A recent comment on this blog by Sam of insulted.org revealed a slew of views of evangelicalism that seem wildly inaccurate to me. Sam challenged me to document a position other than what he outlined, so I’ll take his allegations one by one and try to present what I consider to the the actual facts.
History of Fundamentalism
What today is called "Fundamental Christianity" arose in the early 1900s out of the Independent Baptists. In response to increasing humanist and liberal thought seeping into church life, specifically due to liberal intellectuals employing higher criticism, a bunch of Baptists broke from their denomination and formed the Independent Baptist churches. They called themselves "fundamentalists" because they wanted to maintain and emphasize the fundamentals of the faith, which they felt were under attack. These fundamentals included
- Inerrancy of the Scriptures
- The virgin birth and the deity of Jesus
- The doctrine of substitutionary atonement through God’s grace and human faith
- The bodily resurrection of Jesus
- The authenticity of Christ’s miracles
In particular, fundamentalists rejected the documentary hypothesis—the theory held by higher biblical criticism that the Pentateuch was composed and shaped by many people over the centuries. Fundamentalists continue to assert that Moses was the primary author of the first five books of the Old Testament.
Later, in the mid 1900s, a group broke away from these self-labeled "fundamentalists" because of their anti-intellectual and separatist views. This separatism involved believing that society is not worth influencing, since it is "Satan’s domain", and anyway, Jesus was returning soon, so "why polish brass on a sinking ship?" This group that broke away were eventually called Evangelicals. They believed that scholarship, intellectualism, and reason should be used in concert with faith, not in opposition to faith. And they believed that Christians should employ Christian thinking in all areas of life, including in the public arenas of learning and politics.
1. What is a fundamentalist – blind faith in a book?
Sam indicated that his definition of fundies is, at least in part, anyone who "believes more in a book than what s/he is able to see with her/his own eyes." Interestingly, this is what I call the "blind faith", which is NOT what true faith is about. I agree with Sam that believing something uncritically, without any use of reason to test what you are being told, is foolish. I am often surprised to find that many secularists, unbelievers, and even some cultural Christians (who wear the label "Christian" but have no real idea what that means) view faith in this way.
It is an unfortunate fact that many Christians actually practice and preach faith in this very manner, giving this impression. Waving the bible in the air and saying "it’s true because the bible says it is" is a classic logical fallacy – appealing to authority rather than to reason.
As Leadership U nicely outlines, there have been at least three approaches to faith and reason in church history. Both Tertullian and Augustine felt that we should use reason to come to conclusions about faith – that is, though we can’t prove an article of faith, we can determine sources that are trustworthy, and then employ and test their ideas in practice. In addition, Augustine said that reason, unaided by faith, is at best, incomplete, and that faith actually brings further knowledge, understanding, and clarity to reason. As I like to say
Before faith comes, reason is king. After faith comes, reason is servant.
So in conclusion, it is an unfortunate fact that many modern Christians, and some Xian leaders preach a type of blind faith that eschews reason. But Sam, good news – this is not faith, and most evangelicals don’t hold to this type of faith.
2. Christian fundies "believe the rationale behind the 9/11 attacks"
But in a phone call to CNN, Falwell said that only the hijackers and terrorists were responsible for the deadly attacks.
"I do believe, as a theologian, based upon many Scriptures and particularly Proverbs 14:23, which says ‘living by God’s principles promotes a nation to greatness, violating those principles brings a nation to shame,’" he said.
Falwell said he believes the ACLU and other organizations "which have attempted to secularize America, have removed our nation from its relationship with Christ on which it was founded."
"I therefore believe that that created an environment which possibly has caused God to lift the veil of protection which has allowed no one to attack America on our soil since 1812," he said.
OK, not the greatest recantation – but again, he is explaining *why* such things happen – that our behavior may play into the mindset of terrorists, giving them reasons to justify their actions. This doesn’t mean that our immorality in social life or foreign policy is directly to blame, but it may be a contributing factor. Nor is this justifying terrorism – it’s a possible reason, not an excuse.
3. Do Evangelicals try to suppress others, motivated by hate?
Mainstream evangelicals hate gays, hate free women, hate my television, hate my music, hate free markets, hate the notion of individual freedom etc.
Regarding hating gays, as I have tried to explain many times, disagreement is not hate. Regarding women, I have no idea what you mean by "hating free women." If you mean balancing their freedom to choose with a child’s right to live, then you are missing the point – it has nothing to do with disliking or disrespecting women, and all to do with respecting and protecting the helpless unborn. Hate your music? Huh? You mean misogynistic rap music? Secularists are already onto that. Otherwise, I’d say Christians are very pro music.
Hate free markets? You mean that they hate regulation? Sounds like just the opposite of what you are saying. Or you think we should have unrestricted international trade? On that point, many conservatives may be against that, but not necessarily Christan’s. In fact, a free market economy is very much in line with xian thought.
We believe that the personal and institutional ownership and control of property—always as stewards of God to whom the whole creation belongs—contributes greatly to freedom. We note as a matter of historical fact that democratic governance exists only where the free market plays a large part in a society’s economy." The Church universal is still debating the balance of values like mercy for the poor and the common good of the majority.
4. Whose moral or ethic shall we legislate?
I have a serious problem with religion when it believes that I need to live by that religion’s definition. As we’ve already discussed, you have no problem with this. Why? Because you already repress yourself based on your religion’s alleged demands. But why should I have to?
We agree partially here. As discussed in my post on theocracy, public policy arguments should be made on the basis of natural law and a commonly held ethic. Religious reasons, or irreligious reasons, may motivate the participants, or shape their value system, which is fine. However, if their value system can’t be argued from natural law and common ethic, they have no place in public policy. Also, we need a way to handle issues that have no clear cut morality, that is, legislation in the gray areas. Those items either need to be regulated (like tobacco), or left untouched (neither condemned nor condoned).
It is unfortunate that some people try to use the "bible says so" reason in the public policy arena. But they are within their rights to be motivated by the bible, or the Humanist Manifesto, or whatever other ideological sources shape their world view.
Regarding suppression, sure, some people are slaves to religious rules and regulations, but thank God, Christ has set us free from slavish obedience to rules! What many people fail to understand is that true spirituality changes you from the inside out – you abandon sin because you don’t want it anymore. You "discipline yourself unto Godliness" because you want to experience more freedom, and more of God. Repression is bad, but transformation is awesome. We don’t have to be slaves to our lusts for food, sex, power, or money. It’s called self-control and virtue (character), not repression. Repression is for those who lack access to the knowledge and power to change, or lack the will/desire to do the WORK required in the transformational process.
5. Do Christians want a theocracy that excludes other ideas?
Probably yes and no. Christians do want religious and personal freedom for people, but not, of course, unlimited freedom (like freedom to kill one’s fetus, for example). Christians have learned from the post-Constantine era that mixing political and ecclesiastical power corrupts both church and state.
According to a Christian view for the transformation of society, we should lead with spiritual preaching, coupled with education, and followed by legislation where needed. Unfortunately, in our times, Christians have been lazy in the first two arenas and focused mostly on legislation, which is a mistake, since we haven’t done the hard work of changing hearts and minds through appealing to people’s minds and hearts. Our lazy approach definitely feels like forcing ideas into legislation. However, since the battle for saving our culture occurs on all three fronts (spirit, soul, and body, resp.), we may just need to back off the legislation a bit until the other works catch up.
6. Unlimited or Limited Freedoms?
Sam opines that Christians want everyone to do it their way, while he believes in freedom for ALL. But if by freedom for all you mean unlimited freedom, I say there is no such thing. Everyone’s freedoms are limited due to the fact that we do not live in isolation – we have to consider others. The question is, how will you limit freedoms, and which ones, and how much? The real difference is not that you believe in freedom for all, while Christians believe in limiting freedoms, but rather, you believe in one set of rules for limiting freedoms, while Christians believe in another.
What needs to be examines is, whose model leads to life, liberty, and happiness?