Walk Away The Bible:an ex-fundamentalist's perspective By May E. Dooley Let's turn to the

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Walk Away The Bible:an ex-fundamentalist's perspective By May E. Dooley Let's turn to the issue of the Bible. To fundamentalists the Bible is the inerrant (without error), inspired (every word written under the influence of God) word of God. They have heard countless sermons delivered from it on every aspect of life. It has been presented as absolute truth. Some fundamentalists go so far as to not read other religious books, even by fundamentalists, because they feel there is nothing that can be added to the Bible. All truth is in the Bible. When I was with Intervarsity Christian Fellowship, our leadership training revolved around their brand of Bible study: read the passage, ask questions about it such as "who, what, how, when" in order to make sure everyone got the details right. IVCF Bible studies were viewed as superior to some of the others because of their goal of accuracy and thoroughness. And then, after the study, go home. I protested during staff orientation. "Is that all? How does one relate what one reads to one's life?" My supervisor responded later that to know the Bible is to know Christ. Somehow the more Scripture one got into one's mind, the more one would think, and consequently live, as a walking Bible. I wouldn't have known the word "clone" in those days, but looking back, it comes to mind. My approach wasn't much better. I would have introduced thinking a tad more. "Read the Bible, see how it applies, consider how you are falling short, practice making the adjustments, share your efforts with the group, and see your life change." The Bible was still central; a person was still being measured by that yardstick and encouraged to change or be changed in line with it. The Bible is a friend while you are in fundamentalism. It comforts you, tells you that you are right and the rest of the world is wrong, gives you an answer to every question that arises, assures you that you are beloved by God and that God will lead you every step of the way. When you begin to leave fundamentalism, the Bible becomes as fearful as it was previously comforting. You don't know how to deal with it. You don't have the knowledge or the skill to learn of other points of view regarding it. There are still, to this date, no books out here for the layperson which put the fundamentalist interpretation into perspective and show the weaknesses and fallacies and give a liberating way of viewing the Bible. (Is any theologian listening who can put pen to paper in a clear, non-scholarly style? We need you!) First things first. You are afraid of the Bible, but there is nothing you can do about it at present. You can either live with that fear and even feed it, coming back to read the Bible and flirt with it. Or you can put the Bible on that closet shelf with God for the time being and get on with your life and your quest. Put the Bible into the box marked "unresolved issues." You will deal with it some time in the future when you are able, and you will also accept that some issues may be unresolved all your life, and that is OK, too. Don't let the fundamentalists threaten you with the Bible and try and pull you back among them. Have the courage to make your stand, if necessary. We ex-fundamentalists are used to being hit over the head, figuratively speaking, with the Bible. We used to do it to others ourselves. I can remember being six or seven years old and telling my little Catholic playmate that she didn't love God and was going to hell. Well, now the shoe is on the other foot, and our fundamentalist friends, out of concern for the wellbeing of our souls of course, may attack us in the same way we did to others in the past. One ex-fundamentalist told me that she was called a "demolition expert" by a non-fundamentalist male friend she was trying to convert. Remember the tactics. Put your foot down and do not allow yourself to be a victim. You cannot deal with the Bible issue at first; don't allow yourself to be beaten to a pulp. Let's begin to loosen the stranglehold of the fundamentalist interpretation of the Bible as straitjacket by considering a few different approaches. Look at the religion you have come out of in light of what it claims for itself. Fundamentalism presents the notion of the "abundant life." Is this boring group of people evidence of the abundant life? Their interests and conversations, aside from religion, are almost nil. Instead of dealing with life's complexities and ambiguities, they reduce life to black and white terms. Instead of relating compassionately to persons whose lives are not quite as neat as theirs, they judge them moralistically. They have been apolitical until fairly recently and are only jumping on the political bandwagon in droves because they see a chance of turning this country around "morally." Where are they when minorities are being oppressed? Where are they when it comes to getting involved as citizens? It is only now, when power seems within reach, that the bullying nature of fundamentalism becomes evident. They become blind to the pluralistic nature of our society; our Constitution can be twisted to support a theocracy. The fundamentalists cry that they know God's laws, and they will give us laws to keep the rest of us in line with their view of God's laws. This is the route of the Ayatollah, who represents the fundamentalist mind-set in Islam. The fundamentalist mind-set, whatever the religion, is noted for its willingness to impose on others what it knows is for the other's good. Next, where is the call for justice that the Bible so emphasizes? It is almost non-existent in the fundamentalist churches. I can remember years back the fundamentalist responses to some news in the Middle East. The news was sad, enough to make an emotionally free person feel compassion. The fundamentalists rejoiced over the news, relating to it strictly in terms of fulfillment of prophecy. They believe that certain events will occur in the Middle East prior to the second coming of Christ, and these events and their sequence are of far more interest to them than are issues of justice and compassion. One never (in my experience, anyway) heard the Middle East spoken of in terms of justice for Jewish folk or for Arabs. It was rather the preoccupation with prophecy and of the coming of God's kingdom on earth. The fundamentalists, being a maligned minority, have a boundless sense of superiority over this, for they believe that one day they will be the top dogs, and the evil people who turned down their message will be killed in a thousand horrible ways and burn in the lake of fire eternally. I have been away from this type of thinking for so long that it overwhelms my spirit right now. What a ghastly, inhuman worldview to be teaching young children. Letters arrive every day from persons caught in this crossfire with fundamentalists. One divorced father wrote that his fundamentalist ex-wife and her church were teaching his young children that their father was going to hell. When the youngsters visited him on weekends, they clearly conveyed this to him in their efforts to get him to change. No normal, human father-child relationship can develop in this atmosphere. What a loss to that father, what a loss for those youngsters. What grief. Let's take a look at another option for dealing with the Bible, aside from the "it's not working" option of above. Let's apply some commonsense reasoning to one fundamentalist interpretation of the Bible. If we can look at this particular interpretation from a new direction, we can again apply that process to other interpretations. Let's deal with the position of women in the Bible. The fundamentalist teaching on women is pretty clear. They would say that women are separate but equal, that women have a God-given role to play that is of prime importance. Women provide the heart of the home and are the primary caregivers of the children. Women lead their men to the Lord, and their prayers are a spiritual protection for the household. There are some things these separate-but-equal females cannot do. They cannot be ordained as ministers and they cannot be viewed as administrative equals in the home, for fundamentalists believe that God has made men the household leaders. They cannot be feminists, for that would be going against God's order. Now, to put it another way, simply: In the home and in the church, there is a male hierarchy in fundamentalism. The inner circles, the circles of power, are male. The ministers run the church and missionary structure; the husbands hold sway over the homes. A woman's position is to marry and be help meet for her husband in God's work. She is to have a family and see to her children. Her own development, release of creative energies, etc., are seldom referred to. She is a caregiver, a helper, a supporter. She is to serve. Since this is God's plan, woman the server is equal. She should be content with her role. I propose that this picture is not anti-Christian. First of all, the Bible is very clear on the centrality of relationships: God with human, and human with human. Secondly, the Bible speaks of the new family in Christ, a family where there are no divisions based on difference. "Jew, Greek, male, female, all are one in Christ." Putting this together with my common sense, I deduce that friendship must be based on equality. One partner cannot be developing himself while his mate spends all her time giving of herself. Psychological and emotional health are needed in a vital friendship; no wimps need apply. The story of Jacob wrestling with the angel in the Old Testament has much to say on this topic. Jacob was applauded and called a friend of God by the Eternal One, because he stood up to the angel as a man. The message to me is that God likes people who think and take responsibility for themselves, not milquetoasts who cry for pablum. A fundamentalist father asked his daughter why she didn't like the men at the Christian college she attended. Her swift response was that they lacked red blood. He didn't comment. My feeling is that fundamentalism is castrating to male and female alike. It puts both in roles that it says are God-ordained. Neither is free to be a person, to explore and to have adventures and to learn to love life. Fundamentalism sucks the personhood of people; then it teaches them to live out their roles peacefully and make no waves. When I was exiting fundamentalism, I was guided to a series of six novels by an English Christian fantasy romance writer, Charles Williams. He described the followers of a healer as "beatles." They so lusted for healing that they willingly gave up their personalities in exchange; all were transformed into insect-like creatures. I have thought of that analogy from time to time in relation to fundamentalism. Now we are ready to link up this discussion of female-male persons with the fundamentalist interpretation of the Bible. I believe the fundamentalists are denying the heart of the Christian message, i.e., the possibility of an I-Thou relationship between equals -- person with God, person to person. Anything less precludes friendship. If this is so, then what are the fundamentalists dealing with when they quote certain verses and passages relating to male-female relationships? They are simply quoting passages which were written by men who reflect the cultural mores of the times. Women were to be seen and not heard; they were not to cut their hair, for hair is the glory of women; they were to be subservient to their husbands, for the culture was male dominated. What does this mean? Are we speaking heresy? Are we saying that the Bible might actually have some errors in it? Are we saying that the Bible contains the Word of God, not is the Word of God? We ex-fundamentalists have been well warned about those modernists, those bad theologians who lead people down the garden path away from the inspired and inerrant word of God. We have been warned about devils in men's clothing who say that the Bible contains the Word of God, not is the Word of God. The fundamentalists fear that by permitting a human to judge the Bible, that human will toss out everything that he doesn't like. The Bible will end up so watered down that there is nothing left. This reflects again a very poor view of human beings, consonant with the fundamentalists' view of human nature. Well, to me it makes sense that a lot of things relating to women in the Bible relate more to the understanding of the authors and their times rather than to Divine inspiration. If people who believed in the equality and dignity of each sex wrote the Bible, I believe we would see different thoughts expressed and not see so much chauvinism. My common sense tells me that the authoritative power of the Bible as interpreted by the fundamentalists is broken for me. I have caught them in a mistake. And if there's one mistake, the door is open to more. My process of thinking has discarded a central tenet of fundamentalism regarding women. What I know deep within myself to be the case, i.e. the equality of both sexes, I can see also within the central tenets of Christianity. I can see it in verses that the fundamentalists don't apply regarding women. What freedom this gives me from them! It restores my trust that God is, after all, fair, that the Eternal One doesn't set illogical rules in concrete and then expect us to carry them out. This applies whether those illogical rules relate to women or to the Middle East. We ex-fundamentalists don't ever again have to be hit over the head by the black book. What do the fundamentalists say to this "knowing deep within one's self" how something should be? They say it's setting one's self up above the Bible, that it's sin, that one has been misled. What do I say? That the Bible contains God's Word, but that I do, too. I am made in the image of God, I have healthy impulses and impulses toward truth. I am, in myself, a source of the ongoing revelation of God, a revelation that continues to unfold throughout all time, not a revelation which was ended almost two millennia ago with the compilation of the Biblical canon. I am free at last. And in trust, I can take the positives of the Scripture and build on them and not get overly upset about what I don't relate to. Let's take one more look at a possible chink in the fundamentalists' armor. They teach that the unsaved are the damned, the lost for all eternity. Yet I read in the Bible that where love is, there God is. They don't dwell much on the possibility of the unsaved being able to love; they feel that they have a corner on the market of love. After all, they have Christ within them, and He is the source of love. Let's examine that. Once a person is on the outside of fundamentalism and open to what he had previously believed were "worldly people," he realizes not only is there plenty of goodwill in those people, generally speaking, but in many cases, more so than a lot of the church people he knew back home. How is this to be explained? Let's go back to our definition of what a person is: a being created in the image of God. If those "worldly people" are also made in God's image, doesn't it stand to reason that the traits also reflect the traits of the Divine? If God is love, why shouldn't they hunger for love, too? Why shouldn't love be the language of their lives? There is of course much unhappiness and unhealthiness in life; many people have lots of room for improvement, and many people have not taken responsibility for their lives and are not living up to their full potential. This notwithstanding, we on the outside also find a great deal of love, acceptance, goodwill, and heart-to-heart concern with what it means to be human. The fundamentalists never prepared us for this surprise, and it seems at first a forbidden pleasure to experience the love and acceptance of the "unredeemed." Let's go below the surface and take a look at our hidden fears relating to another fundamentalist interpretation of the Bible. That interpretation is the one about the unsaved being damned and the only salvation being available as a free gift through Christ. There are certain stock questions for children growing up in fundamentalism that are viewed as brain teasers and are offered to the elders in churches and at fundamentalist camps. Among these questions is the stock one relating to telling the truth and not lying. It goes like this: "If you were hiding Jews in your house in Nazi Germany, and the Nazis came to the door and asked if you had any Jews there, what would you say?" The central issue was telling a lie, because that was forbidden in the Bible. But you knew also that the lives of people were at stake. Even with the fundamentalists there may have been a little room for a white lie at this juncture. The question is interesting for illustrating the dichotomy between the importance of one's own soul versus the love of another. If one is absolutely forced into thinking about the love of another before one's own soul, then maybe we'll give a little room for thinking about that other. If it's not a life and death matter, however, one's own soul and one's own moral obedience come first. We cannot just accept our common-law neighbors and realize that their marital status is not our business; we have to let them know we disapprove of the way they are living. The other brainteaser I want to discuss is the perennial question about the native in darkest Africa who loves God but who never heard about Jesus because there wasn't a missionary to his tribe yet. Is this man saved or lost? First, the fundamentalists will qualify the existence of this man. His type is exceedingly rare; the vast majority of the natives are lost in sin. This man is that rare creature, much applauded by fundamentalists, who says, when the missionary finally comes, that he loves the missionary's God and that he just didn't know the name of the God. What of this man? This is an important issue for fundamentalists because they are taught that only through Christ can a person be saved. There is no easy answer; it is one of the relatively few issues that fundamentalist church people can apply their thinking mechanisms on and work up a little juice. In their own daily lives, they don't use the "godly savage" approach towards looking for God in their neighbors. No, they consider all the neighbors as sinners and in need of salvation. The level of trust human to human is nonexistent. I did hear an interesting response to this brainteaser from a fundamentalist philosophy professor at my college. He believed that the cross was necessary for salvation for everyone, but for the person who hadn't heard about Christ and the cross, God could look at that person through the cross (like looking through a filter) and accept that person. That is, the person would be "saved" without knowing it but would certainly recognize the Christian God were a missionary to arrive. Actually, there are some fundamentalists who would even give a little leeway here. Maybe the fundamentalist carrying the message is doing an inadequate job. Even if the godly savage couldn't see past the missionary's inadequacies and recognize that this message is the one for which he was searching, he would still be saved because God would view him through the cross. You can see how complex this gets. The point to be made here is this. By taking on the concept of God looking through the filter of the cross, the emerging ex-fundamentalist can be freed of the psychological burden of trying to deal with the saved versus the lost. The wall of separation between her and her neighbors is dissolved. Instead of distrusting them, instead of subconsciously fearing that they are sinners and that there is nothing good to be found in them, instead of fearing that they might be eternally lost if she doesn't tell them about salvation, she can place the whole saved/lost argument up on that shelf in the "unresolved issues" box, and then she can get on with her life. If she believes that all are created in the image of God, she is free to believe that she is dealing with the godly savage in her environment and to think positively and look for and expect the best in her friends and neighbors, rather than being tied up like a slave to the conscious and subconscious fears and projections of her fundamentalist background. The salvation of her friends and neighbors, so to speak, is in God's hands. Her job is to love. To love herself and to love her neighbor and not to stint on either one. [ref001][ref002] Return to table of contents Copyright 1995 IFAS Walk Away / ifas@crocker.com [ref001] articles.html [ref002] ../uparrow.gif This file is copywritten by the Institute for First Amendment Studies. 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