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. 

Proof-Texting Ethics 😬

…just to be clear, there is a Bible verse for…

1. Burning witches

2. Castrating theological opponents

3. Cutting off women’s hands

4. Killing the babies of your enemies

5. Killing your own children if they disrespect you

6. Eating kosher

7. Kissing everyone in church 🤨

8. Being baptized for the dead (🤯🤷‍♂️)

9. Women being saved by having babies

…just pointing to one verse and saying, “see! See?! The bible says!” Is not enough. In fact, that is scary!

The bible is a coming together of the human and the divine. Do you understand the people of the time? Do you know what problems they were trying to address with these laws? Do you know the bigger story? Can you glean out some principles? Can you tie everything back to Jesus’ principle, that all commands should be hinged on love of God and neighbour? Do you know your OWN story? Do you know the history that brought you to the beliefs that you have? Do you know the culture in which you live? Do you know the real-life heartache and problems around you? Can you remember that true godliness is about purity of life, and care of the vulnerable and the outcasts? Can you balance biblical commands with mercy, as Jesus taught?

Interpreting the Bible is hard. Work. Which is why it is usually best done in community. It’s a long book with a lot of seeming contradictions. I think this is on purpose. We see ourselves in the story, but the Bible resists a rigid “black-and-white” interpretation. There’s always that one verse that doesn’t quite fit.

It’s complicated. It’s hard work. It’s heart work. We won’t always get it right. We may feel like we are living in the grey. It can be quite unsatisfying.

…and yet, God can guide us, and we can find ourselves in the story. The Bible can become a living book, to give us timeless help in our changing lives.

…but someone just studying alone, unreflective, cut off from culture, not reading any commentaries, and basing all their ethics on proof-texts? “The Bible says!” “I’ve got a verse for that!” “Look right here, it says…” 😬 Yeah…there’s a LOT of verses in there…😬😬

Proof-text ethics is just scary…

Fences Around the Law

Because the Pharisees believed that a person could go to Hell for breaking any of the 613 commandments in the Old Testament, they (along with the lawyers, teachers, and scribes) made more rules, which some called a “fence” around the law. The logic being: if you can fall into Hell for gathering sticks on a Sabbath, then let’s make a rule about not even walking more than x number of steps on a sabbath. Just in case.
Jesus comes along and just doesn’t give a hoot about their traditions. He walks through them like a bulldozer through barbed wire.
Furthermore, he says:
1) You have totally missed the spirit of the commands (which were supposed to be about love)
2) You teach as precepts of God the commandments of men (Mark 7:6)
3) You tie up heavy burdens on people
4) You very often use tradition to even disregard commandments entirely
5) You measure your spirituality by your ability to follow a lot of external, showy rules.
They seemed to think that the more rules the better: but Jesus seemed to think the opposite.
….so question…
What are some of the “fences around the law” that you were raised with? Let’s make a list! I’ll start:
…the Bible says “Don’t get drunk,” so tradition says, “don’t ever touch alcohol.”
…the bible says “don’t cross-dress,” so tradition says, “women must wear dresses” (even when they are outdated and fairly impractical at times, especially for sports!)
…tradition says rock music is bad. But nobody can seem to find the verse for it.
…there is one fairly confusing verse about men having short hair (despite many long-haired dudes in the Old Testament) and so good Christian men don’t have hair past their ears.
…now your turn…
…what “fences” did you see around the law, growing up? What did it feel like to have so many rules?

The Bible, and Other Books…

The Bible is an amazing book. It is THE book: ancient, influential, powerful. But…not the ONLY book. And not the best book for some things.
Like mechanics. The Bible really doesn’t have a lot to say about fixing a rear differential.
…or cooking. The Bible isn’t the best recipe book (except for “Ezekiel bread,” I guess! lol)
You won’t learn much about chemistry in the Bible.
The botany and anatomy and cosmological statements are true to the time, but outdated by today’s standards.
The Bible is a tremendous book for what it is. But it is not the only book. We need to use other books as well.
…and so…someone who is an expert in reading the Bible…is not necessarily going to be an expert on every topic every, anywhere in the world.
This is just an important point to make.
A Bible teacher MAY have studied political theory, infectious disease theory, medicine, sociology, psychology, cosmology, archeology, palaeontology, chemistry, and a host of other disciplines. They MAY know what they are talking about. Or…they may just have their own private opinions on matters that really have nothing to do with the Bible. Because being a Bible teacher gives them a platform, sometimes these speakers feel the need to also share their private opinions on a host of other non-Bible-related topics.
…and that is fine. Sure. Go ahead!
But let’s just keep in mind: the Bible is one book among many. It is amazing, it is inspired, it is the Word of God (if you believe that, as I do). But…it’s a terrible manual for fixing your car, or making cinnamon rolls.
Listen to the Word, and listen to your pastor when he is explaining the Bible. But when he veers off into topics that really have nothing to do wth theology, it is just helpful to remember that these may just be private opinions, and disagreeing with him on these points is not a Bible issue: it is a personal disagreement like you would have with anyone at the coffee shop. Especially in these times, we need to let the experts be the experts, and remember the being an expert in one domain does not necessarily make you an expert in other domains. That is my opinion: apply it as you see fit! ✌️