Friday, August 1, 2014

The Other Side of Leaving Fundamentalism

Leanne at Provoking Beauty was writing about her reading plans for a retreat, and among them was a book by NT Wright. We talked a bit about how he was taboo for me growing up due to his controversial take on Paul's theology.

Later that day, I discovered a Rachel Held Evans post about Wright in which she ponders the meaning of "Calvinism." You see, NT Wright considers himself a disciple of Calvin and even some of his theology as "Calvinist," though his ecclesiastical home is Anglicanism. (I'm beginning to think that Anglicanism is more of a liturgical and ecclesiastical lens than a theological one, but maybe that's because I'm new to the thing). The famous German theologian Karl Barth, while more Lutheran than Calvinist, was also working within the Reformed framework, but his definition of election is vastly different from John MacArthur's. Rachel has the same issue with this that I do: how can you claim to  be Calvinist in any degree when you don't believe in individual predestination of souls to heaven or hell?

And that, in a nutshell, is the problem with growing up fundamentalist (whether you claimed the label or not - it's more a way of thinking than it is a belief system. Some have argued that Richard Dawkins is an atheist fundamentalist, which I'm sure gave him the vapors). In the fundamentalist framework, everything must fit neatly into categories. It's not really about rules; that's one of the misconceptions of fundamentalism. I inadvertently fed into that with my "Catholics Don't Let Your Babies Grow up to be Fundies" post, which was born out of irritation. As Samantha at Defeating the Dragons argues - from vast personal experience - it's not the rules that make fundamentalism toxic. It's the mindset. Ankle length denim jumpers are a symptom, not the disease.

Those of us who grew up in this mindset find it hard to shake. We retain the fundamentalism but change our loyalties. We become fundamentalist Episcopalians (oh yes honey they exist), fundamentalist Catholics, fundamentalist Muslims, fundamentalist secularists. We find a cult to join.

(To be clear, this fundamentalist mindset is distinct from passion or even passionate disagreement. Dawkins himself argues that other atheists object to his passion for science. Hardly. Neil Degrasse Tyson has plenty of scientific passion, but he readily acknowledges the rights of others to practice their own faith traditions, so long as he has the equal right to disagree.) Check it:

One of the hardest thing to shake about growing up fundy is the belief that Real Christians Think X. Catholics, the reason why many evangelicals find it hard to accept you as fellow believers is that Real Christians believe in once saved always saved, or justification by faith alone, or Sola Scriptura. These are not trivial matters: these are the core doctrines that we grew up believing as the foundation of our faith. When a Catholic says in one breath "I'm a Christian" and in the next breath espouses belief in Purgatory, the evangelical has a massive cognitive dissonance headache. (If you really want to have fun, tell them that CS Lewis also believed in purgatory. Mind Blown.)

Well, I thought I was past that. I had accepted that Catholics are Christians - that Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholics are our big brothers in fact, and it might behoove us Johnny-come-latelies to listen. But there was another side of the "Real Christians Think X" that I had not shed. There was a still a part of me that turned away the minute someone calls themselves Baptist or Presbyterian or Reformed or (God forbid) Calvinist. Why? Because Real Baptists think that my baptism was invalid. Because Real Presbyterians are most certainly not PCUSA (posers). Because Real Presbyterians are the ultimate insiders, always talking about their Shorter catechisms and Book of Church Order and General Assemblies and expecting the world to care. Because Real Calvinists listen to Mark Driscoll podcasts (if they're young and hip) or read Spurgeon. And at the minimum, a real Reformed Christian believes in the TULIP as applied to individual persons. Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God and all that.

Well, butter my butt and call me a biscuit (Southern speak for being shocked). The world just isn't that simple, go figure. It's far easier to be a fundamentalist thinker than it is to actually think. If you're a fundamentalist, you know exactly where you stand and exactly where everyone else stands. You can pinpoint someone's beliefs and drop them in your mental filing cabinet behind the Creationist label or the Secular Humanist label or the Pentecostal label. Once the person is filed, everything he says gets placed under one of the subheadings in their main file. When you get really good at it, you can watch out for buzzwords and sayings. That way, you can file away the person without having to listen to an entire conversation. And now you get to talk, which is what you wanted all along.

This comes naturally to children. For the purposes of language acquisition, it's even crucial that children learn to match labels with objects. However, eventually we grow up, and the process is painful. Did you ever wonder why high school students work so hard to label each other as geek or freak or jock? It's just too damn hard otherwise, when you're dealing with pimples and periods and sexual tension, to suddenly unlearn the labeling process. That has to wait until college or adulthood in general, when we learn that people are complex individuals who can't be plopped into filing cabinets.

Fundamentalism is intentional arrested development. Parents, horrified that children go to college and learn that their liberal roommate is not the devil incarnate, seek to abort the process with Worldview Camps and books and conferences. It's crucial to fundamentalist parents that their children remain children, that they never listen to another person without their labeling pens. The well-trained fundamentalist college student knows that biology professors are anti-faith, that feminist professors hate men, and that everyone is out to get them. Best to plug up your ears and join a like-minded fellowship group on day one, for solidarity.

Some of us manage to escape. Unfortunately, those of us who are proudly "post fundamentalist" are not, perhaps, as grown up as we think. So you don't believe in 24 hour 6 day Creationism anymore? Hurrah, here's a cookie. The hard part is throwing out the filing cabinet and learning to listen.

1 comment:

  1. So true, what you said. I have the threads still hanging from those days, and sometimes fall back into that thinking. Especially when I am fearful of something. Isn't that the heart of it though? Fear with a little indoctrination and maybe some lazy thinking thrown in. I was /am guilty. Some things in the world are just so hard to face.