Saturday, March 29, 2008


High Anxiety

The Texas Baptist Standard, billed as "The Newsmagazine of Texas Baptists" has a surprisingly (to me, at least) perceptive and reasonable article about fundamentalism entitled "Fundamentalists of all stripes want to turn back the clock" by Marv Knox. Some highlights:

[F]undamentalists of every faith share at least one common characteristic -- resistance to modernity. ...

"Fundamentalism worldwide is religious anti-modernism," noted Roger Olson, professor of theology at Baylor University's Truett Theological Seminary in Waco. ...
It goes on to list other common denominators of fundamentalists. The list includes dogmatic faith; faith serving as a defining identity; fear -- of the different, of change, of ambiguity and of uncertainty; and a will to political power.

"Ironically, the faith that should elicit a higher form of morality easily descends into giving one permission for the ends to justify the means, because one is fighting for God."

The distinction between healthy faith and militant religion is narrow, [Dan] Stiver acknowledged.

"A healthy crusader is focused and aggressive but is not so willing to let the end justify the means, keeps loving the enemy at the forefront -- like Martin Luther King Jr. -- and more quickly can identify with and have compassion even for the opponent." ...

People of faith often gravitate to extreme positions because of what they seek in and for themselves, the scholars stressed.

An external focus on "being against something" provides longed-for identity, Stiver noted. "It's a defensive posture in the sense of often 'circling the wagons.'

"It's usually defined by a pretty tight system of labeling what's right and wrong -- black-and-white thinking. There's good, and there's evil.

"Out of that comes a great deal of energy that motivates one to fight. The sense is you get a lot of fulfillment, identity, purpose and meaning in one's faith from fighting this good fight."

While such behavior manifests itself as theological, "it's more psychological or sociological," Stiver asserted. ...

[F]ear causes some other typical characteristics -- a glorification of the past or of orthodoxy, a certainty about one's own faith or interpretation of one's own faith; an entrenchment mentality, a feeling that 'truth' must be guarded against encroaching heresy and difference, an unwillingness to fellowship with/cooperate with/tolerate those who see faith issues in another way."
Oh, hey! That just described Dr. Michael Egnor and the rest of the Discovery Institute, didn't it?

A couple of years back there was a bit of a schism in which (some?) Southern Baptists in Texas dissociated themselves from the SBC, complaining that since the fundy "take-over" of many of the denominational institutions (eg. seminaries and mission boards), the denomination had become too hard-line, and had replaced the traditional bottom-up polity of the SBC with an authoritarian top-down regime.

I don't know if these "Texas Baptists" are the same people, but it sounds like they might be.
There is clearly some sort of jockeying going on but I can't make hide nor hair of it.

However it happened, it's a good article that, refreshingly, doesn't try to play the Christian exceptionalism card.
The personality that likes conservatism and black & white thinking might be hereditary. Babies have innate traits - such as whether they respond strongly or mildly, positively or negatively, whether they approach or retreat from new things. Negative, fearful babies might grow up into negative, fearful adults.
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