At one of my recent talks on Bristol, an attendee challenged me on my definition of fundamentalism. And while I still think his definition did a violence to any traditional usage of the term (while mine was, obviously, unassailably correct), he raised an important point. ‘Fundamentalist’, in modern usage, is essentially a swear word. If you call someone a fundamentalist, you’re writing off their views as irrelevant and invalid. At the same time, the word does have a historical meaning, referring to a specific type of Christian theology.
In the past, I have capitalised on that very ambiguity with this blog. I blog about self-identified fundamentalists, the kind meant by the historical meaning of the word. But since I also think that these views are irrational and their adherents are extremists, I’ve been letting my readers interpret the term however they wish. If by fundamentalist you mean someone who believes in the literal truth of an inerrant Bible, that’s what I mean. But if you mean a terrorist, well, as far as I’m concerned the atrocities committed by self-proclaimed fundamentalists at Christian reform homes are in the same moral ballpark as terrorism, so that’s fine too.
Now I’ve decided I want to engage meaningfully with believers, I have a problem. You can’t reach mutual understandings through interfaith dialogue while calling your conversation partners terrorists. So is it time to lose the term ‘fundamentalism’? Even Bob Jones University, the spiritual home of fundamentalism, has made noises about ditching it:
“Basically, we’ve decided that we can’t use that term,” said Carl Abrams, a BJU history professor and a longtime member of the faculty. “The term has been hijacked and it takes you 30 minutes to explain it. So you need something else.”
But if not fundamentalist, then what? Well, before we can answer that, we need to know how fundamentalism gained its current status. And for that, we need Adam Laats’s outstanding book, Fundamentalism and Education in the Scopes Era: God, Darwin, and the Roots of America’s Culture Wars.
This blog is littered with absurdities from Accelerated Christian Education, some of them involving mythical beasts or the denial of basic physics. But does it matter how old the world is? On a day-to-day basis, it doesn’t make much practical difference how long you think our planet has existed. Why not let Creationists teach whatever they want?
If there are grounds for regulating what gets taught in private schools, it must be because of substantive harm to students. I argue that ACE causes this kind of harm. It limits children’s future, because if they do what ACE says, huge areas of study are closed off to them. In fact, this post would be better (but less catchily) titled:
Five subjects a Creationist can’t study
Everybody who reads this blog knows I am an atheist, but I try to avoid attacking core Christian doctrines. Ultimately, I believe in co-operation. I would like to work with reasonable Christian people to build a model of education which is agreeable for everyone. I don’t (usually) see any benefit in attacking beliefs.
Yes, I attack Young Earth Creationism, but this is not a core Christian doctrine. It is not even a core fundamentalist doctrine, historically. Fundamentalism was kickstarted by The Fundamentals, a collection of essays affirming Christian beliefs. Not everyone who contributed was a Creationist. It did contain a Creationist essay by George Frederick Wright, but Wright’s views were complicated. In many writings, he expressed support for Darwin, and his Creationism was far from that expressed by Ken Ham, Duane Gish, Henry Morris, or Ray Comfort.
Plus, Young Earth Creationism is demonstrably false. So if you want to make that a core Christian doctrine, then I can say unequivocally that Christianity is untrue, and we can stop the conversation right here.
In general, I do not find the concept of God either plausible or useful. But there are certain expressions of God that, while I don’t believe them, I can see how an intelligent person could hold them.
But, I’m sorry, salvation through faith alone, the cornerstone of the Reformation, of fundamentalism, and of conservative Protestantism, is a pernicious, poisonous doctrine. I really want to co-operate with Christians, but if that’s your view, I don’t think we’re going to find common ground. Read the rest of this entry
Another scary vlog to show you today.
My slight concern with this vlog is that people will think I’m bitter. I don’t feel bitter, and I resent “you’re just bitter” being used as an excuse to dismiss what I have to say. My hope is that by being this personal, people will see the effect that Creationism has on children. At that age, people are vulnerable to deception. What I want to make very clear is that this is not just about me. This is about all the children who are taught this – about 2,000 in ACE schools in the UK.
When Christians say “train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it,” they are taking advantage of a child’s credulity. It feels hysterical to call it child abuse, but it is an abuse of power.
The other thing I’d like you to notice is that I always said “man,” instead of “people,” or “humans.” Fundamentalist Christianity hates feminism.
I can write this blog because I escaped. I’m free and clear, and my life is good now. I’m genuinely concerned about the kids that are still in systems like ACE School of Tomorrow.
In this week’s vlog, I discuss the way ACE attacks logical reasoning within its curriculum materials. This is not something I expect from a good educational system.
In part 2 of Richard Dawkins’ 2006 documentary The Root of All Evil, Dawkins visits Phoenix Acadamy, an ACE school in London, and interviews its head teacher, Adrian Hawkes. It’s worth watching because you catch glimpses of PACEs and an ACE learning centre, as well as hearing the views of one of its exponents. In my view, Hawkes misrepresents the extent of ACE’s Creationism, presumably to avoid looking bad.
Here’s the video; the segment on Phoenix/ ACE starts at 10:33 and lasts just over four minutes.
If you don’t have time to watch it, here’s the crucial part of the interview:
Adrian Hawkes: ‘Do you think the Genesis story was true and God created the world in seven days?’ That’s what you would really like to ask me. My answer to that is, ‘I don’t know.’ However, did God use evolution to do that? I don’t know. Maybe he did. Having said that, do I think that if God wanted to do it seven days he could? Yeah I think he could.
Richard Dawkins: He could do anything.
Hawkes: Yeah, so it’s sort of an acadamic question which, actually, I don’t care about the answer very much really.
I was enormously frustrated watching this as it was broadcast in 2006, because I felt Hawkes was disingenuous. I’m not saying he was lying, but the viewer could be forgiven for assuming that the views Hawkes promoted were the views taught in his schools. That is absolutely not the case. Here’s what ACE says about evolution vs. the Bible:
“Remember the Bible is completely against any such theory. This theory leaves no room for man’s responsibility or man’s sin. If evolution were true, no man would be born a sinner because Adam would never have fallen and committed the original sin of disobedience to God. If evolution were true, Christ would not have needed to die for sin.” Read the rest of this entry
I could have been one of the hijackers in 9/11.
Luckily for me, there’s no culture of terrorism among young Christian fundamentalists (yet). But I believed it strongly enough that, if you’d shown me Bible verses that persuaded me it was God’s will, I would have blown up myself and other people for the faith. Read the rest of this entry
Defenders of Accelerated Christian Education often dismiss criticism as coming from those pesky secular humanists, the source of most of the world’s evil. Yet on Christian Education Europe’s website, they admit they “have been surprised and disappointed by a general lack of interest – if not antagonism – found in some churches” toward their mission. If I were them, I’d think about why.
I’ll start with a book that makes me want to cry with relief – Ungodly Fear by Stephen Parsons, a vicar. This book, subtitled “Fundamentalist Christianity and the Abuse of Power,” describes my old ACE school in the first chapter. It isn’t mentioned by name, and the staff have pseudonyms, but it’s unquestionably my school. I am titanically grateful to see it recognised in print that this type of school is abusive. It is described as authoritarian, “a regime of being ruled by fear,” with ruthless discipline. “Most days at least one child would get the paddle. So on average, each child would get hit with a spoon at least once a month.” The book describes a child being humiliated by a member of staff in front of the whole school. The author suggests the staff’s counselling techniques were in fact intimidation.
This is the Faith preacher Kenneth Copeland. Or, to put it another way, this is my childhood in 3 minutes.
I grew up in Bath, where Kenneth Copeland Ministries has its European office. I have Kenneth Copeland’s autograph in a Bible that was given to me on the day I was born. This is not Texas or Arkansas. This isn’t even London. This is middle class England.
When I watch this stuff, I still feel the same sense of awe I felt as a child. God, Creator of the Universe, the most powerful being in existence, had gone to all this effort to make me blessed. It’s an incredible thought.