Tag Archives: fundamentalist

“Don’t let them take your Jesus…”: Education and Fundamentalism

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…a good illustration of what many fundamentalists think happens to young Christians who go off to “dangerous” non-Christian schools...

I keep meeting more and more pastors with the same story.  It goes something like this:

-Narrow, fundamentalist upringing

-Little exposure to the outside world and/or culture(s)

-Strongly defensive of values received from family of origin and/or church community

-Goes off to college or seminary, and gets “the speech”…

Here is “the speech”:

“You gotta watch out.  Don’t go off to school and let these liberal professors question your faith.  They are all just a bunch of atheists, and they’ll try to make you doubt the Lord.  Remember what WE taught you and hold fast.  Don’t let them take your Jesus!” (1)

I think speeches like this precipitate a lot of young people going off to fundamentalist-oriented colleges and seminaries instead of risking exposure to ideas and people different than those with whom they are raised.  Not that I see no value in Christian education.  I am the product of a great deal of such (pricey) education.

For me, the scary thought is being born into, raised, and educated solely within a fundamentalist environment.  I have dear friends – great people – who spent all of their childhood and adolescence within a fundamentalist Baptist milieu and then went off to a college that would do nothing but reinforce all of their stereotypes.  I find this sad.

As for education “taking your Jesus”…well, there is probably an element of truth to that.  I think it is a vastly overblown narrative in evangelical circles, but there is a kernel of real experience there.  Many secular departments of religion are filled with people for whom Christianity is a mere intellectual excercise, a field of study devoid of personal content or value.  Or, even worse, you find people like Bart Ehrman: ex-fundamentalists who seem to relish challenging the fragile worldviews of undergrads who strongly believe in a faith that they do not know is a house of cards.  This is the equivalent of Dan Gable wrestling 8th-graders.

Consider this an extension of my previous piece on picking a seminary: a Christian environment is a good thing, if done well.  By ‘well’, we mean Christian in the CS Lewis sense: “mere” Christianity.  Christianity defined broadly, orthodox and ecumenical, in touch with the deepest streams of the Church tradition and yet interested in living out that tradition in the present.  Such a place will not “take your Jesus,” but it should enliven your faith, deepen it,  and broaden.  Challenge it? Yes, but in the sense of “iron sharpening iron.”  No faith is true unless tested and refined.  ‘

The difference between a Bart Ehrman doing that and a Christian mentor doing so is analogous to the difference between a stabbing and a surgery: one uses a knife, the other a scalpel.  One’s intent is to destroy, the other is to help.  It makes all the difference in the world.  I am continually thankful to my own mentors who guided me, sometimes kicking and screaming, from fundamentalism to Christianity.

1. Adapted from a version of “the speech” that I received from various folks upon learning that I was going to seminary at Duke.  None of them, of course, had the theological acumen to realize the irony of this.  Now I can go back and tell them, proudly, “I am so anti-liberal that I am postliberal!”  Of course, this is funny only to a bookish elite.  Props to George Lindbeck!

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Glenn Beck: Restoring Jack Squat

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I am continuously astounded that many on the far right – which has a large contingent of fundamentalist Christians – have been more than willing to overlook Glenn Beck’s Mormonism because they like his brand of low-brow, popcorn-density “journalism.”  I think that his particular blend of civil religion – one that confuses any reference to “God” to an endorsement of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and cannot distinguish enlightenment Deism from orthodox Christianity – is so vague than many of these Christians on the right honestly can’t tell he’s coming from a different place from them theologically.

A friend of mine pointed me to an article by Dan Webster over at Episcopal Cafe’ that makes some interesting connections between Beck’s Mormon faith and his political program:

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Mormon Church, believes Christianity fell into apostasy when the original apostles died. Joseph Smith, founder of the Mormon Church, believes he was called by God to restore the gospel that Jesus taught but had been radically changed by second generation Christians and those who came after.

So when Beck says America has been “wandering in darkness” and that he is here to help lead the country back to God he is emulating the founder of his religion. He wants to restore America’s greatness just like his church believes it is called to establish the “restored gospel.”

I don’t agree with Webster on all points, but he makes some interesting arguments that I have not seen elsewhere.  Webster also points out that, while Beck is vague on his own theological proclivities, he isn’t shy about attacking the details of others’ faith.

He’s expressed discomfort with Obama’s brand of Christianity (hey, props for calling Obama Christian!) due to its affinities with liberation theology, which he calls “socialist.”  And to an extent, he’s right.  Where he is wrong is finding any expressions of a strong faith in Obama’s policies.  It may be there, to the President, at least.  But Obama’s not really talking about it; whether because it’s not there, or he’s trying to distance himself from Bush, his outspoken evangelical predecessor, is not really possible to know.  Beck has made too much hay out of something he knows little about.

In his piece, Webster argues that Beck is channeling Joseph Smith moreso than Martin Luther King, Jr.  And so far as that comparison goes, he’s spot on.  But Smith wasn’t really a restorationist; he wasn’t restoring an existing church, he was making a new one.  The LDS church is a creation of his own mind, which I think makes him equal parts huckster and genius.

Like Smith, Beck isn’t really trying to restore anything so much as create something that never existed and in the process garner a great deal of attention, wives, money, and power: a pristine, just, and prosperous America that is simultaneously the sole superpower and completely God-fearing (though,significantly, the question ‘whose God?’ is never asked).

I think that makes Glenn Beck more like the Pied Piper of legend.  A man playing a flute, making pleasant noises, leading us away like children…on a journey to nowhere.