Liberal Fundamentalism


(system) #1

I still remember the negative backlash I received from an article I never wrote. I did scribe almost all of the content. However, when I submitted it to Spectrum for publication, the former editor changed the title without my knowledge or consent. Consequently, “The Place for Ordained Women has Already been Set” became “At God’s Table Women Sit Where They Are Told.” Steeled to my demand for an apology and correction, the editor responded that I should be “grateful” that Spectrum had published the article in the first place, since there were a number of people on the editorial board who did not want it published at all.

Spectrum Spanking

“Some ‘spectrum’!” I screamed internally as I reflected on the supposed mission of Spectrum and it’s parent association. “Isn’t this journal supposed to be a platform where differences can be aired without editorial bias?” Apparently it wasn’t, and I made a conscious decision to refrain from submitting articles to a medium that appeared to have been bit by the “tabloid” bug.

Some may wonder why after this experience I am once more making literary contributions to a journal that stung me. That’s not too difficult to answer. Firstly, I believe I know the heart of the current editor, who invited me to be a part of the writing team, and she appears committed to the stated mission. Secondly, I am personally committed to sharing what I believe to be the biblical perspective on controversial issues of the twenty-first century (yes, I did say “the” biblical perspective, but before you respond please take note of the words that precede it: “what I believe to be”). Although I am aware that the web managers are not very vigilant in policing my columns and ad hoc comments about me and my family members are often overlooked, I have stuck with the journal for the past three years because I view my contribution as a part of my ministry.

Sobering Semantics

My experience with Spectrum has only served to reinforce my long time observations about many so-called “liberals.” Their ideology may be different from those on their philosophical “right,” but their “methodology” is often identical. The only term I can think of to describe this shared methodology is “fundamentalism.” I’m definitely not the first to make this connection. Alistair McGrath recognized this irony in his 2007 publication, The Dawkins Delusion? Atheist Fundamentalism and the Denial of the Divine.

Fundamentalism is driven by a conviction that there are certain incontrovertible “truths” that are so fixed that they are not subject to debate. The problem with fundamentalists is not so much their inflexible confidence in these truths, but their attitude of arrogance and contempt that castigates those who reject its ideological claims. This attitude is often seen in both ends of the fundamentalist pendulum. On one extreme, those who reject the assertions of right-wing fundamentalist Christians are immediately sentenced to a lifetime of torture in a burning hell. On the other, those who reject the declarations of left-wing fundamentalist views on creation and sexuality are exiled to the islands of bigotry and naiveté.

While conservative religious fundamentalists are quick to embrace the descriptor with pride, liberal fundamentalists will probably be appalled to even have the secondary adjective attached to their identity. However, if those on the far left share the same attitude as those on the far right, why shouldn’t they merit the same description? On both extremes the adherents’ minds are closed to dialogue and are apparently calcified in the “rightness” of their stance. In spite of the labels they prefer for themselves, Shakespeare’s semantic principle aptly applies, and “Fundamentalism by any other name will still be characterized by closed mindedness.”

Arrogant Ignorance

When I completed the previous paragraph on Monday morning, I did not know about Tuesday evening’s debate between Bill Nye and Ken Ham. As I watched the two present their arguments and rebuttals, I couldn’t help but think that most of Bill Nye’s supporters were probably looking down their long noses at the “Bible beating” fundamentalist who refused to be rattled by the “Science Guy’s” insistence that humans have the ability to know the unknowable. I’m sure that some even felt that their guy hit a “slam dunk” when in response to the moderator’s (CNN’s Tom Foreman) final question concerning what would make either debater change his mind, Nye answered, “Evidence,” while Ham responded “Nothing.”

While it may appear as if Nye gave a more reasonable answer, both he and Ham effectually said the same thing. Ham is operating under the conviction that the Bible provides an accurate account of the beginning of life on earth. Since he believes in the infallibility of the Bible, there is nothing that can change his mind. On the other hand, Nye embraces the veracity of the evolutionary theories canonized by the National Science Foundation and other “scientific” organizations. Similar to Ham, since he believes in the infallibility of the scientific method, there is nothing that can change his mind. The difference between the two is that while Ham acknowledges that his position is based on faith, Nye arrogantly believes that he can know the unknowable. So deluded is he by his certainty, that he cannot grasp the simple concept that one who “believes” that they know, can never “know” that they know.

It is for this very reason that I would like to nominate Bill Nye as the perfect poster child for Liberal Fundamentalists. Just like his counterparts in right wing fundamentalism, he exudes an air of intolerance and superiority as he dismisses contrary views with elitist disdain. In the debate, he was so intoxicated by his own sense of intellectual impregnability that he was totally oblivious to the absurdity of his statements about biblical translation and interpretation. Unfortunately, liberal “ditto heads” like CNN’s Piers Morgan and MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell (who declared Nye the victor a day before the debate) have drank from the same intoxicating cup and are unable to discern the fallacy of the presuppositions that inform evolution.

Conclusion

In spite of the illogical arguments that inform many of the items on its agenda, liberal fundamentalism appears to be winning the culture war. Funded by government coffers and bolstered by media evangelists, untold numbers are responding to the altar call where they embrace the unreasonable doctrines of the Goddess of Reason. Sadly, many professed Christians have joined the ranks of the infidels who believe that they too can “know” the unknowable as they ridicule the remnant who are not ashamed to acknowledge that they—like all humans—are creatures of faith. While I know that the growth and influence of liberal fundamentalism is is a sign of the times, I constantly pray that the Spirit of God will continue to agitate the hearts of those being deceived. As we pray for God’s intervention together, let us never forget that “a tree is known by its fruit.”

Keith Augustus Burton directs the Center for Adventist-Muslim Relations at Oakwood University and is the Author of the e-Book, “The Big Bang that Nobody Heard: How Evolution Impacts Your Faith.”


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/5797