When ignorance is a virtue


John Shuck quotes a letter to the editor of a newspaper from a creationist pastor, which includes the following sentence:

"I would rather be scientific ignorant (sic) and have my children as such than to be a conformer to the worldly view of evolution."


Aerten said...

But is that a virtue... of just, well, stupid?

I have to admit to not understanding people who refuse to use the brains given to them by their own Creator.

ONEDIA said...

or to paraphrase,

I would rather believe what I believe than to be confronted with a truth I cannot deny.

Frank said...

Scripture scholar Ray Brown wrote something along the lines of: 'If you argue too forcefully with a fundamentalist, you risk not just converting them away from fundamentalism, but having them lose their faith altogether.'

I think that is what this pastor might be saying. I'll translate as: "I'd rather believe what I believe than lose my faith altogether."

Fundamentalism is a belief system in which it is absolutely critical that certain historical things are literally true. The whole belief system falls apart otherwise. Other faiths that have lived in the "modernist" era for longer have come to terms with that in a much better way.

To a fundamentalist, if God didn't create the world like Genesis says, then that means Adam and Eve didn't happen literally and then that means original sin didn't come into the world via the fruit/snake incident, then there was nothing Jesus needed to save us from, etc. They just don't have the vocabulary for handing these issues if the literalness comes apart (which actually surprises me, since many fundamentalists are aware of a "personal relationship with Jesus" which would suggest to me that they have an experience of faith regardless of their Bible interpretation, but many are afraid to go there).

If fundamentalists weren't so destructive of people (homophobia, xenophobia, etc), I would argue that its almost better to be ignorant than lose faith altogether, as well.

In this is how fundamentalism is really fear-based. And Jesus said "be not afraid". I think Jesus knew well the dangers of living out of fear.

Mystical Seeker said...

Aerten, Onedia, and Frank--I agree with all three of you! :)

Frank, I think you are absolutely correct about the sort of binary thinking that characterizes fundamentalism. I know firsthand--I became an atheist in my teens because I thought the only alternative to the fundamentalist belief system I was brought up in was to reject faith altogether. You see this on the web from time to time as well; I ran across a blog a few months ago from a former fundamentalist who is now an atheist. The problem there is that a lot of former fundamentalists who become atheists just switch teams but are still fundamentalists at the core. So how do you get people to move beyond that mindset?

ONEDIA said...

Well, the point is that fundamentalism depends on fear of what will happen if one does not follow the "way" and on the insistence that any questioning is falling from the "way"

One person defined fundamenatlists as frightened evangelicals.

Frank said...

I don't know, MS.

You can't explain a non-fundamentalist viewpoint in soundbites, so it really takes someone willing to listen and consider different arguments. It also takes some time.

One of my theology professors says that they get fundamentalists into the MA program in Theology, and what usually happens is they leave the program as a non-fundamentalist... they may still talk the fundamentalist talk, but they are essentially opened to a new world.

I don't know what to do with someone who is not willing to consider another viewpoint. The thing is that fundamentalism is fear-based, so making a pure appeal to reason is not going to work, because it just engenders even more fear because it will be perceived as a threat. Fear is what is driving a fundamentlist, so fear needs to be addressed. Very smart people are fundamentalists, but their fear overrides their otherwise good reason.

Ray Brown suggests that it does no good to say "this or that never happened in the Bible." If you are going to take away the historicity of something, it may be good to find a way to let the fundamentalist know that faith can still exist even without the literal truth of a particular passage. Helping them connect the dots and find faith even if this or that is not literally true is very helpful.

The ultimate question for us all to wrestle with, and espeically fundamentalists, is: How can one have faith if certain things are not literally true?

Mystical Seeker said...

Fundamentalism provides a nice, tidy belief system in a neat little package, so I can see why people cling to it out of fear. Who wouldn't be afraid of losing their security blanket? Taking a leap into the big unknown is scary. Add to that the fact that fundamentalism has a built-in fear factor into its theology--fear of hell (or avoiding going there) a huge part of fundamentalist religion. When people are told their entire lives that non-believers will burn in eternity, imagine suddenly becoming a non-believer yourself.

I was one of those people who made a hard transition away from fundamentalism. I was a hormone-drenched, brain-not-fully-developed teenager, when I just had enough of it, and I was pretty bitter over religion and took my disbelief hard. I became a hard-core atheist, and in a lot of ways I was just as much a fundamentalist.

I do find that a lot of ex-fundamentalists (or ex-orthodox, ex-conservative Christians) carry with them the same dogmatism that they had before. Not all do. Marcus Borg seems to be one who, based on what he has written about his religious odyssey, made a smooth transition away from the faith of his youth. But for many of us (myself included), it was not so easy. I envy those who make a smooth transition.

The ex-fundamentalist blogger that I got into a discussion with a few months ago had a lot of that bitterness. She was very dogmatic in her newfound belief system. Although she still defined herself as something of a seeker, she was mostly pretty hostile to the notion of God or religion, and I could see a lot of that characteristics dogmatism that carried over from her fundamentalist days.

As for the question "How can one have faith if certain things are not literally true?", well that is a big question. Maybe some people just need for literal truth? Are some people intolerant of ambiguity and metaphor?

Jan said...

Bah, humbug!