The Ethics of Criticizing Fundamentalists

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In my opinion, there has to be some sort of ethics regarding the critiques of fundamentalists. For them, all press is good press. Pointing out their multiple flaws only encourages them. They’ll tend to read these critiques as some sort of validation that those who proclaim the gospels will face persecution. They don’t recognize that they’re being attacked not because of the truth they proclaim, but rather because they are nihilistic jackasses. Not to mention it provides more fodder for reductionist atheists with which to criticize religious people. Obviously, I’m completely against everything fundamentalists believe, but at some point I wonder whether critiquing them is productive.

Example: Last Christmas my friend and I went to a bar in my hometown in the Bible belt. Some Christians were picketing at the bar with signs that read: “God hates sin”, “Repent and believe”, “For the wages of sin is death”. I really, really wanted to engage them with both scriptures and theology. I didn’t. I decided that if they failed to notice that Jesus befriended the outcasts (a rather pervasive theme of the gospels) then they probably wouldn’t change their mind by talking to me. Undoubtedly, they would have just told me that I needed to repent and ask Jesus to forgive me for being an asshole.

While I understand wanting to criticize them for misrepresenting the gospel (and this is something we certainly have a Biblical mandate to do), at some point we have to recognize that it’s just not good for our health. This is not meant to be an advocacy of some sort of infinite resignation, but rather an attempt to discern what battles are worth pursuing.

Furthermore, the only people really taking these assholes to be representative of Christianity are the people who want to create caricatures of Christianity. They’re useful strawmen for the insipid opponents of Christianity. However, I suspect that those who are truly looking at Christianity from the outside recognize that this is not what Christianity is really about.

I remember in my Islam class in college, one of the Muslim students made an analogy: Muslim terrorists:Islam::KKK:Christianity. I think these fundamentalists could certainly replace the KKK in this analogy. Obviously, the KKK while claiming a Christian heritage has deviated radically enough that they can only be recognized as nihilists who have negated everything Christians must affirm.

On a more personal level, I suspect a year or two ago I would have enjoyed reading such critiques. At that point I was still trying to recover from the mind-fuck that is evangelical Christianity. That is to say, if criticizing fundamentalists is some sort of therapeutic process then pursue, but do so with caution. I know that I’ve been prone in the past to intentionally seek out material (via youtube or fox news) that ultimately does nothing but to encourage cynicism and despair. Ultimately, I’d encourage us to be wise in deciding how productive such critiques can be, because quite frankly, it is just bad for our health.

Disclaimer: I don’t equate Evangelicals with Fundamentalists. Many are not. However, the majority of Christian fundamentalists in the US are Evangelicals

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6 Responses to “The Ethics of Criticizing Fundamentalists”

  1. Reader Says:

    This has been on my mind lately also.

    Until I started using the search functions of this server, I didn’t realize how many badly confused Christians are out there. Astonishing. Absolutely an embarrassment to Christ’s spirit, I’m sure.

    I give thanks that I have also found several reasonable believers too. Thanks for writing. There are also some ex-fundamentalists with great, wrenching tales of woe to tell (but not so many insights into the why and how of their past).

    I think you’re right about the impenetrable quality which a mind takes on once it begins to interpret all criticism of its position as temptation and indirect proof of its own orthodoxy. Kind of a slippery slope.

    I’m forming some rough drafts on a few other things –

    1. There seems to be no correlation between Evangelical religiousity (I won’t call it “faith”) and the kinds of freedom that Paul writes about.

    2. I can’t doubt that the God is attempting (prayerfully, every day) to adjust his inspirations to pierce their grossest errors,

    3. and this is to say that they are therefore at least precipitating some kind of limited grace from the divine side,

    4. but they seem quite content in their hatred and stupidity (I won’t call it “ignorance”) to force every bit of Christ’s precious spirit into a rank conformity with their own preconception of what they call biblical facts.

    As I said, “rough”

    -John A.

  2. Jeremy Says:

    1) Fundamentalists aren’t free. The gospel is about liberation from sin, oppression, anxieties, and the powers and principalities. This is why I argue for some discernment in critiquing fundamentalists. I don’t want to be defined negatively by them. They’ve already wasted enough of my time, and I don’t think they deserve much more of it. Also, I don’t even know what true engagement would look like. They have this distorted narrative where they are the only true believers (here we can see some Gnostic elements), and everyone else has fallen off the bandwagon of orthodoxy. Not to mention their reading of the Bible is radically ahistorical. I just don’t see a common ground because the God they worship can only be understand as an alien, oppressive wholly Other God that looks far more pagan than Christian.

    4) They’re content with Heaven and security. Their religion is the epitome of what Marx would have called an opiate for the people. Their nihilism is what Kierkegaard and Nietzsche protested against. They can only say ‘No’ to this world.

  3. Danny Kam Says:

    Good thoughts! I have been known to write long blog posts against the Mark Driscolls and other evangelicals who do so much to hurt Christianity, but maybe it’s simply not worth my time.

  4. American evangelicalism and politics « Dømmer selv! Says:

    […] 11, 2010 by Dave Mesing Both A.J. and Jeremy have written a few recent posts on the topic of evangelicalism and fundamentalism. In the various discussions, one point that has […]

  5. A.J. Smith Says:

    Jeremy, as usual, you are completely correct. Fundamentalists thrive on criticism. I asked a Jehovah’s Witness about his door-to-door witnessing, and he mentioned that being rejected (which he no doubt almost always was) was as important as securing a new convert, maybe more so (he cited Mark 6:11). Or, as the Baptists I linked to word it regarding a prominent Conservative evangelical apologist, “Geisler has writen [sic] over sixty books and hundreds of articles and is considered by the new evangelical crowd to be a “scholar”, therefore we know right off that he doesn’t believe the Bible. Because the world’s crowd will never call a true Bible believer a scholar, instead they will call him fanatic, a Jim Jones, etc.”

    Critiquing fundamentalists is not a fruitful exercise; at least, not fruitful in the sense that it could ever change the mind of a fundamentalist. It is in that sense it is quite useless. Perhaps, then, there should be something of a moratorium on such things (I’m talking to myself here). Researching these people just makes me feel rather depressed regarding the state of North American Christianity.
    In my posts, I am rather vague as to what a fundamentalist is, and I use the term evangelical in something of a synonymously cavalier manner. All these terms are, to be sure, vaguely defined. Although I would not consider myself an evangelical in the sense that it is commonly used to in America, I would certainly consider myself an evangelical as set out by Barth in his Introduction to Evangelical Christianity.

  6. Jeremy Says:

    Clearly, Barth’s understanding of evangelical Christianity is vastly different from the current American Christians who claim such a title.

    I didn’t mean to play the Holy Spirit card on this one. People are free to write about whatever they want. If Driscoll or Piper says something funny, I’m not saying it’s wrong to satirize such absurdity. However, I know that the quicker way for me to escape the shackles of evangelicalism was to distance myself from seeking out things that were sure to upset me (for instance, I used to watch this really dumb kid on youtube, the infamous venomfangx, defend creationism, wow….just wow).

    Barth once said that the ‘best apologetics is a good dogmatics’. This certainly rings true. That is the best testament to these people who I believe have missed the boat on the gospel is to proclaim the gospel loudly and boldly. We can only hope the Word of God reaches them. So, if anything this post could be seen as an encouragement to continue writing about the real content of the gospels, which might in turn be the best way to correct these fundamentalists. However, we are not merely reactive in writing, but rather announce the good news in hopes that they might recognize just how wrong they are.

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