Back of the North Wind

Discussions of theology, philosophy, religion and life inspired by the writings of George MacDonald (and perhaps others such as CS Lewis) posted by "recovering fundamentalists".

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I am a "recovering fundamentalist". The trick is to figure out how not to throw out the Baby with the bathwater. I learn through dialogue, and so invite commentary on my posts to Back of the North Wind.

Friday, December 10, 2004

Recovering from Fundamentalism

The Word of God

Christian fundamentalists (one of which I was) talk a lot about the "Word of God", by which they almost always mean the Bible, as in the child's chant:

The B-I-B-L-E,
Yes that's the book for me!
I stand alone on the Word of God,
The B-I-B-L-E.

For an adult self-description by fundamentalists, see the Independent Baptist Fellowship definition of fundamentalism:

"We believe that the Holy Bible was written by men supernaturally inspired; that it has truth without any admixture of error for its matter, and therefore is and shall remain to the end of the age the only complete and final revelation of the will of God to man, the true center of Christian union and the supreme standard by which all human conduct, creeds and opinions should be tried."

The Young Earth

I grew up believing that the world was created in six 24-hour periods and that the geneologies in Genesis proved the Universe was no older than about ten thousand years: I once made my high-school biology teacher choke on his own saliva with that one. I also knew, at the age of 14, every flaw in every radiometric dating technique and all of the arguments against an evolutionary interpretation of the fossil record. Our home was a big supporter of the Institute for Creation Research. This indoctrination was pretty strong: it survived in me even through my college and graduate education in physical sciences. Ironically, though my formal education couldn't convince me to allow that life may have evolved over a long time on this planet, CS Lewis did.

"God Said It"

A much more harmful belief was that everything in the Bible which was attributed to God must really have been from God, since the Bible is God-Breathed and contains no error. So for example, when the Bible says that God told King Saul to slaughter the Amalekites, all the "men, women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys" this "must have been true and must have been good because the Bible says that God said it".

I remember taking Psalm 137 to my father:

"O daughter of Babylon, you devastated one,
How blessed will be the one who repays you
With the recompense with which you have repaid us.

How blessed will be the one who seized and dashes your little ones
Against the rock."

who, in order to maintain his fundamentalism and mine, explained to me that the infants would have grown up Babylonian, worshiping idols and doing all of the other evil things that the Babylonians did. So they were better off dead before they could commit all those sins, and the person that carried out God's word would be blessed in that case.

You know, I understand the Christians who get upset when they are compared to Islamic fundamentalists, but if you follow the reasoning in the paragraph above, the comparison seems justified.

It took me a long, long time to come to this place in my life -- maybe 30 years. But I utterly reject the slaughter of infants as good. The Bible is wrong. George MacDonald finally gave me liberty when I read what he wrote in his Unspoken Sermons:

But let us hear how John reads the Word—hear what is John’s version of the gospel.
‘This then is the message,’ he says, ‘which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.’ Ah, my heart, this is indeed the good news for thee! This is a gospel! If God be light, what more, what else can I seek than God, than God himself! Away with your doctrines! Away with your salvation from the ‘justice’ of a God whom it is a horror to imagine! Away with your iron cages of false metaphysics! I am saved—for God is light! My God, I come to thee. That thou shouldst be thyself is enough for time and eternity, for my soul and all its endless need. Whatever seems to me darkness, that I will not believe of my God.

and later in the unspoken sermon (the entire text of which I commend to the reader)

Neither let thy cowardly conscience receive any word as light because another calls it light, while it looks to thee dark. Say either the thing is not what it seems, or God never said or did it. But, of all evils, to misinterpret what God does, and then say the thing as interpreted must be right because God does it, is of the devil. Do not try to believe anything that affects thee as darkness. Even if thou mistake and refuse something true thereby, thou wilt do less wrong to Christ by such a refusal than thou wouldst by accepting as his what thou canst see only as darkness.

Words (for me) to live by.