Saturday, September 13, 2008

Why it is difficult to Reason With Fundamentalists

It is difficult to reason with fundamentalists. In fact, it is virtually impossible. What else might one expect? The very nature of fundamentalism is hardly conducive to the give and take involved in reasoning. If you attempt to have a discussion, you will soon find that it turns into a one way diatribe. Your fundamentalist friend will quickly become one-pointed and narrowly focused. You will leave the conversation feeling as if you have been talking to someone who can't see the forest for the trees.

And, of course they can't. What our fundamentalist friend has to offer to the conversation is usually a collection of tried and true (for them, anyway) cliches A good example of this appeared on the local news in the town where I live not long ago. A prominent fundamentalist televangelist was visiting our small city. Since his career had always been built upon confrontation, the local television news did an interview-- mostly for shock value-- that ran on the evening news. They asked him if his position on gay rights and gay marriage or civil unions had changed any over the years. He replied that "God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve." It's a catchy phrase. I noted to myself, however, that he was saying that phrase thirty years ago. I wondered, had his thinking on the matter progressed no further than this point? Had he nothing new to say?

Later, NPR ran a program featuring a controversial fundamentalist preacher who had recently made a great deal of money writing (with help) a fiction series about the "last days," "the rapture," and "the second coming." It became apparent that this minister believed there was only one way to view spiritual questions. It happened to be his way. The interviewer asked, "Now, Reverend, do you really think that only people who believe like you are going to heaven?" The preacher replied that it wasn't he that said such things. No, it was God. God said that you had to see things his way. The Bible said it.

Of course. one might always try to argue the Bible with fundamentalists. I have. Once, a fundamentalist missionary asked me if I believed the Bible was "the inspired, inerrant, word of God." I replied that I did indeed believe the Bible contained the word of God. "Contains? Contains? The Bible doesn't contain the word of God, it IS the inspired, inerrant word of God," he railed. His conclusion was that I certainly wasn't a real Christian. I certainly didn't deserve the title of minister, and that I was deceiving my flock. Unless I said it like he did, it wouldn't do.

When I was in seminary, I met a fellow student in the bookstore one day. He really didn't like all of the questioning of the "literal word of God" by students in our Biblical studies class (mainly me, I would guess). I wondered what he meant. He explained that the Bible was true, and that was that. Not really, I countered. Where is the proof that the Bible was absolutely true in all that it affirmed? This was the clincher from his point of view, "We know the Bible is true because it says it's true." I asked, "How can we be sure the Bible is true when it says it true, if what it says might not exactly be the truth?" Answer: "Because it says so."

And so will go conversations concerning politics, morals, religion, or whatever it may be. The fundamentalist is caught up in a web of circular thinking and well worn cliches. There is no getting around it. Trying to reason with fundamentalists, you quickly discover a disdain for reason. Over four decades ago, the great fundamentalist guru-philosopher, Francis Schaeffer, wrote his Summa Theologica on the matter. It was a little work entitled Escape from Reason. The title tells it all.

You cannot really reason with a fundamentalist, or at least not without great difficulty, because fundamentalism is an escape from reason. It is hard to work on reasoning when one party is all about escaping it.

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