When fundamentalists attack!

If you’ve spent any time at all reading about creationism online, you’ll be familiar with the infuriating experience of attempting to have a reasonable conversation on the subject. Creationists are notorious for quote mining, for a seemingly wilful ability to misinterpret the clearest of arguments, for ad hominem attacks, and for repeating the same arguments after they’ve been addressed. This has been so widely observed that it’s led to the internet adage that arguing with a creationist is like playing chess with a pigeon: They’ll knock over the pieces, crap on the board, and then strut about clucking like they won.

What’s really interesting, though, is seeing creationists use these same tactics on each other. I first observed this when I was a kid, and I should have seen through the whole enterprise back then.

My family got internet access for the first time in 1996 or 1997. I remember excitedly going online for the first time to hunt for web sites about my favourite thing in the world, Christian rock music. We had a 28.8k connection, and the modem sounded like this:

[TRIGGER WARNING: NOSTALGIA]

This was when search engines were rubbish and most Christian rock bands didn’t even have websites yet, so the only thing I could find was a page called Christian Rock: Blessing or Blasphemy. I began reading, initially confident that, like any sensible person, the writer would conclude that Christian rock was a powerful tool for spreading the Gospel. And the more I read, the more upset I became, until by the end my skin was hot with anger and I could hardly stand the injustice of what I was reading.

It wasn’t that the author believed Christian rock was evil. I could have handled that. It was that the author, Terry Watkins, constantly and (it seemed to me) deliberately distorted what Christian rock artists said in order to make them look worse. Incredibly, the page is still online, unchanged from how I remember it back then.

Watkins’ description of every artist is a work of distortion and mendacity, so I’ll pick a few that particularly offended me back in the day.

One of [Steve] Taylor’s songs is amazingly titled “Jesus Is For Losers“. What a BLATANT and WICKED contradiction to the words of the Lord Jesus Christ!

The title of “Jesus is for Losers” is, obviously, a play on words. Rather than the negative connotation usually associated with the phrase, Taylor is saying that, if you are a loser (as, to Taylor, we all are), then Jesus is the answer. I couldn’t believe then and I can’t believe now that Terry Watkins didn’t see this.

Steve Taylor known for his mockery of the church, in his song “This Disco (Used to be a Cute Cathedral)”, about a church that is turned into a disco:

Sunday needs a pick-me-up?
Here’ your chance
Do you get tired of the same old square dance?
Allemande right now, all join hands
Do-si-do to the promised boogieland
Got no need for altar calls
Sold the altar for the mirror balls

Again, Taylor is satirising. He think that churches which have replaced altar calls with glamour have missed the Gospel. He agrees with the author of this article.

Ecclesiastes 1:9 says, ” . . .there is NO NEW THING under the sun.” But that was before dc Talk came along, as they sing, “God is doin’ a NU THANG through our music” (they can’t spell either!).

Here, Watkins is doing what fundamentalists call “proof texting”. The logic goes like this:

  1. Every verse of the Bible is the Word of God.
  2. The Bible contains no contradictions or errors.
  3. Therefore, if you can find any Bible verse to support your claim, you have proved your point.

But I knew, and Watkins must have known that DC Talk’s song was based on a Bible verse. Isaiah 43:19:

Behold, I will do a new thing; now it shall spring forth; shall ye not know it? I will even make a way in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert.

If I’d been a bit brighter, it would have made me question the entire practice of proof texting. But I wasn’t, and it didn’t.

The entire page is like this. And the crazy thing is, the whole argument is irrelevant. Terry Watkins believes that Christian rock is wrong in principle, so these specific arguments are meaningless anyway. I didn’t come up against another example of fundamentalist mud-slinging until a couple of years later…

I found Hank Hanegraaff’s Christianity in Crisis in the shop where I bought all my Christian CDs. It promised to be an expose of the Word of Faith movement, so I flicked through it in the shop. Again, I found my skin prickling with fury. I had grown up with those beliefs. I recognised the quotations used, because I’d heard the original sermons. Sometimes the quotes were out of context, and sometimes it was just that Hanegraaff’s interpretations bore no relation to what I understood from the same words. I knew what the Word of Faith was; I knew what my church, my family, and I believed. And this wasn’t it. Hanegraaff told me that, as a member of the Faith Movement, I believed that I was a god, and that God himself was small and weak. I had no idea what he was talking about.

Nowadays, attacks from conservative Christians on the Word of Faith always leave me with a headache, because it’s hard to believe how much wrong can be packed into such a small space. As you know, I am now firmly of the belief that the Faith Movement, as it’s also known, is harmful and wrong. There are a thousand reasons to condemn it. Somehow the fundamentalists who do criticise it manage to avoid all of those good reasons, and offer total bullshit instead.

What do we make of all this?

I think we conclude that here is the harm of fundamentalism: it can force people into unreasonable thought patterns. In these arguments, it is more important to win then it is to be honest. That’s not a helpful way to get through life.

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About jonnyscaramanga

I grew up as a Christian fundamentalist in the UK. Now I am writing a book and blog about what that's like, and what fundamentalists believe.

Posted on September 23, 2013, in Atheism, Christianity, Creationism, Fundamentalism, Word of Faith and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 16 Comments.

  1. “2. The Bible contains no contradictions or errors.”

    This one is, of course, blatantly false, see for instance: http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Biblical_contradictions.

    But to the point, I personally consider debating creationists as wasting my precious time (which is not to say that others should not debate those folks, I leave that up to them), for the reason you gave here: they are beyond the scope of reason.

  2. Something I wrote a year or two back:

    What’s that mote in your eye? Come close, let me look.
    There’s a log in mine too? No no, you’re mistook.
    Your reading of scripture is wrong, look you here;
    I’ll give chapter and verse, listen close; I’ll make clear.

    This line makes it clear—you’re dabbling in sin!
    Repent right away, and He’ll let you back in.
    You say that I’m wrong, how could I be so?
    My reading’s correct, yours is wrong. Now be told!

    I’m supported by John, I’m backed up by Luke;
    They match up so closely, it can’t be a fluke.
    You say Matthew says dif’rent, in verse umpty-dee?
    But the Bible’s inerrant! Give it here; let me see.

    Ah, there is your problem—it’s simple to see;
    Mine are meant lit’ral, yours as simile.
    How do I know that it’s not t’other way?
    God bless you, it’s simple: I prefer it my way.

    Ah the sound of the modem, I’d forgotten that! Remarkably similar to the sound made by a computer-game tape being copied on a tape-to-tape deck. Ahem.

  3. … you’ll be familiar with the infuriating experience …

    These days, I no longer find it infuriating. I just laugh at their predictability. The quality of creationist debating has really slipped; most of them are not even trying to produce credible arguments.

  4. Yeah, those same kind of people found Petra to be evil too. A group of guys with one of the most worshipful/praise oriented records (Petra Praise anyone?). Christian music critics who are Christian are some of the most ignorant men and women out there. They’re even worse than that guy I would watch on Christian TV as a teenager. Does anyone remember The Eagle’s Nest? A guy would backward mask albums for demonic messages. He would also play some music the regular way and critique it’s evil words and sounds. His favorite stuff was anything by Ozzy Osbourne. He’d also wear out the “Fear the reaper” song. Funny, all I can think of with that one now is “more cow bell!”

    Oh, the whole “evil drum beats from Africa” accusations in Christian rock got so old after a while.

    Uh, you had to go there Jonny, retro DC Talk!

    “You know he’s doing it. Who’s doing it? God is doing a nu thang. You know he’s doing it. Who’s doing it? God is doing a nu thang!”

    Hey, speaking of DC Talk, Michael Tate has been the lead singer for the Newsboys for a few years now. They had a song called “God’s not dead” (roaring like a lion). Well, guess what? In a few months a movie will be released of the same name. It just looks like one glorified extension of the song.

    Here’s my question boys and girls, how can something die if it was never alive to begin with?

    • Charity, you’re the only person I know who can fully appreciate this (everyone else, it’s still pretty funny):

      • Oh, Jonny, that’s just exhausting! I’m like “Breathe, kid, BREATHE!”

        Ha, ha, thanks for sharing. 🙂

      • Oh, yeah, it’s me Charity. You can still call me by my first name. I have resorted back to my previous internet identity on my site because my blog has grown a little bigger than what I ever thought it would. I was getting really nervous about that here in west Tennessee. Both my kids are at a public school and my husband works for a huge religious network of hospitals (as most of them are). I just didn’t want to risk our safety or livelihood. Sorry for the confusion.

  5. Jonny,

    It’s always a pleasure opening up my email to read something from your blog, particularly on a wet and rainy Monday morning across the Pond. 🙂

    I, too, was subjected to something similar. About the only argument I have with your work are these sentences:

    “If I’d been a bit brighter, it would have made me question the entire practice of proof texting. But I wasn’t, and it didn’t.”

    I propose that your situation, like mine, had nothing to do with your inherent brightness. What it had to do with was thinking a certain way and being steeped in certain things; particularly fundamentalist ways of thought: you didn’t have the skills you do now to question and prove thought patterns. I dare say, you possess those skills now go about your critiques in a most excellent manner.

    The entire concept of questioning authority let alone the logic behind certain decisions was not something I began to do until I was an adult and it was one of the catalysts which forced me to live on my own.

    Keep on sharing! Your work supports an individual’s need to realize that it’s okay to question, prove logical fallacies and challenge ways of being and doing.

    L

  6. I’ve seen this pattern so often, even when highlighted to the person doing it, that I no longer belief that such arguments are intended to persuade other people of their position. I now tend to think it’s a way of reinforcing their position in the face of a challenge to their truth.

    I also tend to shut down conversations where people do this because life’s too short 😉

  7. Let me guess, Terry Watkins didn’t really like “I Want to be a Clone” either? 😉

  8. I just found your Blog. I hope to get to read more and get to know you, but your post spoke to me. I too come from a broken Church experience at 16 and have come back to Chirst as an adult. As I read several things stayed in my ear.

    “Jesus is for losers” Sounds familiar…

    Matthew 5:3-6,10
    “Blessed are the poor in spirit,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
    Blessed are those who mourn,
    for they will be comforted.
    Blessed are the meek,
    for they will inherit the earth.
    Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
    for they will be filled.

    Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

    Oh yeah, Jesus said it.

    ““God is doin’ a NU THANG” Sounds familiar…
    John 13:34
    “”A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”

    Oh yeah, Jesus said it.

    The approach of fundamentalist (in this context) is really more about hatred of change. It is not so much that they hate these groups, but that they believe that things should stay as they are. Like the Pharisees they are scared that change will take away their place in the Kingdom. They are right.

    Funny thing to me is that almost all of them are singing from hymnals that are from the 18th or 19th century and not simply singing the Psalms of the Bible. They are singing hymns some of which where adaptations of the bar songs being sung when they were created. God has always used the things of that day to call people to Him. He comes to us where we are.

    Sad that some are so scared of change that they try to put God in a box. To quote C.S. Lewis “He is not a tame lion” – The Chronicles of Narnia. 

    • Indeed. Some of the more ridiculous and/or harmful things I’ve heard from fundamentalists:

      – The Narnia books are evil, because they portray Jesus as an animal instead of a human. (Um, WHAT?)

      – ALL fiction (Christian or otherwise) is evil, because it is untrue and therefore from Satan.

      – Christian rock is inspired directly by Lew Siffer–er, I mean, the devil. (The Chick tract on this is, IMO the best and most unintentionally hilarious example of this.)

      – Medicine = bad, because clearly by putting faith in doctors and medical researchers, you’re somehow not putting any in Jesus. (This one kills people and pisses me off.)

      – Beating your child into submission is not only not harmful, but Godly, and the failure to beat your child with a rod is itself evil and harmful. (Yes, this is the infamous garbage from Ezzo and the Pearls that killed Lydia Schatz and Hana Williams, and probably others.)

      – People only worship other gods because they are either deliberately rebelling against YHWH or are possessed by demons. (I specifically remember a rather nasty reggae-esque song from middle school called “Hey, Hey, Man, Do You Know My Lord?” that used this rather sickening viewpoint.)

      – Gay people aren’t actually attracted to members of the same sex; they’re just mad at God.

      It’s like they don’t even realize that this sort of thing is why so many people are leaving Christianity.

      • Now that’s some extremist stuff! Wow.

      • Have you ever read the Pearls books. Never to they advocate “beating”. Spanking yes, beating, no. I’ve read there books and they advocate discipline. I’ve never read their books and thought, hmm, my child wont submit so let me beat them to death. They are very clear in their books if you are angry you should NOT be spanking your child. The problem with America is that no one “believes” in spanking anymore. Oh, it might hurt the child psychologically. Yes, beating a child or abusing emotionally and physically is wrong and can hurt a child. But, spanking is not wrong. If more people would properly correct and spank their children I would guess that America wouldn’t be going to hell in a hand basket. Has anyone seen kids now days. I see some kids and how they talk to their parents and treat each other and other people, they need a good spanking!!! I was spanked in a “right” way, and probably sometimes not, and I’m just fine. The people out there abusing their kids need to get into trouble. If there are idiots that are out there and translate proper discipline into abuse then they need to pay the price. But to spank your child or correct them is not abuse. If there is not discipline or correction then there is going to be chaos and kids, who eventually turn into adults, running amok. Oh wait….that’s already happening.

  9. I love this so much. I too came across that site years ago. Curiously enough, is Amy Grant still the Queen Bee?

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