will help orient us to the more specific discussion of fundamentalism from an existentialist perspective, in future installments.
Existentialism was a philosophy that flourished during the early part of the twentieth century. It typically is thought to include such thinkers as Soren Kierkegaard and Friedrich Nietzsche, in the late 19th century, and later individuals such as Jean-Paul Sartre, Karl Jaspers, Gabriel Marcel, and Martin Heidegger. (There is, of note, no universal agreement as to who was an “existentialist” and many of those individuals listed specifically rejected the label)…
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…
Taking a cultural perspective to belief is a useful exercise. For me, it means that I am no longer bound to particulars. What matters now is the context in which experience arises.
Not too long ago, I would read the Bible as if it were God’s Word to me now, as if God were speaking to me through the text. In fact, that was the primary way I could know God and maintain the sense of relationship. I came to speak of and relate to God as one would a person, obviously through the creative use of imagination. This God-sense began at a youth concert, where I was so emotionally moved by the sermon that I experienced a shift in my focus. It was that ‘born again’ conversion experience that so many talk about. Thus began many years of my life as a devoted follower of Christ.
Fast-forward many years into the future, and I am listening to an interview with Emerging Church leader Brian McLaren discussing the metaphorical nature of hell. It was my first exposure to the idea of universal salvation. Suddenly, an entirely different paradigm came rushing in to shatter the foundation of my faith. If the message of the gospel as proclaimed within evangelical churches is that Christ saved me from hell, and hell is not real, what is left of the gospel? I felt disillusioned and immediately stopped attending church, whilst beginning to explore the alternative approaches to scripture. Over time, a lack of exposure to evangelical Christian church services and a range of books and podcasts would blast away any remaining hope that I had in a literal view of the Bible…
As mentioned in my previous post, God, Zombies, and the Meaning of Life, when I was in the long process of leaving Christianity, one of the most overriding questions on my mind was this: if there is no God, what meaning is there in life? Christianity, as we all know, teaches that the saved are integral players in a grand cosmic drama, the unfolding of the telos of all Creation. Giving up on that illusion is, to say the least, jarring. It cannot help but leave one wondering how one’s life can have meaning at all, if it is not given from on high.
More psychologically minded individuals may reflect on a deeper way in which Christianity seems to provide the meaning in life. Children learn that they are important, that they matter, just by being seen – i.e., acknowledged and attended to – by their parents. Hopefully, of course, that attention will be loving and positive. But even if the attention is negative, critical, or even abusive, it is, from the child’s point of view, usually better than being ignored. Children will almost invariably prefer any attention to no attention, because that says that they are at least worth criticizing. So it is not hard to imagine how simply being seen by God is enough, in and of itself, to infuse one’s life with meaning and a sense of worth. It’s how many people support their feeling that they are valuable: you matter because God takes note of you. Giving up God, then, is clearly – viewed from this additional perspective – a powerful loss…
‘Emerging’ Christian Commentary
Beginning toward the end of college and continuing through grad school into my years as a youth pastor, I went through a radical rethinking of all my conservative evangelical beliefs. I had grown up thoroughly immersed in the evangelical subculture, and as a teenager was an on-fire, committed Christian eager to serve God and share my faith with others. I attended Wheaton College, a conservative evangelical liberal arts school, where ironically, I was introduced to ideas that led me to start questioning key aspects of my conservative faith – from the nature and reality of God, to the inerrancy of scripture, to the existence of “absolute truth” or even “universal morality” free from cultural influence, to the inherent rightness of the Republican party, to the nature of salvation as merely a “get into heaven free” card.
Thanks to postmodern philosophy, as well as friends and professors who led me to look at scripture itself in a different light, by the time I finished undergrad and graduate school at Wheaton I as thoroughly cynical and disillusioned with the faith with which I had been raised. I had learned that doubt and uncertainty were an unavoidable part of the human condition, and that questioning my faith was actually a good thing…