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Why Christian Fundamentalism is Hard to Shake

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Those who spent decades in Evangelicalism before deconverting often find it hard to completely rid the mind of Fundamentalist thinking. Wait a minute, Bruce, are you saying that Evangelicals are FUNDAMENTALISTS? Yes. Evangelicalism is inherently Fundamentalist. (Please see Are Evangelicals Fundamentalists?) I have had countless Evangelicals attempt to persuade me that THEY are not Fundamentalists, but in the end, all they proved is that they were either liberal Christians masquerading as Evangelicals or — drumroll, please — FUNDAMENTALISTS! As the aforementioned post shows, all Evangelicals are theological Fundamentalists. Where Evangelicals tend to differ with one another is over what I call social Fundamentalism. For example, one Evangelical might be an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) preacher. He has all sorts of narrow, defined social rules by which he governs his life. Another Evangelical used to be an IFB preacher, but now, PRAISE JESUS, he is the pastor of a non-denominational Sovereign Grace church. He has abandoned many of his former social rules and brags about being free to drink beer, smoke cigars, watch TV, and even cuss a bit. See, he says, I am NOT a Fundamentalist. Except, he still is theologically. He still believes the Bible is inspired and inerrant. He still believes in the exclusivity of Christianity. He still believes that there is one true God — his — and salvation is only through the merit and work of Jesus. He still believes that non-Christians go to Hell when they die, even if he doesn’t believe that there are literal fire and brimstone in Hell. His theological beliefs scream FUNDAMENTALIST! And even if he has distanced himself from the rules, regulations, and standards of his IFB past, if you press him you will likely find that he still has quite a long list of behaviors he deems “sinful.” Thus, I stand by what I said, Evangelicals are inherently Fundamentalist.  Now that we have that issue out of the way . . .

Evangelicalism is built on a foundation of religious indoctrination. From the cradle to adulthood, Evangelicals are repeatedly taught what are believed to the tenets of the One True Faith®. For those of us raised in the Evangelical church, these beliefs were pounded into our heads day after day, week after week, and year after year. Not only at church either. Many Evangelical children attend Christian schools or are homeschooled. My wife and I homeschooled all six of our children. Using Bibliocentric curricula, our children were bombarded with Evangelical dogma. In our home, there was no escaping the Evangelical Jesus. Imagine, then, what this immersive approach does to the minds of children, teenagers, and adults. That’s why it is almost impossible to reach Evangelicals who have been raised this way. As long as they are certain their beliefs are right and everyone else is wrong, there’s no God but theirs, and the Bible is a divine roadmap/blueprint for life, there is little anyone can do to reach them.

But, Bruce, you were once an Evangelical and now you are an atheist, so it is possible to reach Evangelicals, right? Yes, but not until certain things happen.

First, Evangelicals must entertain the possibility that they could be wrong. As long as they are certain their beliefs are true and all other beliefs are false, no amount of argumentation will reach them. If, however, they have doubts and questions, well, then, it is possible to reach them. Not probable, but possible.

Second, once Evangelicals have doubts and questions, they must be willing to seek answers outside of their churches and circle of Evangelical friends. This is a crucial point. Remember, Evangelical pastors and churches believe the antidote to doubt is faith. The solution, then, is to cling to the basics, believing that God will, in time, make all things known. And if he doesn’t? Doubters are encouraged to keep on believing until the day comes in Heaven when their faith shall be made sight. Years ago, I heard an IFB evangelist say that resolute faith was the solution to doubt; that there would come a day when doubters would be glad they believed. That day, of course, is after death, when supposedly Evangelicals will finally learn how right they were, and gleefully rejoice over the fact that the Bruce Gerencsers of the world are burning in Hell. In other words, there’s a big payoff coming, so hang on. Is that not what Jesus said in Matthew 10:22: he that endureth to the end shall be saved?

Third, doubting Evangelicals must be willing to lose everything in their search for truth. Doubters must not settle for pat answers, proof texts, or personal anecdotes. They must be willing to follow the path wherever it leads, even if it leads them away from all they have ever known. Countless Evangelicals sit in churches or preach from pulpits, their minds filled with questions and doubts. Unwilling to venture away from the safety of their churches and beliefs, they condemn themselves to lives of — dare I say it? — quiet desperation. Only when they are willing to do whatever is necessary to answer their doubts and questions are they ready to begin their journeys away from Evangelicalism.

Many readers of this blog understand the path I have sketched above. Often, it is a long, arduous, painful road. And even after we have successfully extricated ourselves from Evangelicalism, we find that lifelong Fundamentalist indoctrination leaves behind vestiges of our religious past. I left Christianity in November 2008, but eleven years later Christianity is still hanging on in the deep, dark recesses of my mind. Of course, Evangelical apologists tell me that those niggling doubts are the Holy Spirit, that God has not yet abandoned me. That’s one answer, I suppose, but a better answer is that I was indoctrinated for almost fifty years, and it takes time to fully flush one’s mind of Fundamentalist thinking.

For several years after I deconverted, I would, from time to time, worry about whether I was wrong about Christianity. In the still of the night, I would have thoughts about God’s judgment and Hell. Bruce, if you are wrong, you are going to fry, I thought. But, as time went along, I had fewer and fewer thoughts about “eternity.” Now, when such thoughts pop up, I chuckle and ignore them. I know my mind is littered with memories of past religious beliefs and practices, so I expect their appearance from time to time. They are no different from the thoughts I have about girls I dated when I was a teenager. Nothing more than relics from my past.

I am often asked by ex-Evangelicals, when do the nagging doubts and fears go away? I tell them, it takes time. If you were an Evangelical for your entire life, you can’t expect to have a mind free of past beliefs overnight. There are no Men in Black neuralyzer mind wipes available for ex-Evangelicals. That said, filling one’s mind with non-religious learning can help. New, fresh knowledge helps push from our minds past religious indoctrination. That’s why I always encourage Evangelicals to read Dr. Bart Ehrman’s books. Knowledge in, junk out. The more you read, study, and know, the less past beliefs will have a hold over you.

How about you? Are you an ex-Evangelical? Were you raised in the Evangelical church? Do you still have what I call, an Evangelical hangover? Do you still have doubts or fears at times? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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    Knowledge in, junk out has been an important part of my deprogramming. Reading scholarship by those who specifically study the bible and the history & archaeology of the eras in which the works were written has helped a lot, but just studying science and history in general have given me broader information against which I can judge the veracity of the concepts contained in the bible. Exposure to other world myths highlights the similarities in storytelling. No longer believing that the bible is an inerrant, historical work allows me to appreciate the beauty of some of the myths and to understand better about the brutality and uncertainty of the ancient world.

    I can’t change anyone’s mind. Each fundamentalist must follow their own journey. If they want to talk about it, I can explain why I don’t believe and can point them to scholarship they can explore. I do warn them that once they have read these works, they can’t unread them, so consider whether they are ready to tread that road. It’s not that I want people to stay in evangelicalism, but I do want them to be aware of the direction they are heading. The fruit of the tree of knowledge cannot be uneaten once digested. It permeates one’s thoughts and ideas forever.

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    Steve Ruis

    Is it any surprise that the Romans adopted Christianity as, first, a state religion and, then, the state religion of Rome? The Romans were impressed with the messages Christians believed: basically keep your head down, do your job, don’t make a fuss, your reward will come in Heaven. Oh, and your enemies will be punished then. too. Dead people don’t file complaints over contracts not held up.

    Can you see why this message holds sway with the GOP and American “conservatives”? This is the theology perfectly compatible with an oppressor. Oh, Rome was a massive slave state. Would it have selected Christianity as its state religion id Christianity had opposed slavery? No. Oh, no problem, slavery was endorsed in scripture.

    The state power of Rome, existent for only a century or two after its adoption of Christianity, was plenty to establish Christianity as a major religion, by driving out is competitors using the state’s power. Christians are still seeking to use more state power to this day. If Christianity were not adopted by Rome, less would have been at stake and the divisiveness of the early Christians would probably kept it a minor Jewish sect. (Most Christian assume the ascendancy of their religions was pre-ordained. Church history shows it was not.)

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    Evangelicalism is so divisive. It completely destroyed relationships outside of our immediate family cult. I never got the chance to know grandparents, cousins, etc. because of it. Now that I’m no longer evangelical (and now a proud Liberal) I’m the outsider. The gaslighting is the hardest to handle, but I’ve found I’m much stronger than I was led to believe.

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    When I first “became a Christian” in the late 70s, I saw Fundamentalists and Evangelicals as two separate groups. Fundamentalists were wound up tight, usually KJV Only and had The List of what’s naughty and nice. Evangelicals were far less hung up on things. I know this was a function of my own limited experience, but while the Fundamentalist tract ended by showing that the guy was sincere about his conversion by asking where he could get his hair cut, Evangelicals would bust a gut laughing, as if hair length had anything to do with true conversion.

    During that early time, I went to a conference at Schroon Lake and the uber-fundamentalist Word of Life. They had a session on “Evangelical or Fundamentalist: What’s the Difference?” They had a list of distinctions, mostly forgotten, but one was “Fundamentalists think personal grooming is important. Evangelicals don’t care how they look.”

    It seems to me, in the early eighties (I blame the “pro-life” political Ecumenicalizing of religious groups.) Evangelicals decided one big pile was better than two little piles and rather than bringing them over here, they’d meet them over there.

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    Brian Vanderlip

    Well, Bruce, I concur at every paragraph here and thank you for saying it.
    I find the most difficult aspect of crazed belief to leave behind is the evangelical fervor. I preach against Christianity in general and evangelicalism in particular. It is not uncommon for my associates to say, “Oh right, now connect that back to relgion again! Can’t you just forget it?” This expresses an obsession in me to point out incessantly how belief harms us in all things human. The need to get-it-in sometimes tires my friends and family. Live and let live is a balance I continue to seek day by day. I sure hate to see young people on the Christ-dope but heck, that was me for a long long time. I just need to be quiet sometimes and realize we are all works-in-progress.

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    For most of my life I was an evangelical Christian, convinced that I knew the truth and was heading to eternal glory. This was a comfortable way to live but I could not continue to ignore the evidence against my religion. I desperately tried to cling to the comfort of my faith and cried out to god hundreds of times as I realized I was believing a lie. And then one night I just said ”enough” and let it go. What a relief that was. Bruce, blogs like yours have been a great comfort to me as I realize I am not alone and I thank you for that

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    Hey Bruce. The steps you mentioned are dead on! That’s exactly what I went through. The funny thing for me is that my journey into questioning what I believed started with a study on tithing. A church member asked me some tough questions on the subject and I said I would study it out and get back to them. Well, in my studying, I realized that what my group was preaching about tithing was not scriptural. Not if you keep it in context. I was shocked! So then I thought, what else are we teaching that isn’t scriptural? Thus your first point. If I am wrong about this, what else am I wrong about? So yeah, definitely possible I could be wrong about other things.
    Your second point made me laugh and cringe at the same time. We were warned by pastors (and I’m sure I did it too) on a regular basis to not read or watch or listen to things that would cause us to doubt. That’s a seed planted by the devil! Sure enough, I started studying things like the history of the church and the bible, and it was all downhill from there. LOL
    And then, yeah, your third point, I dove right in. After I decided that I no longer believed in hell (or heaven for that matter), that kind of helped with the “what if I’m wrong” questions. I figured there is no hell, but if there is, god is a real bastard and I probably don’t want to spend eternity with him, anyway.
    As always, thanks for all the great posts.

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