The Split Personality of Christianity: Fundamentalism versus Philosophical

Brian Worley   

Christianity has had this split personality for some time now. On one hand you have the obsessive fundamentalist side that is aggressive in nature. On the other hand you have the calm and steady philosophical or cultural (PC) side that has made positive contributions to society.  Why should  this duality be ignored by skeptics and perpetuated by Christians? If Christians were to "clean their house", I think a reasonable case for a sustainable Christianity could be made. 

An Episode of Christian Rivalry: A Brief look at Yale

 Back in the day, one of my favorite Homiletics (the study of preaching) writers was a Christian man that was often referred to as a Christian humanist.  I am referring to Phillips Brooks, his excellent book is called “Lectures on Preaching”. This book is only one jewel from a source that will surprise many of you. This 1876 lecture was the sixth annual discourse in The Lyman Beecher Lectureship on Preaching presented by the Yale Divinity School in New Haven, Connecticut.  One of these lecturing men, Matthew Simpson, participated in the funeral of former US President, Abraham Lincoln. This lectureship series still continues up until the present day. 

One of the early presidents of Yale, Timothy Dwight, was the grandson of the heralded revivalist preacher Jonathan Edwards whose famous sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” garnered historical significance.  Timothy Dwight accepted the presidency of Yale college in 1795. Dwight’s grandson, also named Timothy, later accepted the Yale presidency in 1886 and under his direction the college became a university. 

The question might be asked, why speak so much about Yale and what role does the university play in this article? The purpose is to briefly touch upon the history of an Ivy League School in order for the reader to get a glimpse into an enduring struggle within Christianity.  In 1795, when the elder Timothy Dwight took his leadership role, most Yale men scoffed at the idea of divine revelation.  He battled the many forms of skepticism in his day (Mr. Dwight was the Professor of the Divinity School as well as President of Yale College at the same time). 

Fundamentalism was abandoned by men of learning, while Philosophical or Cultural Christianity survived

 The point being made is that well over 200 years ago, educated men struggled about what role Christianity will play in society. Should Christianity be viewed as today’s’ Fundamentalists desire, or as a philosophical or cultural Christian consideration? 

Needless to say, men of learning abandoned the Fundamentalist version of Christianity a very long time ago. Some people within the Fundamentalist persuasion aware of this fact caution young men today about the dangers of a Christian Seminary education, they prefer to refer to it as a cemetery of once well intentioned men and women. Many of today’s Christians would have to be classified as a Philosophical or Cultural (PC) Christians. They would laugh at you if they thought that you thought they actually took the Bible literally. 

Philosophical or Cultural Christians (PC) usually don’t get offended when skeptics make fun of Christianity, many times it just isn’t personal! These same Christians can also distance themselves from the Biblical position of creation and identify themselves holding to an evolutionary viewpoint and not see this as any compromise with Christianity. 

Checkmate: Fundamentalism Looses 

The greater skeptical movement when properly focused can virtually destroy the bible because it is morally perverted, internally inconsistent, historically incorrect, and scientifically wrong.  If this were a chess game, someone would have already proclaimed checkmate!  When the “truth” of the Bible is destroyed all you have left of Christianity is a philosophical view that the PC holds. I will later point out, that this view isn’t all bad. 

It seems that all a fundamentalists can really do is harass a skeptic.  They can argue about evolution, decry abortion, wave the flag, and write off people in frustration because the Holy Spirit has not enlightened us heathen to their many crazy views. It appears to me that the best a fundamentalist viewpoint can offer is to incite hatred, divisions and to foment war.  Christian Fundamentalism needs to be put away! 

Cultural or Philosophical Christians 

Several have speculated that the recent atheist surge is due to atheist anger in response to Christian fundamentalists meddling in society.  Maybe they are correct, most Christian fundamentalists are certainly annoying.  If we could conceivably get rid of fundamentalism, then we would still have the PC Christians to deal with. Funny thing is that most PC’s dislike fundamentalism almost as much as I do. Although I have never heard one say it, they seem to view the fundamentalist as a bastard sibling and are embarrassed to admit that they are actually part of the family.  

I strain myself to recall having any conflict with the PC crowd due to religion.  My wife holds to a PC position, so I might go with her to church enough to fulfill the PC attendance quota of 1-2 times a year just to be a good sport! Otherwise once an atheist and PC answer the baptism question of their infant child (we didn’t baptize), the remainder is normally smooth sailing. Several Christians dance between the PC and fundamentalist positions when it serves their best interest to do so. Politics, business, and religion do make strange bedfellows, don’t they? 

I have vacillated between the two positions of: 1) Trying to destroy Christianity  2) Being passive about PC Christianity.  When I survey my thought history, it seems that it is always the fundamentalist position that disturbs me. The PC position only disturbed me when I was a fundamentalist. By no means do I speak for all atheists, atheism is only a reply in answer to an inquiry  about theism.  The view I am about to present is a “voice in the crowd” about my thoughts concerning PC Christianity. To present this viewpoint, I will need to tread upon some controversial and delicate subject matters! 

 Don't blame the depravity of communism on a theism 

I detest communism. Having lived in Latvia now for sometime, it is hard to dismiss the many negative aspects that communism deposits upon a society. Latvia having had its freedom taken away has had a full generation plus that endured communism up until 1991 when it regained its sovereignty. People need to realize that communism is an economic system as well as a totalitarian position.  Many throw atheism into the mix when communism is discussed, but in Latvia’s case Christian churches were allowed during the Soviet occupation. The media never mentioned churches; most of the pre-existing churches were used for other functions during the occupation. Churches were almost non- existent, and those who went to church took risks and problems usually followed those that did attend. Especially if they were communist party members. Schools taught that a belief in any “god” was crazy. They taught that people should do what is best for the Communist party and then for themselves.  So atheism wasn’t proclaimed as a position, rather  it was presented as a lack of belief in the foolish position of some god existing. With this understanding, you can properly see how atheism existed and functioned. 

From Experience: I Would Rather Live in a “Christian” Society 

Let me be the first to label those who would want to “sound bite” my thoughts about rather living in a Christian society as divisive and shallow if they only mention the above heading in discussion. In reality, society is a collective look at a group of individuals and their apparent personal character. Economically when poor people are so close to the “bottom line” of surviving, it is easier to understand why they would lie, cheat and steal for a better life for themselves and the ones that they love.  I have noticed that these survival skills of the parents are often either caught or taught by their children.  Things you take for granted in a prosperous country can be but a dream in a poor one. Life within a poor country often isn't as enjoyable as one with a history of a good economy is. 

Latvia is still a poor country; life isn’t easy for the common man here.  My heartbreaks when viewing the elderly, they really struggle! I am trying to raise awareness and the desirability of community building projects for both the elderly and the youth. My plea so far has fallen upon deaf ears. This point is relevant to this discussion because when a generation plus has lived in this type of environment, who is reaching out to help them now? Under communism, the past focus was to give to the party and that the party would take care of you when you got older. The elderly whose prime wealth building years and labor have now come and gone, they were not able to build any meaningful personal reserves for retirement. So who is left to care for them now since their cries to a non-responsive government are unheeded? It has to come from humanists and from the PC Christians.  I respect this giving aspect from PC Christians that give as Jesus taught them to give. I think that both atheists and Christians should acknowledge each others positive contributions within our communities.  Fundamentalists do send missionaries here, but the focus is upon building the Christian kingdom, not humanitarian reasons. Thus they contribute nothing of community value. 

Which society is better, Atheist or Christian? 

Now if one were to look at Norway, the world could get a fair assessment of the above question. Norway has done quite well for itself as a secular nation!  I understand this due to my wife graduating with a Masters in Economics from a Norwegian University. When people ask which society is better, Atheism or Christian,  I think the question is bogus without consideration and including  a study of the economic facts. It is difficult to give when you are so close to your own bottom line of survival (poor people living within a poor country). People usually give more readily when they have excess in which to give. In Norway’s case, I’d rather live in a secular "atheist" nation. In Latvia’s case, I would rather live in a "Christian" nation (I can only compare to my native USA).  American’s are quick to volunteer and give to those in need when they are able. Latvia’s pace is much slower due to economics and the absence of good moral instructions as you would find in PC Christianity.  PC Christianity normally chooses the positive values that Jesus’ taught, amongst these are the value of the individual and for human life. Latvia has had its own holocaust, a terrible story that I will probably address at a later date. I cannot help but think, what if that totalitarian government had valued individual life? Yes, I would concede the point that Christianity could have made a difference here, but this we would never truly know. 

A Case for a Sustainable Christianity 

So when I am tempted in anger to seek the destruction of Christianity, I keep some of the ideas I have mentioned in mind. With this said, I can better see a more rational approach. I would love to see Fundamentalism go away and leave the edifice of PC Christianity in place.  I would love to see it reduced from a religion to a philosophy with the positive teachings of Jesus being retained.  Then let us place the Bible in either the literature or philosophy section of our libraries and bookstores. Since a PC doesn't accept the Bible literally yet still clings to the facade of Christianity, I wish to coin a phrase about your Bible belief:" If your Bible isn't literal, then it must be literature". 

Christianity needs to shed its split personality and say good-bye to fundamentalism. For too long now, it has gotten away with having it both ways. I am just one man seeking those who are rational to examine  my proposition.  I wouldn’t mind if a sustainable form of PC Christianity survives. My message to Christians is clean up the mess that you have made because you can’t have it both ways!


Brian Worley     March 15, 2008    All rights reserved



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