Scandals that Change our World View

Why Fundamentalist churches cannot survive Postmodernism

House of cardsPostmodern movies are dystopian: they show a negative outcome for the world. The Wire is a postmodern TV show, showing the corruption of the Baltimore narcotics, police and mayoral office. After watching that show we can no longer approach politics and government institutions expecting Truth, Justice and the American Way, as the Superman TV shows announced each week in the 1950s.

Postmodernism grew out of the abundance of information. Just as the Enlightenment grew out of the invention of the European printing press. Postmodernism grew out of the invention of the radio, the TV, the computer and finally the internet. Suddenly information was abundant like never before.

WW2 was the good guys against the bad guys, the opposite of postmodernism, and we could not see much corruption, because we were far away, and there wasn’t enough alternate information, just lots of confirmation that we were the good guys.

In Germany, however, postmodernism took root among artists and musicians. They had lost the war in 1945 after killing 6 million Jews, gypsies, Jehovah’s Witnesses and developmentally delayed. They could clearly see the contrast between the propaganda they had received from the government and the truth they could see out their windows. However mainstream German society was caught up in moralistic strictures to keep Nazism from coming back, and focused on good vs evil.

Japan, after experiencing Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings, jumped both feet into postmodernism.

water cannonIn America the Civil Rights struggle was televised in the 1950s and 60s. We saw water cannon knocking over black people wearing their Sunday clothes and marching and singing peacefully, just because they wanted to register to vote.

But it was not until the Viet Nam war in the 1960s that postmodernism took root in America. We were able to see on TV every night the awful carnage going on. We weren’t freeing concentration camps and defeating Nazis in Viet Nam.

Young people welcomed the Beatles and the Rolling Stones in the early 1960s, eager to tear down the old and build new.

Then Nixon’s corruption was exposed in newspapers and on TV in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Finally sexual abuse began to be exposed. Women’s rights were rising. Sexual abuse by priests hit the newspapers in Boston in the 1980s.

The explosion of the computer and the internet has created a WaterWorld effect in our society. Now nobody gets a newspaper delivered to their door, and very few people watch TV with ads anymore. Most of our information and news comes through social media.

TV shows like House of Cards revealed what Americans think of their presidency. And then the Me-Too Movement toppled the star of House of Cards.

Currently the death of Epstein, connected to two presidents in his sex trade of underage girls, has further exposed corruption. It could never have happened until we, the American public, were ready to hear it.

So how can fundamentalist churches survive? The attitude of postmodernism is everywhere in all media:

  • Question the viewpoint of any writer or speaker. What is their motivation?
  • Question the facts. How much evidence do they have?
  • Who benefits from these facts?
  • Who suffers from these facts?

So now when a 25 year old faithful fundamentalist church member, also steeped in postmodern internet culture, listens to a sermon at his church, he asks more questions than his parents or grandparents. He is more skeptical.

When he reads the Bible he is more skeptical as well. He wants to know the political and social background of the people talking and the people being affected.

Ten years ago a speaker was talking to our church plant about the 200 Philistine foreskins that David paid King Saul for his daughter. The Philistines were a tribe that had not been conquered by Joshua and the Israelites when they conquered Canaan 200 years earlier. The Israelites hated the Philistines, who were not circumcised like the Israelites. She said, “Imagine how Saul felt when David, whom he hated, arrived with the 200 Philistine foreskins he had demanded.” I said, “Imagine how the Philistines felt.” Everyone laughed. I wasn’t laughing.

That question wouldn’t have been asked if I hadn’t actually talked to a Palestinian at a liberal Mennonite church I had attended for 6 months. He said, “We are the direct descendants of the Philistines. The word Palestinian is the same as the word Philistine. Just take out the H.” Information is dangerous to fundamentalism.

So who benefits from that story? Who loses from that story? These are postmodern questions that unravel fundamentalism and traditional evangelicalism.

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The Abortion Debate

AbortionDebateThe most shocking statistic that came out of my master’s thesis research on authoritarianism in churches was the finding that liberal church members and conservative church members (and the general public) have the exact same attitudes. The liberal ministers and the conservative ministers were widely different in their attitudes (the liberal ministers less authoritarian than the general public, the conservative ministers more authoritarian). But the members of the congregations were all the same, even the secular first year psychology students were the same as the church members. The strict fundamentalist members were the same as the general public. The only ones who differed from the general public were the ministers.

The statistics for women seeking abortions are similar for evangelicals: 13% of those getting abortions identify as evangelical, 24% as Catholic.

Evangelical Christians and the Catholic Church traditionally oppose abortion. Catholics comprise 24% of the USA’s population and evangelicals comprise 25% of the population. So 13% of women getting abortions are evangelical, is a significantly lower statistic, indicating a greater reluctance to get an abortion, or a greater reluctance to reveal their religious affiliation on a survey, or both. But evangelical women are still getting abortions (and divorces).

My complaint is that while evangelicals are voting and legislating against abortion, evangelical women are still getting abortions at a 50% rate to the general public, and Catholic women are getting abortions at the same rate as the general public.

Abortion and Homosexuality are the two favorite sins evangelicals preach against to differentiate themselves from the rest of Christianity. These are the “other” sins they can point at and say “not us”.

On the other hand liberal Christians are campaigning against gun violence: trying to ban assault rifles like the AR-15, and banning repeaters and large ammunition magazine holders that make rifles into rapid fire machine guns. These guns are not used to hunt deer. These are the guns that have been used by “lone wolfs” to kill so many people in large scale massacres. Evangelicals have remained largely silent in opposing these guns, partially because gun ownership (and membership in the NRA) is higher among evangelicals than any other religion in the USA, and higher than the general public.

Does Legislating Against Sin Work?

Marijuana use among teens goes up about 1% after a state legalizes the substance, from 24% of teens to 25% of teens. Not statistically significant.

The same could probably be found with harder drugs: cocaine, meth and heroin. Heroin, at $10 a hit, is so easy to find in my state, Vermont, that we have a crisis. If it were legalized, would usage really go up? It would be hard to imagine more people using and dying from heroin in Vermont than now.

In the early church under the Roman Empire, Christians didn’t elect or legislate against anything. They met together and encouraged each other to live holy lives. That’s it, nothing more. But that’s hard work. And we are a nation of fast food drive-thrus. We’re not into hard spiritual work.



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Feeling Lonely at Church

Question: Why do I not feel connected when I go to a church service?


Lots of people don’t feel connected when they go to a church service.

Church is sometimes a very lonely place. According to anonymous surveys that pastors have filled out, most pastors are stressed out, and are approaching burnout.

Pastors feel phony because they have to pretend that they are feeling close to God at every service, have to pretend to be super spiritual, and have to pretend they know the spiritual answers to life. This makes them lonely and susceptible to addictions that are short term solutions to loneliness, like affairs.

Church is a community with all the problems of a group of people. Research indicates that most churches are made up of people, not in the highest moral category, but people in the middle: Conventional Morality. People in Conventional Morality:

  • want to follow rules
  • Don’t examine the rules for themselves, they just want to be told the rules
  • Are loyal to the community and defend the community
  • Want the community to respect them, so they try to look good
  • Look to the pastor as their leader.

People who are Post Conventional:

  • Want to examine the rules for consistency
  • Want to argue about the rules
  • Want the whole community to examine the rules
  • Want the community’s respect, but not at the expense of their own ability to think for themselves
  • Question the pastors’s consistency

So people in Post-Conventional Morality usually get ostracized or kicked out of the Church.

So yeah, you are going to feel lonely at lots of church services.

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If you want good Fundamentalists, just beat them when they are children

Question: Is fundamentalism primarily doctrinal, or psychological?

child-spanking-dollFundamentalism is not primarily doctrinal. It is caused by beating your children from an early age, and denying their basic emotional needs. This causes a broad range of personality disorders, all of which can be helped by attending a close community with strict rules.

Having been raised in a missionary family in the churches of Christ, non-institutional, non-instrumental, when I became a minister in the sect I noticed that some of my attitudes were different from the attitudes of the ministers who had been raised in the Bible belt. I started to examine those attitudes for consistency with the New Testament. That started me on the long journey out of fundamentalism.

When I discussed some of the scriptures I was studying, and the conflict with our sect’s doctrines, my father decided that it needed to be a wider discussion with lots of ministers. When my father ran out of verses to quote he would just fall back onto the tradition and group wisdom of our sect, something he said he would never rely on. Then he kicked me out of the sect and out of the family.

It was several years before I realized why my father could not change his mind on doctrine: he was 11 years old when he was baptized. Unless I could go back in time and convert those mentors that baptized him, he would never change his mind. He carried those mentors around with him in his head. He wasn’t strong enough to make his own decisions.

I studied Authoritarianism in graduate school. Authoritarianism (the bad kind, as opposed to Authoritativeness, the good kind) was studied by psychologists who fled Europe during WW2. Authoritarianism is characterized by:

  • racial prejudice
  • gender stereotypes
  • sucking up to people above you on the authority ladder
  • competitive with equals
  • mean to people below you
  • black and white thinking, no grays.
  • upset about sexual shenanigans going on
  • impressed by money and education, but suspicious of money and education
  • uncomfortable with emotions
  • impatient

These are characteristics of people who haven’t finished growing up. They are stuck in younger years, still waiting for the psychological encouragement to continue growing up.

My brother, after going to counseling, remarked: “I can’t think of anyone in our sect who didn’t have a personality disorder.”

When I considered joining a liberal Mennonite church, the pastor, who grew up in a conservative Mennonite family, said his father would get out of control when spanking him as a child, and couldn’t stop spanking. Mennonites are pacifists who refuse to bear arms or serve in the military. But his father ended up being extremely violent with his children. I left that Mennonite congregation when the minister used shaming instead of an argument in a business meeting to bolster the fact that Mennonitism had to be the primary force when forming a congregation.

When I lived in South Africa, under racist apartheid (before 1992), with the 5% white minority ruling the 95% black majority, many of the teachers in our all-white school would beat misbehaving students with canes. After they would cane the students they would often make fun of the students that cried, similar to the way my father would make fun of me when I cried after he spanked me. The entire nation of South Africa was authoritarian.

Someone raised in the Bible belt told me this week that when he moved to New England he thought he was in a foreign country. In the deep south Bible Belt he had had cops stop him as a teen and be mean and nasty to him, even kick out his tail light. He was stopped recently in Vermont and the cop said, “I just wanted to let you know that your tail light is out, no ticket, just letting you know, sir, have a nice day.” He was stunned to have met a non-authoritarian police officer.

All you have to do is scare little children enough, then deprive them of basic emotional needs: dignity, respect, empathy, safety, acknowledgement, listening, connection, and  they will grow up to be authoritarian fundamentalists, and they will vote for authoritarians. Some theorists say that you don’t even have to beat them, as long as you deprive them of enough emotional needs.

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My Family Disfellowshipped Us


Ugly Scapegoat Doll from


“My husband and I left [our church] after a split and started attending a Baptist church to learn more about grace and salvation. That was about three years ago. My family found out my teen belonged to a Baptist youth group and have “ disfellowshipped” us. We are no longer welcome back home. [In our old church] I was spiritually dead, and our marriage was falling apart. We refuse to live like that. It is however hard to imagine that family would do this. It’s a complete misunderstanding of love. We are so sad my daughter has witnessed this. Any advice would help.”

Answer:  My Family are Fragile 10 Year Olds:

So sad! I’ve been through that. So painful!
Your family is what I would call brittle or fragile. They function at the level of a 10 year old. Ten year olds don’t think for themselves, they depend on their social groups to tell them what rules to follow. Rules are very important to ten year olds. Have you ever watched ten year olds play a game? Half the time is spent arguing about the rules.
They have to have things a certain way or they fall apart. They hold on rigidly to the rules. The rules are held by some other entity, like their church. So you can’t change your family as long as their rules are held by the bigger group. The only people who change are people who have gone through the teen questioning stage, and have their rules inside them, and don’t need an outside group to hold their rules. If someone asked your relatives what they believe, they would just invite you to their church, or tell you to ask their preacher. “Having faith” or “being faithful” means joining their group and adhering to the group’s rules.
You were raised by 10 year olds, and now you have outgrown that. On the positive side, the 10 year olds gave you all the love and support they could. Now you have grown beyond their ability to love and support. They are bewildered and you are bewildered.
There are lots of other people in the world. Jesus said if you lose family because of Me I will supply lots more family. Wherever you go you will find people willing to pour out their resources into you. They will believe in you, love you, listen to you and validate you.
But not if you can’t let go of the 10 year olds back home. I wasted years focusing on the 10 year olds, depressing, energy sapping years. I found an empty well, and kept going back to the well expecting water. The reason we don’t let go is because we have invested all our hope in our parents.  This is normal for those of us who haven’t finished the teen questioning stage, but definitely not healthy.
Move on! Cry the tears and let go. Find wells that give water. Your family-needs and connection-needs will be met far better by others. This will be a good example for your daughter. Don’t be tied down by immature relatives when there is a whole world out there!
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Eternity is a long time

The Concept of Eternity in the Bible

sand dune with foot prints

Photo by Francesco Ungaro on

There are very few passages in the Bible that refer to our modern concept of eternity. The NT Greek expression: “into the ages” or “into the ages of the ages” is the closest the biblical writers come to expressing the concept of our modern ideas of infinite eternity.

N.T. Wright in his monumental book: The Resurrection of the Son of God, expresses a common discovery by scholars that the idea of conscious life after death does not occur to biblical writers until about 700BCE (chapter 3). Wright says the thing that spurs these writers to explore the topic of life after death was the martyrdom of so many Jews, who died fighting for the freedom of Israel. Those Jews needed to be rewarded for their sacrifice.

As a former fundamentalist, when I approached topics in the Bible, I would first assume that all writers in the scriptures were equally aware of the topic being written about, and that all writers completely agreed on each topic. This is a fundamental of fundamentalism: that God dictated the Bible word for word, such that the thoughts expressed are not the thoughts of the writer, but the thoughts of God. Therefore they are all completely correct, fully formed, and fully expressed wherever they occur in the history of humanity. As a fundamentalist I believed that all believers had believed this principal all along, and used the familiar passages of 2 Tim 3:16, 2 Pet 1:21 to prove this.

Non fundamentalists say that fundamentalism is new, that nobody in the Bible believed that every word was dictated by God. They nevertheless revered the Scriptures as having been God-breathed: generated by a higher Power, by the Holy Spirit, but certainly not infallible, only correct insofar as the listener to God’s breath was able to understand and convey what God was saying. So Martin Luther concluded that the book of James and the book of Revelation were only marginally inspired by God, and much of what they said would be burned up like straw when weighed on the Judgement Day. He gave several reasons for his thoughts. (He was not opposed to James’s concept that if you have faith, your works will show.)

N.T. Wright follows in Martin Luther’s footsteps when he traces the history of God’s revelation of eternal life throughout Scripture. Up until 700BCE there are only veiled references to life after death. He says that David’s question: “Won’t my God want to see my face after I die?” is a rhetorical question, the obvious answer being that nobody gets to see God once they are dead. I have difficulty with that, but he makes a good case for his point. N.T. Wright says there are no other statements previous to that that show a clear belief in life after death.

Jesus seems to disagree with N.T. Wright. Life after death was a hotly contested topic during his time on the earth. Jesus quoted God speaking to Moses: “‘Now about the dead rising—have you not read in the Book of Moses, in the account of the burning bush, how God said to him, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead, but of the living. ”

N.T. Wright would argue that Jesus’ awareness of life after death was foreign to writers of the Law of Moses (pp. 424-430). His argument is that Jesus’ view was in the mainstream of Pharisaic views of the resurrection during the first century, but not the mainstream of ancient Jewish thought.

Footnote on Fundamentalism:

One of the quickest ways to stop being a fundamentalist is just to start saying: “the apostle Paul says…” instead of “the Bible says” or “the Word of God says”. In fact, the written Bible is never referred to as “the Word of God”. Some of the words of God have been recorded in the Bible, but the Bible, as a whole, is never referred to by any person in the Bible as “the Word of God.” Only Jesus Himself is referred to as the Word of God, in contrast to the Ten Words of God (the Ten Commandments) written on stone. Now we have the commandments written in our hearts.

In fact, instead of saying: “the Bible says to sing and make melody in the heart unto the Lord,” say, “The apostle Paul said to the church at Ephesus in the first century to sing and make melody in the heart unto the Lord.” That’s just as accurate, in fact, it is more accurate than saying, “the Bible says..” A fundamentalist from the Churches of Christ would never say, “The Bible says to praise God with the tambourine and with dancing!”
The Bible clearly says that, but a fundamentalist from the Churches of Christ would say, “King David in the Psalms under the Old Testament said to praise God with the tambourine and with dancing.” Somehow this is acceptable, even necessary to specify who is talking to whom, when, and where, but when I suggest we do that for the entirety of the Bible, it is seen as chipping away at our faith. To be faithful to the actual writing of the actual Bible it is necessary to specify Who is talking to Whom, When and Where. (Just like D.R. Dungan said in his text on Hermeneutics.)

To do otherwise is lazy scholarship. To do otherwise is jingoistic loyalty to a particular “ism” that may crumble under examination. If you have nothing to fear, then be more specific when you quote the Scriptures. Otherwise you are only speaking to your own tiny party.

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Brett Kavanaugh’s faith

Trump and KavanaughAfter listening to Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony, I found her very believable.
After listening to Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s refutation, I found him very believable.
So who is telling the truth?
Over the next two days I looked at Kavanaugh’s testimony under questioning. This is what I observed:
  • He was angry when his yearbook was examined, because it showed his claim that he was a religious virgin, to be not quite as true as he wanted it to appear.
  • He refused to say that he drank a lot as a 17 year old, even though he was asked directly several times. He replied that he liked beer, that it was legal for the seniors to drink beer (leaving out the fact that he wasn’t a senior at the time in question, and it became illegal to drink the year before he became a senior, meaning that all of his drinking in high school was illegal). He is hoping that by telling these true facts, that we will get an untrue picture of him as a teen.  
  • 95% chance he lied when he defined Boofed, and Devil’s Triangle, which he wrote about himself in his yearbook. His classmates refute his definitions. 
  • 99% chance he was lying when he said the Renate Alumnius club were merely admirers of Renate, instead of a club of those who had had sex with Renate. Several of his classmates refute this definition. Nobody supports his definition. 
  • 90% chance he lied when he said that he never lost track of what he had done due to drinking. Several of his peers at the time refute his claim. 
On evangelical and conservative Catholic topics he was a definite equivocator:
  • When asked about his views on the recent Supreme Court decision to guarantee the right of gays to marry, he quoted judges giving triumphant pronouncements of jubilee for gays, but refused to give his own opinion. He cleverly let people think he was in favor of those decisions for gays, while leaving out his own opinion on the matter. He clearly refused to give his own opinion.
  • When asked about his written statement that he admired Justice Rehnquist for stemming the tide of new rights not named in the Constitution, he refused to name any rights he was opposed to. 
I came to the conclusion that his faith is Stage 3: Fowler describes Stage 3 Faith as that of someone who wants to be considered by his peers as honorable. It is not the stage of reflection, or even of striving for consistency. Rather, it is the stage of loyalty to the institution that holds his faith. So Kavanaugh’s responses are an effort to please people, but also to remain faithful to his institutions (the Catholic Church, the presidency, and the Republican Party). 
Kavanaugh’s fiery defense after Dr. Ford’s accusations, although understandable, was even more understandable if one views him from a Stage 3 Faith viewpoint. Dr. Ford challenged his honor, a challenge that people in Stage 3 take seriously. 
In the gospel stories, almost every interaction with Jesus’ critics was a challenge to Jesus’ honor, and they took Jesus’ replies as challenges to their own honor. But Jesus’ responses are in stark contrast to Kavanaugh’s. Jesus had far less of a need to please those listening. Jesus had separated his identity sufficiently that he did not view the temple and the Sanhedrin as the institutions he needed to be faithful to. The temple and the Sanhedrin did not contain or carry his faith; his faith was independent.
Kavanaugh’s faith is clearly dependent on his institutions, and his honor can be challenged such that he comes out swinging. 
He has been picked by the president to do two main tasks on the Supreme Court:
  • A presidential pardon only covers federal crimes, until the Supreme Court rules that it covers federal and state crimes. 
  • Please conservative Christians, a large part of his voting base: Conservative Christians have several agenda: 
    • Reverse Roe v Wade, to save the lives of unborn infants.
    • Reverse the rights of gays and transgendered people, whom they see as having sinful lifestyles. 
    • Stop the march forward of minorities, whom they see as lazy and criminal. Keep America ruled by Christian white men like it has been since the founding of the nation. 
    • Stop minorities by putting an end to welfare. They see welfare as for lazy people.
    • Stop minorities by stopping immigration, which they see as diluting the Christian heritage of the nation.
(The American nonreligious public views conservative Christians as racist reactionaries.)
All of these initiatives require approval from the Supreme Court. 
My conclusion is that Kavanaugh is less than truthful.
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