Christianity’s Downfall

Christianity’s Downfall – Part One

Feral Domestic Pigeon (Columba livia domestica) in flightThis post marks the beginning a multi-part series that I have wanted to do for a while now. As a disclaimer, I want to say that I know not everyone is going to appreciate this series, perhaps some will even become offended. I understand that there are millions of people who believe and read scripture with a fundamentalist mindset. My goal is not to attack, but to educate.

That being said, it is important that I explain a few things. I believe that fundamentalism is dangerous no matter what religion (look at the radical Islamist for a perfect example). However, being that I am a Christian, it makes the most sense for me to address it within my own religion due to familiarity and exposure.

According to Dictionary.com, Fundamentalism is defined as:

A usually religious movement or point of view characterized by a return to fundamental principles, by rigid adherence to those principles, and often by intolerance of other views and opposition to secularism.

This definition is not too far from what we see today in regards to fundamentalism. For instance, someone who is a fundamentalist and reads the Book of John is more likely to have a negative position towards the Jewish people because it adheres to intolerance and rigid acceptance. A “negative position” can include anything from hate, anger, disgust, etc.

An alternate, more specific, definition is as follows:

a movement in American Protestantism that arose in the early part of the 20th century in reaction to modernism and that stresses the infallibility of the Bible not only in matters of faith and morals but also as a literal historical record, holding as essential to Christian faith belief in such doctrines as the creation of the world, the virgin birth, physical resurrection, atonement by the sacrificial death of Christ, and the Second Coming.

At this point I should mention that fundamentalism adheres to the specific doctrines that make Christians who they are. For instance, there is a shared belief in only one God, that Jesus is the son of God, that Jesus died to save humanity, and so on.  Attritubes such as these are fundamentals of Christianity – not to be confused with fundamentalism, a distortion of Christianity.

There are two immediate dangers with fundamentalism. First, in many cases, the fundamentalist Christian believes what he (for sake of simplicity, we shall use he throughout) does because it was told to him. He goes to church, listens to the preacher, and then goes on his merry way. There is a danger in doing this. Folks, God wanted us to use our intellect, reasoning, curiosity, and to put it frankly, he wanted us to use our minds! He does not want us to be robots with our faith. I address this issue in my post “Responsible Christians are Rare”.

The second danger is that in the case a fundamentalist Christian does refer to the Bible, he reads it at surface value. Now what do I mean by “surface value”? Essentially, reading scripture at surface value is when one neglects the context of the particular story (and sometimes the context of the writer). What I am saying is that sometimes there is more to a story than what it seems (Jesus’ parables give us a good example of what this means).

crossFundamentalists will generally take a strict, literal interpretation of the Bible. Friends, this is a disservice to the religion. For starters, it discredits Christianity. When one reads at surface value, apparent contradictions appear in scripture (and atheists often point these contractions out. In fact, most atheist only attack the fundamentalist approach to religion). Fundamentalism tends to ignore logic, inspection, and science. Interestingly, these contractions don’t exist if you read the Bible the way it was intended to – symbolically.

Symbolism transcends time (again, Jesus’ parables) in the way that literalism cannot. Perhaps you are saying to yourself, “that is not true, the Bible is the word of God and we must read and follow it literally”.

Well here is a test to see if you are doing a good job at the literal interpretation. Open up to Mark 9:42. To paraphrase, in this verse Jesus is telling his followers (us Christians) that if our hand causes us to sin, to cut it off. Or, if our eye causes us to sin, then to rip it out and cast it from our body.

Well, I’m going to assume that if you are reading this, then you still have your eyes; if you write a reply to this post, then you still have your hands. But why? In a literal sense, if you do not do this, you are not obeying Jesus!

This begs a few questions. First, why is it that so many Christians like to read literally? Simple – because it is easy. It is easier to read a sentence and interpret it based on our own context and experience than to do a little research and intellectual investigating to see it from a different angle. It is easy and people find comfort in a “set of rules” to follow. But remember, Jesus didn’t come to establish a religion (Christianity), no, He came to rid the world of religion; He is irreligion.

The second question that arises is how exactly do we read the Bible? I mentioned this earlier, but in the next post in this series (sometime in the near future I hope) I will give you a good example of why it is important (using contemporary science in my example/explanation).  In the mean time, take a look at this post for some further Christian insight.

Until then, have a great day/night!  (CLICK HERE FOR PART TWO)

God Bless.

-Justin

About these ads

26 Responses

  1. Hi, i just surfed in searching for interesting blogs on Spirituality, you have a cool blog. Do keep up the good work. I’ll be back even though i live far from where you live. its nice to be able to see what people from across the world thinks.

    Warm Regards from the Other Side of the Moon.

    On a related note perhaps you might find the following link interesting. Its propossing a theory and i’ll like to hear your take on the subject via comments. See ya…

    Was
    Jesus an Essenes ?

    Bibby

    Kerala, India

  2. In the bible, the apostle James speaks of a religion.

    James 1:27  Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.

    Maybe, most people just haven’t found it yet so they say it is not vital. Maybe what they see as religion is that of the catholics, etc…

    But we cannot deny it. There is really a pure and undefiled religion before God.

  3. hi jet,
    the verse you mention in James is an important one. It demonstrates that “religion”, as God sees it, does not consider man-made traditions, practices, and hierarchies as important. I think many would benefit from this realization.

  4. You have a great line at the top

    “…Attritubes such as these are fundamentals of Christianity – not to be confused with fundamentalism, a distortion of Christianity…”

    and then at the bottom

    “…why is it that so many Christians like to read literally? Simple – because it is easy…”

    Dude, being a Christian is hard work, Jesus always intended that everyday you’d think, and struggle, and wrestle with what God’s word says. Sadly, it seems there arn’t many people willing to do that.

    I really enjoy the blog, Can’t wait to read the rest of this series.

  5. Justin,
    Sometimes we are damaged, entrapped, etc. in our own terminology. We have allowed the word “Gay” to be given a modern definition that robs it of its original meaning and now, when used in its original sense causes people to snicker. “Fundamentalism” and “religion” are another two misused words.
    All Christians should believe in the fundamental truths of Scripture. Not everything we read in Scripture is symbolic. It takes some thought and discernment to know what is and what isn’t.
    We should use the word “religion” in its original sense of “binding back to God.” These days it is often used as a label for rigidity and traditionalism. We shouldn’t allow the world to steal perfectly good words and twist their meaning.
    I would like to see you and others who are addressing these problems avoid generalizations and tackle these issues one-by-one. It will take a lot of blogging, but it will tackle these problems on a specific level.
    I appreciate so much what you are doing…keep fighting the good fight! dwhitsett.wordpress.com

  6. Hi dwhitsett,
    thanks for your comments and insight. I do not mean to use broad generalizations. I tried to limit them (as I feel we are all slaves to generalizations in one sense or another). In the effort to avoid it, I mention the difference between the fundamentals – and then modern fundamentalism (as you commented on). Perhaps I could expand on them in a more specific way to avoid confusion, I will keep that in mind in my next post on this subject.

    I agree, the whole Bible isn’t based on symbolism. Yet, the problem arises when people avoid symbolism altogether (like in the Genesis stories), or in the blatent disregarding the context of the authors and their current historical situations when quoting scripture.

    “It takes some thought and discernment to know what is and what isn’t.”

    YES! That is exactly one of the messages I am trying to get across! Being a Christian isn’t believing what you are told, but believing through thought and discernment.

    Hi Nic,
    thanks for the encouragement. I look forward to writing another installment in the near future (sometime this week).

    God Bless,
    -Justin

  7. [...] that science and religion have been butting heads since the 20th century (particularly against the fundamentalist sects of faiths).  Yet I have been a firm believer that science cannot, and does not, provide ample [...]

  8. Justin,
    All people apply different definitions to words. I believe I am a fundamentalist, but I don’t accept anything at face value: from anyone.
    You said,“Attritubes such as these are fundamentals of Christianity – not to be confused with fundamentalism, a distortion of Christianity.”
    If one believes in the fundmentals how could he be anything but a fundamentalist?
    We have three definitions of the word fundmentalism.
    1. A usually religious movement or point of view characterized by a return to fundamental principles, by rigid adherence to those principles, and often by intolerance of other views and opposition to secularism.
    2. a movement in American Protestantism that arose in the early part of the 20th century in reaction to modernism and that stresses the infallibility of the Bible not only in matters of faith and morals but also as a literal historical record, holding as essential to Christian faith belief in such doctrines as the creation of the world, the virgin birth, physical resurrection, atonement by the sacrificial death of Christ, and the Second Coming.
    3. An organized, militant Evangelical movement originating in the United States in 1920 in opposition to Liberalism and secularism.
    The last one came from the American Heritage Dictionary. The second definition was, “A movement or point of view characterized by rigid adherence to fundamental or basic principles.” It seems to me that should have been the first, or main definition, as one can be a fundamentalist about most anything.
    Being a fundamentalist (by the first definition) I see Satan, who is not permitted to change the Word, changing the meanings of words.
    You apply your definition to the word when you write it and I apply my definition when I read it. If you had not explained your definition (which you did) I would have been confused.
    To take a lesion from the “Gay” community perhaps we need a new word for fundamentalist. It seems that if I tell someone that I am a fundamentalist they think I am saying that I am militant, which is the farthest from what I mean.
    It is a great post and it should cause many to think. (I hope you apply the same definitions to those words that I did)

  9. Hi astudent,
    I admit that I have not done the best job at describing the difference between fundamentals and fundamentalist. I can see how your definition would make someone who did believe in the fundaments a fundamentalist.

    When I speak of “Fundamentalism”, I am referring to a religious movement that values specific, strict literalism in the Bible. Remember when you were debating with some of the contributors on Agnostic Atheism about God’s spiritual healing and not physical ones? That was an example of a “fundamentalist” mindset…they were focussing on the literal physical sense of the words and not realizing what it was symbolizing…I was following your arguments on that post, but it was quite apparent that the others were not because they simply could not reach beyond the literal.

    We see this just as much in our faith as we do outside of it. For example, if one contends that the earth is just (roughly) 5000yrs old because the Bible says so, then they will be laughed at (and rightly so). Genesis is a book of symbolism that conveys a larger theme than the literal message that many get hung up on.

    Thanks for your comments, I should have the next installment out tomorrow (Wednesday).

    -Justin

  10. [...] 27th, 2007 by Justin Christianity’s Downfall – Part Two (Havn’t read part one?  CLICK HERE before reading [...]

  11. [...] presents Christianity’s Downfall posted at Politics & Religion. Part one of a multi-edition series about the downfall of modern [...]

  12. [...] over at Politics and Religion has begun a series on Christianity’s Downfall by starting off and highlighting fundamentalism. In hopes of education rather than attacking he [...]

  13. Hey brother, I commented over at my site since I didn’t want to bog down your comments section but the essence of my comment is that (1) you’re pinning the dangerous trend of by-rote-actions to fundamentalists when it’s actually in every church (even pre-reformation) and (2) you’re oversimplifying literal reading. I unpack both of those over yonder.

  14. Thanks Rey,
    I’ll head on over there and check it out.

    -Justin

  15. I’ve noticed a lot of fundamentalists hold their views because its mentally easy to be completely certain about everything.

    A lot of liberal Christians prefer a ambiguous relativist Bible because it allows an easy way of life where they can live as they see fit.

    Being honest and actually seeking after truth (and being willing to admit often you don’t know) is a lot less appealing. Especially when you’re caught in the daily concerns of life and just want something easy.

    I believe that fundamentalism and liberal Christianity are both outgrowths of a lazy modern mindset.

  16. I think to some extent you have mischaracterized the historic and current Christian fundamentalist movement, and confused it with both the generic, secular idea of “fundamentalist,” as well as the extremes of the fundamentalist movement.

    I recommend that you check out the Bible Archive’s review of your post, as well as my small archive of articles on NeoFundamentalism.

    I don’t think that hyperliteralism, superficial reading of scripture, nor rote practice are the main faults, or even characteristics of modern (neo)fundamentalism.

    Rather, I see their faults as the same as have always been:
    – confusing modernity with worldliness
    – rejection of the Cultural Mandate, and other cultural isolationist positions
    – rejection of psychology as entirely worldly
    – rejection of contemplative prayer

    Do these spell the death of fundamentalism? Yes, but the evangelical movement, which spurned not only the cultural isolationism of the fundy movement, but it’s anti-intellectual trend (gone from most modern fundamentalism) has taken up the mantle of defending the faith in a healthier, more balanced, but biblical way. Christianity is not in any danger here at all.

  17. Hi Seeker,
    the fundamentalism that I speek of, the dangerous one to the faith, comes in many forms (some more extreme than others). For example, the fundamentalist mindset that the earth started 5,000 years ago is silly and simply lacks intelligent thought. Holding this viewpoint isnt necssarily dangerous to society (although it doesn’t do much for Christianity’s crediblity), but is dangerous to the mind. In this case, there is little chance that individuals with this interpretation will ever fully realize the spiritual truths within scripture.

    In regards to the Cultural Mandate. I believe that such a mandate is just as dangerous as the extreme Islamic sects bent on Islamic rule at all costs. I think that mandate needs to be renamed the “Personal Mandate” – fix the log in our own eye before the spec in anothers (the “other” in this case being society/government struture). If we put our focus on this (self improvement and enlightenment), then we are doing our part in becoming responsible, faithful Christians that Jesus spoke of in His time (recall his disinterest in the Roman Empire, but immense cause for the individual through introspection).

  18. [...] 3rd, 2007 by Justin Christianity’s Downfall Series – Part Three (Read Part One and Part Two before [...]

  19. For example, the fundamentalist mindset that the earth started 5,000 years ago is silly and simply lacks intelligent thought. Holding this viewpoint isnt necssarily dangerous to society (although it doesn’t do much for Christianity’s crediblity), but is dangerous to the mind. In this case, there is little chance that individuals with this interpretation will ever fully realize the spiritual truths within scripture.

    I disagree. In fact, I think quite the opposite. I think that such people are actually thinking through the implications of scripture, and how they relate to science. In fact, I suspect that they understand the limitations and assumptions behind the science better than most old-earthers who just take science’s conclusions for granted as true.

    I also think that young-earthers have a better theology of creation than evolutionists, and have LESS problems with scripture and science than some old earthers, who have to pull some crazy stunts themselves to square scripture and science (like two creations, maybe).

    As a former biochemist with young earth sympathies, I find their questions and claims intellectually and scientifically interesting. I don’t find their conclusions totally implausible, and in some instances, they are MORE believable than not. I think that xians who think of YECs as dangerous are more brainwashed by the unprovable and often questionable assumptions of modern science, and don’t realize that in such matters, esp. those pertaining to the age of the universe, science actually could be wrong.

    I mean, I read New Scientist magazine, and I am constantly amazed at how little we really understand about astronomy and the universe. In fact, we understand so little that we have theories that call for multiple parallel universes (string theory), and some unmeasurable dark matter and dark energy. Then, just this past week, a scientist suggested that dark matter and energy (which we have never seen but assume must exist in order for our models to make sense) don’t really need to exist to explain the expanding universe at all.

    Have you read Starlight and Time? A book like that will at least open your mind to the possibility that the YECs could be right. I would not write them off as anti-intellectual.

    I believe that such a mandate is just as dangerous as the extreme Islamic sects bent on Islamic rule at all costs.

    So, are you a pietist, believing that scripture is only useful for personal piety? That it has nothing useful to say about justice, government, relationships, education, ethics, family structures, or war? That it has nothing to say about public policy regarding the poor?

    That’s all the cultural mandate seeks to do – to apply scriptural wisdom to public life. I mean, if you are going to choose a system of wisdom for doing such, what makes the biblical one inferior to say, Spinoza? I think you are missing something important.

    You should really check out Nancy Pearcey’s book Total Truth. A student of the late Francis Schaeffer, her book is a good read on how and why Christians should be thinking and acting biblically in all of life, not just personal piety.

  20. Hi harvestcc,

    You say in reference to ‘old earthers':

    “I also think that young-earthers have a better theology of creation than evolutionists, and have LESS problems with scripture and science than some old earthers, who have to pull some crazy stunts themselves to square scripture and science (like two creations, maybe).”

    Yet just previously you said:

    “I think that such people [young earthers] are actually thinking through the implications of scripture, and how they relate to science.”

    This is an interesting double standard you have put forth. Essentially you are saying that young-earthers can think through scripture, but if an old-earther does it is a “crazy stunt”.

    You misused “piety”. According to definition, it is:

    “a movement, originating in the Lutheran Church in Germany in the 17th century, that stressed personal piety over religious formality and orthodoxy.”

    another definition:

    “Stress on the emotional and personal aspects of religion.”

    and you say that piety means religion “has nothing useful to say about justice, government, relationships”

    That is quite a leap and an example of a slippery slope argument (a fallacy of debate).

    The cultural mandate appears to be more of a man made invention than anything. Debating its “Godliness” will get us no where though.

  21. [...] Dividing the Word of Truth.  In it, he discusses the Flood from the Old Testament, and why Fundamentalists/non-believers have had trouble with his perspective.  I really enjoyed this post, I hope you do [...]

  22. OK, maybe I misunderstood the pietistic movement, but you failed to answer my question.

    Do you think that the bible has anything useful to say about issues other than personal devotion? Do you think we can determine wisdom and principles from scripture with regard to marriage, relationships, justice, politics, poverty, etc?

    In this case, as is often true, your appeal to slippery slope is really just a fear-based reason to maintain one extreme in fear of the other (theocracy?), rather than doing the work of explaining the limits of such an approach, and applying it within those limits.

    This is what the cultural mandate folks are doing – they are applying scriptural principle to public life, including public policy with regards to justice, personal responsibility, etc.

    And regarding OECs and YECs, while both have doctrinal and scientific problems to overcome, I think your “extremist” characterization of YECs is off base, and smacks more of a liberal fear-mongering point of view than a rational one.

    And again, the original article was trying to make an argument about “Christian fundamentalists” in general, and I think it totally mischaracterized them, presenting the typical leftist straw-man view, which I find inaccurate and misleading.

  23. HI Harvestcc,

    I have no reasoning based on “fear”. Slippery slope arguements don’t require a response given that they carry no real influencial weight.

    applying scriptural principles to public life would be a natural tendancy among anyone in the faith. However, as some would contend (perhaps the more fundamentalist viewpoint), there is no point in doing so (that is, adhearing to the cultural mandate) since satan is the king of this world and its governments.

    I don’t necessarily agree with that take, but I included it to demonstrate that opposition is from the conservative side just as it is from the “liberal” side (as it seems you have labelled me) to eliminate the dichotamy that you are forcing (another fallacy within debate). The issue isn’t black and white (or ‘leftist’ and ‘rightist’) as you would like it to be. There is a spectrum.

    I was, in fact, attacking the “extremists” of fundamentalism; I’m glad that was conveyed.

    Given our discussion, I think I am going to do a post on the Cultural Mandate in the future, perhaps I can address some of the issues brought up in our back and forth.

    God Bless.

  24. [...] Well, after reading countless posts about why Christians are futile in their beliefs, I feel the need to do a post on my own blog for the select amount of people (that’s you) that happen to find it. Some of you may cry “foul” at some of my thoughts, claiming that I am unfairly lumping all atheists into one category, when in reality, atheists are diverse in beliefs and convictions. Note that I do not do this out of ignorance, but out of simplicity… similar to the way atheists tend to write negatively about “all” Christian viewpoints, but then only attack the fundamentalist viewpoint of Christianity. Funny thing is, most atheists were former fundamentalists (no wonder they lost their faith). [...]

  25. Justin,
    Excellent first installment! I don’t think you’ve mis-characterized fundamentalism at all. In fact, you did what every scholar should do, define your terms. I find that your definitions are exactly what fundamentalism is: “A usually religious movement or point of view characterized by a return to fundamental principles, by rigid adherence to those principles, and often by intolerance of other views and opposition to secularism.” Those who disagree with this definition are, well, usually fundamentalists. They don’t see themselves as rigid or intolerant. In fact, they think they are right and that the bible “backs them up.”

    How do I know? Because I used to be a Christian fundamentalist. Basically there is no difference between christian and islamic fundamentalists. Both believe in God. Both want to establish theocracies, both want to use ancient laws to govern society, both believe their scriptures are inerrant and inviolable, and both are intolerant of anyone who disagrees with them. Christian fundamentalists are more dangerous because while they may acknowledge Christ as supreme, they really idolize the bible.

    I also agree that most reasonable atheists have a problem with Christianity only as expressed by fundamentalists. (I say reasonable because a lot of atheists don’t believe any religion should exist. Period.) I think a lot of dialog can be furthered by acknowledging that the bible was never meant to be taken literally in EVERY instance. I think we are damaging the cause of Christ by NOT challenging the fundamentalist’s view of scripture. Here’s a good view of Baptists who have put the bible in perspective:
    (http://www.baptistlife.com/flick/whymainstream.htm)
    (http://www.mainstreambaptists.org/mbn/mainstream_&_bible.htm)

    I’m rambling! :-) I’m looking forward to the whole series!

  26. Hi MOI,

    the series is complete…go to the “ARTICLES” section (link at the top) and read parts 2 and 3…interested to hear your thoughts!

    -Justin

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

%d bloggers like this: