Saturday, January 3, 2009

xenophobia, door to door evangelists, and defining fundamentalism


Christmas eve I attended a medium size church down the street, Evangelical Lutheran Church and School in Brea. This congregation is a member of the Missouri Synod, which fits it under my current working definition of fundamentalism, which is a doctrine of the "infallible" or "inerrant" Bible, as opposed to merely "inspired". So far, most churches seem to hold to this idea. Further research is required before I determine whether it is so prevalent that I need to develop a different definition of "fundamentalism" in order to reflect what people actually mean by the word. I realize hundreds of millions of people can barely even agree what "Christian" means, but a working definition of fundamentalism would still be helpful for analyzing Christian issues.

I recognized a meme from the Christmas Eve sermon, that was familiar to me as a former fundamentalist, and I think that Christians in general will find familiar: an identification of the Christian perspective versus "the world's" perspective. This is essentially tribalism. In Christian circles, there is a certain usage of "the world" or "worldly" that is quite negative. I think all of us, believers and nonbelievers alike, tend to fail to recognize the harmful nature of this xenophobic Us and Them dichotomy.

This meme is so cherished, I think, that if you point it out to a Christian, most will defend it with the same kind of triangulations they tend to fall into when defending the core beliefs of their faith. I imagine a response along the lines of "Well, we're not pitting ourselves against the rest of the world, we're pitting ourselves against Satan." (They, of course, think no such thing; it is simply the world, vague and undefined.) I would find this inconsistent with another Christian idea, which is not that there are the people of Jesus and the people of Satan, but rather, the saved and the lost. The lost, Christians contend, can still become found, being neither the people of Satan nor the enemy. Surely, then, "the world" should not be something to teach people to be opposed to. It matters what words we use, and there are negative consequences of using "the world" to mean something negative.

Naturally, if Christians are wrong, and there is no Satan, then some unfortunate people are going to serve as a proxy for this imaginary enemy, and my contention is that this is exactly what happens. The burden falls on various groups, both real and imagined, some examples including the Jews, Islam, liberals, and the New World Order, depending on what circles you move in. This tribalism has real, detrimental, observable and measurable effects for millions, if not billions, of humans, Christian and otherwise.


On a lighter note, I got a flash of inspiration recently about door to door evangelists. I have a new policy, and encourage all my fellow atheists to adopt it as well. Invite them in, and argue with them endlessly. I'll be polite and respectful in my discourse, and offer them a drink. I'll ask innocent and reasonable questions, and make polite objections on logical grounds. I'll be prepared to let this go on for six hours, and wait for them to take their leave.

If you have any experience with the religious, you know that evangelists never offer any new arguments. Employing circular argument (believe the Bible because it is from God, we know God exists because the Bible says so), appeal to emotion (Jesus will save you from your sins), and appeal to force (believe or burn forever), they clearly have no use for innovation, since they have such success with these. If you don't have much experience with their ideas, it doesn't take much to prepare yourself; intellectually, it is hardly heavy lifting.

There are a few good reasons I plan to do this, aside from the simple fact that it will amuse me to no end. Primarily, I'll be performing a vital service to my community. As long as they're in my house, they won't be knocking on anyone else's door. This could prevent dozens or even hundreds of my neighbors from being exposed to the evangelist's poisonous, backward, and immoral ideas. Additionally, to use a gambler's language, it is a total freeroll. I have nothing to lose from this, but I have a nonzero chance to gain, if I can plant a small seed of doubt that could shake their faith.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Michael. I commend you on your earnest search for truth and understanding.

    I wanted to share some thoughts about the functional characteristics of the inerrant and inspired interpretive points of view.

    The inerrant POV is interpretation by authority. It requires individual believers to cede their right of inspiration when it conflicts with authority. Inerrancy means accepting on faith assertions that individuals can't support through evidence or personal experience, even if that assertion contradicts their sense of what's right. Inerrant interpretation results in a faith that by definition is conservative and unevolving.

    The inspired POV is interpretation by personal experience. It allows belief to be built by individuals from the evidence of their personal experience. Faith can be a form of understanding that is based on evidence outside the "authoritative" interpretation of text. This allows individual believers to reject authoritative teaching when it conflicts with their sense of what's right. Inspired interpretation results in a faith that by definition is liberal in all the best senses of the term. It is a faith that lets us grow and evolve.

    I know which interpretive POV works for me.