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Christian Fundamentalism: Dependence on Rationality o

Posted on: February 23, 2020

Category: Theology

Christian Fundamentalism: Dependence on Rationality o

Christian Fundamentalism: Dependance on Rationality
When I indicated, in the last e-News, that I would issue a series of three blogs on Christian fundamentalism, there was wide interest. When I stated that this second of three blogs would address the fundamentalist dependence on rationality, several people thought this was an oxymoron. If anything, it seems like Christian fundamentalism rejects rationality. However, it is important to distinguish between reason and rationality; the latter makes use of reason even if it appears to another as foolishness.

Etymologically, reason means order; nothing can exist without some kind of order. Reason relates to counting. It is about understanding the purpose of things. In this deep sense, reason is universal even though rationality, the use of reason, can vary from person to person.
In its root sense, reason is not the opposite of emotion. Reason is the principle of organization. Our emotional selves often can be chaotic, but reason refers to the purpose of functions. So, even our emotional selves “function” for a purpose according to the evolutionary history of humankind. We can learn to handle our emotions, too, when we learn how they work or function within us according to their often hidden and deceiving order of being.

Rationality, though, is how one reasons. It is about what one accepts as the foundation of reasoning. Though it is very difficult to make general statements about fundamentalism (and I have learned over time that there are indeed liberal and conservative forms of fundamentalism), I will state here what I perceive to be the principle of rationality in fundamentalism: The Bible cannot contradict God.

This basic principle in fundamentalism is essentially the logical law of non-contradiction, which states that contradictory propositions cannot be simultaneously true (this logical “law” emerged long before Quantum physics). In fundamentalism, the Bible is God, or the witness to God, and God is the cosmic Lord. So, the principle of non-contradiction is religiously experienced in fundamentalism with the general conclusion that science, that is, knowledge, must confirm and conform to the Bible. The singularly most effective critique of fundamentalism is to point out contradictions in the Bible. This works so well because it introduces instability to the fundamentalist law of non-contradiction.

We can see the law of non-contradiction working out in many different forms of fundamentalist rationality. Miracles must be true because God as the cosmic Lord is Lord over the elements of nature. The Bible cannot contradict God, so miracles must be divine acts of intervention in nature. If not, then the Bible does contradict God, which is untenable.

The same logic applies to biblical criticism. If Jesus said Moses wrote the Torah, then Moses wrote the Torah because the Bible cannot contradict God (or, in this case, Jesus). Modern biblical scholarship, which uses contradiction to raise the question of authorship, is an attack on the fundamentalist law of non-contradiction. This makes modern biblical criticism a threat to Christian belief.
While there are other examples of fundamentalist rationality in action, my point is to identify a single, stable element and to indicate that once a contradiction is accepted in fundamentalism, the whole system starts to fall apart.

The particular trouble with fundamentalism is that the law of non-contradiction is not a law of history or of human psychology. It is merely a logical law. In normal life, it is impossible to claim that two contradictory things are true at the same time. You cannot be going and not going to the store at the same time. However, you might go and not go to the store “psychologically”; this would constitute doubt about going or longing to go. In history, contradictory claims compose the human record. In my own writing, I have stated some things that I thought were true that turned out not to be true. Yet, in making such statements, I inadvertently made untrue things true. When this happens, you realize your mistake and try to go back to correct it, but the cat is already out of the bag, and the story of an untrue thing being true spreads around. In history, like in the biblical record, contradictory stories emerge and some things end up being true and not true at the same time.

The Christian fundamentalist problem is that fundamentalism does not let the Bible be human, which means it does not allow the Bible to be both historically and psychologically contextual. The attack on homosexuality in Christian fundamentalism, for example, is based on ancient sexual understandings wrapped up in ancient psychology, which is a rather poor foundation for our present understanding of sexual equality and plurality. Ancient accounts of significant battles or culturally altering events, like when Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon, are often mythological in nature and inaccurate, if not propaganda, in detail. We cannot just ignore history and the problems of interpretation when it comes to the Bible. History and psychology are not sufficiently stable to hold a law of non-contradiction.

Fundamentalism has problems in all sorts of ways, but it does not lack rationality. We might say its form of rationality is fragile and poorly conceived as well as misapplied to the Bible, but there is a rationality there. It is the law of non-contradiction understood as the principle of Christian belief. Against this background we can say that to recover from Christian fundamentalism is to recover one’s own humanity, one’s own psychological and historical self.

©By David Galston

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