The fundamentalist hangover

It occurred to me that there may be something more personal driving some of the points I tried to make in the previous post. I’ve enountered a fair number of people who were raised in very conservative or fundamentalist churches, and who had bad experiences in some cases. For some of these folks, encountering the writings of, say, Marcus Borg can be profoundly liberating simply because they hadn’t realized that there was a different way of looking at Christianity or the life of faith. They exult in a newfound freedom to explore possibilities that would’ve been closed off to them before. And I wouldn’t want to dispargage or downplay how important that can be for some people.

However, this experience of liberation, it seems, can harden into a permanent anti-fundamentalist defensive crouch. This means that any claims–whether on one’s belief or obedience–can appear to be the thin edge of the fundamentalist wedge. The result is that liberal Christians who are so busy being anti-fundamentalist aren’t always particularly clear on what they’re for (apart, that is, form tolerance, inclusiveness, and social justice, defined in somewhat vague and largely secular terms).

The problem for me–someone who didn’t grow up fundamentalist and is not particularly reacting against its strictures–is that I am looking for a positive, substantial vision of Christian faith. I don’t imagine that traditional formulations of that vision can be taken over by contemporary people wholesale, but I do think there is a stream of continuity. We catch glimpses of this in the creeds, the liturgy, the lives of the saints, and the writings of some of the great theologians and mystics, but our churches all too frequently come across as afraid to use these treasures they have inherited. Is this because any affirmation of a robust Christian identity is considered a step down the slippery slope to fundamentalism?

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7 thoughts on “The fundamentalist hangover

  1. Yes. This is a very helpful addendum. Many of the most fervent liberals in the Episcopal Church seem to be ex-fundamentalists. I’m with you–raised Lutheran, not fundamentalist, and looking for the good substance that always has been there that somehow just didn’t get transmitted to me earlier…

    As you know I find it in the historic liturgy and the “homely divinity” of the monastic traditions.

    • It’s funny because one of the reasons I became a Lutheran as an adult is that I thought the tradition had all these great resources that enabled it to thread a middle way between reductionistics liberalism and fundamentalism.

      Little did I know that many Lutheran congregations are entirely uninterested in these resources….

  2. This is so true. It’s a tendency I still fight in myself. I often ask myself if I’m believing something because I think it’s true or because it’s not-fundamentalist. After six years I think I’m finally starting to separate myself (in a healthy way) from my past.

    You can always tell which Christians are ex-fundamentalists: they’re the ones obsessed with beer.

    • Heh. I always wondered where the beer obsession on a variety of “post-conservative,” vaguely evangelical blogs came from.

      Sometimes a beer is just a beer. 😉

  3. I did grow up fundamentalist, and I have taken longtime in recovering, but I never lost my love of Jesus or of Scripture. So, many of the “recovery authors” you mention have always struck me as rather thin gruel in comparison to Patristics as well as the Benedictine and Prayer Book traditions. It is precisely on the stance of the Incarnation that I would argue for ethical-moral theogical reevaluation, not in spite of Him.

  4. good post, Lee. As a United Methodist pastor, I find that many come to Methodism to escape their fundamentalist past, but really, they are still fundamentalist of liberalism. That is, they simply exchange one form of fundamentalism for another – they haven’t really changed or grown, they’ve just put on a different mask. When I start talking about the creeds or church doctrine, they think, “wait a minute; this is what I was trying to get away from.” I think some of the “new atheists” are fundamentalists too; that is, they have no appreciation for subtlety or nuance.

  5. Pingback: McLaren’s “heresy” « A Thinking Reed

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