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.
I doubt there’s a long-running ex-fundamentalist blog on the internet which hasn’t received a comment along the lines of “You were never a REAL Christian”. I got just such a charming message the other day.
What’s with that? Why are fundamentalists not sniffing around their churches for impostors? There must be a fair few of them around, if everyone who has ever left the faith turned out to be a fake. Why are fundamentalists so intent on denying that I was ever one of them?
It’s all part of the problem I discussed in “Why fundamentalists will never listen to me“. Fundamentalists believe that in order to understand the Bible, and real Christian faith, you must yourself be a real Christian. Without salvation, you cannot understand the things of God.
This has the handy side-effect of meaning they never have to listen to anyone who disagrees with them. People who disagree with fundamentalists are Not True Christians, and therefore incapable of understanding Christianity. It follows that these people cannot possibly make valid criticisms of their faith. Who says fundamentalists can’t do logic? Read the rest of this entry
I’m honoured today to host a guest post by Adam Laats. Laats is an historian in the Graduate School of Education at Binghamton University, State University of New York, USA (recently appointed Associate Professor). He is the author of Fundamentalism and Education in the Scopes Era: God, Darwin, and the Roots of America’s Culture Wars. He blogs about conservatism and American education at I Love You but You’re Going to Hell. When I started writing, Adam’s blog was the first one I found, and it’s been one of my most-read blogs ever since. Adam and I recently got into a debate about whether a petition to ban the teaching of Creationism is a good idea. Here is Adam’s argument; my response will be on his blog soon.
My fundamentalist neighbor is a dick.
He lets his dogs bark at all hours of the day and night.
He parks his work truck in the yard.
He built a huge ugly palisade fence between his yard and that of our other neighbor.
After years of living next door, he still doesn’t know my name.
He berates me occasionally about America’s woeful abandonment of God and the Bible.
He throws his garbage into the yard of the church next door.
I think he drinks.
In short, my fundamentalist neighbor is a dick. But it wouldn’t make any sense to try to pass a law to stop his dickishness. Yet that is the attitude, apparently, behind some other recent anti-fundamentalist efforts. Read the rest of this entry
Kirsty Newman blogs over at Kirsty Evidence, where she battles the forces of ignorance by advocating an evidence-based approach to international development and education. You’d think that someone with such a cozy relationship with science (and reality) would have little time for fundamentalism, and you’d be right. But in the post, Kirsty wistfully remembers the simpler times when the world was black and white, and thinking wasn’t required.
This weekend, my devout Catholic father-in-law is visiting. Before he arrived, my husband and I had our usual ‘little chat’ where he pleads with me to at least try not to antagonise his aging dad. And as usual, I set out with the best of intentions to be a respectful daughter-in-law…
I managed a good thirty minutes before, apropos the Woolwich murder, my father-in-law came out with this statement: “The problem with Islam…” (always a worrying start to a sentence) “…is that the Quran is so ambiguous that it can be interpreted in many ways and this leads people to violence”.
I couldn’t stop myself. I had to respond that this was just like the Bible – after all, the Bible is riddled with contradictions and contains a fair amount of violence. “Yes”, responded my father-in-law, “but the message of what you need to do in Christianity is clear” “Really?”, I asked, “But surely you just pick and choose what bits you follow? For example, you eat pork which is banned”. “Ah but the Old Testament was overruled by the New Testament” he replies. “So what about the rules in the New Testament that you ignore?” I query “For example, I note that people in your church have braided hair – was that not also banned?” “Well yes, but that was what Paul said, not what Jesus said”. “OK”, I rejoin, “but what about when Jesus said that you need to give all your possessions to the poor?” “Well that was just a message to one person” he replies “And in general we need to follow the spirit of that suggestion rather than the rule…”.
From when I left my ACE school (aged 15) until I was 19, I almost never socialised. I just didn’t know how to socialise with people who weren’t fundamentalists. Almost everything they ever did was a sin, and I didn’t like any of the same music or TV as them. South Park was strange and offensive, and I didn’t want to be around people who would laugh at such depravity.
As we got older, the people I knew spent more and more time in pubs. Apart from the food-serving kind, pubs were frightening places. Drunk people were scary and unpredictable. But the real reason I hated pubs was because I hated beer. This wasn’t really a moral thing. In my most radicalised phase, I had believed that Christians shouldn’t drink at all, but in the UK, most evangelicals are comfortable with alcohol (as long as you don’t “get drunk”). There isn’t the same puritan streak that runs through US fundamentalism. It’s just that beer is an acquired taste, and I hadn’t acquired it.
Then, on my 19th birthday, someone bought me a vodka and Coke. And this was brilliant, because it just tasted like awful Coke. I could drink awful Coke. I already did when I went to my step-gran’s house and she produced a bottle that had been sitting open, in direct sunlight, for a month.
My article on ACE schools for New Humanist magazine is now online. There won’t be a huge amount of news in it for long-term readers of Leaving Fundamentalism, but you should still go and leave positive comments there so that the Rationalist Association will let me write for them again. And then I promise I will write something new!
A fundamental problem
Examinations set at evangelical Christian schools in the UK equate evolution with Nazism and teach children that man co-existed with dinosaurs. Some of these schools receive government funding. Jonny Scaramanga, who was educated within this system, argues it must stop.
Read it all here.
Check out the latest edition of Jacob Fortin’s podcast, The Good Atheist. I’m a guest… and if Jake gets good feedback, I’ll become a regular.
I was there to talk about ACE, but I actually ended up opening up and talking about what it was like to grow up as a fundamentalist. There’s a lot of stuff I haven’t said before in public, as well as some fun about dinosaurs. Check it out!
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.
This is the most important blog post I’ve written yet. It’s not as populist as the Top 5 posts, but please read it, comment, tweet, share on reddit and reblog. This is a crucial news story and it needs to get out there.
Earlier this year, Naric, a UK government agency, recognised the International Certificate of Christian Education (ICCE) as comparable to Cambridge International A-Level standard. This is a travesty, and not just because of Creationism. ICCE is the certificate students get for completing the fundamentalist curriculum Accelerated Christian Education.
If I were to make a list of the problems with Accelerated Christian Education, the Creationism, and associated lies taught as fact, would come third or even fourth.
Number 1 would be the tendency for these schools to indulge in physical abuse of children.
Number 2 is how destructive it is educationally. I write so much about ACE’s Creationism mostly because it’s popular – my two posts on lies taught by ACE account for almost 50% of this blog’s traffic. I really need the public to be on side if we’re going to beat this. But I can’t get the public to engage with the real problem, because the real problem is education. Most people find education boring, and laughing at Creationism interesting.
Well, you should care. And I’m going to show you why. Read the rest of this entry
As I expected, Jesus Jihad: Could There Be a Christian Bin Laden? has received a torrent of objections. I want to do deal with them all. After that, I don’t anticipate talking about this again. Read the rest of this entry