The Good-guy vs. Bad-guy Scenario: A Fundamentalist Primer

 Brian Worley

It’s not going to be easy, but I think that theists and non-theists need to stop employing the good guy vs. bad guy scenario as frequently as we do whenever we discuss matters of concern between ourselves. Seems like we prefer to gravitate towards several “Godfather-type” solutions like “Going to the mattresses” or “Make them an offer that they can’t refuse” that only exasperate relations...we as a society need to mature! 

I for one don’t think that the faithful are anywhere near as bad as many of my fellow non-theists make them out to be. I have publicly acknowledged this fact though the Christian Common Good page! If you think I am exaggerating then I challenge anyone to name at least ONE other non-theist website upon the entire web that sincerely recognizes the faithful’s contributions to society! Perhaps then you will understand why an article like this coming from a secular perspective is long overdue! 

Don’t get me wrong here; there are enough bad guys to go around like embezzlers, clergy pedophiles, theocrats and other hate mongering bigots that betray the virtues of religion. Shame upon those institutions that cover for them, you have sacrificed your credibility in the process! 

It isn’t fair to say though that the “bad apples” therein spoil the whole bunch; this simplistic analogy isn’t accurate nor is it reasonable. Frankly, I’d say that the rank and file of the faithful give much more to those in need then non-theists do! What else would one expect? Jesus’ instructions to give are routinely followed by the faithful while non-theists see little to no reason to follow Jesus’ admonition to give.   

As most of you know, I abandoned my walk of faith after a 23-year tour to eventually adopt a secular humanist approach towards living. Remnants of Jesus’ admonitions (especially love and compassion) still register with me although I cannot see any reason to elevate a book of literature (such as the Bible) to divine status, nor should we have any obligation to its dictates. I have relatively no problems with pure religion; it is the religion that has been pushed toward the right (fundamentalism) that I take issue with! 

What is a fundamentalist? 

Lets clarify the difference between a nominal practitioner and a fundamentalist. It is largely a matter of degree. You start to suspect fundamentalism when an individual crosses the imaginary line of  “lifestyle evangelism” to the point of being pushy, divisive or forcing their belief system. Fundamentalist can be of the non-theist persuasion as well. Non-theists have reason while believers have the “Holy Spirit”; those that push the action beyond these two agents of persuasion are fundamentalists.  A good one-word definition for a fundamentalist is…pushy! 

Believing in the basic “fundamentals” of the faith doesn’t necessarily make one a fundamentalist. Fundamentalist cannot take “no” or “I am not interested” for an answer; they insist that you partake of what they are into! They get frustrated whenever you resist and will want revenge when you reject them. Perhaps it is a personality disorder, the way they carry themselves, or they are trying to present a flawed position that others find so annoying. Their “truth” trumps manners and diplomacy. They are the obnoxious salesmen that you try so hard to avoid. They are bullies that you cannot relax around; you have to stand up to them and put them in their place if you want peace! 

A Progressive Primer…How to recognize the subtle tactic of being pushed to the right

Bear with me as I share a personal episode to help illumine how this tactic works. I was reared in the fundamentalist religious right; perhaps I should say I was schooled! The infant stages of recognizing a fundamentalist’s tactics can be near subliminal to detect unless you know what to look for. Fundamentalists desire to take/pressure you into a more extreme, divisive, often self-centered direction then what you may personally want to venture. 

Upon graduating from Tennessee Temple University in 1990 with my Bachelor in Pastoral Studies, I was quickly offered a position on the staff of First Baptist Church in Seaside, California. I was more interested in church-planting though and they were happy to keep me there until I was prepared to accept the offer of a small mission board called Baptist Church Planting West run by Harvey Seidel. Although Seidel initially showed enthusiasm and support, he kept his disdain for my alma mater and for accepting that staff position in Seaside to himself for some time. Although I was a fundamentalist…I wasn’t fundamental enough

So after Seidel had made promises and I had found a conducive part-time job with Sears; I moved from Seaside to Lodi, California to position and move ahead for the church plant. I was advised by my long time friend Donald Domelle to work with Seidel because many churches wanted to see an Independent Baptist brand of church be successful in Lodi (others had failed). Seidel’s board would be able to get me what was needed….but there was a hidden catch involved that was exposed after I had reached my most vulnerable point. 

Here is how Seidel used the push to the right tactic on me. New church plants are rarely in the position to bring in well-known speakers such as Evangelist Tim Lee was in 1990. Lee was a friend of the church/pastor whom ordained me into the ministry. Lee was also a regional vice president of the super fundamentalist Trinity Baptist College where I had once attended. Tim Lee was a US Marine war hero that had his legs blown off while stepping on a landmine during combat and lived through it. Lee preaches fire and brimstone from the pulpit in a wheelchair! 

Seidel casually asked me if I would have Lee speak in my pulpit (keep in mind…the church wasn’t even started yet!) if I were able to get him to come. I said Harvey, Tim Lee is an excellent preacher but I wouldn’t bring anybody in to speak until the church could properly financially compensate them for coming. That was a great answer…so I thought. Lee wasn’t “far enough” to the right for Seidel and he let me know about it! 

I said, ”Harvey you asked me a hypothetical question, which I gave you an honest answer for.” Seidel proceeded to tell me that he couldn’t work with anyone who would have Evangelist Tim Lee speak at their church in reality or hypothetically. Seidel dropped me because he couldn’t push me further to the right. Seidel was basically a “drill sergeant” that shakes “casual” fundamentalists out of the family tree! 

That is an example of how it works within fundamentalism folks. Money, hanging with the “in” crowd, accolades and support follows those who go with the flow! Some don’t need the push to go to the right though. Their ego or desires for popularity and/or financial rewards are incentive enough for them. I sense that more are pushed towards the right rather than going there upon their own volition. The majority of these younger guys soften as they grow older and mature. 

 If one thinks about it, this pattern applies and is consistent with human nature of any extreme position. Excuse the theological term, but this is basically the “selling of your soul question” that comes into focus here. This happens in virtually every walk of life. Do you want to do good, be loving and work towards the common good or to be divisive by selling out and taking an extreme position upon the right or left? Yes, I’m afraid that the “big question” in life is frequently a theological question! 

Once you recognize the tactic, ask yourself who benefits and who suffers if you comply? Unadulterated, pure religion concerns itself with meeting the needs of the poor and needy and emphasizes character (James 1:27). With a few exceptions, churches aligned to the right don’t do that much for the poor.  Sure they have missionaries, but their work is centered upon building the kingdom rather than being humanitarian sensitive. When you contrast fundamentalist missionaries with liberal/moderate churches’ missionaries (which are largely humanitarian focused) you are more likely to see their agendas. Missionaries are commonly associated with imperialism, which is a tactic of the right. Within religious circles, the left usually aligns with need, while the right with greed. It isn’t a stretch to say that the push towards the right is a veiled war on the poor. 

As we know, the “push to the left/right” produces polarization of our society, which eventually leads to conflict. The benefactors of polarization are commonly to those upon either extreme. The common (middle class) man doesn’t benefit! I’m asking you to recognize the game for what it is and to do the right thing! What is the right thing? Once again, humanity would benefit if we followed the admonition of Phillipians 4:8. 

Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things. 

It shouldn’t spook anyone to see a non-theist “cherry pick” positive guidelines, principles or statements from the scriptures. In fact, I think it would serve secular interests well to sing the praises of the good within the book along with pointing out the absurdities therein. Sure, we don’t believe….but why should we be against good principles that are elegantly spoken? 

Atheism & the Good-guy vs. Bad-guy Scenario  

It has been deja-vu all over again for me since 2003 when I started Ex-Minister because I have chosen not to follow the rather large crowd that aggressively pushes non-theists to the right. Ex-Minister is upon an island it seems, many non-theists don’t want to have any association with me because I won’t parrot the divisive party line. I have discovered that the push to the right is just as evident in non-theism circles as it was in Christian fundamentalist circles! Does this surprise you? The party line in non-theism is a push towards the right in atheism. 

Atheism is a very divisive proposition in society due to an improper naming of their concept and the fundamentalists within their ranks. The fundamental atheists within would just claim that they are enthusiastic and or more assertive than what a secular humanist might be. Fundamental atheism’s self-perception is deluded because they aren’t bright enough or human enough to understand the differences between being intentionally rude or divisive and merely being assertive with their views. 

Atheism is a pirates domain 

I will give atheism credit for being clever though. They have mastered the art of pirating techniques, which few within non-theistic circles seem to recognize although they happen in broad daylight. If atheism doesn’t care for theism then they shouldn’t pirate the faithful’s theism identity like they do when they call themselves aTHEISTs. They do a similar pirating technique with the position of humanism. Prominent atheists like Richard Dawkins and Ron Lindsey should be true to their atheist position and not be allowed to get away with pirating humanism’s unique identity in my opinion. Both guys are key figures within large humanist organizations. 

Many atheists think that religion is the primary cause of problems in our world, which is very divisive. Fundamentalists are troublesome, but the majority of theists are good people! Theists are concerned and actively working to confront what I see as the root causes of the world’s problems such as the love of money (greed), pride, and vanity; yet the atheists make the faithful out to be the “bad guys”.  Something is drastically wrong with that picture! If we could “unplug” from the gamesmanship and unnecessary uses of the good-guy vs. bad-guy scenario then we could focus upon what is really important in society. 

Solution: Properly Identify and Kick out the “bad guys” 

Now that we have learned to recognize the problem; what should we do about it?  Answer: we need to resist and to kick the bums out! This is why Ex-Minister engages Christian/Atheistic fundamentalism (bad guy), yet warms up to progressive Christianity (good guy).  There is nothing contradictory with this stance for those whom can distinguish between the real good guys and the real bad guys. 

Ex-Minister entertains no illusions of reforming either extremist side of theism’s fundamentalists. One cannot make progress with deluded folks who only want to argue and divide society. While they profit, humanity suffers at their expense. Perhaps 2010 will be the year when someone steps-up and financially supports Ex-Minister to enable us to address some of the religiously charged issues that divide American society. 

Ex-Minister has just dropped its linkage to several “bad-guys” within the “reason movement” because frankly, they aren’t that reasonable! Polarization of humanity isn’t a virtuous quality from my viewpoint. I will briefly comment upon a few that the website has parted ways with… 

The Reason Project 

I’d probably always agree with most any atheist about the contradictions, errors and absurdity of what some of the faithful foolishly proclaim. But I have real problems with the manner in which some atheists conduct their “transactions” with those whom see things differently. Take for example Sam Harris’ “Hall of Shame” upon the Reason Project (RP) website. 

Recall the aforementioned fundy tactics and look at how the RP handled reasonable peace seeking folks such as Philip Ball, Michael Ruse, Karen Armstrong and Jimmy Carter. What was the crime of these progressive individuals? While they all sought reasonable solutions…Sam doesn’t seem to like that they don’t go to a  far enough extreme” and belittle and alienate the faithful. I know a fundamentalist when I see one, bye-bye Sam!

Richard Dawkins 

I look at Dawkins and marvel at the power of a great PR machine. I had just recently re-read the eight chapter of his ”The God Delusion” entitled “What’s Wrong With Religion”, “Why Be So Hostile” and was so under whelmed that he didn’t prove the thesis of the chapter. I’d agree with what he said here if he would have simply stated that it is the fundamentalists causing the problems….but he broad brushed all of the faithful with the same stroke. Racists do the same sort of thing! 

Dawkins’ points (Ch. 8) are weak and I sense that he inwardly recognizes the same because he refuses to debate selected folks. He is somewhat like “Humpty Dumpty” who has been placed high upon the wall by the PR machines and is afraid to fall...or be pushed. Frankly, I think he is “in over his head” whenever he steps outside of scientific disciplines into the theological arena. To me, he is a man whom has burned his winning lottery ticket. 

Counsel for Secular Humanism (CSH) 

My, how times have changed. I had once reached out to CSH desiring to work with them largely due to the positive societal influence they had under Paul Kurtz’s leadership. Now it appears that the non-theist fundamentalists have taken hold of the organization. The blasphemy i.e. hate contest was confirmation enough for me to know that they intend to sail in a different direction then the normal understanding of what the secular humanist position has been. 

I haven’t noticed any official acknowledgement that the new regime has discovered the error of their ways. Seems that they want to downplay and hold on to see if they can weather the storm they started. I hope that those within CSH will fight to get the organization that Paul Kurtz built from the ground up back towards their previous path. I don’t see this happening unless all of the troublemakers are kicked out. I’m sure my dropping them will hurt (partial sarcasm), but Ex-Minister doesn’t want to align with organizations that are combative or disrespectful to the good people of faith.

Left vs. Right….Politically speaking 

Perhaps the problem all along has been that we were “pinning the tail on the donkey” rather than “pinning the tail on the elephant”! I hope you caught the subtle meaning here. 

The political right and the religious right are practically the same group that has commandeered the Republican party within America. One of their favorite divisive maneuvers is to bang the “liberal” war drum loudly to demonize afundamentalist people of faith. I hope you caught the subtle mean here as well and recognize the tactic. If you didn’t, anyone who isn’t a fundamentalist is a pussyfooter, compromiser or a liberal deserving of slander. 

What is a liberal anyway? Within religion, liberals are those that are smart enough to know that many things within the Bible were not meant to be taken literally! Fundamentalists have a low wattage light bulb and cannot see this. Being branded as a religious liberal is a backhanded “fundamentalist compliment” hurled towards siblings smarter then themselves with the intent to insult that frequently transcends into political significance for those upon the right if it goes unchecked. Few “liberals” know how to properly handle loathsome fundies and it costs them dearly! 

Lets say that we are in an ice cream shop and you ask for a “liberal” scoop. The person at the counter knows that this means that you want a larger scoop than normal. The only person offended with an occasional request like this might be the owner (liberalism cost money). I’m simply saying that economic/theological struggles can be disguised as philosophical/political questions that we fail to recognize and thus foolishly argue about issues that cannot be solved unless they are first understood! 

Liberalism isn’t a good business decision for those inclined towards greed. In a rich man’s world, caring and compassionate people get labeled as “bleeding hearts”. Jesus gave people fishes and loaves; liberals proclaiming what Jesus taught concerning human need are constantly being badgered by fundamentalist. Caring and compassion is something honorable; the “bleeding heart” smear shouldn’t be able to stick to those whom understand how the game is played...but you must counter the charge! Non-theists should be wise towards this game and understand who truly deserves the “bad guy” label and take corrective action rather than being sucked into it! Sad to say, but many current day non-theists have fallen into the trap and are pawns in this game. 

Love changes things 

Disgusts, anger and disappointments usually play a part in many of our past experiences to the propelling point where we finally decide to do something about it. It is a rare occasion for me to share from my personal experiences about details of my fundamentalist past. My life has been filled with frequent twists and turns that have resulted with someone “pulling the rug” out from underneath of me for not pumping the divisive party line. While some might call this rebellion or stubbornness, I have always viewed others complicity to the convenient path to be suckers for “fools gold!” The world is full of folks who will buy the “shallow promises” for temporal earthly comfort or attention only to find depression and discontent when the ether wears off. Love is what changes individuals and if there is to be any hope for the world….it will be because of the power of love to transform us. 

                                             Brian Worley       January 2, 2010      All rights reserved.  

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