Why am I So Hard on Christian Fundamentalists?

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No dancing

No dancing (Photo credit: chrisinplymouth)

I agree with most of what Christian Fundamentalism accepts–the virgin birth of Christ, the incarnation, the bodily resurrection of Christ from the dead, the resurrection and judgment of all people at Christ‘s second coming. I am pro-life on the abortion issue (even in cases of rape or incest the act is objectively morally wrong). I believe that premarital sex and any kind of homosexual activity is sinful. It would seem that Fundamentalists should be blood brothers. Yet some of my posts have been rather “outspoken” against Fundamentalism, to the point that I offended some old friends of mine. I owe them–and anyone who reads this blog–an explanation.

It is true that I largely agree with Fundamentalist positions. I think it is far better to be part of most Fundamentalist Christian Churches than to be part of a liberal Protestant body such as the Episcopal Church (ECUSA). However, Fundamentalism harms Christianity because the unfounded positions of many Fundamentalists, the rabid legalism and Puritanism of some Fundamentalist groups, and the extreme ignorance of some Fundamentalist Christians drive people away from the Gospel of Christ.

One example is the Fundamentalist belief in the strict inerrancy of Scripture, even in historical and scientific matters. All I would have to do to discount that view is to have students read two different Gospel accounts of the Limited Commission, one in which Christ exhorts His disciples to take a staff, and the other in which he exhorts them to take no staff. I could also point out that Genesis 1-11 is modified from earlier Babylonian accounts of the creation and flood and reflects the ancient world view of a flat earth, a solid firmanent in the sky with holes for the sun, moon, and stars, and an underworld wherein dwell the shades of the dead. The Bible is not absent of theological error–no Christian should emulate the attitude of the psalmist in Psalm 137, who says, “Happy is he who takes your little ones [i.e., babies and children] and dashes them against the rock.” Holy Scripture is inerrant in all matters necessary to our salvation–but there is no theological requirement for a stronger doctrine of inerrancy.

Young-earth creationism is a view held by some Fundamentalists–the view that the earth is several thousand years old and the Great Flood made most of the fossils and geological formations we see today. As I have noted before in this blog, this position does not fit the facts, such as the difference between flood-based deposits of sediment and sediment laid out over a long period of time. Although there are concerns with how some scientists interpret evolution, evolution as such is not contrary to Christian faith. A young person who is brought up on young earth creationism as the only proper way to interpret Genesis may lose his faith when confronted with the actual evidence.

Puritanism is a part of some Fundamentalist groups. Some forbid dancing, not realizing that there is a difference between the lewd, simulated sex in dance today and the traditional forms of dancing. The same groups allow kissing but not “necking” or “petting,” apparently oblivious to how much a kiss can turn on people. Where I went to school, dancing was banned, so many students engaged in horizontal “dancing” in the dorms. Such hypocrisy is inevitably the result of legalistic moralizing.

Forbidding consumption of alcohol ignores the fact that Jesus drank wine (no, dear Fundys, it was not grape juice–it was wine and one could get drunk on it) and that drinking in moderation is not unhealthy. Some people should not drink alcoholic beverages, not because it is wrong in itself, but because they have a propensity not to stop drinking once they start. For others, however, there is nothing wrong with moderate consumption of alcoholic beverages.

A more serious problem is the acceptance of Dispensational Premillenialism by many Fundamentalists. This had led Christian Fundamentalists to support Israel blindly and to be warmongers, especially if the war involves fighting nations they perceive to be a threat to Israel. Some of the most rabid voices hankering for war with Iran have been from Christian Fundamentalists. They ignore the symbolic nature of the 1000-year reign (10x10x10, a perfect number symbolizing the fullness of time) of Christ, and locate that reign in a literal Jerusalem. Such a view of God’s kingdom was rejected by Jesus Himself (“my kingdom is not of this world). It ignores the fact that the Book of Revelation was written to be understood by its original readers, who would have known that the opponent of God in that book is the Roman Empire that was persecuting Christians.

Fundamentalists are often consumed with fascination about Satan, demons, and hell, to the point that every teenager wearing a trench coat and listening to heavy metal music is a violent threat to others. Fundys fear difference of any kind instead of using practical reason to determine which differences are worthy of negative judgment and which ones are not. The Robin Hood Hills murder suspects who were wrongfully convicted (the “West Memphis Three“) of murdering young cub scouts were convicted by ignorant Fundamentalists who saw Satanism everywhere. Damien Echols had a name that reminded them of the movie, “The Omen,’ and Fundys were too stupid to realize that Echols was referring to Father Damien when he changed his name. His use of the name was to honor the great priest who labored among lepers and eventually died of the disease himself. I listen to heavy metal music (and to classical, jazz, bluegrass, anything but rap, hip-hop, and most contemporary country). I enjoy Iron Maiden, Pantera, Rob Zombie, Anthrax, Zao, and Yog Suggoth. Does that make me a Satanist? Some Fundys would think so–and they would be dead wrong. It is sad that Echols states in his autobiography that the behavior of Christian Fundamentalists in getting him wrongly convicted turned him against Christianity–even so, he has a rosary and engages in some Christian spiritual disciplines. How many people who otherwise would have become active, loving, and orthodox Christians have been driven off by the extremism of Fundamentalism? God only knows, but those guilty of driving others away from the faith will answer for it.

The Fundamentalist Obsession with Bible Prophecy

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The Prophecy

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“Just surfing,” I found an odd site on the web called bibleprophecy.net which sells a book called The Late Great USA: The Coming War with Iran. Some readers may remember similar nonsense being written by prophecy-obsessed Fundamentalist Christians during the First Gulf War. More rational Christians may consider such views harmless–“Let the Fundamentalists play games with prophecy.” The problem is that these Fundamentalists vote and tend to support warmongers for public office. And when some politicians themselves believe nonsense and support the United States attacking Iran due to Bible prophecy, their views do become dangerous.

I must confess I was the same way as a child–I was fascinated with the prophetic books and believed that the worsening conditions in the world showed that Bible prophecy was being fulfilled in front of my eyes. Although I was never a Premillennialist, I still tried to find parallels between Bible prophecy and present-day Israel that did not involve Premillennialist theory. I accepted the “continuous historical method” of interpreting the book of Revelation, believing that it was an almost chronological foretelling of future events.

Of course I was wrong-headed, since the prophetic books of the Bible were meant to communicate with people of their own day. Prophets were not as much foretelling as warning God’s people that unless they repent, God would use their enemies to destroy them. And the apocalyptic books such as parts of Ezekiel, Daniel, and Revelation were meant to comfort Jews or Christians facing persecution with the knowledge that God would destroy their persecutors. The symbolism of prophecy is well-understood by scholars. The symbol “666” as the symbol of the beast is seven minus one–with seven being the perfect number for ancient Jews, “6” was imperfect or flawed, “seven minus one,” so that “666” refers to evil times another important number, “three.” The idea is that “666” refers to ultimate evil. We can interpret that evil in terms of today’s evils, but to argue that the number refers to one specific person is a flawed interpretation.

To use Bible prophecy as an excuse for supporting war is theologically and morally reprehensible. In addition, an obsession with prophecy as predictions of present events takes Christians’ minds away from amending their lives and becoming more Christ-like. There is a certain perverse fun in discussing whether the beast of Revelation refers to Iran or to China, or whether Armageddon refers to a final war between the United States and China (or whatever enemy becomes the obsession of the day). But Christians should pay more attention to the prophetic books’ warnings to amend their lives. They should take comfort that God is in control and trust in Him. Focusing on prophecy at the expense of more important things is sinful. Using prophecy to support killing of one’s fellow men is evil.

Premillennialism’s Poisonous Influence on U.S. Foreign Policy

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John Nelson Darby (1800-1882)

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No rational person would deny Israel a right to exist. However, this does not imply that a rational person should support Israel blindly, ignoring historic atrocities against Palestinians, including destruction of Palestinian homes, denial of their basic human rights, and new Jewish settlements into Palestinian territories. In addition, rationality does not demand that the U.S. do Israel’s bidding and go to war with Iran. One of the largest groups backing blind support for Israel are Christian premillennialists. Premillennialism had its beginnings in the nineteenth century with the doctrines of John Nelson Darby (1800-1882). His dispensationalism was the ancestor of premillennialism, the belief that Christ will establish an earthly kingdom and reign for a thousand years in Jerusalem. According to premillennialism, an essential part of this process was the reestablishment of the state of Israel. The problem with premillennialism is that it is based on a fundamentally flawed method of interpreting Biblical prophecy, especially the Book of Revelation.

The prophetic books of the Old Testament as well as the Book of Revelation in the New Testament were primarily directed to the people of the time period in which the author lived. No audience would preserve a book that had no meaning for them. One must examine the historical context of a book to determine its original message. The Book of Revelation is part of Apocalyptic Literature, which also includes the Book of Daniel and other parts of the prophetic books of the Old Testament. This literature was written to people in crisis–either under attack by enemies militarily, or under attack via persecution by state power. The message of apocalyptic literature is that God will win out over the evil enemies of His people. This message was designed to comfort those being persecuted. The Book of Daniel, which was set in the period of the Babylonian Exile but was actually written in the second century B. C., was written to comfort the Jewish people who were being persecuted by the Greek king of Syria, Antiochus Epiphanes. The Jews rebelled and eventually won their independence, but before that time the saw their religion attacked and paganism introduced into the Temple in Jerusalem. The Book of Daniel affirms that God is over all kings and will eventually destroy those who persecute God’s people.

The Book of Revelation was written in a similar situation. Christians were being persecuted by Roman authorities. The message of the Book of Revelation to its original readers is that God will overcome the Roman Empire–in the meantime Christians should wait patiently for God’s vengeance. Numbers in the book are symbolic; multiples of seven or ten or twelve refer to completion or perfection (thus “1000 years” is not meant to refer to a literal period of time). “Six,” which is seven minus one, meant lack, and therefore a symbol of evil–so “666” refers to evil times three–there is no fancy meaning hidden behind the obvious symbolism. To take the Book of Revelation as referring to events in the Middle East today is absurd, an example of an ignorant method of Biblical interpretation. What is frightening is that ignorant people who do not know any better (and some people who should know better) are influencing the foreign policy of the most powerful nation on earth. Such Christian premillennialists may end up being the straw that breaks the camel’s back, pushing the United States into a needless war with Iran. Christianity is a powerful force in the United States, and when well-meaning Christians who are ignorant of the most basic principles of historical-critical Biblical interpretation influence the nation to blindness in its dealings with Israel, this becomesĀ  a dangerous situation.

The more rational course is to ignore those whose interpretation of the Bible is based on false premises and do not allow them to influence U. S. foreign policy. Like its dealings with any other nation, the United States should base its treatment of Israel on what is in the national interest of the United States. This does not mean that Israel cannot continue as a friend to the United States, but it does mean that the United States should seriously consider the legitimate concerns of Palestinians. This is not to claim that Palestinians have been saints, but merely that a group who was forced from their homes that they had lived in for hundreds, or in some cases over a thousand, years should have their legitimate concerns addressed. United States foreign policy should be focused on what is good for the United States, not on making the world safe for Israel. A first step in creating balance is to put the Christian dispensational premillennialists in their place and not allow their influence to twist U. S. policy in the wrong direction.