The Spectre of Fundamentalism
Regular Network Norwich and Norfolk columnist James Knight writes about his concern over the increase of creationist fundamentalism.
I’m taking a break from my series on Hell to talk about another kind of ‘hell’ – fundamentalism – something that has been getting me down for a while – the nonsense of anti-science Christianity. I never thought I'd see the day, but I was shocked to notice that Richard Dawkins actually made an appearance on Revelation TV...
I wasn’t impressed at all; to me it was the worst of both worlds; a very naive creationist who thinks that it's either evolution or Christianity, and a philosophically poor atheist who said (in the first few minutes) that the creationists are more reasonable because they see the real dichotomy between Christianity and evolution, and that it's actually the theistic evolutionists who are most irrational (yes amazingly Dawkins said that).
That Richard Dawkins can fail to conceptualise a Christianity which involves evolution shows him up for the limited thinker he really is! The nonsense of this YouTube video doesn't fill me with much hope regarding the future of sensible faith-based thinking. If anything, I fear fundamentalism is on the rise in the UK.
NEWSFLASH: The "Richard Dawkins actually made an appearance on Revelation TV..." link I gave now takes us to a message saying the YouTube clip has been removed due to 'Copyright' restrictions! Could it be that Revelation TV was so embarrassed by Howard the creationist's performance that they had it removed under a false pretext? Mind you Tricky Dicky was similarly embarrassing so for all I know the atheists may have sought its removal from YouTube too.
Oh, and JUST IN: One wonders whether what Howard refers to as the 'Creationist Intellectuals' will step up and accept Richard Dawkins’ offer to have a debate with them on Revelation TV!
On a less frivolous note; I just wanted to say a bit about church life in the UK – the surrounding culture means that I'm having a bit of a struggle when I look at church life at the moment. I echo the sentiments that church is the people of Christ, not the bricks and mortar, so in that sense I am in regular contact with The Body because I frequently socialise with Christians. But I find my radar is up against leaders trying to control others, homogeneity, fundamentalism, hellfire preachers, etc, and I’m afraid I am endowed with (Blessed? Cursed?) an acute perception of it which makes these things easily noticeable.
Something is happening to the church scene in the UK, and unless I find a solution to satisfy my own hopes, I can see myself cutting quite a solitary figure in the immediate future. I suppose the Church of England is going to continue to dwindle in numbers in the UK, with the real future of Christian growth taken on by EPC Christianity (that’s Evangelical, Pentecostal, Charismatic). Given the positions EPCs hold, that suggests to me a furtherance of the many things I dislike: creationism, patriarchalism, fideism, right-brained animation, and degrees of fundamentalism. If that is to be the only kind of Christianity that successfully propagates itself in the UK then it seems my own personal frustrations in church being unable to engage in deep theoretics are likely to increase, and I have a few equally solitary friends who feel the same.
The natural state of affairs of EPC church is to embellish basic Christianity with what I find to be quite stultifying anti-intellectual swooning-based piety – and they compound the problem by spiritually mandating this methodology, hoping to make the church congregation homogenous carbon copies of the Pastors. I think I have a twofold problem. Firstly, if my experience is anything to go by, then your average even moderate EPC church won't be very interested in the sort of work/thinking in which I engage daily, particularly if that work suggests a review of the status quo mindset and a search for the grand answers to the nature of reality!
Often when one challenges extremism one gets really ignorant and stupid responses back. Secondly, (and this is a corollary of my first point) if one has a need for a Christian social outlet that caters for the deep interest and fulfilment in thinking and theorising then one will have difficulty finding that in the sort of churches that are growing in the UK – which, unless one is lucky enough to find an in-between state, generally reduces one’s options to small, elderly congregations that are analytically healthy but stagnant in growth or outreach, or EPC churches which have all the decorative components, but often lack an intellectual insight.
Are we going to be brave and honest and admit that there are numerous church leaders who week by week deliver appallingly mundane sermons on spiritual church-based stuff, expecting that enthusiastic cacophonies of delivery make very banal repetitions more interesting, appended with unremitting clauses that all but spiritually mandate their views about science and philosophy – what I call in shorthand “My way or the wrong way” Christianity.
The sad truth is, my friends, the way the church has shaped itself means that for a great many people, to be Christian one must find oneself conforming to the ideas, thoughts and belief systems of past Christians, good and bad. Instead what I think people should do (because they owe it to themselves and to those unborn in the future) is set the mind on an exploratory endeavour whereby one filters out the good ideas from the bad – and much of that involves looking for two things – 1) where people have muddied the gospel for self-serving purposes or for controlling others, and 2) where people have added superfluous interpretations and made doctrines out of them.
Both these warnings ought to come with a serious reminder; any information, whether good or bad or correct or incorrect, is very easily passed down from parent to child, church elder to congregation member, peer to peer, and so on, without very much critical analysis or philosophical questioning. Most people do not spend much time subjecting knowledge or information to serious scrutiny – they prefer to be led and influenced by those who claim to know best. Sadly those who claim to know best are often the most influential in fundamentalist Christianity, because those who claim to know best are often the most loquacious, loudest and most domineering in the particular group, or church, or town, or village, or (heaven forbid!) city or country.
Consequently once one peels off the layers, one finds that most people are a patchwork of sound-bytes and snippets of knowledge that are like unconnected dots awaiting connection to form a pictorial whole – they’ve no idea how to formulate a coherent rationale with which to weed out the nonsense/fundamentalism from the good, because their ideas are only stored as sound-bytes and snippets of knowledge – they are not connected to the corresponding interpretative components that bring either clarity, elaboration or falsification.
In the pub on Friday night one member of the group blurted out that while Jesus loves him, He only likes me because I subscribe to evolution. He then suggested rhetorically (and dismissively); would I have preferred it if God had waited until the time of Darwin before giving us the Bible? Most creationists can only see in black and white – but it seems some of the more facile ‘brothers’ can only see in black!!
My main worry is that if the only proliferation of churches in the UK are EPC churches, then that would suggest an imminent rise in creationist fundamentalism in the foreseeable future too. Has the ghost of Galileo taught us nothing (see here and here for further warnings)?
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James is a Christian writer and local government officer based in Norwich. You can access his current collections of columns here
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