The problem with Michael Flynn: 11-25-16
The scapegoating idea is universal: 11-28-16

Cogent arguments against fundamentalism: 11-26/27-16

I am going to do something here this weekend that I've never done: Review seven books, all by the same author, even though I haven't finished reading every word of all seven.

GodcoverI do it because from the books I have read and the parts I've skimmed, I have concluded that this is an important series and that many of you might have an interest in owning the series or giving it (or some parts of it) as a holiday gift. I have every intention of reading all seven volumes, but I didn't want to wait until I finished that task to let you know about the series.

The series is called "Confronting Fundamentalism," and it's written by Catherine M. Wallace, a cultural historian who is on the faculty of the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University. If it would help you to watch a video of her talking about this series, which she spent a decade writing, click here.

Here are the books in the series:

Confronting a Controlling God
Confronting Religious Denial of Gay Marriage
Confronting Religious Violence
Confronting Religious Denial of Science
Confronting Religious Judgmentalism
Confronting Religious Absolutism
The Confrontational Wit of Jesus
The link I've given you on Wallace's name above will get to you a site from which you also can order the books.
Wallace's primary point is that Christian fundamentalism, with its literalistic way of reading the Bible and its harsh rules about what's right and what's wrong, is a distortion of the faith. As she writes in the "Controlling God" book:
Gay-Marriage-page-cover"Christian fundamentalism speaks for God with breathtaking arrogance and sweeping authority, laying out in no uncertain terms what God demands and whom God condemns." And: "Christian fundamentalism does not seek the just, humane, inclusive society preached by Jesus of Nazareth. It offers 'religious' cover to a political agenda that is sharply opposed to democratic government of the people, by the people, and for the people."
One reason this series resonated with me is that it is quite in harmony with my own latest book, The Value of Doubt: Why Unanswered Questions, Not Unquestioned Answers, Build Faith. In that book I argue that unless you are part of a faith community that allows you to express your doubts and ask the hard questions of faith -- unless your faith community understands that we live by metaphor, by myth, by allegory -- it's unlikely that you'll ever acquire a faith that will sustain and inspire you in the midst of life's troubles.
Starting with the "Controlling God" book, which I've read thoroughly, let me give you some key points. Then let me give you a highlight or two from the other six books (most of which are only 100 or a few more pages long).

Violence-cover-- "Christianity has completely lost control of its brand. Pope Francis may be trying to reclaim it, but the odds are against him. . ."

-- "The theology of an ultimately controlling God legitimates -- indeed, requires -- human political tyranny at the hands of 'believers.' When these same believers are biblical literalists immune to arguments based on rigorously established facts, we are in trouble."

-- "Christian spirituality confronts Christian fundamentalism with a simple but profound insight: all God-talk is necessarily and inescapably symbolic."

-- ". . .it is hazardous to attempt to speak about God while remembering that God is not a topic about which we can speak. Anything anyone might say about God, no matter how persuasive, is ultimately contingent."

-- "The whole point of Jesus, theologically speaking, is demonstrating that God is also present to us in and as other people."

-- "Our knowledge of God is never complete nor final nor absolute, because we have no way to know what God in God's creative fecundity will either come to be or come to reveal to us."

Science-cover-- As an aside, her description of the Exodus 3 scene of Moses at the burning bush is wonderfully illuminating, especially her section in which she argues that the traditional English translations that have God saying God's name is "I Am Who I Am" is misleading and should be rendered "I Will Be Who I Will Be."

-- Her affirmation that "I believe in God," is, she writes, "a statement about me. It's not a statement about God. But it's the single most authentic, most reliable theological claim anyone can make." 

-- "Theological literalism is ultimately just as serious a mistake as biblical literalism. Churches that insist upon literalism are committing intellectual suicide. Irrationality is not a prerequisite for faith in God."

Now for a quick taste of what you'll find in the other six volumes in this series:

Confronting Religious Denial of Gay Marriage

Judgmentalism-cover-- "The sanctity of gay marriage will never be widely acknowledged unless Christianity takes the lead. . .But Christian fundamentalism is frankly homophobic just as, in the 1950s, it was frankly racist and then vehemently opposed to equal rights for women."

Confronting Religious Violence

-- "Christianity as I understand it centers itself in a God of love and compassion, not a God of command and control. The Lord of command and control is the God of empire, the God of violence, vengeance, condemnation, and deliberately inflicted pain. The God of Jesus is someone else."

Confronting Religious Denial of Science

-- For scientists and nonscientists alike, and for thoughtful religious people in any faith tradition, the conflict between science and Christian fundamentalism is an appalling state of affairs. But the solution here is not to denounce Christianity across the board, hoping that if it were sufficiently denounced and widely enough ridiculed then it would simply disappear. That's magical thinking too."

Religous-absolutismConfronting Religious Judgmentalism

-- "It seems to me that the moral nihilism of the hard Left is just as incoherent as the judgmental moralism of the hard Right."

Confronting Religious Absolutism

-- "The problem with religious absolutism, then, is not simply that it worships its own unquestionable interpretations. That's bad enough, heaven knows. It's a setup for the situation we face today: the Christian 'brand' has been co-opted. Its symbolic resources and its commitment to common good have been rendered invisible to most people. All of that should worry any thoughtful person, regardless of religious allegiance."

The Confrontational Wit of Jesus

Jesus-cover-- "I hope to convince you that the Gospels are not the story of a God whose outrage can only be mollified by brutal human sacrifice."

If I have a complaint about this series it has to do with the failure of the publisher, Cascade Books, an imprint of Wipf and Stock, to proofread carefully. Far too often annoying typographical errors creep in, and that takes away from interesting and helpful scholarship.

* * * 


The case against Dylann Roof, accused of murdering nine black church members in Charleston, S.C., last year, moved forward this week with a court finding that he is mentally competent to stand trial. This crime was terrible and traumatic, but I'm glad the trial will go forward, though I'm not at all glad that he faces the death penalty, which should be abolished in all states and for all crimes.


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