Sunday, October 31, 2004

Fundamentalism in Action

I had the opportunity, yesterday, of leading a discussion with a group of Christians on the subject of the age of the earth. A couple of months ago, we had a representative of a creationist organisation visit our church who, amongst other claims, strongly asserted that the Bible teaches that the earth is 6,000-10,000 years old. Following his sermon I took the opportunity of having a conversation with him. During our conversation, he made the statement that anyone who didn't believe in what the Bible taught on the subject of the age of the earth and creation was fighting against God. It quickly became obvious that what the Bible taught was equivalent to his understanding of what the Bible taught. There was no room, as far as he was concerned, for Christians to disagree on the way they interpreted Genesis. This conversation led to the decision to hold a discussion about the age of the earth entitled How to Think About the Age of the Earth. The purpose was to, as fairly as possible, present two views of the age of the earth that are held by many Christians. The presentation outlined how those who held to an old-earth model or a young-earth model related to Scripture, the sort of empirical evidence they offered in support of their model, and the way they interpreted the days of Genesis 1. Following the presentation of these two views, the plan was to have about an hour of discussion where those in attendance could make comments, ask questions, and discuss differences of opinion in an open and safe environment free of judgmentalism. A reading list was distributed with recommendations of Christian books on both sides of the issue. The overall aim was to inform those present of the current thinking of Christians on the age of the earth question so that they could make up their own mind on the subject (with further study if necessary). Until the last 30 minutes, all was fine. There was intelligent, respectful discussion. Near the end of the discussion, however, two participants hijacked the discussion by dogmatically and agressively stating that discussing such matters (especially in a church) was a deception of Satan and that it was nothing more than introducing confusion and error into the minds of those who were participating. As far as they were concerned, the Bible was absolutely clear on the matter and we had no right to even suggest that there might be alternative ways that some Christians understood the issue. We acknowledged that they had a right to their point of view and that they had had the opportunity of expressing it but that others disagreed with it. This was not adequate for them. They were angry (although one said they were merely 'impassioned'), judgmental, and were 'standing up for the Lord'; implying, of course, that no one else there was. Apart from the incredibly unChristian attitude and behaviour of these two people, a stunning statement was made by one of them during the course of their tirade. This participant said that 'there is no need to interpret the Bible; you just have to read what is there.' In my view, this statement illustrates what is at the very heart of the worst forms of fundamentalism -- the assumption that what a person thinks the Bible says is equatable with what the Bible actually says and, thus, with what God says. In other words, if I read the Bible, the understanding I have in my mind when I do so constitutes the very word of God. To put it bluntly, 'My thoughts are God's thoughts.' This notion has a number of serious consequences. If I equate my thinking with God's thinking then:
  1. Anyone who disagrees with me must be disagreeing with God.
  2. I am able to determine who is a true Christian and who isn't.
  3. I am inclined to be arrogant and dogmatic about my beliefs in comparison with others.
  4. I am inclined to consider myself more spiritual than those who 'obviously' don't understand the Bible correctly.
  5. I will be unwilling to listen to any point of view that does not agree with my own.

I could go on... I think you get the idea. If I believe that my understanding is identical to God's understanding then I can speak on behalf of God. There is an important intellectual trait that needs to be developed by all of us who call ourselves Christians -- intellectual humility. Intellectual humility is

Having a consciousness of the limits of one's knowledge, including a sensitivity to circumstances in which one's native egocentrism is likely to function self-deceptively; sensitivity to bias, prejudice and limitations of one's viewpoint. Intellectual humility depends on recognizing that one should not claim more than one actually knows. It does not imply spinelessness or submissiveness. It implies the lack of intellectual pretentiousness, boastfulness, or conceit, combined with insight into the logical foundations, or lack of such foundations, of one's beliefs. (Anon)

Essential to developing this trait is a recognition that all reading of Scripture is an act of interpretation. Whenever we read the Bible, we do so from our own frame of reference which filters what we read. This is why so much work has been done by scholars in developing rules of interpretation (hermeneutics). For example, we need to understand the historical context of a passage of Scripture; who the passage was written to; what the intention of the writer was; what type of literature it is; and so on.

It is naive to believe that we can just come to the Bible (or anything we read) with a clean slate -- with no preconceptions or prejudices -- and just absorb the truth of the Bible with 100% accuracy. This naivety is what I saw during the discussion I described above. The sad thing is not so much the fact that a person has this point of view and may be missing out on the opportunity to grow in understanding; it is, rather, that operating from this position seems to lead to attitudes which are destructive and which hurt other people. Those who subscribe to this view seem very afraid that open discussion and consideration of perspectives other than our own will lead to the undermining of faith. From what I have observed, however, the 'fundamentalist' attitude described, if it manifests itself in the sort of behaviour we experienced, will do more to undermine and damage someone's faith than any honest examination of ideas will ever do.


Anon. Valuable Intellectual Traits. Retrieved 31 October, 2004, from

Recommended Reading

Boone, K. C. (1989). The Bible Tells Them So: The Discourse of Protestant Fundamentalism: State University of New York Press.

Help Me With Bible Study:

The Columbia University 'Miracle' Study: Flawed and Fraud (Skeptical Inquirer September 2004)

There have been a number of attempts to demonstrate the efficacy of prayer through scientific research. Here's a fascinating case study of one such attempt -- an apparently rigorous controlled experiment showing miraculous improvement in an IVF program as a result of prayer. However, Bruce Flamm, the author of the above article, reveals some disturbing features of this study and concludes that:
The much-hyped Columbia University prayer study was flawed and suspicious from the start but now has been fatally tainted with fraud. The first-named author doesn't respond to inquiries. The 'lead' author said he didn't learn of the study until months after it was completed. And now the mysterious third author, indicted by a federal grand jury, has pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit fraud. All his previous studies must now be questioned.

You can read the fascinating expose here.

Friday, October 29, 2004

'Plain Truth' by Jodi Picoult

Jodi Picoult would have to be on my Top 3 list of best authors. Her themes are contemporary, characters well-developed, plots engaging and suspenseful, and reading her always leaves me with something to think about. Her 'Plain Truth' is no different. Set in an Amish community in the US, a dead baby is found in a barn and a teenage girl is accused of its murder following giving birth. Ellie Hathaway decides to defend her and is required, because of the bail conditions, to go and live within the Amish community. She has to come to grips with a completely different culture to what she knows -- one which has different understandings of morality, justice, and community. It's a gripping read -- psychological thriller and court room drama. It provoked me to think about the way that we all come from our own unique frames of reference and the potential to misjudge and misinterpret the intentions and behaviours of others. Highly recommended! Jodie Picoult has her own website here.

Thursday, October 28, 2004

The Church of Critical Thinking - Flu vaccine alternative? What a croc.

It is absolutely beyond belief how stupid and gullible we humans can be sometimes. And there are people "out there" who will capitalise on this gullibility whenever they can. For a recent example of this, check out The Church of Critical Thinking website for the latest scam associated with flu vaccine alternatives. It's a good lesson in thinking critically. (Warning: There is one incidence of coarse language.) Click here: The Church of Critical Thinking - Flu vaccine alternative? What a croc.

Sunday, October 24, 2004


Download here Father and son, Jef Clark and Theo Clark, have written a delightfully entertaining guide to 'spotting fallacies in thinking.' Only 39 pages long, each page contains a description of a fallacy, an example of the fallacy, a comment explaining the example, and a cartoon illustrating some aspect of the fallacy. There are, of course, many more fallacies of thinking than are contained in this book, but those included give an excellent introduction to some of the more common fallacies of thinking. The book is in pdf format and you can download it free of charge by clicking on the link above or here. Highly recommended! Here's a sample: the description of the fallacy of 'browbeating':
This flaw usually occurs in face-to-face discussion. A discussion in which this flaw occurs is likely to be heated and aggressive in tone. The advocate is loud, threatening and voluble. He or she doesn't allow the opponent an opportunity to make his or her argument. When the opponent seeks to make a point, he or she is cut off abruptly and not allowed to finish. The speech rate of the advocate is rapid with minimal pauses. The flaw of browbeating can also occur in print, but the histrionics characteristic of browbeating are limited by the mode of communication... browbeating when expressed in print or writing is better described as polemics.

Human stem cell research: all viewpoints

Read it here Human stell research is a highly contentious issue. The website above provides a useful resource because it describes the varying viewpoints on this topic in a direct, neutral way. As in the case of abortion, the issue of stem cell research revolves around the question of when a fetus becomes a person. If you don't know much about the issue or you want a one-stop shop of views on stem cell research then this is a good place to start.

Friday, October 22, 2004

Remaining faithful by parting ways

I came across this little gem in an article on Derrida by James Smith: Derrida apparently believed that "remaining faithful to a thinker will require a certain break; being an authentic 'follower' will require that one part ways at some point, in the name of fidelity." This is beautifully ironic. To remain faithful you need to break away? To remain faithful you need to part ways? What does this mean? I think it means that a person who breaks new ground -- who sees the world differently -- who shifts our perceptions and moves our understanding forward and who genuinely is pushing us forward, does not want us to stand still. He or she would want their followers to continue on from the point where they have arrived and can go no further. Imagine, for example, if followers of Luther just stopped at the point where Luther had arrived in his thinking. Surely, Luther would have wanted those who followed him to push on into new territory, reformulating, discovering, questioning. If any of you have had the privilege of teaching others, you will know that one of the greatest pleasures is when a student has learned what they can from you and then pushes forward beyond where you have arrived. This is the greatest of honours -- that a student surpasses their teacher. Often, though, disciples freeze the teaching of their leaders into rigid dogma and start judging others on the basis of their 'orthodoxy'. Tradition takes over and prevents any new understandings. Truth becomes concretised and, because things change, may ultimately become 'untruth'. The Wikipedia defindes fundamentalism as 'a movement to return to more strict adherence to founding principles, usually in religion.' Fundamentalists, of any stripe, always want to insist that we return to a previous understanding or time -- usually defined by their understanding of the founding principles! But if we are to remain faithful to the great thinkers, we need to realise that we will always have more to learn (and unlearn). Our understanding of truth will always be growing and maturing. There will never come a time when we can stop and say I have made it; I know all there is to know. For Christians, to be a true follower of Christ, means we are not content to rest on tradition or orthodoxy. We must always be examining our beliefs in the light of new evidence, of new circumstances. This is one of the things that makes the journey of faith exciting and rewarding. It is not a matter of thinking for the sake of thinking. It is, instead, one of the ways we bring honour to the one we follow.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Pocket e-Sword for your Pocket PC

Pocket e-Sword Home - the best free Bible study software for the Pocket PC Now you can have your Bible on your Pocket PC for absolutely no cost!! Rick Meyers quotes Matthew 10:8 (ISV) on the home page for E-Sword: "Without payment you have received; without payment you are to give." Judging from this product, Rick must have been richly blessed (and says so on the site). Even though E-Sword is free it is certainly not "cheap". You can consult multiple Bibles, commentaries, dictionaries, and search, compare, add notes, and much more. There is a rich range of resources available from the site including daily devotional and Bible reading tools and Strong's concordance which can display the Greek and Hebrew words with meanings. I haven't actually used this particular product (I use another more expensive one) but from what I can see on the site it looks excellent at a wonderful 'price'! I find it amazing that someone can produce something like this and give it away. So if you have a Pocket PC and you want to carry a library of Bibles and supporting books around in your hand, click here now!

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Deconstructing Jacques

Deconstructing Jacques You may or may not be aware that Jacques Derrida died recently. Many Christians may not have even heard of him! But he is an important 20th century philosopher who developed the philosophy of deconstructionism. If you're not sure what deconstructionism is, then you are not alone. Check out the link above to read one various thinkers have to say about Derrida. As you will note, he's obviously a controversial figure and one whom even professional philosophers admit to not really understanding. Are the ideas of 'deconstructionism' important for Christians to understand? Deconstructionism, according to the American Heritage Dictionary is:
A philosophical movement and theory of literary criticism that questions traditional assumptions about certainty, identity, and truth; asserts that words can only refer to other words; and attempts to demonstrate how statements about any text subvert their own meanings: “In deconstruction, the critic claims there is no meaning to be found in the actual text, but only in the various, often mutually irreconcilable, ‘virtual texts’ constructed by readers in their search for meaning” (Rebecca Goldstein).
Of course, issues of certainty, identity, and truth are important considerations for any thinking Christian. We have struggled with these ideas for centuries. The really controversial assertion, of course, is that 'there is no meaning to be found in the actual text, but only in the various, often mutually irreconcilable, ‘virtual texts’ constructed by readers in their search for meaning.' Christians claim to interpret the Bible and derive from that interpretation truth claims about what God has said to humanity. If it is true that the only meaning of a text is whatever the reader(s) construct and that there is no objective meaning in the text itself, it would appear to suddenly sweep away the whole basis for finding truth in Scripture. The problem, of course, with the deconstructionist claim is that, applied to itself, the deconstructionist claim has no objective truth value -- the only 'truth' the claim holds is that which is constructed in the reader(s). I have never read Derrida (I tried once and found it too hard!). But if the Heritage Dictionary quote accurately represents the essential claim of deconstructionism, then what is the point of a Christian trying to understand the 'truth' of Scripture? A better way of proceeding, in my view, is to recognise the valuable 'truth' in deconstructionism that all our interpretations of a text occur from a particular point of view and are naturally biased toward our own subjective, egocentric, ethnocentric presuppositions and assumptions. Recognising that truth is an essential beginning for correctly interpreting a text. If this inherent bias is honestly acknowledged then we can take steps to counteract that tendency. This is why, over the years, important principles of interpretation (hermeneutics) have been developed for studying the Bible. A thinking Christian who wants to be responsible in reading Scripture should make a study of hermeneutics. If you want to do this, you might like to start here.

Monday, October 18, 2004

Should the Chuch Teach Tithing?

I grew up in a church which taught that tithing was required by God and that not to do so was an act of disobedience to God. All sorts of stories were told about miraculous blessings which came to those who tithed (usually to do with locusts or unexpected bread deliveries). I think this view is completely unbiblical. The tithe laws of the Old Testament were part of the old covenant which ceased at the time of Christ's death. There is no command anywhere in the New Testament for Christians to pay a tithe. Instead, the new covenant invites Christians to give generously what they are able. Recently, I came across Russell Kelly's incredible comprehensive, detailed examination of tithe in the Bible. Should the Church Teach Tithing: A Theologian's Conclusions about a Taboo Doctrine is a brilliant and exhaustive exploration of every passage in the Bible related to tithing. The book is completely free to download and is the second edition of the full book. This is a must read for every Christian who believes they are under obligation to tithe. It is a serious, theological treatment of the subject so it is hard going at times. But the effort is worth it. Download the book here. : Why I Do Not Think the King James Bible Is the Best Translation Available Today : Why I Do Not Think the King James Bible Is the Best Translation Available Today In my view, the more translations of the Bible that are available the better. For those of us not trained in Hebrew or Greek, comparing translations and noticing important variations directs our attention to potential ambiguities in the original languages. I take these variations as a clue that I should check out a few commentaries on the passage under consideration to see what the arguments for and against certain translations are so that I can make up my own mind which translation I think is best. However, there are some people who get pretty upset by any translation other than the King James Version (KJV). They believe that the KJV is unsurpassed in its accuracy. But is it? Daniel B Wallace has written this short article explaining why he believes the KJV is not the best translation available today. He also includes an addendum critiquing recent books 'vilifying modern translations.' The point of critiquing the KJV-only view is not to defend other translations as superior per se. Instead, it is meant to liberate us to explore the incredible richness of varying translations which aid in deepening our appreciation of God's revelation of love to humanity.

Sunday, October 17, 2004

Henry's Religion Links Page

Henry's Religion Links Page Here's an excellent resource for thinking Christians. Henry Neufeld was once a Seventh-day Adventist (SDA) who became an atheist and then returned to Christian faith as a Methodist (an interesting journey!). A thinking Christian is interested in looking at different viewpoints on issues and Neufeld's resource provides a way to do just that. For example, one of the issues discussed by Christians in recent years is that of so-called bible codes. Neufeld provides a table with two columns entitled "Con" and "Pro" and lists links to sites on the web that argue these points of view. Another example: the section on evolution vs creationism briefly summarises key terms then there's a table with links to the views of evolution (general), evolution (theistic), creation (OEC), and creation (YEC). This is a truly useful site as you have the opportunity to hear what actual proponents of these various views say about their own positions rather than hearing them filtered through someone else who may disagree with them. Definitely worth a look!

Saturday, October 16, 2004

Free Bible Software

For those of you who would like to have some Bible software on your computer but can't afford to pay for some of the more expensive ones available, you might like to look at Bible Seeker which is totally FREE! Click on the link below to read more about it and download a copy for yourself. Bible Seeker - Bible, Dictionary, Commentary Software: "Bible Seeker is a Freeware Bible Reader integrated with a dictionary, commentaries, and full text searching. Resources included: KJV Bible, Easton's Bible Dictionary, Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary. Also available as an free add-on components are: Bibles ASV Bible Darby Bible Updated KJV Bible World English Bible (WEB) Young's Literal Translation ....More to Come... Commentaries Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Commentary Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible" Posted by Hello

Friday, October 15, 2004

Book Review: "In, But Not Of"

I've just finished reading Hugh Hewitt's book In, But Not Of: A Guide to Christian Ambition and the Desire to Influence the World. Ambition is not usually something usually associated with Christianity. A Moravian prayer in Charles Cowman's Springs in the Valley said, 'From the desire of being great, good Lord deliver us!' And an anonymous pastor once said, 'I was never of any use until I found out that God did not intend to make me to be a great man.' William Shakespeare wrote,
Cromwell, I charge thee, fling away ambition; By that sin fell the angels. How can man then, The image of his maker, hope to win by it?
It was somewhat of a surprise, then, when I came across Hewitt's book in my local Christian bookstore. The author clearly believes that some Christians will feel called to move in powerful circles in the world influencing it for God. This is obviously a dangerous enterprise for a Christian given that much of the world of power operates on questionable principles from a Christian point of view. Hewitt recognises this danger and his book is full of advice on how to influence the world while remaining true to Christian principles. Most of the advice is common sense and is not specifically Christian -- where to live, what to avoid (eg tatoos), appropriate dress, making good friends, being humble, how to converse, handling money, and so on. In fact, as I read it, I almost forgot it was specifically written for Christians except for the occasional reminder of the Great Commission or some other reference to Christian morality or perspective. This means that the book could be read by just about anyone wanting practical advice on managing a career along with a desire to influence the world. Overall, the book is down-to-earth, simple to read, and practical. In some places, the Christian perspective could, perhaps, have been more clearly distinguished from others. But read critically, it provides some helpful guidance for those who are starting out on their careers or along the road. You can read more about this book or purchase it here.