My name is Kevin Long, and I’m a Christian. Given that my only real vice is my occasional pottymouth, one might even say that I’m a pretty conservative Christian. I am not, however, a fundamentalist. Not anymore, anyway. I used to be.
I was plenty fanatical in my depressingly non-wayward youth: Church three times a week, went to a series of Baptist schools (though I was never a Baptist myself), was the anchor on our Bible Bowl team. Did time as an overseas missionary, even. My zeal was complimented by those much older and wiser than myself. I believed that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of The Living God, my Lord and Savior.
And then fundamentalism robbed me of my Christianity.
Paradoxical, I know. You see, part and parcel of being a fundamentalist is that you’ve got to be a literalist. You have to believe that every word of the Bible is literally true. That means that if the Bible says God made the world in six days, then that’s how long it took. There was no debate on the subject. The Bible said it, I believed it, and that settled it. This, of course, put me on a collision course with modern science, because modern science ain’t having any part of this “One week creation” business. No surprises there.
That’s not what did me in, though. Refusing to accept science is not sinful, nor is it even dangerous, though it is undeniably a goofy thing to do. No, the danger of my fanatically fundamentalist youth wasn’t science, it was the mindset that something can only be true or false, with nothing in between. Let me put a finer point on that: Things can only be literally true, or they’re nothing but filthy lies of no value to anyone.
The problem with fundamentalism wasn’t that it made me accept creationism over evolution, it was that it made me accept the idea that anything not absolutely literally in line with the Bible was evil, stupid, misguided and worthless.
As I have limited space here, we’ll ignore the obvious logical fallacy for the moment and move on. Maybe if Tyler’s willing, I could revisit that at some point in the future. For now, though, I’ll restate extremist Christian fundamentalism in its most basic terms: Either the Bible is exactly literally true, or else life is meaningless and we’re just wasting our irrelevant lives play-acting our way through some absurdist drama that no One’s even watching anyway. Those are the only options of fundamentalism, if you follow them to their natural conclusions: Fanaticism or nihilism.
Kinda crappy set of choices, don’t you think? Kinda crappy outlook? Jesus tells us that he came that we might have “Life and more abundantly,” yet extreme fundamentalism replaces joy and freedom with fear: the fear of getting it wrong and going to hell, or the fear that nothing matters anyway.
I am not the smartest, nor the most learned person in the room, but I grew up believing what I was taught about evolution being a lie. The evidence I was given to support that notion was more on the lines of propaganda than science, but I accepted it because I was a kid and didn’t know any better.
Eventually, however, it became apparent that there were a lot of logical errors in the arguments my creationist brethren used to “win” arguments. For instance, how does the coelacanth NOT being extinct somehow disprove evolution? How does the relative absence of dust on the moon disprove evolution? How does Charles Darwin’s alleged deathbed recanting of evolution somehow disprove evolution? These were not logical arguments.
I was a fanatically Christian kid. I was not going to knowlingly use an argument I knew to be false. That’d be lying, right?
That’s not to say I rolled over meekly. I looked for my own “proofs,” my own arguments. I did a lot of research. I wrote a paper in tenth grade about how none of the currently accepted theories for the formation of the moon really accounted for observable data. My science teacher — not at all a religious man — said it was brilliant, and that I was the only creationist who had ever given him a science-based argument he couldn’t immediately refute. He pronounced me “not a doofus,” and I got an A-plus for original thinking. I fought it, brother. I fought evolution as hard as any sane man could.
Over the years, however, I became more and more aware that the evidence was stacked against a literal interpretation of scripture. I had to do intellectual backflips to allow myself to continue to learn, and maintain my viewpoint. Gradually, these backflips became more frequent, and more elaborate, and I had to do them while squinting, if you’ll allow the metaphor. In any event, this kind of continual conflict between facts and faith caused a great deal of psychological stress — as it does in pretty much everyone — and it just got worse over time. This was not healthy. Not only was I denying the presence of the elephant in the room, I was spending several hours a day scooping up its feces, and then pretending that didn’t exist either.
Three years into college, the breakdown came: Evolution. Was. True. There was simply no logical way around it. This then led to me completely losing my faith, and a brief, terrifying slide into atheism. Why? Because I had it drilled into me that if something wasn’t literally true, then it was a lie. My own fanaticism turned against me, I was forced to judge the Bible by that same standard, and I no longer believed anything.
But this, too, was a logical fallacy, of course, and I was eventually able to resolve it (I am a Christian, as I said at the start, so obviously, I got my faith back), but it was a long and arduous process that lasted decades. All that hell I put myself through for a small-minded, shallow interpretation of scripture that didn’t even logically proceed from the text.
And that, in the end, is the danger of fundamentalism: It’s not the denial of science, or the paranoia, or insularity, or the fear.
No, it’s the cavalier way in which its rigidity utterly destroys the faith of anyone who gets in its way.
Kevin Long is a Christian, and an evolutionist, and a science fiction writer. His stories tend to go in all kinds of weird, disquieting directions, though, and have a lot of bad language in ’em, so they’re probably not for everyone. If you’re feeling adventurous, however, you can find them here. You can hire him for various writing projects (with or without cussing) here. He blogs here and is the co-founder and former head writer of Republibot.