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Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Sex, Death, and Fundamentalism

Over at Reformation21, one of our very own Westminster profs, Carl Trueman (lover of large SUVs and small homeless kittens), is asking a rather penetrating question: Is Fundamentalism The New Sex? Here's how he begins...
Victorian society was marked by one great obsession and one great taboo. The obsession was, of course, death. It's everywhere. From music to painting to architecture, the Victorian era was indelibly marked by the charnel house and the crypt. As for sex – forget it; or, at least, don't mention it in polite company. My own great-grandmother was only told the facts of life the night before she married (she was a little taken aback, so I am told); and years later, in talking to my grandfather, it emerged that she didn't even know how to pronounce the word 'sex,' preferring to speak in terms of 'seck.'

Given this, it is arguable that the modern Western world represents the very antithesis of the Victorian era. The great obsession now is sex; and the great taboo is death. While sex is everywhere in abundance, even on advertisements for fast food and dental floss, death is conspicuous only by its complete absence, except for the odd movie where it is generally reserved for absurd cartoon villains or evil geniuses whose moral depravity is indicated by their English accents and who therefore deserve to die horrible deaths anyway.

So how does this relate to fundamentalism? Well, you really need to read the article (it's quick) to see how Carl connects the dots. Since I don't want to let the cat out of the bag, I'll conclude simply by saying that I think he makes some excellent insights and conclusions. But what about you - what do you think? Feel free to give it a read and then offer up your opinion...

Hat tip: Justin Taylor


At 3:46 AM, July 30, 2005, Blogger Jeri said...

Sorry to be a downer, but that article on Fundamentalism was so wide of the mark it looks like the writer caught wind of the media furor over the word "Fundamentalism" and then spun out a creative article after reading a single article on Fundamentalism in the WORLD BOOK ENCYCLOPEDIA.

While reducing the Bible to "what it literally says to me with no other input from anybody" is one possible facet of Fundamentalism, there are also very sound Bible scholars in Fundamentalism who do study historic interpretations of the Bible and can very ably compare and contrast theological foundations. And these men preach and teach and write books. They don't necessarily agree with historic interpretations of the Bible from certain quarters, but they explore them.

The problems endemic in Christian Fundamentalism are much wider, broader, and more complex than an unwillingness to play ball with historical interpretation of the Bible. Outright ignorance of the Bible is a much larger problem in a religion that prides itself on making the Bible its authority.

It's not that Fundamentalists re-interpret Scripture apart from what Christianity has accepted for centuries. The real problem is that Fundamentalists declare that the Bible teaches things or says things that do not at all appear within its pages. And these errors do not come from rejecting accepted theology, but from the far more mundane problem of simply not reading the Bible itself, apart from the specific passages where fringe mentality preachers point them.

Christian Fundamentalism has not become excessive because the Bible presents any real danger of excess. Christian Fundamentalism has not resorted to anti-social behavior because the Bible teaches anti-social behavior. Christian Fundamentalism hasn't become mean-spirited, mysogynistic, racist, etc., because these things are taught anywhere in the Bible. Christian Fundamentalism has become what it has become because Christian Fundamentalism has abandoned the systematic, methodical practice of reading the Bible.

If Christian Fundamentalism, as a group, rejected historic theology (which I'm not saying is a wise thing to do), but returned to the practice of reading the Bible from cover to cover, talking about it, exploring the ancient languages, and studying the Bible methodically together, then the anti-social behavior would be rejected. Radical right wing pretensions would vanish. The mean spirit, the mysogyny, and all the legalistic fads would also disappear.

Christian Fundamentalism, if we view it as a single entity, did not get where it is today because it rejected the historically accepted theological views of the Christian church, but rather because it has replaced the Bible with its own unique mythology and a tradition that declares what the Bible says, even though the Bible doesn't say what the tradition asserts.

Christian Fundamentalism, in short, has embraced superstition and tradition and rejected diligent study of the Bible.

And even though there are Christian Fundamentalists who are quite well read in the Bible, and there are Christian Fundamentalists who are excellent scholars of ancient languages and church history, these people are part of a dwindling minority. Ultimately, Christian Fundamentalism will decline more and more into its darkness, and the few surviving believers will have to jump ship and put distance between themselves and the growing darkness.

But the writer of the article asserts a far more complex problem in Christian Fundamentalism than actually exists. It's really quite simple. A religion based on a text has fallen into traditions rather than the study of its own text. Ignorance has taken over. And preachers who can scratch out a living by building new bandwagons for spiritually empty Fundamentalists to jump on have moved easily into Fundamentalism and control large parts of it.


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