This is both an important question, and the working title of a book that a bunch of us are hoping to get Bill Long, a recovered evangelical Christian, to write. Bill understands the fundamentalist mindset much better than I do, so I’m looking forward to reading his thoughts on this subject. Here are a few of my own, stimulated by watching a few minutes of a recent Larry King show.
King was interviewing Rick Warren, a minister and author of “The Purpose Driven Life.” This is a best-seller that Warren’s web site says will help “readers understand God’s incredible plan for their lives. Warren enables them to see the big picture of what life is all about and begin to live the life God created them to live.” Well, that’s fine. I’ve got no problem with a Christian advising other Christians about how to best live a godly life.
What bothered me was Warren’s answer to a question about whether Jews or other non-Christians could meet God after death. “No, Larry, I’m afraid not,” I recall Warren saying. “In the Bible Jesus clearly says, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’”
King followed up with, “What about if a Jew has lived a good life, and a Christian has lived a bad life?” He got the same answer from Warren: if you don’t believe in Jesus, you’re not going to heaven.
Well, that’s not fine. I was disappointed that King merely frowned and went on to have Warren answer phone calls from viewers. I don’t think this is the way an intelligent, rational, open-minded person should talk to a fundamentalist. I realize that King didn’t want to antagonize Warren and his many Christian fans, but the truth should trump ratings.
This is how I see the situation: if a pre-schooler says to me, “There are fairies living in our garden; they make the flowers bloom,” I’d smile and say “How wonderful!” The child is young, a belief in fairies at that age is almost certainly harmless, and he or she will grow out of the fantasy before long.
However, if an adult said the same thing to me and didn’t seem to be joking, I’d start worrying about the person’s mental health. I’d first want to make sure that they weren’t putting me on, and then would let them know that their ideas are nonsensical. “There’s no evidence that fairies are real, you know. And scientists don’t need fairies to explain how flowers blossom.”
Fundamentalists like Warren need to be treated in the same fashion if they put forth unprovable religious propositions as, well, the gospel truth. I wouldn’t mind if Warren had said, “I believe that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, but I’m not absolutely sure of this.” Or, “I hope that….” That would be like him saying, “It sure would be nice if fairies existed.” Yes, it would. They’d make gardens so much more interesting.
The problem is, there’s absolutely no proof of fairies, just as there is absolutely no proof that Jesus Saves. Fundamentalists should be reminded of this at every opportunity for their own good and, more importantly, for the good of those who are marginalized by their closed-minded, irrational, faith-based view of the world.
A private belief shouldn’t be open to public challenge, just as I don’t mind if you step on your own toes. However, if you purposely step on my toes, that’s a different matter. Now I have the right to tell you, “Get off my foot.”
Fundamentalists, especially those of the Christian and Muslim faiths, have a bad habit of wanting to force other people to live in accord with their beliefs. Another bad habit is making dogmatic statements unsupported by objective facts, and then feeling offended when someone challenges their dogma. Bad habits like these should be discouraged, not encouraged.
A classics scholar, A.H. Armstrong, has some apt advice about how to talk to fundamentalists:
When claims to possess an exclusive revelation of God or to speak his word are made by human beings (and it is always human beings who make them), they must be examined particularly fiercely and hypercritically for the honor of God, to avoid the blasphemy and sacrilege of deifying a human opinion.
Or, to put it less ferociously, the Hellenic (and, as it seems to me, still proper) answer to “Thus saith the Lord” is “Does he?,” asked in a distinctly skeptical tone, followed by a courteous but drastic “testing to destruction” of the claims and credentials of the person or persons making this enormous statement.
So the next time someone says to me, “Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life,” I’ll reply: “Oh, really? How do you know? What makes you think that statement is true? I’m all ears, all highly skeptical ears.”
"Consider the delicious irony. And bullshit. Christianity, a religion that supposedly is founded on love, is up in arms at the prospect of hate crime legislation being passed. If this isn't enough to make you an atheist, or at least an agnostic, what is?"
Nowhere near enough pal, its got to be real factual evidence like that which points to the begining of the universe 15 billion years ago, the diversity of life on this planet thru evolution by natural select, & good old reason & observation.
Thats enough for me personaly to reject religion.
Posted by: Sloan | February 11, 2008 at 01:11 AM
Rick Warren believes that the Bible is the inspired word of God. To him there is no doubt that it is the truth. If there is no doubt then, as far as he is concerned, it is fact. A stated fact doesn't need to be preceded by "I believe".
If Christianity isn't the truth then it doesn't matter, if it is, it matters alot.
In either case, The Bible is full of words live by.
And a little tip to Sloan there; Christianity isn't founded on love. It is founded on the belief that Jesus is the son of God.
I'm with Mr. Warren on that one.
Posted by: Jeff Weening | November 21, 2009 at 07:50 PM
"a stated fact", you say? bullshit i say. you are preachin up the wrong tree here weening.
when it comes to the kind of same old same old religious shit you are claiming as "fact"... you need to put it up, or shut it up.
myself, well i quite like jesus and his story... but i damn sure hate bible thumpin preachers like you. present your "facts", or take a hike.
Posted by: 1% | November 22, 2009 at 12:26 AM
If Christianity isn't the truth then it actually does matter, quite a bit in fact.
If Christianity isn't the truth, then the Children's Crusade was a horrific act of manslaughter, and the crusades in general were wars fought for the privilege of proving "Our beliefs are right!" -- That's pride, not godliness.
If Christianty isn't the truth then everyone who persuades others to those beliefs are indeed the very same "stumbling blocks" the good book warns readers about. Spreading lies, like a mind virus, robbing human beings of their quality of life and giving people the self-appointed (but pretending it comes from God-appointed) right to bully, steal from and kill others.
More blood has been spilled in the name of God than anything else in recorded human history.
Personally, my ancestors were forced from Spain during the Spanish Inquisition, done in the name of God. Generations later my grandmother and grandfather were forced to flee Morocco because relatives of theirs were murdered by Christians in a pogrom style attack, just because they were Jews living in a Jewish community.
Religion sucks, and fundementalist religions suck the most --they suck our life and our humanity right out of us, leaving us behaving like animals, beasts, pretending we are holy, justifying our arrogance. And, allowing a few charismatic sociopaths to run our lives for their own greedy benefit.
Posted by: J.E. | December 15, 2010 at 12:56 PM