In my Sympathetic Critique of Fundamentalism, I point out two doctrines that, as I see it, do much more harm than good. After fully acknowledging the positive experiences and relationships that are to be found in conservative fundamentalist and evangelical communities, I also write as follows:
“I must also admit that there are times when it is still a challenge to interact with that world–especially when I hear the positions of those outside the church (i.e. those who stand outside the worldview promulgated in that particular congregation) misrepresented and/or ridiculed in an attempt to reinforce their particular teachings in the hearts and minds of those on the inside. Shame and fear play a big role in what can only be described as indoctrination. While such rhetorical techniques are employed to some degree in most any human culture or subculture– see also group think and confirmation bias –they play a particularly prominent role in conservative evangelical and fundamentalist churches and seem particularly coercive in conjunction with the threats of hell and hopes of paradise that are also held over one’s head–often, as in my case, from a very young and impressionable age. In addition to this modus operandi of indoctrination, there are two doctrines in particular that I find especially problematic:
1) Biblical Inerrancy (and the related “young earth creationism” — YEC for short).
2) The Eternal Torment of non-Christians in Hell (even those who have lived and died without ever hearing the gospel).
“In my opinion, it is primarily these two doctrines that force those Christians who hold them into defending untenable positions and, after painting themselves into various practical and theoretical corners by reason of these beliefs, prevent them from effectively communicating with people outside (or on the margins) of their communities. Not only does this tend to isolate them and keep them tied to a very narrow view of both the grace of God and their own creative potential, under God, it also makes them fair game for demagogues of various kinds. Once again– in my opinion –the two aforementioned keys suggest a two-pronged approach that would go a long way toward resolving these problems:
1) we need not be concerned with the possibility of errors in the written word— as regards science or history, for example –as long as it is functioning effectively to point us to the living Word (and, IMO, idealizing the written word as “inerrant” actually detracts from its effectiveness in this regard).
2) the living Word speaks within the heart of every human being, whether or not they’ve heard the name of Jesus (i.e. the story of Jesus is one way of communicating the universal truth that we are reconciled to God, that the Way is One, and that all who are on the Way are One –whatever story or stories may be functioning as their particular on-ramp(s) to the Way).
“Thus, the living Word (or logos) is seen, indeed, to be the light of the world–the light that lights everyone who comes into the world (and not just those who are fortunate enough to have been born within earshot of the Christian gospel). What each one does with that light– and why –is a mystery which is sometimes spoken of in terms of human freedom and at other times in terms of God’s love and grace. While I am rather inclined to speak of it in both ways, I know that God is good and that to err on the side of love and grace is probably closer to the truth.”
Read the entire essay here…