Putting the FUN back in Fundamentalism! (vs. Atheism)


For those that follow this blog only through WordPress, you may have seen the guest post yesterday–a beautiful meditation on spiritual realities that Autumn brings to our minds–and didn’t think much of it. It was pretty and all, but not controversial, right?

Not so, on Facebook.

A good friend, and Atheist (that we here at the blog know quite well), made a comment taking issue with references to the “Fall” and “first parents” (and even the Resurrection) on the grounds that these do not jive with evolutionary science. (Although I don’t think he clicked on the link to a similar post I wrote last year in which I used the same terminologies in the same way, but whatever.) He was surprised that I would have let a seemingly “young earth creationist” (someone who thinks the world was created in six literal days) post on my blog.

Though I assured him that this guest poster was not, in fact, a young earth creationist, and was merely speaking using the common poetic language shared by all of Christian theology and not at all trying to speak in scientific terms, he doubled down. Then, Christians and Atheists all jumped into this thread. Sarcasm, insults, and “who-said-what when” arguments began, all having little to do with the post, and more to do with who was condescending first, who understands genre theory, and who were the more aggressive and defensive parties in the discussion.

This morning, I deleted the thread. It had gotten ridiculous and, frankly, was a stain on my Facebook wall. I don’t mean to rehash that argument here, or even contribute my own “side” to it, but there was one thing that I was reminded of in the course of that discussion:

I really need to find a fundamentalist, hug them, call them “brother” or “sister”, thank them, and tell them I love them.

On the thread yesterday, someone said it would be more “puzzling” for me to let a Young Earth Creationist post on my blog than an Atheist (which I did for a few weeks). The commenter felt that, due to my own opinion in favor of evolution and my continued critique and frustration with Evangelical Fundamentalism, I somehow experienced a greater camaraderie with him than to other Christians that don’t think that’s the case. In other words, it would be weird to let a fundamentalist write on this blog, but not an atheist.

(On a side note, I wonder if he’d find it odd that a couple of years back, I gave space to a faith healer to write on this blog in a series of debates I had with him. Is that equally “puzzling”?)

In response to this, I really feel I need to make something clear. And I think it’s something all of us “cool, Christian twentysomethings” need to hear:

In every way that is most meaningful, our hearts and minds should find more solidarity, unity, fellowship, and camaraderie with the Fundamentalist than with the Atheist and Skeptic.

I’m serious. At the end of the 19th century, modernism–and all of its anti-supernatural, overly-rational assumptions–was taking the world by storm. Religious faith was facing more of an onslaught than perhaps any other point in its history. The church had two options in in how to respond to these global pressures: accommodate or isolate.

The European churches accommodated much of what they did and believed, trying to maintain their places of cultural power and influence. The American churches isolated themselves, withdrawing from the institutions of power and influence, instead opting to create their own versions of culture, academia, media, and yes, even their own “version” of science. They defined themselves by and rallied around a series of conservative “fundamentals” they would cling to no matter what–hence the term “Fundamentalist”. (You can read more about all this in this amazing, classic book.)

So what happened? The European churches died. Europe is almost entirely secular now, largely because of these choices. The American Church, however immature, messed up, broken, legalistic, and anti-intellectual it has been, has survived. A huge majority of Americans still claim religious faith, and it’s still very much in our institutions, politics, and culture.

Yes, this isolation brought with it terrible–wicked, evenconsequences into American society; consequences we are perhaps only just now starting to do something about. And yet, for any Christian reading this, you need to know this one fact: historically speaking, if the Fundamentalists had not done with they did, you would probably not be here as a Christian.

This is why they, ultimately, deserve our thanks. They held onto Christian belief no matter what, and we are here because of it. They are still strange and wrong and unhelpful and embarrassing in a million ways and yet they are still our spiritual church grandparents and parents. They deserve our honor more than our derision.

I wrote a series of widely-read posts on homosexuality just over a year ago where I spent a lot of time criticizing both “sides” of the ideological spectrum on the issue. I held a unique level of frustration for the conservatives, though (even though I eventually agreed more with them). In my last post in the series, I explained why this was the case, and found comfort in the example of Jesus:

Many would be surprised to know that of the four or five “denominations” of Judaism in existence at the time of Jesus, the group with which Jesus would have theologically agreed the most was the Pharisees–the very group he is most well-known for challenging, mocking, insulting, and attacking. But this was also the group that trained him, that gave him space to flourish and teach–even from a young age. Who gave him the wisdom and love of the Scripture that equipped him to obey and fulfill his Son-ly duties and be their Messiah. And this was the group that most-defined the religious establishment of Israel when Jesus–eyes wet with tears–longed that they would but repent and turn back to their “mother hen” who wanted to cradle them beneath her wings, all while he set his face against their opposition and boldly went to die at their hands–that they might be saved.

And so with all of our disagreements with the uber-conservatives, the Fundamentalists, and the Young Earth Creationists, may we be reminded that we share Resurrection Life with them and they are family. As much as we might love the Atheists in our lives, they are not. So be encouraged and reminded that in the ways that are most essential, we share our identity, our accent, and our family name with those that are Christians.

Even the weird ones.

So please, hug a fundamentalist. And buy them a beer.

(Kidding, kidding)


17 thoughts on “Putting the FUN back in Fundamentalism! (vs. Atheism)

  1. Pingback: Putting the FUN back in Fundamentalism! (vs. Atheism) | ChristianBookBarn.com

  2. Paul, question: If you’re going to recap the thread, then why not also include the responses provided to the points you raise in said recap? I would re-post them here, but: “This morning, I deleted the thread.”

    Namely, I emphasized that theism-atheism are philosophical positions, while evolution-creationism is a question of empirical value, with only one side conforming to the rules of the discipline. Thus, my argument was that they are not on the same playing field; that is, I can understand entertaining atheistic viewpoints more than I can creationist quackery (which I inferred Austin represented upon reading the piece).

    My criticism of the OP yesterday was actually a transparently simple one, and the thread ballooned from there only because the OP took the criticism personally. I’m conversant enough to distinguish between various types of prose, but I’m also conversant enough to spot pseudoscientific symbolism when I see it. And I doubt I could come up with a more explicitly creationist phrase than “The Fall of our first parents into sin”, even if I tried.

    Given the situation pressing upon the ideological divide in this country, it is my position that we ought to refrain from lending even tacit approval/assent to creationism and other pseudoscientific beliefs. They are anti-intellectual, and they cause harm.

    It is no secret that those choosing to believe in recycled pagan myths rather than what we observe to be true is injurious, especially since the choice is often made on behalf of the child. Accommodating creationism and enjoining entrenched mindsets to oppose science stunts the intellectual growth and curiosity of America’s youth in an often irrecoverable way. We should decry the intolerable intellectual dishonesty and cult-like predation on people who know no better, particularly little kids who are being taught in systematic fashion that dinosaurs and human beings co-existed on earth not long ago. This may sound innocent, but it’s not. It ruins the purity of love for science, especially at about age 9-10 when fact vs. fantasy begins to matter.

    Granted, my interpretation of what Austin wrote may in fact be FAR afield of what was intended. But I see no need to apologize for the way I interpreted something, especially when I feel others will get the same impression, particularly those holding views we are working to be extinguish from modern discourse.

    – Daniel


    • Daniel, I’ll be honest. In my opinion, it was one of the most inane, unnecessary, silly comments I’ve ever seen you leave. Which is okay. We all leave those sometimes. The problem was when you doubled-down after I gave you more context and showed your criticism was unwarranted. Did you read the similar post I wrote a year ago? I use the exact same terminology and references that Austin used. Am I leading humanity down the path of ignorance and “child abuse” (thank you for regurgitating Dawkins’ unfounded, non-peer-reviewed “research”)?

      And just so you know, you are slowly becoming “that guy” that just spoils everything. I kept getting Facebook messages and texts yesterday from people being like “who is this Daniel guy and what is his deal?” You are certainly not writing to actually try and change anyone’s mind so I don’t really know why the hell you keep commenting on my stuff other than to feel you fulfilled some imaginary sense of intellectual duty in having said SOMETHING, ANYTHING against another human that thinks something different than you. You can’t let anything go. Can’t let it pass. Can’t just see something, think to yourself “I disagree with that” and get on with your life. Somehow, everything in the world that Daniel disagrees with MUST know that Daniel disagrees with it.

      Like I said, I sort of get why you posted your first comment yesterday. Sort of. But you had no reason to presume Austin being a fundamentalist, and you had no reason to double-down on your insistence that you were saying something valid even after I explained it to you. You should have just said “Whew. Good. I was hoping it wasn’t an absolute open season on your blog. Have a good day!”

      Why can’t you just do that sometimes? It’s so exhausting otherwise. I love you, but please stop spoiling beautiful things just because you disagree with them.


      • Paul,

        “Why can’t you just do that sometimes? It’s so exhausting otherwise. I love you, but please stop spoiling beautiful things just because you disagree with them.”

        Translation: “Why can’t you just agree with everything I say? I don’t like dealing with dissent and engaging with people who disagree with me. I try to please everybody and it hurts my feelings when people don’t interpet things precisely the way I intended.”

        Paul, you realize that repeatedly saying “my objection wasn’t waranted” doesn’t make it true, right? In fact several others got the same impression I did. It’s as if someone has never disagreed with you before. ‘How in the world could someone possibly interpret this differently from me?’ I don’t know Paul, maybe because we’re different people?

        In fact I laid out a very meaningful, valid concern with what was written, and you felt resolved to dismiss it as not worthy of your time. Here’s you again: ” I’ll be honest. In my opinion, it was one of the most inane, unnecessary, silly comments I’ve ever seen you leave.” You’re not as thoughtful as you think you are and your lack of comity shows more often than you might realize.

        I’m sorry you find what I have to say “exhausting”, but someone who cares about the free exchange of thought should not be so exasperated as your gatekeeping comment above clearly shows. I am free to express my point of view wherever I see fit and will continue to do so. But look, if you’d prefer to simply remain sequestered in your hemretically sealed bubble of groupthink, just defriend me. Problem solved.

        – Daniel


        • Daniel, of all people, you know you have no ground to say I don’t like dissent or disagreement and feign some higher ground. You’re becoming a talking head. You’re becoming more and more like those pundits that yell and scream and nit-pick on cable news. They’re having a “free exchange of ideas”, right? Just enjoying hearing yourself express just how “offended” and high-minded you are is not the same thing as “exchanging ideas”.

          And your comment was warranted in the same way that Republicans’ were when they took Obama’s “you didn’t build that” line as the mantra of their convention (Sorry, I actually don’t know how closely you follow politics. Do you remember this?) There are “warranted” concerns about Obama’s policies towards businesses, but the misunderstood “you didn’t build that” line was a silly place to fight that fight. It fit whatever narrative they had imagined about Obama and so they ran with it and doubled-down on it even after their mischaracterization was pointed out. Sound familiar? “Warranted” objections (generally) can still be quite silly and out of place. And those that already agree with you with play right along.

          And just because I see Facebook comment threads as little more than giant pissing contests, doesn’t mean I get all huffy when people disagree with me. Quite the opposite. Your actions betray a seeming inability to pick-and-choose fights. EVERYTHING has to be a fight. I didn’t comment on that thread. I didn’t engage in what I felt was an unfruitful, unnecessary discussion. I don’t know where “several others” came to the conclusion I couldn’t be disagreed with. I didn’t even say anything.

          And really, of all the people you could possibly accuse of “gatekeeping” and “groupthink”, you’re going to throw that at ME? With a straight face? I would have hoped by now to have received some level of respect from you and the benefit of the doubt. Is it possible, just POSSIBLE, that someone can love engagement and discussion and conversation and disagreement and debate, and ALSO think there is a way to do those things that is immature, reactive, hyper-sensitive, unthoughtful, and irritating? Being annoyed how a disagreement unfolds is not the same as being scared of disagreement.

          Look, I genuinely don’t mind what any of you guys think. I’m not offended. I was not at all “offended” or “hurt” by anything over the past couple of days. I could care less who is “condescending” to me (whether or not it was first, second, or whatever). The CONTENT of what you thought was of no consequence to me and didn’t bother me. I understood your initial comment, and explained it fully. I don’t think in the response I gave you you could find any hint of frustration, impatience, offence, or bother. Just conversation. You have no evidence to the contrary. It’s all presumption on your part about my motives and thoughts (the same presumption you employed against Austin).

          Did others get “condescending” towards you? Yes. Was I embarrassed more about them than you? Yes. But the entire conversation was ridiculous and immature. It wasn’t a “free exchange” as you so high-mindedly want to claim. It was a pure power struggle. On both sides. Who wronged whom, who was more offended, who was “better” or more “honest” or whatever.

          There is a difference between pontificating and discussing. The way in which you engage in these “discussions” only facilitates the former. Your approach is entirely wrong if you wanted to (a) ACTUALLY try to change someone’s mind, or (b) want to learn something. And no, “letting someone talk” just so you can have something else to editorialize upon is NOT the same thing as “exchanging” or “listening”.

          And so no, I’m not going to “defriend you”. Like I said, you and your beliefs (and even your comments) don’t bother me. When the time and place are appropriate, I love your thoughts I need them. When there’s a post that naturally invites commentary about these specifics, fine. But on a brief devotional piece of prose? Really? It would be like using the comments section below a Hitchens obituary to engage in Christian/Atheism debates. Is it relevant? Yeah. Sort of. Is it really the most winsome, effective, respectful, and considerate time and use of one’s ability to plaster their thoughts online? No.

          And so my hope isn’t that you would stop commenting. Rather, I would appreciate more discretion and less a seeming compulsive level of NEED to respond to every little word you think expresses an opinion than yours. And you need to understand. No Facebook thread happens in isolation. 100 Facebook comments on a 600 word blog post? That ends up on MY Facebook page. Not yours. When I’m writing and posting trying to encourage the Christians around me, your hijacking it and “ruining the moment” is, yeah, a little irritating (and not simply because you disagree with me). If you simply HAVE to see your words of dissent underneath Facebook posts like that, maybe repost the link on your own wall?

          And like I said, this isn’t censorship. It’s propriety. It’s simple interpersonal etiquette and respect. It’s a recognition that none of us is so special that every moment exists merely for us to express our opinion. It is wisdom and discernment, which means sometimes refraining from exercising “your right” for the sake of someone else. Comments on this post, for example, on Facebook, have been absolutely appropriate (if similarly unnecessarily long-winded). This post is an appropriate place for those discussions, even if I wish the tone were different at certain times.

          If you want a great example of someone challenging me in a gracious, winsome way, just look below to mjyearout’s comment here. Now, why can’t you make comments like that?

          Especially between you and I, Daniel, I would hope that conversation is more than simply a collision of ideas, but a collision of PERSONS, where consideration of WHO we’re talking to takes just as much precedent as WHAT they’re saying. It’s in the space of this mutual respect that REAL “exchanging” happens and pontificating ends.


  3. First off, thank you so much for posting this. It reminds me so much that I am thankful for my parents, who stood their ground when I ribbed them and gave them a hard time growing up.

    I don’t want to start a rabbit trail by any means, but I want to discuss the point you made within the quote of your previous post regarding Jesus’ upbringing by the Pharisees. In Luke 2:41-52, we have the account of young Jesus in the Temple, wowing all the scholars and teachers there by Teaching with his wisdom. At that point, he was only 12 years old, barely even old enough to experience the traditional equivalent of the bar mitzvah, yet he was the one doing the instructing, not the other way around.

    This is reinforced in John 7, during the Festival of the Booths:

    “14 About the middle of the feast Jesus went up into the temple and began teaching. 15 The Jews therefore marveled, saying, “How is it that this man has learning,[a] when he has never studied?” 16 So Jesus answered them, “My teaching is not mine, but his who sent me. 17 If anyone’s will is to do God’s[b] will, he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority. 18 The one who speaks on his own authority seeks his own glory; but the one who seeks the glory of him who sent him is true, and in him there is no falsehood.”

    It was common knowledge that Jesus was not traditionally educated, particularly not in the ways of the religious leaders such as the Pharisees.

    I know this point doesn’t exactly argue anything towards the main point of the article one way or the other, however, I think it’s important to note this when setting the scene for honoring Fundamentalists, that Jesus was not merely criticizing the elders, He was completely dismantling the seeds of heresy that they had sown into the traditions of the Jewish lifestyle. He wasn’t setting out to dismantle the Law itself, rather to fulfill it, but He clearly wanted people to see that He wasn’t too stoked on how pious and egotistical folks had made the traditions that He had given them generations before.

    What do you think?


    • Hmm….I don’t quite know what to say. I hear you, and I think it’s a good point. But I think his upbringing was a little more complicated than that one passage implies. He was far away from home at the time, and so when they talk of him “never having studied”, they could have meant at the temple, in Jerusalem. Yeah, that’s a lame reconstruction just to hold on to my prior belief, I know. But it’s plausible, right?

      I only say that, and I only stick to this original point because all the other things I’ve read and looked into have seemed to point to Jesus, his family, and his upbringing all having been in a Pharisee theological context.

      His brother James was left as the Christian leader in Jerusalem after the Jewish persecution came precisely because he was a theological conservative very much still aligned with the Pharisees doctrinally. He was simply a Pharisee that believed that Jesus was the Messiah. Jesus even defended the Pharisee belief in Resurrection when the Sadducees were trying to mock it.

      And, most importantly, to my knowledge, Jesus never critiques the theology of the Pharisees. In fact, in Matthew, he even tells his followers to listen to their teaching! He just critiques their example, hypocrisy, and the extra demands they placed on life with God. And to me, these are the same critiques I’d sometimes levy towards Fundamentalists.

      So….those are my thoughts. Maybe I got a little midrashic in my reconstruction of Jesus’ life, saying “But this was also the group that trained him, that gave him space to flourish and teach–even from a young age.” Yeah, you make a good point about that being an untested, non-biblical assumption. And for that, thanks. But from everything else I know, Pharisaism was the theological context in which Jesus grew and learned, however informally it may have been.

      Either way, thanks for your comment and its absolutely gracious tone. I really appreciate it. I hope I matched it in a way that makes you feel more comfortable commenting more often! I could certainly use more of your thoughts and refinements.


      • I absolutely resonate with that. Christ clearly spent a lot of time carefully lining up his family tree so that he could be the most effective for everyone that would cross his path. When you take a step back to marvel at the complex simplicity with which he came, you can’t help but appreciate his desire to reach the conservatives and the liberals, the intellectuals and the laymen, traditionalists and the free-thinkers. But he didn’t side with anyone of them straight up; instead, he led them all to side with Him. He lovingly showed how their vain attempts to reach him were flawed, and that the time had finally come where he would reach out to them instead.

        I’m what you could call a closet Fundamentalist. I was raised in a traditional baptist church, and though my personal salvation experience did not actually occur until my mid-teens, I had all the Biblical stories and geology and tradition packed neatly away and recite the Roman’s Road whenever I wanted to(if I could ever convince myself to actually want to…). It wasn’t until I experienced a personal emotional and spiritual trauma that I finally met Jesus. From that point on, I was on a sensational journey to learn more about him personally, instead of just trying to fit what I felt into the molds I had left over from my childhood.

        This journey is almost 10 years in the making, but what I have most recently found (which if you browse my Facebook wall you will probably be able to discern for yourself) is that for all the gallivanting around in semi-Emergent and “Signs-and Wonders”-centric church experiences I have still never known the true coexisting power and peace of God than when I’m reading straight out of Scripture (with or without help from a commentary) and when I am engaged in a classic, quiet, reverent worship setting. Not to say that God hasn’t met me and taught me through the words and publications of other wise folks, or that other powerful worship experiences were in the midst of hundreds singing Hillsong’s rendition of Hosanna beneath a state of the art light show (I’m currently the assistant production manager for the downtown campus of Commonwealth Chapel in RVA, if you come down to visit and you got a Sunday to spare, you should come join me :D).

        Bottom line for me is this, Elohim is the great God of Both. The passage in Ecclesiastes 3 rings so pertinent to me. HE is everything, tradition and innovation, reverence and undignified passion, love and mercy mixed with justified and righteous anger. He supersedes our petty definitions and boundaries, letting us learn for years and years the inner workings of deep theology just to let a child cross our path with simple faith and leave us dumfounded once again.

        I really, truly enjoy following your blog, and perhaps one of these days when i can get a little better at citing my references will get around to doing the same. I appreciate your attitude and perspective of encouraging open thought with regards to ultimately absolute truth, engaging your readers and positively pushing them to submit their spirits for refinement and restoration. Keep it up 🙂



  4. Found your site by searching for blogs related to belief. I have been an atheist most of my life but recently decided that the worst thing about being atheist is you have no hope for an after life. I therefore created my own 1 man religion based around accepting current scientific knowledge and filling in the gaps with a religious explanation. It works well and the logic is holding up well against both atheists and religious people. I’d love you to visit my blog and tell me what you think.



    • Well that’s interesting… A flood of immediate “responses” come to my mind, but they’re probably all things you’ve dealt with before. If you mind me asking, I have four questions for you:

      1. What is the best argument you have against pure atheism?
      2. What is your best argument against theism?
      3. What has been the strongest counter-point that atheists have offered you and how do you respond?
      4. What has been the strongest counter-point that theists have offered you and how do you respond?

      Looking forward to dialoguing more. Thanks for commenting.


  5. Pingback: Mark Driscoll: Now just another fundie, but it still hurts | the long way home | Prodigal Paul

  6. Thank youu for every other wonderful post.
    The place else maay anyone get that type of information in such a perfect manner of writing?
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