If you know anything about Christianity, you know that beliefs vary. We use terms like left-wing and right-wing, conservative evangelical and liberal protestant, Calvinist and Arminian, Orthodox and progressive, and the list goes on. Oh, I guess there’s a few “Catholics” out there too.
If you felt the urge to correct me by saying “Catholics aren’t Christian!” then you’re one of those special folks who will hopefully benefit greatly from this post. There exists a vocal faction within many religions, especially Christianity, known as “Fundamentalists.” These people tend to gravitate to extreme positions on religious issues, usually without the college courses to make them sound all smart-like. But deciphering exactly who is a fundamentalist (or fundie) is tricky. I have known progressive folks who just love them some homophobia and some racism. I have also known some elderly “give me that old time religion” types who are vocal about how Pro-Choice they are. Obviously the 700 Club sprinkles some magic hallelujah powder in all of our cereal once in a while. Some of us are just more bullshit intolerant than others.
Oh by the way, some fundies are easy to spot.
The purpose of this post is not to lump you or anything else into a neat little (crazy) box by describing what a fundamentalist always believes or does not believe. I simply have the blessing (and fiscal curse) of 3/4ths of a Masters Degree in Theology. I have witnessed fundies shaken to their core, not knowing if God’s lack of male genitalia was a game-changer for their lives or not. I’ve often wondered what would happen if average people (and by average I mean mere mortals who aren’t as educated as us superior grad school drop outs who now work in warranty sales) knew all this cool stuff about Church history and theology that we had learned. For your benefit (if you’re a fundie) and/or your entertainment, I thought a list of some of the more awesome-er contemplative issues I’ve come across would make for a smashing good time.
5. GOD IS NOT A MALE.
Despite how much we may want to see God as a dude, he just isn’t. (And for all you lovely atheists reading along, of course I mean “the God of Christian Tradition” is not nor should have ever been thought to be a dude, in theory). God is described throughout the scriptures and church history to be a spirit, to be wholly (holy) other than us (i.e., God doesn’t have a body). Both Thomas Aquinas (part 1, question 3, article 1) and Saint Augustine (Confessions, book 7) will back me up on that one. The use of masculine verbiage is often allegorical. Feminine, or motherly traits are also attributed to God in Scripture. Psalms 123 uses the term mistress, Luke 15 describes God like a housewife, Hosea like a mother, and so on.
If your knee-jerk reaction is to say “Well, the feminine references are just symbolic, but the masculine ones are literal” then you might want to re-examine your relationship with your father… or mother… or whoever made you think invisible giant shapeshifting penises are somehow essential to your faith.
4. THE BIBLE IS NOT TO BE TAKEN LITERALLY.
Now here is a tricky one. So many Christians, and fundies especially, have a real difficulty understanding the difference between the words “literal” and “true”. (I’d suspect a few atheists share this tendency as well). If anyone reading this has such a difficulty and you come away from this post with even a slither more reflection on the topic than before, I will be ecstatic.
When we say the word “literal” we are speaking from a Western philosophical perspective. When we think of things literally, we are talking about “what actually happened”. When people ask us if a tree makes a noise when it falls in the forest, a Western view is, “Of course.” But then some Eastern wise-guy would say, “But sound can’t exist unless you’re there to hear it!” Both views can be considered “true” yet only one view is considered “literal”.
There’s nothing wrong with a Western view, but when applied to the Bible there is a HUGE problem. I think it would help fundies if they knew how Rabbis (you know… people like Jesus) interpret scripture. Judaism was an Eastern religion that focuses on the theological point of the story, not so much the scientific conditions surrounding the events. For them, verses should be interpreted on four different levels, not merely face value.
First is p’shat which means simple. (All you “average” people pay attention). This method is easiest for Westerners because it’s the plain saying of a verse. Sometimes when God says don’t eat rancid camel meat, that’s just him looking out for you.
Second is remez, which means hint. Jesus or other authors would use the remez technique to hint at an Old Testament reference to give a statement a deeper meaning. The deeper meaning may not be literal, like when Jesus was like “Hey, Peter! You. are. the. DEVIL!” That’d just be confusing for everyone, especially that new Pope we all like so much.
Third is midrash, which mean to search. This is the highly allegorical or homiletical application where we read our own thoughts into the text. Remember Pslams? Proverbs? Yeah, all of those. If you hate on midrash, rip out the middle of your Bible. Jesus used this method in Matthew when he said “you shall not kill” but expanded the commandment, saying to not be angry with anyone because this is still a form of spiritual violence.
Last is sod, which means secret. This is the idea that hidden in scripture are meanings placed by God only attainable by revelation, and this revelation is obviously on a personal level.
If you think to yourself, “Either believe all of the Bible or none of it at all,” then you are “literally” insane if you mean “believe all of the Bible literally.” But honestly, most fundies don’t actually think the Bible is to be taken in such a way; they only see the parts they want to see as literal. For example, they may be fine thinking God created the Earth in six literal days, but they interpret “Gog and Magog” in the Book of Revelations metaphorically as “China and Russia.” They may say homosexuals should literally be put to death (or at least be banned from their Applebees after church), but Song of Solomon is just a metaphor for Christ’s love for his church (and not about how awesome premarital oral sex can be).
The propaganda of Biblical inerrancy (fancy way of saying camels go through needle eyes whenever rich people go to heaven) is much more a political/social ideological phenomenon than anything else. If you fight for the bible to be literal only when you want it to be literal, you most likely are looking for an excuse to do, not do, like, or not like something or someone (e.g. science, women, other races, evolution, pre-marital oral sex).
3. THE BIBLE ISN’T ANTI-GAY.
For number 3, I’d love to expound on my own thoughts, but Matthew Vines from reformationproject.org has a video that verbalized this position perfectly. PERFECTLY. “Literally”. Watch it if you want to become a better human being. If you watch it and you have any doubts remaining, only God (or violent re-education camps) could change your mind.
2. GOD MIGHT NOT KNOW THE FUTURE.
If this makes you uncomfortable, GOOD! I HOPE YOU’RE IN A CRAPPY CHAIR TOO! Just kidding. Where was I? Oh yeah! The blog post!
If you cannot fathom that your newly de-penis’d God also has no idea who you are going to marry, when you’re going to get a promotion, or exactly when then next tsunami is going to kill half a million people, then number 2 is for you!
DISCLAIMER: I’m not saying God doesn’t know the future. I’d never take that away from God. God hates it when my own beliefs mess with his abilities.
If you think God’s omniscience (all knowing-ness) is obviously a power God has, I’d venture to say you didn’t get that belief from your Bible. You most likely heard that from general church chatter over the years. Maybe it just makes sense to you. Why wouldn’t God know everything? He wouldn’t be very God-like if he only knew everything up to this second. He needs to know more than everything! Right?
Well, there’s this awkward thing we Seminary students learned about called “over-Hellenization”. Basically, Christianity got really Greek, really fast. Like, “omni-greek” (all Greek). So naturally, God got greek as well. We upgraded him to super knowledge (omniscience), super teleportation (omnipresence), and super… um… ability to do anything he wants (omnipotence).
We upgraded God.
And now we’ve upgraded him so much that we’re scared to piss him off by… under-Hellenizing him. Christians have grown accustomed to kissing God’s ass. (You just got a little nervous I pissed off his omnipotence, didn’t you?) Those super powers we gave God actually contradict each other, rather blatantly actually. To question them is not heresy. In fact, it’s polite to actually think for ourselves. Let’s try it!
If God knows everything, he can’t change his mind. He “literally” can’t! But don’t worry! Moses changes God’s mind in Exodus 32. (Look it up. Moses schools that guy).
If God knows everything, he’s responsible for not using his omnipotence to stop disasters from occurring (like those tsunamis we were talking about). If you think God has to let tsunamis kill us, I wonder if Heaven has to have tornados made out of snakes for some equally logical reason of yours.
Basically, if you have a perfect God, you have no “relationship”. There is zero room for a personality, for a back and forth, for a give and take, for a… God who says “That didn’t work, I guess I’ll become a human now.”
Yeah… the Jesus thing doesn’t work well under that model.
It’s a good thing we have other theologies like Open Theism. (Sounds all liberal and hippie, doesn’t it?) I know you’re going to do a Wikipedia search, so I’ll save you the trouble.
In a word, open theism is the view that since the fact of human freedom means the future is partly a realm of possibilities, and God’s sovereignty means the future is partly a realm of determined facts, God knows the possibilities as possibilities and the determined facts as determined facts. While several versions of traditional classical theism could model the future as a singular linear necessity, open theism would do so as a plurality of branching possibilities. Thus, the future is pictured as open. -Wikipedia.org.
Now, if this idea makes you think any less of God, just ponder the benefits of a God who is just as bummed out about evil in the world as you are, a God who doesn’t have your future determined without your own free will, a God who is much more approachable than Omni-douche.
1. BEING “SAVED” ISN’T JUST FOR CHRISTIANS.
If you’ve ever heard the following verse, raise your hand.
“And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.” -Acts 4:12.
(Now put your hand down. You look silly).
Sounds pretty straight-forward huh? Want some more?
Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” – John 14:6.
Okay, without even delving into any academic mumbo jumbo, you should notice a couple problems if you take these verses to mean you must know of Jesus to be saved. If this is what you believe then you must consider the following.
Everyone who has never heard of Jesus? Damned.
All followers of Judaism? You know, Jesus’ own religion? Damned.
The Good Samaritan? Screw that guy!
You get the idea.
When backed into a corner on this issue, fundies seem to pull out a bunch of exceptions. Babies get a free pass because they are innocent, even though in the next breath they resort to language of original sin and how we are all enemies of God until we accept Jesus.
Those people who never heard of Jesus? They might (keyword: might) get into Heaven because they are ignorant of the truth, therefore they are only judged by what they know. This creates the awkward issue where it’s actually beneficial to shut up and not tell them anything at all about Jesus. It might send them to Hell if they reject him. Even more awkward is that If you take away this exception then you admit Jesus’ very existence is an excuse for God to fry most of the world. Either that or God made the greatest logistical error of all time.
People of other religions? Forget about it. Under this logic, God sure expects a lot out of people. Imagine if you were born in Iran. Guess what religion you’d be? You’d be a Muslim. I’m sorry. It’s true. But what if a pamphlet about Christianity falls from a plane and winds up in your front yard one day? You’d better convert to Christianity or you’re done for, pal! You just encountered the truth!
But besides all those… logical reasons to dismiss such a belief, there are several different ways to interpret those verses. And this isn’t cherry-picking. It’s just straight up theological precision, bro. I’m about to throw out some big words, so hold on.
The Eastern Orthodox Church holds to a theology of theosis, which basically means salvation has nothing to do with that whole “asking Jesus into your heart” business. Salvation is about God becoming human, healing our nature through the birth and life of Jesus, and offering the same healing and union with God that Jesus has attained. Salvation is a healing of the whole cosmos, not just us. We just happen to be apart of the cosmos, so we’re along for the ride. Some would say this theology hints at universalism (the belief that all be will saved).
I mean… at the end of time, do you really think God wouldn’t win?
Other views include Jesus saving us through his example of love which wakes us from our sinful sleep and shows us how to love each other. Just ask that medieval French scholar, philosopher, theologian, and preeminent logician, Peter Abelard.
“Our redemption through the suffering of Christ is that deeper love within us which not only frees us from slavery to sin, but also secures for us the true liberty of the children of God, in order that we might do all things out of love rather than out of fear – love for him that has shown us such grace that no greater can be found.”
Sounds like some religious asshole, right?
If you wanna get back to what the bible has to say about the matter, Romans lends some insight.
“For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves.” -Romans 2:14.
Basically, any potential complications about “knowing” the right thing, or the truth of Jesus, are ironed out nicely here. So, if God can save you without you knowing about Jesus… maybe Jesus isn’t such an egocentric power-hungry control freak after all!
IN CLOSING: Whether or not you believe in God, Jesus, or any religiosity whatsoever, I hope this post has given you motivation to look beyond the face value of the world around you. There is much beauty to be found. Be aware that your beliefs about religion or non-religion say a lot more about you than anything else. We’re all on this journey together. Just try to lay off of the fundie-juice when you can.
Brett Gallaher is founder of We Occupy Jesus, pretty much the best blog like ever. He resides in Chattanooga, Tennessee, the place they wrote that train song about. Once he shot a squirrel, but he felt really bad about it afterwards. When he’s not changing the world, Brett also enjoys paying way too much for coffee.