Afraid of Something

In Understanding Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism, George Marsden begins

A fundamentalist is an evangelical who is angry about something. That seems simple and is fairly accurate. Jerry Falwell has even adopted it as a quick definition of fundamentalism that reporters are likely to quote. A more precise statement of the same point is that an American fundamentalist is an evangelical who is militant in opposition to liberal theology in n the churches or to changes in cultural values or mores, such as those associated with “secular humanism.” In either the long or the short definitions, fundamentalists are a subtype of evangelicals and militancy is crucial to their outlook. Fundamentalists are not just religious conservatives, they are conservatives who are willing to take a stand and to fight. (p. 1)

Having grown up in the fundamentalist world, this just didn’t ring exactly true for me. It rang true for what I saw on TV when Westboro Baptist would protest something, but, by and large, I think the more dominant ethos of fundamentalism was fear.

Of course, as we all well know now, “fear leads to hate, and hate to the dark side,” but on a note more inline with contemporary psychology, fear leads to fight or flight. Sometimes fundamentalists take a stand, but sometimes they retreat into enclaves. As a student who went to a fundamentalist high school and college, we used to talk about living “in the bubble”–an entire world that was contained within fundamentalism where all of your needs were met without ever needing to be in contact with someone from the outside. Of course, this was not totally true, but sometimes in the life of a teenager, perception is more important. That fear shaped us.

Now of course, fear can also lead to fighting. No one is more dangerous than a person who thinks they are fighting for their life. But fear is still in the driver seat more than anger or militancy.

What’s concerning, however, is the way fear has become a dominant mode of thinking in the US in general. In past generations, fundamentalists would create horror films like A Thief in the Night to scare their kids about the rapture with hopes that they would get saved and not get Left Behind (which was the title of the 90’s version of the same idea). But what happens when progressives use the tactic to scare us about fundamentalists? The Handmaid’s Tale seems to work on a similar logic.


Alan Jacobs has talked about the problem of turning someone else into a “repugnant cultural other,” and his point is well made. But thinking of someone as “repugnant” keeps you at a sort of distance, like when the trashcan in the garage stinks. That distance makes it hard to really hear them. But thinking of someone as dangerous is different–that person is more than smelly. They are a monster in a zero sum game. That makes conversation impossible.



When the France-Korea game came on the other day, I was telling my kids how I felt there was something honorable about soccer teams who actually sing their own national anthem at the World Cup. Even when there is a mess at home, singing the anthem signals a love for the True, Good, and Beautiful, not an obsession with the mess. That’s the sort of athlete I am impressed with. (Here I’m talking about national athletes who are literally wearing the flag…the NFL is a different situation in my mind. I was supportive of Kaepernick and his compatriots)

So when Megan Rapinoe didn’t sing, I was a little peeved from the beginning. I have been out of it and hadn’t read her statement about Trump. After I did I was more peeved! Don’t let that guy ruin the World Cup too! Then they just ran over Thailand and everything left me feeling kinda sick about the win for the US. I didn’t really expect there to be a challenge from Thailand, but that score just felt gross from a team that can’t even sing their own national anthem. All the feelings I had when I was coaching U8’s, and the score was run up on us, starting to come back. I started to buy into the complaints about the 13-0 score.

But then a friend broke me on the floor, pulling apart my angst. It was only Rapinoe who didn’t sing, and when you put that away, the US did exactly what they should have done in a World Cup–score as many goals as possible and love doing it.

Rather than rehash my friend’s arguments (which he totally deserves credit for), I came across this article by Dan Wetzel which sums it up really well and leaves me with less to type.


So, Annalisa and I have been binge-watching HBO’s Chernobyl since yesterday, and it is fantastic!

I spent a good portion of my study time this week reading through Carl Savage and William Presnell’s Narrative Research in Ministry, and I felt like it was outdated and bad, but I couldn’t decide if it really was or if it was just me. It felt like it was written back in the 80’s when “postmodernism” was at some kind of height. Scholars didn’t want to talk about facts, only “stories.” I just felt kind of depressed afterward and couldn’t put my finger on why.

Then we turned on Chernobyl and the opening lines were dead on:

What is the cost of lies? It’s not that we will mistake them for the truth. The real danger is that, if we hear enough lies, then we no longer recognize the truth at all. What can we do then? What else is left but to abandon even the hope of truth and content ourselves instead with stories? In these stories, it doesn’t matter who the heroes are. All we want to know is who is to blame.


Surely even liberal scholars can’t be content with “stories” after watching our first “post-truth president” in action. There has to be something more against which we can compare and evaluate our cultural mythologies.

If you watch Chernobyl, plan to also listen to the accompanying podcast. Together, they make a kind of total art package that is just awesome.


I’m sure Eamon Duffy or someone has pointed this out somewhere, and I’m sure it’s been argued against, but it seems like the reformation removed nearly all positive female images from the life of the visible church.

Because of various abuses, the churches removed

  • all images and statues which would have included saints like Mary and Elizabeth. This means that beyond the people in the nave (an image itself, of course) there was nothing to see beyond the pastor or elders who were all male.
  • all Marian devotion (though the Church of England did still celebrate a couple of Marian feasts as “red letter days”) and all prayers to saints in general. This means that all prayer and devotion were directed toward a very male Father and a very male Son through a presumably male Holy Spirit (?).
  • monasteries and convents, which took away the presence of nuns in the church. Whereas the old catholic religious orders had produce female doctors of the church like Catherine of Sienna and eventually Teresa of Avila, the reformed church moved all doctrinal life to the male presbyterate and the male university.

Maybe there are other places, I don’t know. But I can imagine the effect this had on little girls growing up in the church. It seems that before the reformation, a little girl could walk into a church, see statues of the Blessed Virgin or icons of the Theotokos and that was a role model for her. She could hear the Salve Regina or some other hymn to Mary and she could see women like Julian of Norwich giving themselves to the study of scripture and prayer. Surely this all shaped her.

After the reformation, the church had removed all of that. Other things came like teaching sunday school and caring for the needy or whatever, but something of the strong female images was definitely gone.

I’m sure it could be argued that there were other expectations and roles to fill. Maybe as the reformers brought more scripture back into the life of the church they took time to focus on more female characters in the Bible.  Nevertheless, I’m certain that as protestantism grew, this became more and more of a feature that women had only backroom roles to play in the life of the church because we know that they only had back room roles to play in society in general. Feminism didn’t just come out of nowhere.

As women rightly began to gain access to universities and halls of power in the state, it’s no surprise to me that women in protestant churches would eventually begin arguing for ordination which had become the only major official role of the church. In the protestant churches that I grew up in (and all I attended until I was 30), women were not even allowed to publicly read Scripture in the church.

This is not arguing for or against women’s ordination. It’s just an observation that the reformations’s reductionism of images left some major holes that would clearly have to be filled in some way, some day, and that there weren’t many ways beyond ordination for those holes to be filled.