Friday, June 18, 2010

My Latest Re Fundamentalism (on Huff Post)

The next great task for the human race is to wean ourselves off literal interpretations of religion. We need to eradicate fundamentalism in all its forms.

Atheism is no help. Human beings are spiritual and look for meaning. Science holds answers but not "THE" answer we look for and long for. Family life and love -- continuity of relationships -- come closest for fulfilling our longing for purpose.

As I argue in my book Patience with God: Faith for People Who Don't Like Religion (or Atheism) the answer to fundamentalism, literal-minded religion and all the horror and absurdity they create is to work on the evolution of religion: reject false certainties rooted in myth and embrace myth as a window into the unknowable.

Clearly the issue for any sane Christian believer (or any believer in not just religion but any human construct, including science) is how to decide what parts of the moral teaching of the Bible (or Koran, or scientific theory) to edit or discard and what to live by.

Those of us who have no problem with celebrating the fact that some people are created gay, or that other people live with a girlfriend or boyfriend because marriage isn't always the best way to relate to a lover, have drawn an admittedly arbitrary circle of what is acceptable to them a bit wider than other believers have.

But the truth is no one (not even the dourest Reconstructionist Christian or Orthodox Jew) takes everything any religion teaches completely seriously, let alone practices it faithfully.

The truth is that interpreting religion is just that: interpreting. All that means is that common sense and compassion are the filters through which we look at religion, as we do with all of life. There is such a thing as freedom of conscience and the right to think!

In that sense everyone is a "liberal" and those who pretend they are consistent to their stated creeds are liars.

The big "Moral Teachings" fundamentalists love so much because they provide a stick with which religious bullies may beat their fellow human beings into submission, are meaningless. If these same anti-gay or anti-abortion advocates actually took their Bibles literally they would be weighing people at their church door to check for gluttony and excommunicating half the parish for being overweight. As it says in Philippians (3:18-19); "For many... walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things."

Well, there goes the whole of American God-is-their-belly porkers-for-Jesus evangelicalism with its consumer-oriented free enterprise "ethic" and overeating!

Or what of Romans 13:13: "Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy." In this verse orgies and quarreling are denounced as equally evil.

So that's it folks: since the very existence of competing seminaries is in its essence a quarrel about theology, therefore all theologians that oppose the views of other theologians have been dismissed by Paul as working against God's will in the same way that participants in orgies are denounced. So let's pick on quarreling theologians and not on gays!

Or maybe the best thing is to not single out anyone. How many fundamentalist Southern Baptists strive to apply this verse literally to their daily lives? "If two men, a man and his countryman, are struggling together, and the wife of one comes near to deliver her husband from the hand of the one who is striking him, and puts out her hand and seizes his genitals, then you shall cut off her hand; you shall not show pity."

Admit it: the Bible is nuts in many places. Who follows this stuff? No one! So why stick it to people for choosing to not follow homophobic nonsense?

So why do do fundamentalist take verses on gay love any more seriously than on cutting off that woman's hand? I never met an Orthodox Jew who did that either, for all their talk about strict adherence to the Scriptures.

And here's a verse you don't hear preached on much these days: "Now it came about at the lodging place on the way that the LORD met him and sought to put him to death. Then Zipporah took a flint and cut off her son's foreskin and threw it at Moses' feet, and she said, "You are indeed a bridegroom of blood to me.'" (Exodus 4:24-25)

Now THAT'S a wedding gift worthy of some real "family values!"

We're morally evolving as a species and each new stage is always in tension with the prior stage. For instance, how would even the strictest of churches apply this teaching to one of their parishioners who had just had a bad car accident? "No one whose testicles are crushed or whose male organ is cut off shall enter the assembly of the Lord." (Deuteronomy 23:1)

My proposal is this: To be true to the heart of the gospel message -- redemption through selflessness, hope, justice and love -- necessitates a new and fearless repudiation of parts of the same book (and tradition) that also bring us a message of hate.

To find the spiritual truth that is hidden within the Bible it must be mentally "edited" by people of goodwill who are informed by the spiritual truth we carry within our evolving ethical selves.

The loyalty of those who wish to live as Christians (as opposed to those who wish to force others to be like them by using Christianity as a weapon), must shift from fidelity to the Bible (or any other text) to seeking the life-affirming message of transcendence buried within the madness, ignorance and fear that we discover not just in the darker portions of all "sacred" texts, but in every human heart.

Frank Schaeffer is a writer. His new book is Patience With God: Faith for People Who Don't Like Religion (or Atheism)


Huw Raphael said...

I do wish there had been more people like you in my Eastern Orthodox journey.

Frank Schaeffer said...

Thanks Huw, well, count me in now. Best, Frank

Mike said...

Thanks for the frank talk, Frank. Great post... love it. Just one question though.


How do we do this? How do we teach it? Or, do we leave everyone to do as they see fit?

How do we move forward?

Michael Camp said...

Excellent points, Frank. Use common sense and compassion to decide what to follow in the Bible or any religion. I speak of it in terms of "reason and love," and think Jesus (and even Paul) already provided that filter when they said "love is the fulfillment of the law" [not blind obedience to nutty rules, which Jesus routinely circumvented], "we are no longer under the supervision of the law," [something literalists love to ignore] and "love is the greatest commandment."

Literalists only say this in theory and can't do it in practice, hence their insistence on condemning gays, for instance. How do you teach this? Stop making the Bible or religious creeds the final Word and teach people principles [love, compassion, reason, consistency, etc.) rather than rules and regulations.

Yes, we all still wont' see eye to eye but at least we'll be more respectful and less judgmental of each other.

mom23 said...

You still don't understand that atheism isn't a religion. Some of us are more interested in truth than in what feels good. Would we follow a "god" if there was evidence for one? Sure. Is there any compelling evidence outside my desire for god that indicates a specific and definable being called "god" exists? Not that I've seen.

My atheism offers me NO prescriptive advice about how to live or who to follow. I don't follow science like it's an entity with advice for my life. The only thing I use science for is clues to the workings of the physical world around me. Atheism is not the worship of science.

Humanism sounds like a much more sane alternative. And I don't have to use some ancient text written by misogynist, barbaric, tribal people to figure out what is good or bad.

Alex09 said...

And fundamentalists are not just picking and choosing from the Bible. Calvinists also do the same from Calvin and Augustine's writings. To a relative who was enamored of Augustine's writings I said: You don't believe in Augustine! Just war theory, every tyrant has loved using it as rationalization to wage war/empire. How come your husband did not refuse to go to Iraq, but severed there as a US officer? You and your husband have had all the children you want. To Augustine, sex is only for procreation. Therefore, you and your husband should never have sex again, as long as you live. A lot of good Augustine did for Martin Luther. Practically drove him mad. Where is Jesus in all that doctrine? Calvin tortured and burnt some of his closest intellectual peers. Hundreds in Geneva, followers thousands in Scotland. When did Jesus do that? When did Jesus encourage children to be severely disciplined and whipped to save them from hell? As Calvinists believe is necessary. When did Jesus get a record for sending the most criminals to the electric chair, even though the judicial process was skewed against blacks, in states such as Texas? And it goes on and on, and the more you scratch the more you find. How about Blackwater, the mercenaries? Calvinist, waging holy war against the heathen. Donating war blood money profits to Calvin College and Focus on the Family. Frankie Scheaffer ought to be angry. The rest of the world is. Why cannot American "Christian" fundamentalists see themselves for what they are?

Loire.Castle said...

Powerful article, clearly argumented and with such wit. An important message, especially the main point of the common sense and compassion filter, "redemption through selflessness, hope, justice and love" Thank you, Frank

strefanash said...

I'm sorry, but I must disagree. It is not fundamentalist literalism that makes them vicious and mad (I went mad and it has been 30 years of agony slowly cooling as I recover).

No. It is the scriptural passages that the fundies ignore which smash their heresy by revealing it as heresy. And this from the viewpoint of the literal Bible.

In fact i regard christian fundamentalism at least as a misnomer. They do not believe in mercy love and forgiveness, but these are the core of the literal Bible's message. So they are not fundamental in their belief.

I define christian fundamentalism (to use the common misnomer) as a legalistic commitment in fear or pride to christian doctrine, but which commitment masks the deep seated unbelief that is the nature of what the Bible calls the carnal mind. and the result is distortion

Refusing to acknowlege their unbelief they, and I, became mad and vicious.

It is not bible literalism that made me a fundamentalist, it was legalism, which St Paul condemns in Romans and Galatians.

and it is Bible literalism, properly applied, that is setting me free.

Thus Bible religion is something else

These people are more accurately called pharisees and hypocrites, not fundamental believers

Steve Meikle CHCH NZ

John Smith said...

"But I tell you: love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you! that you may be children of your Father who is in heaven...And so, if you love those who love you, what reward do you have?..." The Gospel of Saint Matthew 5:44-46

Frank, ever since I first heard of you back from 1990 upon your conversion to Orthodoxy, all you have done is heaped bitter venom at the so-called "religious right, fundamentalist" type of Christians. At first, your criticisms were built theologically, criticizing their schismatic formation, their lack of sound ecclesiology, their departure from the true Orthodox Faith and Holy Tradition. All of these things, as you used to say, contributed to the moral anarchy and apostasy the modern west is today. And you haven't stopped yet! 20 years later you are still heaping scorn on the Fundamentalists. But now you say "Those of us who have no problem with celebrating the fact that some people are created gay, or that other people live with a girlfriend or boyfriend because marriage isn't always the best way to relate to a lover,...etc., etc." These are the words of an apostate!

Does the Orthodox Faith teach that people are born gay? Does the Orthodox Faith bless an unmarried couple to live in sin and/or under the same roof? No. No it doesn't. But you just told us that you celebrate these things and find them acceptable. And you said this publicly. Perhaps if you put into practice the Holy Scriptures, the words of Christ Himself you keep calling nutty, you would have loved your (perceived) enemies, and blessed those who you think curse you, and done good to those who you think hate you. Had you LIVED the Orthodox Faith with your heart when you first took it up intellectually, perhaps you wouldn't be an apostate today!

strefanash said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
strefanash said...

I editted the piece, on closer reading of John Smith's I have to say I was hasty in "echoing some of his sentiments".

So here is the rewritten version

Mr Schaeffer, I am nearly finished reading your "Crazy For God" memoir. AS a survivor of fundamentalism I found some of it heartrending. But on reading your story of conversion to Orthodoxy, it seems to me you think that the mystery of Eastern Orthodoxy imples that it lacks a theology, and that you chose this in reaction to your background.

For Orthodoxy does indeed have a theology. It would be meaningless if it didnt. And I just came out of an exchange over Filioque on youtube the other week with an Orthodox believer. It was theology all the way

I am far too western catholic (and protestantism IS a catholic offshoot answering catholic questions in a different way to the Roman way) to ever convert to Orthodoxy, but I find much to learn from its theology. I understand, and will gladly take correction if I am ill informed, that Orthodoxy sees the state of man as in the image of God but the image is defiled by sin, and the image needs restoring, whereas the Catholic view is man the criminal before the Holy and Terrible Judge.

Is this correct? For I am afflicted with too much of the Roman way of thinking.

But to think that mystery means a rejection of theology is a false dichotomy.

Theology is not the be all and end all, it is not sufficient. But it is necessary. Not as a substitute for faith, but as a guide to its validity

Steve Meikle

strefanash said...

Atheism is no help. True. But if there is in fact no God our longing for meaning and community is intrinsically unfullfilable, as well as meaningless, for we seek after illusions, and nihilism is the only logical outcome.

And there is no help to be had.

At all.

Like it or not

If there is in fact no God then spirituality is illusion and all we are doing is whistling in the dark. This the atheists say, men like Dawkins the evolutionist, and I respect their clarity of mind on this point

Either there is a God, and you believe in Him and do as He says, (if He has communicated to us, for if He has not communicated He may as well not exist for all practical intents and purposes) or there is no God in which case one must simply toughen up and face the unbearable bleakness of it.

I knew this when I was 18, and so did God, so He spoke to me one dark night a year later, and I was converted.

The person who likes neither atheism or religion really needs to put aside his emotions and do some rigourous thought

mom23 said...

Why in the world does the lack of god equate unbearable bleakness? You are here! YOU determine the meaning of your life! Whether or not there is some being in the sky has nothing to do with your life having meaning. Just because there is no heaven or eternal plan does not mean each person's life is without purpose. Not sure why you people don't get this.

I have a family and a part-time job in my community that give my life an extraordinary amount of purpose and meaning. Looking at the lives of people in history, they have shaped our world and their lives had great meaning.

I get really irritated at those who speak as though there is some kind of choice we can make between "nihilistic atheism" and "meaningful theism." That's a false dichotomy. It's not about whether atheism is helpful or preferable. It's about the facts. If there is no god, pretending there is one so that you can infuse your life with some strange sense of eternal meaning doesn't make your pretend theism true.

strefanash said...


one mistake you make here is to confuse "taking literally" with "taking legalistically". There is more to a bible passage than its mere literality. There are its rational implications, and there is modifications of the meaning, both practically and hermeneutically, as determined by the context, both immediate and larger.

Thus thinking that Philippians 3:18 requires setting up scales at church doors is an absurdity.

As for editing those parts of scripture that "cause hate" are you saying that fundies are innocent victims of literal scripture? Are you saying that they have interpreted these passages correctly, so correctly, that the only remedy is to excise these passages?

But if they have ignored context, ignored the fact that no one keeps the law, that we are not under law if christians, then it is not the fault of scripture and gutting the thing is no solution.

As to love, the greatest commandment, that which you approve of, the kind of love the Bible talks about is that which comes from a direct personal relationship with a Supernatural being. without this we are back to rules and regulations again, for that kind of love simply does NOT exist is Jesus is not God.

if a person does a kind deed but is biting down on feelings of disgust or anger for the person he is doing it for, this is an act of hypocrisy, hence I Cor 13, if I have notlove but [in effect do loving acts], they are worthless

So we christians are in defiance of our own scriptures when we do not show this love (our forced efforts to show it are only hypocrisy because of what in our lives we are striving against).

Im sorry, sir, but the reading of scripture you present here is not a biblical reading it is a fundamentalist one, ie has no regard for context, is crude, naive and above all legalistic.

christianity is not a law code, the Law was given to make this point, not to have us try to keep laws. read Romans and Galatians.

Fundies refuse to believe the Bible on these matters, and ignore context out of a superstitious reverence for the book which is idolatrous.

That the Bible is the inerrant word of God does not mean rules of context and study of the thought processes and literary conventions of another, as well as ancient, age are irrelevant. On the contrary, sound scholarship to get to the real meaning as opposed to the meanings imposed in eisegesis is nore important than ever

It appears that given your past you read the Bible the same way as the fundies, so feel the need to edit the Book.

But this manner of reading the bible "fails to divide it correctly" as the Bible itself says will happen. If read properly the fundies are shown as vicious hypocrites, God is seen a love and the Law is revealed as being for some other purpose entirely than that to which the Religious Right put it

strefanash said...

@ mom 23

you said,

It's not about whether atheism is helpful or preferable. It's about the facts. If there is no god, pretending there is one so that you can infuse your life with some strange sense of eternal meaning doesn't make your pretend theism true.

Steve Meikle:

EXACTLY!! it is about the facts. If there IS a God then pretending that there isnt one and that meaning can be had without Him, when He says to the contrary, does not make pretend atheism true either.

the logic cuts both ways. so what are the FACTS?

It is not my intention to force you to nihilism. I hold that such a tactic is in fact evil, for if an atheist is led to nihilism there is no guarantee he will become a christian whem god words are talked at him (i dislike the arrogance of most preachers hence my deliberate use of phraseology here).

and if this happens we will have destroyed that person.

So I wil not pursue this path any further, I only intend to give what i see as the logic of the position, not to compel anyone to agree with me

but i have always distinguished personal subjective satisfaction from meaning, as do many intelligent atheists like richard dawkins. Atheists like these are the ones you should be complaining to. He said there was no meaning and that that is the way it is. Like it or not

I did not pretend there was a God to find some meaning. i was convinced that there WAS no meaning, for i thought as you that theism was wishful thinking.

It was the God Who is There who insisted otherwise and confronted me in person

mom23 said...

Ummm, OK. A few problems. Dawkins has never argued that life has no meaning. If you are taking some quote of his out of context you can find plenty of places where he argues otherwise. There may be no eternal theistic meaning to life (as it's hard to have that without an eternal god) but meaning is more than just "personal subjective satisfaction." What I do affects the world--it has meaning here and now and may have meaning for years or eons to come. If your only source of happiness on this earth is thinking that your actions are governed by a supreme parent and will land you a place in some eternal paradise, I feel sorry for you.

As to the FACTS of god: name one. Name one thing that can't possibly be explained by natural causes. And how it can ONLY be explained by Jesus. Tell me how that thing can be ascribed to Jesus alone and how I can't claim with just as much (or little) evidence that Allah or pink unicorns or aliens are just as liable to be an explanation for that thing as Jesus.

strefanash said...

@ Mom23

This is Frank Schaeffer's blog, not yours.

I am not inclined to go off topic to answer this one here, but be assured I can answer your points.

AS far as I know the logon Strefanash is totally unique to me. It was last time I checked. It should be as it is a character in a language i invented for a fantasy novel I may one day finish. google strefanash if you like, find my email address there and write me privately if you insist.

But if your feeling sorry for me for believing in God is a measure of your contempt for theists in general you may not really want to bother.

you decide

mom23 said...

"This is Frank Schaeffer's blog, not yours"

Gee, strefanash, thanks for clarifying. I don't recall posting two or three lengthy bible-quote filled diatribes after each of Frank's recent posts like some. You know what they say about throwing stones and glass houses...

I'm sure you have terrific "answers."