Pointing the Finger at the Wrong Person

Introduction

It really bothers me when people try to hide their true intentions or their true aims behind some facade of neutrality. It’s a kind of bait and switch mentality that leaves people feeling like they’ve been suckered into a position where they can honestly weigh any number of concerns.

I guess that is why I just try to be up front with people and not play games with people’s intentions and just cut straight to the point. This is not to say that sometimes I can take a moment to windup the pitch, but I’m not hiding the ball. With me, you get what you see. 

This is not to say that that I don’t change or haven’t changed over the years, I mean this blog is something of a testament to growth and development over the years, as well as well as a demonstration of the difference between a static fundamentalism and a dynamic fundamentalism.

See also: The Slippery Slight of “Fundamentalist”

I’m not ashamed of being fundamentalist in my tendencies. I do try to be critical of certain fundamentalist beliefs, and I welcome meaningful critiques, but sometimes…well,…sometimes people just want to pick a fight and you have to be willing to oblige them.

Now, if you go back to my conversation with Amateur Exegete, we dipped our toes into a question regarding an issue of a certain kind of fundamentalism, but we didn’t get to really explore the question due to time constraints. However, there are many issues that can be addressed, and this one,…well…just keep reading because I need to step out of my series addressing questions about inerrancy raised by Non-Alchemist (NA) to address this recent post on his blog titled, “How to Undermine Religious Fundamentalism”.

When they come out swinging

NA begins his post,

“Religious fundamentalism and problematic ideas tend to go hand in hand. It would be much less of an issue if their beliefs didn’t impact everyone else, but since they do we can’t just ignore it.

Quick question: who’s “we,” paleface? The problem that seems to be missed here is that a person’s beliefs do impact the lives of those around them in either positive of negative ways. A belief that has no impact is not a true belief.

Now, NA tries to draw a parallel as he continues,

“One only needs to look at a few examples to get the picture – consider how their dogmatic outlook on sexual ethics influences their views on the cancer-preventing hpv (sic) vaccine. One of the reasons they don’t want to vaccinate is due to fear that it will increase promiscuity.

Now, this seems to say a lot about NA’s concerns, and that he doesn’t seem to appreciate the fact that there is a measure of legitimate concern here that expands to multiple realms of concern, not just moral concerns, sometimes its due to the actual effectiveness of the vaccine in question or the fact that, once started,it requires reapplication in order to be effective.

Gardasil dosage chart

Speaking anecdotally, I did not have my sons vaccinated because I saw that likelihood of infection was outweighed by the limited effectiveness of the particular vaccinations offered.

What is really interesting, in contradiction to his assertion, one of the studies NA cites noted that, in one study,

“…Catholics were more likely to support HPV vaccination, while other Christians, those reporting no religion, and Born-again or Evangelical Christians were less likely to support vaccination.

giphy-2

The study cited wasn’t about exposing the cause of such concerns, but about why such concerns should exist, and even promoting engagement to dispel any misconceptions that might be held.

However, given the recent arrest of a Florida pastor in the face of COVID-19 concerns, NA feels the need to weigh in. Now, NA admits that a lot of this has to do with firing back at some tweets sent out by Sye Ten Bruggencate, which he later admitted were ill-advised, NA says that,

“…certain religious beliefs/approaches to religion inevitably lead to negative consequences in society, and if we want to combat this it’s important to attack fundamentalism at its root.

Okay. The question is, what does “fundamentalism” mean in that sentence?

I mean, I would consider myself to be something of a fundamentalist, affirming things like inspiration and inerrancy, but then there’s certain people who would think of me as a liberal because I’m not a young earth creationist and I don’t believe in a global flood, and I wouldn’t put those who are (eg Sye Ten Bruggencate) in the same boat as radical, prosperity gospel charismatics like Rodney Howard-Browne. So, to me, it seems like NA is broad-brushing.

Misdiagnosing the problem?

NA seems to think that he’s put his finger on the problem:

“It seems to me that fundamentalism thrives in the soil of certainty, so one of the best ways to undermine fundamentalist approaches to religion is to undermine the absolute confidence that they have in their religious beliefs. (emphasis original)

Well, the question is, is he certain about that?

He pulls a quote from a post by Randal Rauser that prompts the same question. So I don’t think that the problem is necessarily one that relates to certainty, but rather misplaced or misattributed certainty. This goes back to the question of why one thing is believed over another. 

NA said something that I thought was rather reasonable, but was incomplete.

Screen Shot 2020-04-06 at 11.06.23 AM

Whenever the “informed, rational person” objection is employed, we have to ask the all important question: by what standard? and, “informed” in what regard? 

If we take the aforementioned example of the HPV vaccinations and people believing that not getting it because it might be perceived as excusing certain behaviors is a perfectly rational reason for not getting one. It stems directly from one’s reasoning about the moral implications of certain actions in relation to others, especially since the likelihood of getting an HPV infection has direct correlation to certain behaviors which bear moral consideration. NA may believe that such decisions based upon such considerations are insufficient, but they are hardly irrational. I mean, if one was really concerned about long term risks of something, rather than just filling them with drugs that have questionable benefits and marked risks, wouldn’t it be better to just encouraging them to avoid that behavior all together?

Screen Shot 2020-04-06 at 11.25.42 AM

It’s in misdiagnosing the problem that we see NA’s true aim.

Hiding the ball

NA asks with regard to one’s, “interpretation of reality”,

“You might ask: “If it’s so obvious that a perfect being exists, why does his governance of the universe seem indistinguishable from indifference?”  Or, “If the universe were indifferent, wouldn’t we expect it to look something like this?”

We have to ask, in order to adequately address the question, what does indifference, by analogy, look like in the human sphere?

We might look to qualify and equate “indifference” in the human experience with “neglect”, because if I have indifference toward my child or even a pet, I might neglect them and their needs both materially and emotionally. However, we know from Scripture that God is not indifferent[1]:

“The Lord saw it, and it displeased him that there was no justice. (Is 59:15)

“The Lord looks down from heaven on the children of man, to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God. (Ps 14:2)

“Know therefore that the Lord your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations, and repays to their face those who hate him, by destroying them. (Dt 7:9–10)

“Remember this and stand firm, recall it to mind, you transgressors, remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose,’ calling a bird of prey from the east, the man of my counsel from a far country. I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass; I have purposed, and I will do it. (Is 46:8–11).

Above that, the question itself presupposes something that the Christian, of necessity, fundamentally denies by recognizing that the universe (ie the created order) is not God, but is itself a creation of God, by God, for his purposes and ends.[2] As the driving presupposition of the question is undermined, then one has to ask, upon what basis then that we can assume any ability to intuit anything about the nature of the universe?

See also: Evidence, Interpretation, and Preconditions

NA wants to boil the matter down to the experience of, “gratuitous suffering,” the problem with that, as I noted in my response to Stephen Maitzen, was that he—and by extension NA—, “is largely [arguing] against a conception of a god who has not sovereignly ordered the world to bring about his intended ends. The god against which he arguing is prevented from acting upon the actions of free creatures whom he must not interfere with for various reasons (emphasis added).” 

Conclusion

What should be noted here is that I am opposed to a kind of unthinking, radicalized fundamentalism that doesn’t take into account the providential oversight of a God who is not disconnected from his creatures, but draws them gently to himself and expects, if not demands for them to think for themselves in honor of him. I am opposed to an oversimplified set of beliefs that denies real freedom found in Christ. Whatever NA is after, he’s not going to find it apart from a supernatural intervention by God that lifts the scales from his eyes. 

Calling things “evil”, “irrational” or “gratuitous” make no sense apart from the good, rational, abundant God who has made himself fully and finally known in Christ Jesus.

Notes

  1. All quotes English Standard Version
  2. Colossians 1:16-17

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