Knowledge and Fundamentalism

When you hear talk about adding creationism to the curriculum, and removing real sex education in favor of the farce that is abstinence only, you are witnessing a naked play for ignorance.  In a real catch, Amanda at Pandagon delves into Mary’s (of Pacific Views) post on fundamentalism and its inherent weaknesses.  So one might expect that science and knowledge crop up as issues, and they do.  Oddly, one weakness appears to be the bible itself:

What I found most interesting was Altemeyer’s conclusion that actually reading the Bible can drive people away from fundamentalism. As Mary says:

For the first problem: when the Bible is actually read, the actual text causes problems for the discerning reader. “The Bible was, they said, too often inconsistent, petty, boring, appalling, self-serving, or unbelievable.” Altemeyer found that although many fundamentalist Christians profess allegiance to an inerrant Bible, very few have actually read it

Suddenly a post over at Jesus’ General clicked for me.  He linked to the lego version of the bible (ironically, possibly not safe for work).  Specifically the story of Phineas.  Essentially God starts killing Israelites because he is none to pleased with their worship habits (other gods, idols, that sort of thing).  Until a priest named Phineas kills an Israelite man and the Midianite woman he brings home with him “into his family”.

So essentially God displays the holy trait of jealousy, commits murder, and is only satisfied when a priest murders the Romeo and Juliet of the ancient desert.

I think this hits upon Altemeyer’s observations rather keenly:  inconsistent, appalling, unbelievable.

It is appalling to think that God would kill over something like this, that the violence of a priest would be favored over love.

It is unbelievable since nothing like this happens now.  Diseases do not stop when people change their worship habits.  People intermarry amongst various faiths without calamity.  In short, for whatever reason, God seems to have stopped killing people outright (or at least, if God is still killing people, God isn’t spilling the beans to anyone).

It is inconsistent because we are taught to think of God as being all loving, and all powerful.  Really, a perfect being.  How is jealousy or murder in any way consistent with this conception of God?

Personally, I do believe in God.  I just can’t square the actions sometimes ascribed to God as being, well, God-like.

How is the belief that killing people for God is morally justified (over whom they worship) any better than the notions of sacrifice we routinely criticize “barbaric” religions for having?  Why isn’t criticism of this part of the Bible a part of our national discourse on religion?  This is from Numbers.  That’s Torah, or Old Testament.  Judaism and Christianity.  Why don’t you hear about this when people complain that Islam is a violent religion?

If reading these sorts of things can turn people off of fundamentalism, that is very encouraging.  But what does it say about those who read about such violence in the name of God, and remain biblical literalists?  What impact does that kind of ethics and logic have when they take part in politics?


10 Responses

  1. It’s interesting to me how you apply your paradigm to a group you appear to know almost nothing about. There are many excellent books about American Christian Fundamentalism that would enlighten, like “Fundamentalism and American Culture” by George M. Marsden.

    American Fundamental is unrelated in every way, historically and theologically, to Islamic fundamentalism, though anti-religious people like to make comparisons. The unlearned also like to suggest that Fundamentalists and Evangelicals are the same, but this is an absurdity.

    It is a mistake, to assume, as you have, that Fundamentalists haven’t read their Bibles (by the way, all proper nouns are capitalized- it’s not “gone with the wind” either – check any style manual, they’re all the same). Fundamentalists know chapter and verse, and that is something non-religious people sometimes complain about.

    Passages like those dealing with Phineas were settled by Bible scholars 1500 years ago, so comment about it in a blog in 2007 says someone has not done their homework. You may not wish to agree with the world’s leading scholars from past generations, but it is wrong to assume that troublesome passages are new.

    Ignorance always worries me more than Fundamentalism. They have a reason for their beliefs. Ignorant people are often just bigots.

  2. Hi Don,

    I think I should pick that book up, and perhaps a few others. It is a fascinating topic to be sure.

    I wasn’t making a comparison, I was noting that when people claim Islam is a violent religion, to do so while ignoring the violent tendencies in our own religions is disingenuous, to say the least.

    I’m not sure where you get the idea that I am saying Evangelicals and Fundamentalists are the same.

    I am not making that assumption about Fundamentalists reading their Bibles. I was actually going on Bob Altemeyer’s study (I should have linked to the PDF)

    As for capitalization, sorry if I missed anything, I am very erratic on that particular grammatical note. It is not intentional.

    I’m commenting on biblical literalists. If you think every word of the Bible is absolutely true, and each lesson imparted correct, well, where does that leave us? There is nothing in my post that assumes troublesome passages are new. I am not sure where you get that idea.

    Ignorance is worrisome. As is fundamentalism. I find
    that unless one is willfully ignorant, then ignorant people
    are often just uniformed. That is, fortunately for all of us,
    occasionally easily remedied.

    My main question and point still stand. How is it
    good for God to kill? And if you embrace that as
    morally sound, what does it say about you, and how
    you interact with questions of ethics in politics?

  3. That is a very interesting point. How is it good for God to kill? It would seem that in doing so he would go against his own character. But I think it is very important to understand the human condition. It is a condition that warrents death, not only physically but spiritually. So we have a God described in the Bible as just and righteouss as well as good and holy. This just and holy God is good in punishing sin. He recieves glory in doing so. But it is in his grace that he offered us away to escape that just wrath, through Christ.

    So back to Phineas. God was not only satisfied when a priest murderd them, but was instead satisfied by Phineas zeal. The LORD said to Moses, “Phinehas son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron, the priest, has turned my anger away from the Israelites; for he was as zealous as I am for my honor among them, so that in my zeal I did not put an end to them.”

    God was satisfied that he did not have to continue punishing the Israelistes for their actions. It is not appalling to think that God would punish what is wrong, what goes against his character. He was also satisifed that someone finally cared enough about his glory, not that love was ended between two people.

    I think its important to remember though we warranted this by our choice to rebel. And God is infact reconcilling us back to Him by giving us a choice and chance to choose Christ and what he did for us. That is the most loving and beautiful thing that I could ever imagine. Taking on all the sins of humanity and the wrath of God for them. And conquering death. I see a very loving God, that is satisifed in the glorification of himself (and why shouldnt he be?) and the punishement of sin, yet also one of grace and mercy providing away to come back to him.

    What do you think about anything I said? Do you feel that it answers your question in any way? Or do still feel that He is simply not good based on how he is described in the Bible? id be happy to revel through any other scripture you find appaling or unbelievable.

  4. Hey Androo,

    God created the human condition. So it really does circle back to God’s condition. Why does God need to punish us by having humans kill humans for him? Why is worshipping a different God considered a sin? Are religions other than Judaism/Christianity/Islam sinful?

    Interesting point about zeal. That would be quite consistent with Abraham’s sacrifice, where it is his utter willingness, rather than the act that counts.

    I see your point that on where God derives satisfaction according to scripture. However I wonder why those actions had to be punished, and why God would ever need to care about his glory. (One might actually get into a very interesting side conversation about whether God’s positive attributes are in any way malleable, or affected by corporeal events).

    I don’t see why or how God has wrath. At all.

    I think what you said makes an earnest attempt to answer my questions about the nature of God, but does not really address the social and political implications of absolute belief in the Bible or in justice that demands blood.

    Essentially, what I find objectionable is using scripture as proof. Where do you get the idea that humans rebelled against God? Or that our nature inherently warrants death? Why is Christ the only way to escape his wrath? What makes you think a perfect being gets mad?

  5. Well Dan, before I go on with answering some of the initial questions in your response I feel that it is necessary to address what you said in the final paragraph of your response. You said that essentially you find it objectionable to use scripture as proof. Well my question to you is then what do you use as proof? What are you basing your belief about God on? There must be some foundation for thought about God. Other wise the thought holds no validity. And there are plenty of reasons to trust in the reliability of scripture and therefore its description of God, humans and life (which we can discuss).

So if there is no foundation, it all becomes relativistic and no human can essential even begin to make any assumptions about God. 

Now if you concede that scripture is reliable, I can explain to you that God did not create the human condition, why God needs to punish those actions, why he would care about his glory, and the other questions you posed. But until we have that common ground I could argue all I want about God but go nowhere. 

I do have another question so I can better understand the other part of you main point. What do you believe are the implications of absolute belief in the Bible or in justice that demands blood?

  6. A most excellent question Andrew!

So if there is no foundation, it all becomes relativistic and no human can essential even begin to make any assumptions about God

    Perhaps there is nothing we can even say about God. After all, why assume God is even within the bounds of human comprehension?
    My own belief in God is based on personal experience, with maybe a little ontological thrown in for good measure (I find Anselm’s proof pretty compelling, even on days when I don’t.) When it boils down to an epistemic point, I can’t really say with any logical certainty what God is like, etc. No one can. The best we can do is try to reason it out. Hence going back to the idea of a perfect being, and then trying to reconcile that with notions of how such a being might exist, act, etc. I shouldn’t have used the word objectionable there (my apologies!). I should say I don’t find it compelling. It doesn’t sway me.

    I don’t concede scripture is reliable. I find no reason to believe so personally, as much as I respect your belief in it. I do think that it is possible to debate the nature of God, ethics, and other interesting questions without falling back on one scripture or another.

    If one believes absolutely that apostasy is punishable by death, one might act on it. If one believes that worshiping the wrong God can lead to plague, and can only be satisfied by murder, one might act on it. One might write different laws, or vote for different candidates. Perhaps purely based on a litmus test grounded in one particular holy book or another.

    This is not a criticism of any one religion, but of a non critical embrace of any religious authority.

    These are the implications, the possibilities that I see. Sometimes they are realized. Sometimes not. I think it is worth looking into more.

  7. I guess thats were we both just have to agree to disagree! (i know, cliche but true). I see every reason to assume that God is within bounds of some comprehension. Obviously not total comprehension, because if we knew everything there is to know about God then we then would be in ourselves equal with God. But I see a God who has revealed himself to us. I see a creator who creates a relationship with his creation. Now granted many religions claim this, but I see a myriad of reasons to trust the Bible over any other “holy book”. Its internal consistency, its fulfillment’s of prophecy through out both new and old testament, its historical accuracy, its archaeological accuracy, all lead me to believe that what is said in it should be taken seriously. A man claiming to be God in the flesh and being the way to know him is something serious and something that no other world religion claims. I think that it demands a closer look and that is what in my life i strive to do. I feel compelled by it.
    And I think what is interesting is that you said you base your belief on God on your reasoning. And thats is a logical thing to do, I believe. Aligning ideas about God with what we know as reality. But that is exactly what the Bible is. Just written accounts of peoples personal experiences with God and his revealing of himself through their stories. And from that we have a solid foundation to base what we believe about God. It is not wrong to assume that God is within bounds of comprehension, after all we did conceive the notion of God himself. If we were not able to understand him, why could we even begin to formulate the idea of a God? I think that poses an interesting point.

    In relation to politics and what not, I do agree with you completely on separation of church and state. Any entanglement that the government has with religion I believe is not good. But I think my reasons may be a bit different. For one, I believe that the government could easily taint and distort religion. Frankly I don’t want government sticking its hand down anymore than it has to in our lives, but thats just my personal preference. But I do not think it is wrong for anybody of any religion or belief system to push what they feel is right. So a Christian will push for laws that agree with what he believes is right, and an humanist or secularist will push for what he thinks is right. Its not that the Christian is trying to impose his morality onto others but instead create place that he believes is morally sound and same with the humanist or secularist. So I think its good for people to bring their beliefs to the table, because it creates diversity. But its one thing to build a nation upon the Bible, Koran or the Book of Mormon. That would be a huge mistake, which I’m sure you would agree on.

    And yes if we were still living under the old testament law, then apostasy would be punishable by death. But only under God’s law and his ruling only (When he established his government of Israel). We are not under a nation that is governing by God’s law and if we were it would most likely be under the the new testament law which was established by Christ, where apostasy is not punishable by death, at least physical death (spiritual, yes).

    Now in previous posts you brought up some interesting questions like why would the God of the Bible need to care about his glory and have wrath and that he created the human condition. I thought alot about those and if you would like address those again I would be more than happy to share with you what I think.

  8. How would we be on the same level as God if we knew everything about God? That leaves out the rest of God’s knowledge, and the rest of God’s power.

    Lots of religions have similar claims. Look at the sufi masters who were put to death for stating they were God. Or look at older religions in which Gods were thought to be fathers of rulers and heros. Look at Zeus and Perseus for example. As for history and archelology, we have some accounts that a man named Jesus may have existed, but maybe he didn’t. Even if he did, there is disagreement over his nature and his message. The early Church violently oppressed alternative viewpoints of the same man.

    If we were not able to understand him, why could we even begin to formulate the idea of a God?

    A very good point!

    Hmmm. Yes, bringing one’s beliefs to the table is a good thing. Basing one’s laws upon Biblical sources i the problem, and I think we agree there too.

    Thanks for the interesting discussion Andrew!

  9. Yea no problem. I have really enjoyed this. It has got me thinking alot.

    Your right, let me clear what I said up. If we knew everything there was to know about God, how he works, how he exists, and what not, we too would be omniscient. Of course he would still have infinte more power and things like that. But what i meant to say whas that we would be on the same level of knowledge as him, which I dont see as possible. sorry about that.

    Well from what I have studied there is no question as to Jesus’ actual existance here on earth. But I’m going to order that video that you linked me too and Ill let you know what I think.

    Ok this is totatlly off subject, but I noticed in your about me that you majored in Cognitive Science. That is the major I am going to do at UCSD. They have a really rad program so Im pretty excited. What did you think of your program? Did you find that you had alot of good career opportunities with it?

  10. Very cool, and likewise.

    If knowing everything about God entails knowing everything about everything, then yes. Kind of pantheistic, actually.

    Cool. It looked interesting, but I haven’t delved into it as of yet. I’m currently very curious about those first 300 years of Church history.

    Congrats! Cog Sci is awesome. I’ll send you an email about it.

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