How Reasonable Christianity becomes Fundamentalism

1. Encounter new ideas, which threaten old beliefs and structures (and money)

2. Rather than engage with/integrate ideas, resolve situation through power by:

a) identifying new ideas as heresies

b) identifying previous beliefs as orthodoxy 

c) assigning punishments to those who believe wrong views (excommunication, loss of job, hell)

d) put money into organizations designed to protect old ideas

3. Create situations where information is controlled (homeschool, churches-that-don’t-communicate-with-broader-theological-community-because-only-they-have-the-answers, unaccredited Bible schools, parachuting organizations & publishing houses controlled by said churches)

4. When children raised in this system find out that the message “if you pursue free thought/science you will agree with us,” was a lie,

a) hopefully they are trapped by a pay check and a social circle. So they have to keep preaching it or be jobless and friendless in midlife. 

b) …if they do dare to get outside that bubble, remember to remove, exclude, excommunicate, fire, and purge them from the system

c) quote, “if they left us they were never a part of us” invalidate their entire Christian experience 

d) create fictional tales of the woes of those who leave (many of these “woes” were caused by the unhealthy messages of the religious group, the pressure of trying to live a double life, and the pain of being abandoned or actively attacked on the way out)

5. Double down. The problem was always too much free thought. 

a) create longer and longer lists of approved and unapproved doctrines 

b) purge all leadership positions of those who don’t agree

c) paint all those who left as dangerous heretics and apostates 

6. When “apostates” call out problems, identify these as heresy. Go back to step one and repeat, thus drawing the circle tighter and tighter. 

…sing to Jesus and say “amen”…

How reasonable Christianity becomes fundamentalism:

1. Encounter new ideas, which threaten old beliefs and structures (and money)

2. Rather than engage with/integrate ideas, resolve situation through power by:

a) identifying ideas as heresies

b) identifying previous beliefs as orthodoxy 

c) assigning punishments to those who believe wrong views (excommunication, loss if job, hell)

d) put money into organizations designed to protect old ideas

3. Create situations where information is controlled (homeschool, churches-that-don’t-communicate-with-broader-theological-community-because-only-they-have-the-answers, unaccredited Bible schools set up by said churches, parachuting organizations & publishing houses controlled by said churches)

4. When children raised in this system find out that the message “if you pursue free thought/science you will agree with us,” was a lie,

a) hopefully they are trapped by a pay check. So they have to keep preaching it or be jobless with kids in midlife. 

b) if they dare to get outside that bubble, remember to remove, exclude, excommunicate, fire, and purge them from the system

c) quote, “if they left us they were never a part of us”

d) create fictional tales of the woes of those who leave (many of these “woes” were caused by the unhealthy messages of the religious group, the pressure of trying to live a double life, and the pain of being abandoned or actively attacked on the way out)

5. Double down. The problem was always too much free thought. 

a) create longer and longer lists of approved and unapproved doctrines 

b) purge all leadership positions of those who don’t agree

c) paint all those who left as dangerous heretics and apostates 

6. When “apostates” call out problems, identify these as heretical thoughts. Go back to step one and repeat…

…sing to Jesus and say “amen”…

What would a reasonable Christianity look like?

Well, here’s a start…

1) A humble attitude towards knowledge. Leaders should be known for their generous and kind spirit, sense of wonder, and emotional health. Not their ability to memorize the previous generation’s list of heresies/orthodoxies)

2) Science should be welcomed. NOT as a new kind if religion, but AS SCIENCE. Real scientists ask questions, admit when their theories are incomplete but “the best I have right now,” and change their minds when presented with new information

3) Emotional health should be prioritized. Vital relationships maintained with secular mental health experts in the community. 

4) VERY. MINIMAL. CONTROL. STRUCTURES. Membership is completely voluntary. Leaders are not there to control the lives of members and certainly not to police thoughts. 

5) Know for active engagement in the community. Caring for the metaphorical “widows and orphans,” those who are marginalized and ignored in local community.

6) Very minimal infrastructure. NOT a huge heated building that has to be maintained 7 days a week for a few hours on Sunday. Not putting all of the energy if the religious community into making this service amazing. But rather, putting that energy into truly helping people. 

Phil Vischer on Ken Ham’s Creationism

So this was a really interesting podcast. In it, Phil Vischer (maker of veggie tales) lays out his research about how Young Earth Creationism became a “do-or-die” issue for many Evangelicals:

1. Through the course of the 1700’s and 1800’s, as science progressed, nearly all educated Christians came to believe in an old earth

  1. The one exception was Seventh Day Adventists, who believed in a young earth
  2. In the 1920’s, to 1940’s, many American Christians reacted against European Christianity by developing “Fundamentalism”
  3. None of the founders of Fundamentalism believed in a young earth, although several rejected evolution
  4. In the 60’s, Dr. Henry Morrison started writing books about creationism. He explicitly tied a certain view of Genesis 1-3 with Fundamentalist/Evangelical orthodoxy. Using the “slippery slope” argument (btw, a very weak argument in logic), he argued that if one did not agree with him on this point, they would soon not be a Christian anymore
  5. Ken Ham read Morrison, and dedicated his life to propagating Young Earth Creationism, eventually coming to the US, joining Morrison, then founding Answers in Genesis
  6. Answers in Genesis grew to twice the size of Morrison’s organization. As Evangelicals pulled back from society into homeschooling and private school in the 70’s and 80’s, Ham produced very well packaged homeschool curriculum, making his views incredibly popular in the “bubble” of American Evangelicalism. It is impossible to avoid noticing that Answers in Genesis has an incredible amount of money behind them, and are able to use media extremely well, including the internet.
  7. Today, it is very common for Evangelicals to not only deny Evolution, but also believe that the earth is only 6,000 years old. Further, to believe that this is the only Christian way to read the Bible, and that if anyone denies this, it will be a “slippery slope” to rejecting all of the Bible.

In my own experience and research:

  1. There are many views on the very complex passages of Genesis 1-3 (also Job and Psalms, etc.)
  2. Young Earth Creationism (as Ham explains it) is a modern and American belief. It is not common in Europe. It was not common before this time. (People did not believe in Evolution before Darwin, of course, but many Christians were open to an old earth, and there were many, many theories about the agency of creation. That was never identified as a key issue in any synod, council or creed)
  3. There are many great theologians today doing work on this topic, such as John Walton, Hugh Ross, and Willian Lane Craig.
  4. In my work as a campus pastor, Ken Ham’s strict choice of, “Either you believe in YEC or you’re not a Christian” was one of the chief reasons students left the faith, as Young Earth Creationism doesn’t square with many many fields of study
  5. A dogmatic statement of YEC is a big part of why I am on this journey now. Nipawin Bible College used to be a place where many types of conservative Christians could find a place and dialogue openly. But I was told that (despite fitting in nearly every other way) I could not be hired as a teacher because I would not teach a hard-line stance on this issue. I preferred to teach YEC as one option among many, but was willing to only teach YEC: but because I admitted that I did not believe this theory personally (for academic reasons), I could not teach there.

This is a very complex issue, and it is just sad that one man has made a living of reducing complexity down to two options: “my way or the highway.” I’m glad that Visher did this podcast, shining a light on the very recent nature of Ken Ham’s Young Earth Creationism.