The only way I could come to know God again, after being in the wilderness for 22 years, was to go back to God at the point of hurt and recreate the scene and resolve it in the exact style of worship that I had left it. God used this technique and it worked. Now 2 1/2 years later, I find that I am struggling to grow and the style of worship that was so comforting to be before, is now holding me back.
After reading Bruce Bawer’s new book, Stealing Jesus, I personally understand how this is happening. All the quotations used in these theses are from the above cited reference. The fundamentalist’s definition of God is too small. It doesn’t allow any room for individual thinking or doctrinal differences. I have found differences between the fundamentalist beliefs and my own beliefs in the following areas (the fundamentalists beliefs are contained in both gay and straight fundamentalism):
1) Lack of questioning of anything that is told to the flock by a pastor, no matter how glaring the errors. On September 15, 1998, Dr. Jack Hayford of the Church of the Living Way in Van Nuys, Ca., broadcast on his radio show that “There is no way you can communicate with those who have passed over to the other side. Absolutely No Way!” While I generally wouldn’t disagree with that remark, his emphasis made me question his accuracy. There was a glaring scriptural contradiction contained in I Sam. 28:11-19. Saul summoned Samuel back from the dead and he came. Most peoples’ modest knowledge of the scripture and even less knowledge of history makes them ready and willing to believe any interpretation that comes along, no matter how erroneous or ridiculous.
2) Lack of questioning or critical thinking skills being applied or encouraged by those in leadership. A confident believer should not fear truth from other sources.
- demand doctrinal absolutism (we have the truth all others are in error).
- demand behavioral conformity
- demand unquestioning obedience
- demand group solidarity and commitment
- demand a zeal to convert
as compared to mainstream Protestant churches:
- respect diversity and individuality
- encourage critical inquiry and dialogue with outsiders
- are characterized by indecision and laxity
- have a tendency to keep ones spirituality to oneself.
“Christianity can be genuinely infantilizing; as its worse, indeed, it can be nothing less than a formula for arrested development – intellectually, aesthetically and spiritually. (p.237).
3) There is a combative temperament toward all new ideas, especially ideas of science. Ideas are not for consideration but to be rallied against, found and stomped out as heresy. This is reminiscent of the Catholic churches ancient ban on Galileo and Copernicus.
If nonbelievers (or nonbelievers ideas), intrude in the believer’s world, the psychological conditions exist to make it possible for believers to accommodate violence toward them. (p.213).
Violence in the name of Christ’s love! I object to religion being used as the “opiate of the people” as Marx said. The fundamentalist church often exploits people’s pain and turns it into weapons against others. In this way, pain is not resolved or healed, just recycled as hate. Psychologically this is very damaging to the congregations involved in this process. It produces lack of respect and a neurotic hate that eventually can lead to violence toward anyone that does not agree to their accepted behavioral norms.
4) I disagree with the theology of the “rapture”. I think the end time writings were far too symbolic and clouded for anyone to be so arrogant as to say it will definitely happen a certain way. Hal Lindsay’s theory presents a “comic book scenario of the end times” (p.151). In recent times, some fundamentalist churches have made belief in the “rapture” a condition of salvation, embellishing on the terms of heaven as set forth by Jesus. Peoples’ belief in this theory again shows their lack of historical knowledge. People in every era from the 1st century church to present day, thought they were in the end times and have had a fascination with the end of the world. This theory is just slightly more sophisticated then the man wearing a sandwich board sign saying the “end is near.”
5) I disagree with the lack of respect Christians show toward others, especially in the area of proselytizing. I believe actions speak louder then words. A Christian life lived is the world’s greatest witness and it speaks louder then having slogans shoved in peoples faces. The “Great Commission” would be considered no more then spreading propaganda if it were any other belief system. As much as Christians resent other groups handing out literature, say the Hare Krishnas at the airport, equal respect is not given to people going about their daily chores on the streets of our cities. If we live the Christian life, people will ask us what the secret of our success is. That is when our witness becomes important and needed.
Another area of lack of respect is in missionary work. While missionary work is often needed, it is also used as vacations. This is dishonest. How many missionaries are truly motivated by spreading God’s word as opposed to getting a cheap or sometimes paid for trip to a foreign land for a set amount of time. Also missionaries have been very influential in destroying native cultures. By not showing respect for the customs and traditions that are there before them, they begin to try to change those customs and belief systems. They have also been responsible for bringing diseases into far away lands that had not been exposed to those particular strains of illness prior to their arrival. It is again this basic lack of respect between one religious group and another; both claiming to have the one and only correct interpretation of what Jesus “really meant!”
6) Length of worship service. Any service that lasts longer then 1 1/2 hours shows a total disrespect for the congregation’s time. This one factor alone will stunt church growth. The only people who will come and stay longer, are the private, ingrown, group of people who have given their private approval for the longer services. If ease of exit is not made available at a reasonable time, while the service may or may not continue on, visitors and guests will cease to come.
7) I believe that the Bible is inspired, but is full of errors and cultural and historical references. It is impossible to take literally some of the violent acts of the Old Testament. For someone to claim it is all literal, they are at least uninformed, at worse a liar. “In their desperation to maintain the doctrine of inerrancy, legalistic Christians compel themselves to be dishonest about the very words that are on the page.” (p.222).
8) While I do agree that there is evil in the world and that evil is personified in the person of Lucifer, Belzebub, Devil, Satan, etc., I think that too much credit is given to the evil one. Statements such as “Satan broke my guitar string and therefore I am under attack” goes into the realm of not being responsible for one’s own actions (or lack of them in replacing strings in a timely manner), and in generally being paranoid and not having the ability to face life. I am continually “struck by how overwhelmed people can be by the worlds complexities, how terrified of their own mortality, how incapable of finding strength, solace, and sense in the realm of the spiritual.” (p.151). I am also amazed at how gullible people become in accepting absurd notions of God and heaven.
9) I disagree that leaving one’s church is “backsliding” or “reentering the wilderness.” Sometimes growth in Christianity will lead the believer down many roads with many bends and turns. On this point “sinful, wordly people” are often more compassionate about the realities of life, more real. Sometimes bad things happen to strengthen you – not because God is punishing you or that you are outside of God’s will. A life in Christ does not mean a life with no problems. A life in Christ will be a life in transition. For to know and love God is to be willing to say yes to all the changes God will bring about in the lessons of life.
Paul Tillich wrote in 1950 in a Partisan Review symposium on “Religion and the Intellectuals”:
Religion is not a collection of theoretical statements of a questionable or absurd or superstitious character. Such a religion could not be accepted by any intellectual who is not willing to sacrifice his intellectual honesty. Some of them make this sacrifice and surrender their intellectual autonomy to Ecclesiastical or Biblical authorities. But their turn to religion is still an expression of their despair, not a victory over it. Others are waiting for a religious answer which does not destroy reason but points to the depth of reason; which does not teach the supernatural, but points to the mystery in the ground of the natural, which denies that God is a being and speaks of Him(Her) as the ground and depth of being and meaning, which knows about the significance of symbols in myth and cult, but resists the distortion of symbols into statements of knowledge which necessarily conflict with scientific knowledge. (p. 323).
My intention in this is not to offend but to pinpoint important doctrinal differences between the fundamentalist way of thinking and other systems of thought.