Mind over fundamentalism
By Cindy Eggert
Fundamentalism is taking a few knocks these days. A number of TV evangelists
have gotten national media attention for actions in direct conflict
with their statements of moral integrity. It would be unfair to point
at Bakker as stereotypical of evangelists, but ever since the American
evangelical movement began, those who follow a strict dogma have been
questioned as well as praised.
Fundamentalism, as defined in Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary,
is "a recent movement in American Protestantism re-emphasizing as
fundamental to Christianity belief in the inerrancy of the Scriptures,
and Biblical miracles, especially the virgin birth and physical resurrection
This movement may seem abstract to thousands of moderate Christians,
but a former devout fundamentalist said she believes there is a growing
"insurgency" of fundamentalists in the United States.
Sherry Burgdorf of Minnesota has strong convictions about what she
feels are "myths and layers of misinformation" in fundamentalist doctrines.
Burgdorf was raised in a conservative Protestant religion which practiced
fundamentalism. After high school she was told "that I was meant to
go to a Christian college and teach in a parochial (Lutheran) elementary
She says she was entranced with the fundamentalist mindset in thought,
word, and deed, and only in the last 10 years - the last third of
her life - began to question the doctrine.
"I don't know what it is like to be an alcoholic," she said, "but
I do know what it is like to be addicted to the Bible. Religion controlled
every aspect of my life, financially, socially, what I read, what
music I listened to, everything."
Burgdorf is a quiet woman, slight in sature an rather unassuming when
talking. She said she has little of the zeal she projected when spreading
the word of the Bible as a fundamentalist. Last week she sat with
her feet tucked beneath her as she spoke of leaving the religion of
"Then I became aware of various aspects (of the dogma) which were
not worthy enough of worship," she said, "and I began to examine the
anti-Semitism and anti-scholarly aspects of it."
Informed choice and critical examinations of the Bible are what Burgdorf
resorted to because inconsistencies she found would have to be proved
true or false.
Burgdorf found, documented in other texts and through her own research,
concepts she could no longer ignore with blind faith, such as subjugation
of females, original sin, and others.
She insists that fundamentalists, who follow the literal words of
the Bible, can become militant, manipulative, self-centered, and extremist
to the point where they can be compared with Middle East Islamic extremists
who are dedicated to a militaristic, anti-female society. Harsh words
from a woman who used to extol the inerrancy of the Bible.
And even as a former fundamentalist, Burgdorf said she can not dismiss
some positive aspects of the faith, such as the love and charity of
God and the importance of the Christian family.
"Most fundamentalists are good, well-intentioned people with a devotion
to God," Burgdorf said, "as I was myself." But when these well-intentioned
people take literal meanings from the Bible, their practices can,
in fact, turn evil, she said.
She mentioned a literal interpretation from the book of Proverbs,
Chapter 23, verses 13-14: "Withold not correction from the child:
for if thou beatest him with the rod, he shall not die. Though shalt
beat him with the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from hell."
These verses can be found in many pieces of fundamentalist literature,
Burgdorf said, and were included in a pamphlet titled, "Correction
and Discipline of Children." Burgdorf claims that documentation exists
of children being beaten with rods, even to death, by parents following
the words of Proverbs.
She also produced a Bible lesson for nursery children which stated,
"Indeed, a nuclear holocaust might well be the accompaniment of, and
prelude to, 'the day of the Lord (Judgment Day)....'"
Burgdorf said she can not believe these statements were once convictions
she held without question and are still being taught to young children.
She said she also regrets raising her own children in such a narrow
and constraining religion and for teaching other chldren as she did
in a Lutheran elementary school and in Bible classes.
"I don't know how many children I influenced and scared," she said.
"As an ethical parent," Burgdorf said, "remaining silent does not
conform to normal roles of accountability."
Burgdorf said she now believes in an amazing Creator but that belief
is founded upon reason, truthfulness, fairness, and accountability.
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