Theology

this is your brain on fundamentalism

I grew up in Christian fundamentalism, and now I’m a progressive Christian. Surprisingly, at least to me, that particular path is an unusual one, although probably not rare. Speaking from personal observation, it seems like the more usual route out of Christian fundamentalism isn’t liberal Christianity, but atheism.

Unfortunately, it seems like there’s a lot of atheists out there who gave up on their religion, but didn’t give up fundamentalism. A little while ago I remarked on Twitter that it seems like atheists have more in common with Christian fundamentalists in their views on the Bible than they do with me. A few people were surprised by this. In short, it can be summed up by a saying in survivor communities: you can take the person out of a fundamentalism, but you can’t always take fundamentalism out of the person.

What I’m not saying is that this is inevitable– many of my close friends are atheists/agnostics who went through a time of being progressive Christians first. Their ultimate problem wasn’t fundamentalism, really, it was lack of belief. I think that’s true of most (if not all) atheists, even the ones who haven’t let go of a fundamentalist understanding of religion; they may not like their understanding of Christianity, but that’s not why they’re atheists.

It’s perpetually frustrating to me, though, that there’s a certain movement of atheists that brand me as an idiot because I’m religious, or that I’m incapable of being reasonable or logical because I have faith. To this type of atheist, if I don’t accept fundamentalist Christianity as the Only True Way of being a Christian, I’m being inconsistent. Over the course of many conversations, I’ve usually found out that they were at one point Christian fundamentalists.

They may not believe in god anymore, but many never stopped to examine the root claims of the belief system they were raised in. They still think the fundamentalists are right about Christianity– and about how to parse evidence. Part of the reason many argue the way they do is that they’re still operating inside of a fundamentalist mindset, only without religion. To many, Modernism is the only “correct” way to reason, and Truth and demonstrable, provable, physical fact are inseparable.

I was fortunate in the way my faith evolved. I started embracing my questions and doubts after I married a person who holds the feet of every single idea to the fire. He tries to smash every argument to bits to see if it’s worth making. He interrogates a question from every angle and won’t be happy until he’s thought about a new concept from multiple perspectives. All of that prompted me to do the same, and the end result is that I didn’t use the same framework I’d always used to evaluate evidence and questions. I didn’t rely purely on Modernist reasoning in order to deconstruct my faith system and start building it back up.

I’m drawn to dichotomies, to absolutes, to if then statements, and either or views of reality. Part of that is the fact that I’m an ISTJ with a heavily dominant sensing preference, but the biggest reason is that I grew up a fundamentalist. I want things to either be true or false, right or wrong, provable or poppycock. To this day, there are moments where I have to fight with myself to acknowledge that more than one thing can be True at the same time, even though they may seem contradictory. I have to force myself to live in the tension, to think of arguments as a matter of degree and nuance rather than totally right or totally wrong.

On the other hand, it’s almost as equally frustrating when people don’t understand fundamentalism, and what it does to people. They don’t know that fundamentalists are ruled by logical consistency before any other consideration. What may seem like utter nonsense to you or me makes perfect sense if you understand the premise they’re working with and follow it to its conclusion.

Take the fact that fundamentalists can be gigantic assholes to their friends and family. To an outsider, it may seem like we did nothing but endlessly bully and criticize each other– how in the world could we possibly be friends, let alone like each other? If they were to ask me when I was a fundamentalist why I behaved like this, I would’ve said “faithful are the wounds of a friend,” along with a quip about how being harsh and exacting is the only way to be loving. That sounds absurd to the rest of us — being an asshole is not loving– but to them, it’s the only possible outcome. You must “edify” your friends toward righteousness. Anything less is the opposite of loving.

Or, another example: the fact that a lot of fundamentalist/conservative Christians think that an LGBT person who isn’t celibate or resisting same-sex attraction can’t possibly be a Christian. It goes like this:

  1. Being a Christian means being indwelt by the Holy Spirit.
  2. The Holy Spirit pricks your conscience when you sin.
  3. God the Father chastens his children for their sin.
  4. Same-sex attraction (or acting on it) is a sin.
  5. Therefore, if you do not feel convicted or chastened or guilty, you are not a Christian.

This works out to the almost desperate measures many Christians take to show how sinful LGBT people are. Unless LGBT  people acknowledge that what they’re doing is sin, they cannot be saved. You have to repent of your sin. They must show us this, or we will die and burn in hell for all eternity, and what kind of person would they be if they just sat by and “tolerated” us? If they didn’t do everything they could, no matter how awful it may seem to others, to save the lost LGBT people how could they sleep at night?

Ergo, Christians think that their bigotry and hatred is loving. This is why they can say “love the sinner, hate the sin” and feel that there’s no inconsistency between their words and their actions. They’re trying to save us from eternal damnation. If you believe that I’m destined to that fate unless I turn from my bisexuality, seemingly extreme measures are necessary in order to be loving. It’s like that old “poisoned cookie” illustration– if you know someone’s about to eat a poisoned cookie and die, leaping across the room and smacking it out of their hand is the only logical action to take, no matter how “foolish” it might appear to others.

Fundamentalism isn’t populated by unreasonable people; the problem is that they’re all too reasonable. If you don’t understand this, then a lot of other things are going to appear bizarre. Why are evangelicals supporting Trump? Why does Cruz not have a problem with pastors who want to stone LGBT people to death? Why is Islamaphobia such an issue in movement atheism? Why do MRAs want to legalize rape? Why can’t women drive in Saudi Arabia? Why are some feminists TERFs?

To fight a thing, you have to know a thing. And that’s not just an external fight, either– I believe there’s a battle for fundamentalism going on inside each of us. In many ways, it’s far easier to fall into dichotomies and binaries than it is to resist them. Harsh dualities help us make sense of complex problems. But … we can’t let ourselves fall into those traps, because that’s when we start to lose compassion and let our heads overtake our hearts.

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  • Something I often see, when I’m reading comments from fundamentalists who have de-converted and are now atheists, is that changes in thinking happen over time, in stages, and it takes a long time to totally get over years of fundie indoctrination. I see new deconverts sometimes still using the old black-and-white thinking when it comes to social issues. Or I see people say “I don’t believe that anymore, but I’m still going to vote conservative, no matter what, because that’s how I always vote”.
    And I occasionally see someone who still thinks that the type of christianity they used to practice is the only correct interpretation, even if they no longer believe it. That’s pretty annoying, but I try to approach that attitude with patience. It may just be that they have not realized that this is just another piece of the indoctrination that hasn’t worn off yet.

    • Sheila Warner

      “And I occasionally see someone who still thinks that the type of
      christianity they used to practice is the only correct interpretation,
      even if they no longer believe it.” I’d love to meet some atheists who actually believe that. For me, leaving Christianity meant rejecting any and all forms of it, because the basic beliefs are the same.

      • That’s how it was for me, too. But I was raised progressive christian, so I didn’t have the super-heavy indoctrination to get past.

      • Nicole Chase

        Oh, I’ve heard that argument. People convinced Christianity is *false,* of course, but who will use the fact that you’re not a fundamentalist as a reason to abandon belief entirely – “you’re already doing Christianity wrong; just admit the ~logical conclusion~ that it’s all false.”

    • “. . . changes in thinking happen over time, in stages . . .”

      I think that’s a great way to see it, it’s like people are at different stages of growth, from valuing certainty and dogma towards valuing an openness that can embrace the mysterious. In my experience, it is very possible to return to the Bible from the latter perspective and find it richer than before.

  • I’m very uncomfortable with absolutes, which may be partially why I too left fundamentalism/conservative evangelicalism for progressive Christianity. Unfortunately, I’ve also found some ex-fundementalists are still fundamentalists even while holding to progressive Christianity (anti-weapons, anti-patriotism, and internet crusades against a person rather than a belief come to mind, although they are quite different). 🙁

    • nelson_keener

      I just say: Sure there absolutes; just not as many as some people think there are.

      • I say: Sure there are absolutes; we just can’t be absolutely sure what they are.

  • mreed2

    As a (non-movement) athiest who was never a fundamentalist, there are two additional reasons why athiests commonly equate “fundamentalists Christianity” with “Christianity”:

    1) By far the most important: These are the people that they are worried about — the ones that are politically active in a cohesive block pushing for (or opposing) policy changes on the basis of their religious faith. Progressive Christians may be [i]individually[/i] politically active but lack the cohesiveness that makes fundamentalists effective.
    2) Very much a secondary factor: It is much harder, if not impossible, to argue against “progressive Christianity” because of the wide variety of beliefs held by members of this group. The only [i]universal[/i] arguments that can be made against progressive Christianity are the same ones that could be made against [i]any[/i] religion — something along the lines of “No deity is [i]necessary[/i] to explain the universe and its contents, non-necessary things require positive proof before we can accept their existence, and there is no [i]conclusive[/i] proof that any deity exists, therefore no deity exists”. Whether you accept that argument is valid or not, it has been debated for hundreds of years now and is, well, pretty boring. 🙂

    I do agree that many athiests hold the position that “Fundamentalist Christians are the only ones that are consistent in their beliefs / are doing it ‘right'” is also a common belief among athiests — but there are other reasons as well.

    • Sheila Warner

      Wow, I must be entirely out of the loop. Again, I haven’t met atheists who think Christians are doing anything “right”, no matter which system they are in. Once there is a lack of belief in any god, why bother to muse about which sect is doing it “right”, since there is no “right” way to be a theist at all. Every religious belief, including outside of Christianity, is generally viewed by the atheists I have met, is not seen as “right” or “wrong”. There is no skin in the game for atheists to ponder which god belief system is the “best” way of expression. I know that for me, I couldn’t care less. I puzzle about it at times, when certain statements are made, but overall, I merely have no god belief in me for any religion. And, that’s just me. I have come across atheists who praise the efforts of Progressive Christianity to push back on discrimination, but still reject the entire god thing.

      • Beroli

        Penn Jillette’s “I don’t respect people who don’t proselytize” line comes to mind. He goes on to talk about “If you believe that there’s a heaven and a hell, and people could be going to hell…” But he never acknowledges that there are religious people who don’t believe in hell.

        (Incidentally, while Googling for his exact phrasing right before posting this comment, I found a lot of fundamentalists talking about what he said making them feel “convicted.” …Well done, Jillette. In whatever sense you might be argued to be on my side, please get off it.)

        • Sheila Warner

          He’s commenting on the dominance of Fundagelical theology, & is puzzled by the disconnect he observes. He isn’t saying Fundagelicals are correct.

          • Brianna Gipp

            Of course he’s not saying they’re correct. I think it’s well known that he’s an atheist. He’s saying that they’re the only Christians who are practicing Christianity correctly according to their belief system.

          • Sheila Warner

            See all of my comments. I was objecting to the word “right” being used in lieu of “right praxis”.

        • nelson_keener

          As a post-evangelical who has worshiped In the Episcopal Church for 25 years, I’ve come to a better understanding of God’s plan for all of his creation. Subsequently I believe that it is disrespectful to be heavy handed and pushy to attempt to convert Jewish people to whom God has already made a way of redemption. If they inquire, engage them.

      • Timothy Swanson

        I would imagine that if an atheist thought any christian was right about the existence of god, that atheist would convert. And vice versa, I would guess.

        mreed2, point #1 is excellent. Of course, even many of us christians find Fundie politics to be equally terrifying.

      • Helena Osborne

        Eh, I’m atheist, but even if I don’t see any logical basis for believing in a god or spirituality, I can see where it has tremendous emotional value for people… And that’s not bad or stupid, if it’s not used in a bad or stupid way. I don’t personally find emotional value in it, but I’ve talked to many people who find it comforting to believe that there’s some kind of driving force behind what happens in the world, and I get that. People are different, so it makes sense that what works for some wouldn’t work for others.

      • mreed2

        I was using “right” in the sense of “their world-view is more consistent with their stated assumptions, regardless of whether or not those assumptions are true”.

        Put another way, if we assume, for the sake of argument, that the Christan God exists and the Bible is His inerrant word, then the actions of fundamentalist Christians are more consistent with these ‘truths’ than the actions of progressive Christians (and, both are far, far more consistent than the acts of atheists, obviously).

        I don’t agree with the above (instead, if someone claims to be a Christian then I take them at their word), but there are certainly both atheists and fundamentalists who make this type of argument.

        • Sheila Warner

          I understood ‘right’ to mean ‘correct’.

          • Brianna Gipp

            That understanding doesn’t really make any sense given that we’re talking about atheists.

          • Sheila Warner

            Exactly, which explains why I left the type of comments you can read in the comment section.

    • I completely agree with your first point. I have no pressing need to try to talk people out of progressive christianity, because it’s the Fundamentalists that are the ones trying to use the government to impose their religion on others. If the Fundies all shifted to progressive christianity, there’d be much less need for a strong rebuttal.

      I can see an argument that the fundamentalists have a more consistent system for figuring out what they are supposed to believe. If it’s in the bible, they believe it, no need for fallible human judgment. But also no need for human compassion, either. My run-ins with Fundies when I was in college were one factor in my leaving religion. I realized that their insistence on literalism meant they were required to believe some really awful stuff, and I thought that they weren’t “doing it right”. But then looking at the non-literalism I was raised with, how do you figure out if you are “doing that right,” and have correctly sorted out what parts of the bible are to be followed and what parts are metaphor or legend? To figure that out, you have to use your own human intellect and values, and if you can rely on that, what do you need with a bible?

  • Excellent post, and I relate too on the internal battle with fundamentalism. I too sometimes fall into black and white ways of looking at the world. I think I held more extreme views as a believer than my family and many of my friends, because fundamentalism suits me. It’s easy too. It’s nice to have a view of the world that’s settled. It’s also lazy.

    • Sheila Warner

      Your comment is closer to what I perceive is really going on. You still have the tendency to view things in black and white due to your upbringing, but you don’t believe that the fundamentalist practices of Christianity are the ones which best express Christianity. You don’t harbor any residual belief in fundamentalism itself.

  • Sheila Warner

    “They may not believe in god anymore, but many never stopped to examine
    the root claims of the belief system they were raised in. They still
    think the fundamentalists are right about Christianity– and about how to parse evidence.” I suppose that because my atheism is still so new, I have not met an atheist yet who still thinks that fundamentalists are right about Christianity. I, too, grew up in a black/white, either/or system. I, too, preferred both/and. I, too, challenged my own beliefs. I moved into Progressive Christianity, and I stayed there because I kept believing the resurrection story of Jesus was real, that there were eyewitnesses to it happening. Once that belief was dispelled, and I experienced nothing of which Christianity claimed for me, I left. I once puzzled over why you still identify as a Christian. That comment was not made to denigrate you in any way at all. I puzzle over anyone who leaves fundamentalist ways of Christianity after vigorously examining its teachings, yet remain believers. I wonder how people continue to believe in the supernatural when fundamentalism has been thoroughly disproved as a healthy way of thinking. But, that’s just me, and I care not what people believe as long as their beliefs aren’t codified into law. But I still puzzle over how humanity has held supernatural beliefs even in the 21st century. I read their thoughts and their ways of thinking with real curiosity, then say ‘god speed’.

    • Timothy Swanson

      I think perhaps the easiest way to explain what I believe Samantha is getting at here is that many atheists approach the bible the way Richard Dawkins does – which is a very fundamentalist-literalist-theonomic approach. It’s an approach that isn’t exactly in line with all of historical Christianity, to say nothing of being representative of all modern Christians. It’s the claim that one must embrace genocide in order to be a Christian. Sure, the Doug Wilsons of the world think that way, but it isn’t the only way by any stretch. But *certain* types of atheists, Dawkins most prominent, make the argument that the Fundamentalist interpretation is the only “true” interpretation, thus Christianity is evil, and so on. Samantha correctly points out that if you look closely, Dawkins and Wilson (and other fundies) actually agree with each other about the meaning of Christianity and the way the bible is to be interpreted.

      • Sheila Warner

        I think it’s more nuanced. The atheists are describing what they view as the predominate form of (mostly American) Christianity at this time. Not that it’s the “truest”, but that it is dominant & intrusive.

      • Northwoods Dan

        It’s easier to reject any religion when the face of it is Fred Phelps rather than Mother Teresa.

        • I would say “rather than Pope Francis”, as Mother Teresa has been the subject of several pretty hostile “learn how terrible this person was” campaigns since her death.

          • Northwoods Dan

            By all means, substitute names as you wish. I’m cool with going with Pope Francis if that works better for some. I’m saddened to hear of anything negative about Mother Teresa. I hadn’t heard anything like that. Are these credible campaigns regarding her or are they smear?

          • A little bit of both – while much of the criticism is true, i think it’s often spoken about in such lurid “smear her character” ways as to essentially prove more about the critic than the criticized.

            You can find a pretty good summation of much of it here:

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Criticism_of_Mother_Teresa

          • Northwoods Dan

            Geez Katie, now you’ve got me researching yet another topic. Lol, I’m a nerd and I’m glad you’ve put me on to the issue. So far, the main criticisms I am seeing of Mother T come from the late Christopher Hitchens or people parroting him. Hitchins had a quick mind and was a great polemicist but I found him about as reliable as I find Ann Coulter in terms of playing rather loose with facts. Hitchens could powerfully argue any point in real time but tended to fall apart upon closer examination. At any rate, thanks for the heads up. I am embarrassed to not have known about the issue but I guess it just verifies what a cave dweller I am.

          • Yes, Christopher Hitchens was one of her loudest, shrillest detractors. I understand the need to ‘poke holes’ in the concept of sainthood, but Hitchens always had an agenda and a driving, desperate -need- to ruin even the concept of faith for everyone else, and it poisoned legitimate criticism and turned it into schoolyard bully-tactics.

  • Timothy Swanson

    Good post. This has been my experience as well.

  • Northwoods Dan

    Really good post, Samantha, and great discussion everyone.

    I would offer one additional thought/perspective. I certainly use reason and logic as we all do. However, I believe in God because I need to, not because I can prove the first thing about anything and I don’t care to try. And I don’t believe that any book is a means of grace, particularly when the autographs have long been lost, humans have worked on copies and humans have translated those copies. Yet Christianity still makes “sense” to me or it “feels” right or I’m an emotional weakling and full of nonsense. I don’t know. I don’t care. I’m ok with anyone who doesn’t believe as I do or doesn’t believe at all. I think maybe that’s maybe what faith is supposed to be. I’m not even sure about my last sentence but I’m very comfortable with that. Lol. It works in my world.

  • D Liston

    To quote Michael Jackson, ‘no one wants to be defeated’. So fundamentalism is, at heart, wanting to be right all the time. That’s why you can be a fundamentalist about anything. But, I mean, no one has ever actually been right about everything. Of course, I should allow that there may be someone who is absolutely right all of the time in existence somewhere. Otherwise I’d just be expressing another fundamentalist belief. 😉

  • There’s some debate about whether or not atheists can be fundamentalists. Since fundamentalism implies a strict literal interpretation of scripture, and we atheists don’t have a bible, I personally use the term “dogmatic” than fundamentalist.

    Semantics aside, though, I can’t stand it when atheists say religious people are stupid. While I believe religious claims don’t hold any water and religious dogma is harmful, I’m an ex-Christian, so I understand that world. Plus, I’ve been around the block, so I know Christianity ranges from fundamentalism to liberalism, so it doesn’t make sense to say, “They’re all like that.” (Even though I personally hate the phrase “Not all [blanks].”)

  • Excellent article from start to finish, but I think you are right on target in saying, ‘It seems like atheists have more in common with Christian fundamentalists in their views on the Bible than they do with me.’

    I have noticed this myself on many occasions. When atheists or ex-Christians attack the Bible, it is often the inerrant, proof-text Bible they attack. But when I point out that this is not the best perspective on the Bible, I am accused of being dishonest in rejecting the real Christian view of the Bible.

    Fundies to the right of me; Fundies to the left. Here I am stuck in the middle with you.

    • oe_leiderhosen

      A few years ago I wondered if part of it is also that Christians who are very thoughtful about the Bible and who strive to be knowledgeable about history and exegesis are “annoying” to these kind of atheists, because we’re harder to write off and we make Christianity harder to write off. It’s one thing to say “I’m an atheist because I don’t believe there’s any sort of divine being(s)” and another to say “I’m an atheist AND I think you should be too because look how stupid religion is,” which some (emphasis on *some*) atheists I’ve known have said.

      Now that I think about it I’m not sure I believe that anymore, but at the time it was the semi-conclusion I drew.

      • Good points, OE, I think you are probably right. On the inerrantist Christian side, I think many are frustrated because proof-texting does not work and that is their primary tool of argument.

  • This is brilliant. I have often noticed that the New Atheists and Christian Fundamentalists read the Bible exactly the same way, and yet, this raises no questions for either group.

  • Nicole Chase

    One thing I wish was more widely accepted is that, generally, people don’t believe XYZ because they’re “stupid.” They are very possibly misinformed, working from erroneous first principles, stuck in an unsympathetic worldview, etc., but there is almost always an internal structure to whatever-belief-you-find-distasteful that makes sense to its adherents.

  • Brianna Gipp

    I’m personally more surprised when a fundamentalist Christian becomes a progressive Christian than when they reject Christianity entirely. For me, fundamentalism taught me that if any tiny detail of Christianity was wrong, if a single word of the Bible could be demonstrated to be incorrect, then the whole thing would fall apart. My faith depended on getting every single detail absolutely correct, with zero room for error. It was incredibly fragile. So of course my faith was thoroughly shattered when I began to see that there were more moral, historical, and scientific problems with fundamentalist Christianity than could possibly be reconciled. Unlearning my black-and-white thinking was a much longer process, one which I’m still going through. It wasn’t until years after my deconversion that I even learned it was possible to be a Christian without believing in biblical inerrancy, and by then I had long since lost interest in going back to my religion. I’m always surprised when a Christian can unlearn fundamentalist thinking before they discover the flaws in fundamentalist Christianity, so that their faith survives the discovery of those flaws.

  • Joi_The_Artist

    I’m navigating this path right now. I was raised homeschooled Texas Southern Baptist, and would now identify as progressive Episcopalian. I’m currently living with a good friend who is a very convinced atheist, and he seems to think I will join him in that belief soon enough, despite my protests otherwise. Some of my conservative friends also seem convinced that I am destined for atheism. It’s so freaking frustrating.

  • Aubrey Miller

    Absolutely fabulous post! It is so nice to see other former fundamentalists explain this kind of thinking and acknowledge that it makes perfect sense from the inside. Since the conclusions and actions of fundamentalists can be so baffling to the public, it is easy for others to dehumanize them and assume they are “crazy” or “monsters”. They are human beings–wrong, but still human–and I love it when people can be reminded of that.

    And I completely agree with you that everyone struggles against the fundamentalism inside. It’s just so EASY when you don’t have to make intricate decisions about complex situations–you just run the numbers through the machine and out pops a conclusion.

    As far as my type, I’m an INFJ. Understanding for the first time that I could embrace gray areas was amazing–it was like blooming. I think thats why I eventually went from fundamentalism to the Episcopal church. They not only embrace, but demand, that things be mysterious.

  • keefanda

    Samantha:

    This post of yours “This is your brain on fundamentalism” is so fantastically good, it has caused my thoughts to race and scatter with so many ideas that if I gave voice to them all in your comments section, I’d bog it down with way too many comments. But I’ve chosen two, where a (the?) key to all this is to hold to the liberal or progressive idea that some of the Christian Bible contains some of The Truth. (But of course fundamentalists say that it is all The Truth. Further below destroys this.)

    (1) You wrote, “I’m drawn to dichotomies, to absolutes, to if then statements, and either or views of reality…. I have to fight with myself to acknowledge that more than one thing can be True at the same time….”

    Speaking as one with a degree in math with an interest in logic, please know that it’s purely beautifully true that we can hold to “more than one thing can be True at the same time” and still be as hardcore pro-logic, pro-mathematics, pro-science, and Pro-Truth as is possible. In addition, please know that in propositional logic, every “both-and” statement implies three distinct “if-then” statements, which I think is part of a set of evidence that suggests to us that Truth or “The Word of God” or all Mathematical Truth as well as all Moral Truth is or at least contains an infinite set of “if-then” statements. It’s just in part a matter of expanding our understanding of “if-then”. (Abstract example in the moral sphere: If x, then it’s OK to lie. If y, then it’s not OK to lie.) That is, infinite conditional Truth is or is an infinite subset of infinite Truth.

    (2) You wrote, “Or, another example: the fact that a lot of fundamentalist/conservative Christians think that an LGBT person who isn’t celibate or resisting same-sex attraction can’t possibly be a Christian.”

    Fundamentalists say that The Bible as it is *explicitly* literally written is the final authority. But not one of them actually believes this. No one does. This includes non-fundamentalists. Without exception. Here’s how:

    First note that acts or events requiring a blood sacrifice (the death of an animal or human) to cover them are different than acts or events that merely make one “unclean” or ritually unclean. Even in those times, only the former should be taken as “sins” deserving of hell while the latter should not be taken such at all. (Note that a woman was “unclean” when she was on her period. Did this mean that she deserved to go to hell just because she bled each month?)

    Now consider these two specific cases from many possible ones: Some say that woman on woman sex is a sin, and some say that a married man having sex with an unmarried woman who is not under her father’s care and is not the daughter of a priest is a sin.

    But we have these facts: Neither act is *explicitly* listed in the Bible as a sin, as an offense that *explicitly* requires an *explicit* blood sacrifice (the death of an animal or a human) to cover it, and this goes for each of a whole bunch of other acts considered to be sinful by some. (Adultery in the Old Testament taken *literally* is *explicitly* only a man having sex with the wife of another man. Period. Unmarried women, including prostitutes, are “OK” in some cases. See Judah doing Tamar while she posed as a prostitute and see the prophet Hosea taking a prostitute as a wife as an example of prostitution being “OK” in some cases. Note that I’m only pointing out what is and isn’t *explicitly* listed as a blood sacrifice offense to make the point that *no one* take the Bible as it is literally written to be the final authority.)

    Therefore, if one says that any of these acts is an act that requires a blood sacrifice – including Jesus dying on the cross – to cover it, then one is *not* accepting the Bible as it is *explicitly* literally written as the final authority, since one is then *explicitly adding* to what the Bible *literally* lists as offences that require blood sacrifice – the death of an animal or a human – to cover it.

    Based on this last point: If it’s OK for the fundamentalists to literally or explicitly add to the Bible, then it’s OK for others literally or explicitly take away from the Bible, such as rejecting what is addressed in the below as inspired by God.

    Here are examples of what I reject: How many really believe that a woman really deserves to go to hell if she bleeds longer than normal during one of her periods or if she bleeds at a time in the month apart from her period? See the latter part of Leviticus 15, which requires a Blood Sacrifice – the death of a human or animal – to cover these so-called sins. Good grief. Have fundamentalists really seared their Conscience so much that they really believe God really inspired these rather than seeing them as the ranting of a sexually hung up man who is terrified of women’s bodies?

    Final note on the fact that woman on woman sex is not explicitly outlawed in The Law: The Bible back then did not explicitly outlaw lots of wives if you had the money for it. And it did not explicitly outlaw enjoying more than one wife at a time. (See King Solomon with his 700 wives and 300 concubines. Let’s get real as to what went on in that palace with so many horny women who supposedly had only one man for a sexual outlet.) The Old Testament explicitly outlaws sex that is man on man, man on animal, and woman on animal, but not woman on woman. Why? Well, think about it. Suppose that you were a man back then in Old Testament times, with lots of wives and concubines. Since you could not sexually satisfy all of them, you would have to allow them an outlet in a way that would not threaten you. The first three ways outlawed above would threaten you but the fourth way would not. Now we might see why the Old Testament was written the way it was. It was a man’s world back then. Totally and utterly. To take what Mel Brooks said essentially over and over again in a certain character in “History of the World, Part I”, “It’s good to be King”, and apply it to Old Testament times, “It’s good to be a man in a man’s world.” (And have no conscience to speak of as to how woman are treated.)

  • Deborah Cox

    Thanks, Samantha, for this thoughtful article. I agree with Ubi as well….deconversion or spiritual development happens in stages, over time. I had to progress through the atheist “stage” in order to fully clean out all the old things I no longer needed. Then, a wise mentor pointed out to me, years later, that I wasn’t truly an atheist, and I was able to re-enter faith as a very different thinker.

  • Beelzebug

    As someone who was raised in a fundamentalist Christian tradition and who is now an atheist, I would like to talk a bit about your premise that fundamentalists are indeed reasonable.
    I play tabletop roleplaying games as a hobby and I frequently serve as the gamemaster for those games. As the gamemaster, my job is to construct a world with its own set of presuppositions, and then populate that world with people, or more generically sentient beings, that act in that world. Many will act rationally within the ‘truth’ of that world, but it’s a subjective truth for those characters or constructs. Would it be reasonable for me, in this world, to start acting in a manner where Cthulhu really exists dreaming in R’lyeh as though that games subjective truth also applies to me? Would it be reasonable for me to act as though the Forgotten Realms deities really walk the earth and intervene physically in events? To be a disciple of the torture goddess Loviatar and look for people to hurt? No, it wouldn’t be reasonable.
    Please don’t take these examples to mean that I’m belittling your belief system. When I’m invited into a space where the agreement, spoken or unspoken, is that the host’s beliefs and traditions hold sway, I take my role as guest and observer very seriously. I’ve given my consent to be a part of that gathering and if I’ve given my consent I know I can leave at any time, thereby withdrawing my consent.
    I grant that there are plenty of areas in life where truth seems subjective. In those areas I’m content to live and let live, especially if others are content to do the same. Consent, minimizing suffering, and maximizing happiness are basic keystones of my philosophy. But at what point in the social contract do progressive Christians cease to be evangelical? And, at some point there will be cases where your truth and my truth are going to collide. There’s going to be someone who smothers their children, claiming that God told them to do it. There’s going to be parents who will deny modern medical treatment to their children in preference of prayer. How do we adjudicate those conflicts? To me it seems like we already have a mechanism we use in the United States, and that is mostly to assume that God doesn’t exist in cases where the affected party (ie. children) can’t give consent and the potential for harm is great. We don’t grant legitimacy to the parent that smothered their children because God said so. We don’t grant any validity to the parents that deny their children modern medical treatment.
    And I think that leads us to the the crux of the issue. Consent and minimizing harm. For me, I see no place where progressive Christians are a threat to either consent or causing harm, so again, I’m quite content to live and let live.
    I save my ammo for fundamentalists who want to pull me, and society in general, into their subjective truth without our consent.

  • Sirius Bizinus

    I agree that there’s a measure of fundamentalism in human thinking that we all share. We’re constantly looking for shortcuts in thought, and reducing concepts to simple assessments of two options does that perfectly. Another problem is that it’s useful for most day-to-day living (i.e., the stove is hot or cold, the computer is on or off, etc.).

    However, I don’t think that it takes a fundamentalist Christian to make a fundamentalist atheist. I’ve known many atheists that concluded religion was not for them at an early age, and they’ve grown up to harass the faithful at any opportunity. Some even think that abusing Christians are fine, because eventually it forces them to realize the TRUTH(TM) of an atheistic perspective. They’re doing this without the benefit of living in fundamentalist households or a fundamentalist upbringing.

    That said, I think that fundamentalism of any stripe is a low-hanging fruit that’s going to get picked wherever one goes. It takes dedication and discipline to go to the higher branches where the sweeter rewards grow.

  • Aram

    The way I see it, fundamentalists and progressives when compared to each other do indeed appear to be quite far apart. But on a larger spectrum of viewpoints in general they’re both still quite close together at the extreme end of the chart. Put simply, all types of Christians continue to create God – as in an all-powerful separate entity existing everywhere – in their own image. And that is a disconcerting worldview to be around (to put it mildly) no matter how liberal the believers may think their personal Jesus is.