Wednesday, November 16, 2016

How we got here

In reading two posts on SharperIron regarding "convergence" and fundamentalism, one thing that struck me is that "conservative evangelicals" (who hold to the theological fundamentals) and "historic fundamentalists" (who separate based on cultural issues like dancing and movies) seem to be at an impasse simply because people can't see the other case.  And so it bears asking; how is it that fundamentalism and evangelicalism alike have ended up at this place?

Well, for starters, let's take a look at the history of fundamentalism--Kevin Bauder gives it a try here by noting that the taboos of fundamentalism--drinking, dancing, theater, cards, smoking, and others--were part of revivalism.  Fair enough, but I would dare say that there is an even more basic reason.

Fundamentalism started as a response to theological liberalism, which was in turn rooted in the form criticism of German theology professors.  Both came across the ocean, and they quickly took root in prestigious universities and then the seminaries of mainline churches.  So let's think about what early fundamentalists saw; more or less, it was that anti-Biblical ideas from the academy were resulting in changes that could send people to Hell in the churches.   The response was led by dominant leaders who either purged churches of liberal elements, or (more often) led an exodus of believing members to new churches. 

We would therefore expect fundamentalism to have a fairly strong anti-academic bias, oppose change , and  would value prominent personalities quite strongly.  We would also expect the anti-academic bias to work with the esteem of prominent personalities to result in a limited ability to process and analyze ideas outside of genetic fallacies.

And what do we see through our history and today?  We see Bible colleges that are only now beginning to seek accreditation, pastors who joke that they learned their Greek at a gyros shop, outsized personalities like Bob Jones and Billy Sunday the objects of near-veneration, and a litany of genetic fallacies used to make positions on social issues.  We see fundamental leaders apologizing into the nineties for endorsing segregation and prohibiting "interracial" dating.

Those social issues are, more or less, similar to the list that we would have seen a century ago: Prohibition of alcohol and tobacco (see chapter 1 of Alger's Ragged Dick), suspicion of the theater and music with a "jungle" or "voodoo" beat, and the like.  Now thankfully fundamentalists mostly abandoned the overt racism of that era, but really our surprise should not be that we otherwise retain these views of our forebears.  Rather, the surprise is that we don't have our wives and daughters in corsets, our daughters waiting eagerly for a gentleman caller as in The Glass Menagerie. 

(though I did see, rather recently in fact, the claim that corsets were the key to or hate the corset, say what?)

Now of course, just because the Victorians believed something doesn't automatically make it wrong, but it does illustrate the reality that unless we understand our history and biases, we are almost automatically going to get the "second premiss" and our syllogism wrong.

Coming up; how evangelicalism got here, and what we can do about it.

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