Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Fundamentalist Schismogenesis

In his "atheist testimony series" PZ Myers has picked up some fascinating accounts of "conversion" from fundamentalism to atheism. In particular this testimnony piqued my interest because it was from an ex-fundagelical who was, amongst other reasons, "deconverted" due to the sharp disagreements between fundamentalist sects and cults. Fundagelical infighting, need I say, has been one of my interests ever since  I was drawn toward Christianity; see the following links, for example.

As PZ's correspondent makes clear, schismatic behaviour is a fundamental challenge to fundamentalism's vehement claims of being "in accordance with the scriptures": This is what we read:

I also visited friends’ churches with them, and found that they, too, believed that they alone were the ‘real’ Christians.  It seemed they sincerely derived the same comfort and joy from their beliefs as I did from mine; yet I had been taught that their heretical views meant their eternal doom.
This, I think, led to a decisive epiphany for me.  I had observed that, even within evangelical Christianity, there were sharp doctrinal divisions between churches; yet they all were reading from the same guidebook!  There was no objective way to determine which, if any of them, was really reading it correctly.  I remember hearing a number of very heated arguments between different churches’ members on various doctrinal points.  Each of these opposing viewpoints could be ‘proved’ by citing one’s own select scriptures.  Every church believes that they alone have all the answers.  From listening to the arguments, I saw that the differences of opinion weren’t so much that one person has any more or less insight into the ‘true’ meaning of the scriptures.  They simply believed what they had been TOLD to believe, and the groupthink was enforced through the social interactions within each church.
You would think that an omnipotent God would be able to make his will perfectly known to his followers.  Instead, what we have is a cacaphony of thousands of different sects and denominations sniping at each other, each proclaiming its own monopoly on the truth.  

Fundamentalism was aggressively and threateningly pushed my way when I was "converted". I even got as far as trying to believe Morris and Whitcomb's book "The Genesis Flood". However, in time this book help trigger a kind of "intellectual vomit" reaction, a reaction which was also in part down to my observations on fundamentalist schismogenesis. As per the above correspondent this schismatic behaviour potentially threatened the very plausibility of Christianity. However, it could never be claimed I was a good or convinced evangelical and in fact my relationship with it proved to be stormy right from the start, ultimately ending in divorce. Ironically it was my poor evangelical standing that probably saved my faith: I always reserved for myself  the freedom to explore new thoughts and ideas that might help deepen my faith, thoughts and ideas that are a no-go-area for the average fundagelical. 

However, the correspondent I have quoted above really paints a too extreme picture of Christianity when (s)he says Every church believes that they alone have all the answers. Although that is true of many a fundagelical (And have I met my fair share of them!) it is not true of many Christians I know.

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