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Questions: What Can We Do to Hasten the Demise of Fundamentalism?

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I put out the call to readers, asking them for questions they would like me to answer. If you have a question, please leave it here or email me. All questions will be answered in the order in which they are received.

Steven asked:

I don’t care that the latest survey on American religion shows the ranks of Fundies and Evangelicals decreasing – I consider them the biggest threat to my livelihood, this country, and to the world.


What, if anything, do you believe we can do as individuals to hasten their religion’s decline and demise? Without violating anyone’s human rights, of course!

Let me focus on fundamentalism, in general, instead of Evangelicalism. While Evangelicals are inherently Fundamentalist (please see Are Evangelicals Fundamentalists?), fundamentalism can be found in numerous religious sects, including Islam and the Latter Day Saints (Mormons). We also see fundamentalism in political, economic, and social ideologies and, yes, atheism.

Wikipedia defines fundamentalism this way:

Fundamentalism usually has a religious connotation that indicates unwavering attachment to a set of irreducible beliefs. However, fundamentalism has come to be applied to a tendency among certain groups – mainly, although not exclusively, in religion – that is characterized by a markedly strict literalism as it is applied to certain specific scriptures, dogmas, or ideologies, and a strong sense of the importance of maintaining ingroup and outgroup distinctions, leading to an emphasis on purity and the desire to return to a previous ideal from which advocates believe members have strayed. Rejection of diversity of opinion as applied to these established “fundamentals” and their accepted interpretation within the group often results from this tendency.

When I use the word Fundamentalism with a capital F, I am referring to a specific subset of Protestant Christianity, namely Evangelicalism. When I use the word fundamentalism with a lower case f, I am referring to Wikipedia’s definition above. Far too often, we tend to focus on religious fundamentalism, ignoring the fundamentalist tendencies within our own groups, ideologies, and worldviews.

Thus, it is small f fundamentalism that is an existential threat to our wellness, livelihood, and future. Ideologues who say their truth is big T Truth and demand everyone bow to their beliefs are fundamentalists. We see this thinking among Qanon supporters, Trumpists, capitalists, socialists, vegans, vegetarians, essential oil practitioners, etc., ad nauseum. I am not suggesting that people who hold these beliefs (I am, after all, a socialist) are necessarily fundamentalists, but anyone who is so pigheaded and resolute about their beliefs that they turn their minds off from skepticism, reason, science, and common sense is prone to fundamentalism. One need only look at Trumpism, the “big steal” belief, and the 1/6/21 attempt to overthrow our government to see the terrifying fruit of fundamentalist thinking. This blog primarily focuses on Evangelicalism. Is there any doubt that fundamentalism causes psychological and social harm (and, at times, physical harm)? Evangelicalism is not a painful sliver in your finger that can be quickly removed with tweezers — problem solved. Evangelicalism infects every aspect of our lives, and if left unchallenged and unchecked, like an incurable disease, it will metaphorically kill us. Hyperbole? Perhaps. But consider this: without Evangelicals, Donald Trump would never have been elected, and the U.S. Supreme Court would not be overturning much of the social progress of the past sixty years. Here in Ohio, right-wing, anti-science Republicans control virtually every aspect of state government. Ohio is now a laughingstock, derision typically reserved for the backwaters of America.

How can we combat fundamentalism? Good question. The dystopian side of me says, “it’s too late, we are big F FUCKED!” I am not convinced our democracy will survive Qanon, Trumpism, and the increasing dysfunction in every aspect of our society. Times are bad and are getting worse. Anyone who thinks Santa Joe and his elves will “deliver” America (and the world) ain’t paying attention. I’m depressed by what I see, and I see nothing on the horizon that leads me to conclude that better days lie ahead.

There are some things, however, we can do, even if our actions are doomed to fail. We have two choices in life: do nothing or fight. I may be cynical and pessimistic, but I choose to fight. I cannot sit by while fundamentalists rape our land like a swarm of locusts, destroying everything they touch. None of us has the power to affect systemic change by ourselves, but each of us can do “something.” We can write books, blog posts, articles, and letters to the editor; produce videos and podcasts; challenge fundamentalist worldviews on social media; financially support advocacy groups; join local groups opposed to fundamentalist ideologies; use our buying power to force corporate change; vote for political candidates who truly understand the existential danger of fundamentalist thinking. Most importantly, we can do things that will materially make the world a better place to live. Bruce shouts, DO SOMETHING! If we don’t fight, we are guaranteeing our demise. This is no time to be indifferent or passive. We may not win the war, but we can bloody the fundamentalist horde marching against all we hold dear.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen 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.

You can contact Bruce via email, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

14 Comments

  1. Avatar
    dale m.

    Sigh …. I’ve said it a million times. Adopt all Christian traditions and rewrite them. And economics. Not socialism but capitalism with a social conscience. Then let Nature take its course. Failing that, it’s open warfare of the bloodletting kind. And nobody wants that.

  2. Avatar
    Theologyarchaeology

    What, if anything, do you believe we can do as individuals to hasten their religion’s decline and demise? Without violating anyone’s human rights, of course!””

    What are you afraid of that make syou want to eliminate the Christian option from people’s lives? Also, who are you to say that people cannot have free choice, a right that you have enjoyed and used?

    if you do not want Christianity then do not choose to follo wit but let others make their own choice.

    • Avatar
      Bruce Gerencser

      Where did you read in this post that I said I want to take away the free exercise of religion? I don’t. People are free to believe what they want. However, religious fundamentalism is harmful. As one who loves my neighbors, loves my country, and wants to make the world a better place, I should do everything I can to reduce/eliminate fundamentalism’s hold on the levers of government, its undue influence on our schools, and its unconstitutional taxpayer support (tax exemption, clergy housing allowance, etc).

      You are free, Cheesy Bread 🥖 and I’ve never suggested I want it to be otherwise.

    • Avatar
      Byroniac

      Not to be uncharitable, but Christians who truly want freedom should want to compete fairly in the marketplace of ideas. I too value religious liberty, for all, not just a privileged few. Christianity has rights, and deserves rights, but not privileges, and should not get to be the default expectation for everyone as a starting point. That’s all we (most of us, and all of those I can think of on this side) really want.

  3. Avatar
    MJ Lisbeth

    Bruce, I think that we have to emphasize that we are not against the choice to practice religion, or not. Rather, what we must fight against is the influence of religion—and fundamentalism in particular—in our politics and culture. When religion and politics mix, the inevitable result is the repression of those who are not privileged by the religious and political ideologies of those in power—or those who enabled their ascent to power. When religion and culture mix, diversity dies and voices are silenced .

    In other words, we don’t want to take anyone’s right to worship Jesus, Allah, Britney Spears or whom- or what-ever. We just don’t want to be forced into that worship, or to have our rights to our persons obstructed by other people’s beliefs. In short, we respect your right to believe but also have the right not to be bullied by it.

  4. Avatar
    mary

    you’re right bruce, we can all fight in our own way. i am one person, but i and my immediate family are out of fundamentalism and my grown kids say they won’t teach it to their future kids. small win, but i’ll take it. i feel it will pay off in future generations. education is the key to stopping religious fundamentalism. once a person’s eyes are opened to the fraud, it can multiply. your blog is a huge part of this. appreciate your writings and the time you put into this blog.

  5. Avatar
    Troy

    Perhaps this has happened to you. You park your car in a public place, come back in an hour and under the windshield wiper…CHURCH/BIBLE TRACTS. It’s happened a couple of times to me personally. This does give me an idea, we know where fundamentalists are on Sunday (maybe Wednesday too ick). A grass roots movement to distribute rationality tracts or fundie critiques.
    I’m curious Bruce, back in your preacher days, how would have handled something like that? I’m not sure it might be considered trespassing, even though we all “donate” by giving the church building and property a free ride on the tax payer dime.
    While it might seem as futile as when I laughed when bible tracts fell out of evolution journals in the university library, I have to wonder a well crafted and digestible bit of rationality might at least get their wheels turning, after all when you look into the abyss, the abyss looks into you.

  6. Avatar
    Barbara L. Jackson

    I agree with you, and the other commentators who say the mix of religion and politics has led to the election of Donald Trump and the attempt by fundamentalists to push views down every body’s throat. You probably realise this is Oliver Cromwell all over again, who in Britain had Charles I executed and then started creating Penal Laws for protestants too different from his views and Catholics.

    Fundamentalists do not want to recognise science. The amount of carbon in the atmosphere is more than it has been in the last 800,000 years. The ocean is heating. There are more examples I could give, ask me if you want them.

    I have not done enough. I give money to feminist, ecological, liberal, worker’s’ rights,and freedom of thought groups. I cannot drive for medical reasons so it is difficult for me to get to rallies etc. I need help finding a group where I could volunteer.

    My husband and I saved money with a financial adviser. Unfortunately we did not figure out which companies had good actions and values and which did not. We needed to save money because we were working in Information Systems (Data Processing) and there if they change software and you do not have knowledge of new software they will try to throw you out. Luckily we managed to survive several software changes.

    The best thing we did is not have any children. The world is hopelessly over populated.

    You are right, we must try and fight as much as we can.

  7. Avatar
    Steve

    Thanks for answering my question Bruce.

    I certainly am not in favor of taking away people’s freedom to worship but that when they use their religion to try to take away our rights that isn’t something I see as falling under 1st Amendment protection.

    I am hoping American Christianity can moderate enough for us all to coexist and resolve our conflicts in a healthy and nonviolent way.

    But fundamentalist thinking seems to preclude that possibility, so at this point my hope is that enough of us, moderate and liberal Christians included, fight back and assert our right to live the way we choose. Harm none (hard to do in a globalized economy) and do what ye will.

    Thanks again Bruce, and sorry for any vitriol coming your way on account of my opinion.

  8. Avatar
    Goyo

    “What are you afraid of that make syou want to eliminate the Christian option from people’s lives? Also, who are you to say that people cannot have free choice, a right that you have enjoyed and used?” – THEOLOGYARCHAEOLOGY

    Two words: Blue Laws…I can’t buy liquor on Sunday because of jesus. (I live in East Texas)

    How does that harm anyone? My free choice is to buy tequila for margaritas…I can’t! You’re telling me that I can’t buy a legal product sold every day of the week except one “special “ day?

    Here’s your interpretation:
    You: “My god says I can’t drink alcohol!”
    Me: “I don’t care!”
    You: “Yes, but he says you shouldn’t drink either!”
    Me: “Now we’ve got a problem!”

  9. Avatar
    Autumn

    I always wonder what attracts people to high demand groups. Especially where when I encounter them I run in the other direction.

    Is it the seemingly easy answers to complicated questions? (creationism, qanon)

    Is it the idea that if you follow all these rules then all your troubles will go away? (unrecognized anxiety?)

    Is it the fellowship and friendship offered? (Maslow’s belonging needs)

    Maybe if we detached the discussion from religion we could insert more suspicion of groupthink into our larger culture?

    I do think that unrecognized anxiety has a lot to do with the attraction. Our so-called economic system could certainly make anyone anxious, especially when jobs are poorly paid, unstable and housing and transportation become expensive and time consuming. Systemic help is too little too late and one needs very well honed administrative skills to not get “kicked off” help they qualify for because they made one mistake on a form somewhere.

    But if you follow these 52 rules your life will be perfect.

    • Avatar
      mary

      Autumn, great comment. you boil it down quite nicely. especially unrecognized anxiety. i had the feeling if i followed the rules everything would be fine. i see this in others around me and know it’s what kept me stranded in fundamentalist christianity for so long. thanks for the great insight.

  10. Avatar
    thatotherjean

    You missed a big factor, Bruce: VOTE. Vote at every opportunity, not just the big ones. Vote for all the candidates you favor, not just the top of the ticket. Do enough research to know what the lower-level candidates stand for, and what they oppose. Work to strengthen the wall between Church and State, and oppose the creeping Evangelical takeover of politics with everything you have. If an office holder doesn’t do as he/she promised (looking at you, Kyrsten Sinema), vote them out in favor of somebody who aligns with your values. Contact your elected officials and let them know what you think, and why.\

    Also: Don’t scare your kids with Evangelical Christianity’s threats of God’s anger, judgment, and the punishment of Hell. If you’re a Christian, find a denomination that emphasizes God’s love, and service to others. Don’t let the church do your thinking for you.

  11. Avatar
    John Arthur

    Christian Fundamentalism is a major problem in your country, Bruce. In Australia, less than 10 percent of the population attends a church once a month or more. The trouble over here is that a vocal minority of right wing Fundamentalists are trying to capture the Liberal Party, but luckily they are not having much success. Only if parties move toward the centre of politics will they capture enough of the middle ground to form government. Most Australians want nothing to do with Fundamentalism or with political extremism, whether on the right or left.

Want to Respond to Bruce? Fire Away!

Bruce Gerencser