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“Dumbth” in Fundamentalism?

In his book Dumbth: The Lost Art of Thinking, Steve Allen gives 101 “ways to reason better and improve your mind.” Allen is obviously not a Christian, but Christians could learn a few things from him.

In Rule #13 (“Beware of giving children only factual answers”), Allen says,

In inculcating moral instruction, therefore, care should be taken to emphasize the sweet reasonableness of moral behavior. One reason this is a wise course is that millions of people, as adults, have either consciously abandoned or casually drifted away from their original spiritual homes. If they believed in certain moral rules simply because, say, the Mormon or the Catholic church insisted on them, they are likely to lose part of their respect for such rules if, for whatever reasons, they abandon Mormonism or Catholicism. But if they have been shown the simple common sense of a moral code, it is likely to persist as part of their mindset. 

Using that thought as a springboard, I’d like to make the suggestion that the seemingly wholesale abandonment of Fundamentalism by many young adults who have been born and bred in Fundamentalist churches and schools is a result of a similar problem. Too many times children are taught that they do what they do and believe what they believe because they are Fundamentalists.

When they grow older and more discriminating in their thinking, these young people find that many of the activities done in the name of Fundamentalism are activities that they simply cannot accept in light of fundamentals of the faith. Assertions are made in the name of Fundamentalism that are either inconsistent, theologically untenable, or simply imponderable for a person committed to intellectual integrity.

Tragically, these young people have been educated in such a way that their temptation is to discard not only the impalatable eccentricities of contemporary Fundamentalism, but essential fundamentals of Fundamentalism. They throw the proverbial baby out with the bathwater. In other words, a young person may resist the flawed and dishonest logic of radical King James-onlyism and, since it has been hammered into his mind that this KJVO teaching is part and parcel with authentic Fundamentalism, he may also utterly reject the reasonable and biblically tenable doctrine of separation.

I would suggest that it is dishonest teaching to instruct children in such a way that they grow up believing that every moral virtue and every theological verity is the exclusive property of their particular denomination. This kind of indoctrination has ugly consequences. When the indoctrinated begin to see our weak arguments and flawed reasoning (as they surely will), they are inclined to dismiss everything else that we have taught them as equally irrelevant to their lives. We are partially to blame should they react thus, since we have brainwashed them into believing that all truth is exclusively ours.

This suggestion is not mere speculative philosophizing. I think the evidence is already beginning to come in. I am astounded at the confusion among American Christians today because of the sectarian teaching that they have received from their particular denominations. As a Fundamental Baptist, I mourn the fact that so many young Fundamental Baptists are disgusted with Baptist Fundamentalism in general — yet I hardly blame them.

I can talk to a Fundamental Baptist leader who equates attendance at the movies with “neo-evangelicalism” (huh?!) but who remains unmoved that his own family and church are saturated in the same or worse worldly content via TV, videos and DVDs. When I see that kind of self-contradiction and undermining of logic and truth, I cannot help but understand the confusion of the young adults in such a leader’s church when they begin to slip away from Fundamentalism (not to mention the many others who extricated themselves long ago).

These young people were taught — literally — that “Fundamentalists do not go to theaters.” They have not been taught a foundational rationale for avoiding all forms of worldliness, the persuasive teaching from Scripture that we are not to love the things of the world.

* The above entry was run again in January of 2006.


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