Religious Logic: Fundamentalists vs Moderates/Liberals

You might expect from my politically liberal views that this article is going to bash religious fundamentalists. But in fact, this article offers a defense of one aspect of fundamentalism: its use of logic. The criticism is of the inconsistent beliefs of religious “moderates” and “liberals”. (Note, from here on out, the words “moderate” and “liberal” will denote degree of religiosity, not political views, though the two are often related.)

Disclaimer: I am an atheist and would be the last person to try to justify religion’s countless atrocities and impediments of social progress. However, this article was written to give a different perspective of religious fundamentalism, especially on the liberal criticism of conservatives or fundamentalists for taking things too far.

Disclaimer 2: This article is written with Christianity in mind. Many of the arguments do not apply to other religions due to the specific position of Christianity in the US.

Fundamentalists Hold More Consistent Worldviews than “Moderates” and “Liberals”

First, consider the following thought experiment. You’re standing in the middle of a highway, with no cars around. However, there are two people standing on the curb. They both think that a giant truck is going to appear out of nowhere and slam into you, killing you. However, you don’t think such a truck is going to appear.

One of the people on the side is more “respectful” of your beliefs, and just lets you stay in the middle of the highway, even though he sincerely believes you will be run over any minute. The other person, also sincerely believing you will be run over, starts yelling at you to get off of the highway. When you ignore her, she runs into the highway and shoves you out of the way. Which is the better person?

Of course, given that both of them sincerely thought you would be run over, the person who tried to save you (even by knocking you over) is a more sympathetic person.

In case the analogy wasn’t clear, the highway can be thought of as some path of sin, the truck is Hell, the onlooker who did nothing is the moderate or liberal religious person, and the one who yelled and shoved you out of the way is the fundamentalist.

Westboro-Baptist-Church

I hate to support even a tiny aspect of the Westboro Baptist Church, but you gotta consider the situation from their perspective. They are being very logical, given what they think to be true. Remember that in a logical argument, one makes axioms (aka. hypotheses, assumptions, premises) and deductions (or a deduction system), and then draws a conclusion. Of course, even if the logical deductions are perfect, the conclusion can be nonsense if the assumptions are false. I would guess that their logic is something like this:

  • Premise 1: The Bible is true.
  • Premise 2: It is good to save people from horrible things.
  • Result 1: From Premise 1, homosexuality is a sin.
  • Result 2: From Premise 1 and Result 1, one burns in Hell for being homosexual.
  • Result 3: From Premise 1, Hell is the worst possible punishment.
  • Result 4: From Result 3 and Premise 2, it is good to save people from Hell.
  • Conclusion: From Result 2 and Result 4, it is good to stop people from being homosexual.

The reason this is a bad argument is that Premise 1 is obviously false (at least, obviously to atheists).

However, I know some Christians who consider themselves moderate/liberal, yet still trust main points in the Bible (such as the concept of hell and that homosexuality is a sin), even if they do not interpret it literally.

So if you are in this group, my question to you is, why do you NOT actively try to save people? Again, I am nonreligious and I think the Bible is absurd; however, if you believe in heaven and hell, and if you believe that a certain behavior from your friends is going to send them to hell, and if you value that friendship, then why are you NOT trying to guide them away from hell?

I can think of a few possible answers for this:

  1. You are secretly nonreligious, and are afraid due to social/economic concerns to come out.
  2. You actually do NOT accept concepts from the Bible like heaven and hell, or sin.
  3. You actually hate people and want them to go to hell.
  4. You can’t do simple logic.
  5. You never spent time thinking about these things, and only go with the flow. For example, you only support things like gay marriage because it’s the popular thing to do, not because you came to the conclusion from a rational perspective. (In this option, you can still support the concepts of heaven/hell and sin, be a supporter gay marriage, and be good at logic—it just didn’t occur to you to actually apply logic to this situation. This could be due to social norms.)
  6. You can both keep the idea that homosexuality is a sin, and at the same time support gay marriage by using doublethink/cognitive dissonance.
  7. You are mentally ill.

In any case, #1 is easily understandable  #4, #6, and #7 we cannot really do anything about. #5  just means you should think about the issue some more (or at all). #3 means you are a sociopath. And if it is #2 for you, then why are you still a Christian? (Though the answer to that might tie in with #1.)

Going back to the truck analogy, why would the passive onlooker NOT try to get you off the road? The corresponding bullets:

  • He does not actually believe that a truck will appear and kill you, thus it would be absurd to try to shove you off the road.
  • He believes some aspects of the truck myth, but believes that a the truck is benevolent (for example) and will not injure you.
  • He wants you to be run over by the truck.
  • He cannot conclude that saving you is the correct move.
  • He was brought up in a household/society where it is a social norm to NOT warn people of oncoming trucks, and to NOT try to shove people out of the way, even if it saves their lives, and he has not questioned those norms yet.
  • He used doublethink to simultaneously believe that it is correct to save you from being run over and that it is correct to not save you from being run over.
  • He is mentally ill.

On the contrary, fundamentalists at least speak and act on what they think is right. After all, if you really believe that some sinful action will lead someone to hell, then isn’t the right thing to stop them from doing that? Again, I am against the views and actions of the WBC (e.g. I support marriage equality), but the way they come to their views makes a lot more sense than how many liberal Christians arrive at the opposing views. Here is a WBC member speaking in a Russell Brand interview (1:39):

He seems like a nice person but is just playing with the wrong set of facts. Of course, immediately after the statement the audience starts laughing, but did they even catch the logic, let alone understand it? I know it might be comedy for them, but to solve the issue we need to understand what the other side is thinking.

This is one of the qualms I have with religious liberals. When a fundamentalist does or says something bad, religious liberals are quick to defend their own beliefs by calling out the fundamentalist, with sayings like, “He’s not a true Christian,” or “He is misinterpreting the Bible.” This is absurd, since fundamentalists are taking the most literal interpretation of the Bible, taking it as the word of God, and are in a sense the most Christian.

Instead of addressing the root cause (the Bible and its outdated, barbaric myths), Christian liberals blame the fundamentalists for taking the book too far, yet they themselves never criticize the book. So what they do instead is cherry-pick the currently convenient quotes from the book. In other words, they are the ones deciding which laws from the book are moral and which are not. Does this not directly contradict their belief that morals come alone from God? At least the fundamentalists are consistent about it. And, by not criticizing the book, religious liberals are only helping fundamentalists to impede social progress. (On the other hand, atheist authors like Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins directly criticize the Bible/Quran/etc.)

I challenge religious moderates and liberals to re-examine your views—both religious and social views. Are they really consistent with each other? Do they contradict each other? If so, how can you proudly embrace both?

I want you to show your true colors.

6 thoughts on “Religious Logic: Fundamentalists vs Moderates/Liberals”

  1. Hey Sean, I really appreciate posts like these. It’s definitely challenging to those who claim to follow Christ yet don’t wholly follow the Bible. It reminds me of this video:

    I want to pitch something else at you – I don’t think being more Christian is following the Bible more and more literally. I think being Christian is simply being more and more Christ-like. Which is based on Scriptures, but I think it causes a different perspective.

    On a completely different note – concerning the validity of the Bible, what do you think of the Codex Sinaiticus and other old manuscripts? You said the Bible was “outdated,” yet it is still the same as it was in the first couple centuries after Christ. Do you mean the logic of it is outdated, or incomplete? That it was written on insufficient knowledge?

    Like

    1. Thanks for the comment James.

      Wow, I didn’t realize that Penn Jillette used a truck analogy. Now it almost seems like I plagiarized his argument even though I came up with it independently.

      Anyway, this kind of topic really goes into intention vs result. Is an action with potentially bad results justifiable if the intention is good? Usually so.

      Unfortunately I am not very familiar with the Codex Sinaiticus. When I said “outdated” in the article, I meant that some of the lessons it teaches are outdated (e.g. subjugation of women, heaven/hell, sin, creationism), and teaching such lessons is an impediment to progress in modern times. Of course, one may pick and choose which lessons to follow, but it seems to ruin the point of having an infallible holy book if one is supposed to choose passages from it based on what is convenient at the time.

      Like

  2. I agree very much so with your criticism of “moderates/liberals” having no consistent worldview. I would just like to comment on the idea that “a certain behavior will lead them to hell, therefore they should prevent them from doing that behavior.” That’s not exactly consistent with the Biblical worldview. To take the contrapositive of that statement, that would mean if I stopped somebody from being homosexual, then they would not go to hell (which implies going to heaven), which doesn’t line up with the Bible. If I were to say, if I stopped somebody from sinning, then they would go to heaven, that might be valid but in any case vacuous, because the Bible states that all have sinned and fallen short.

    The heart of Christianity isn’t really behavioral, since you cannot be “good enough” to earn your way into heaven. Hence, all discussions/debates about what is sin and what is not in the context of going to heaven or hell is not really Christianity anymore, but some misconception of it.

    Like

  3. You seem to have underappreciated the role of concepts such as predestination which factors heavily into American fundamentalism as most of it is born out of protestant churches and confounds your analysis. If one is pre-destined to go to heaven or hell (Note: the latter is not universal accepted by all protestant denominations), then intervention becomes a moot point. It is worth nothing that catholics on the whole tend to be considerably more “liberal/moderate” as you phrase it here, despite the official position of the Church, or the Vatican on these issues.

    One could also argue that those who are ignorant of sin are not necessarily guilty of sin. An example might be children who are complacent in sin (eg. children of homosexual parents, child soldiers, etc.) are exonerated on account of not being aware that such actions were sin.

    Alternatively, one might argue about what the most effective way of reaching out to a person might be. Let’s say instead of one purpose standing out in the street there are hundreds. While you might be able to tackle and save one, this is only likely to antagonize the rest. A more effective approach might be to simply show them that you are safer standing on the pavement rather than on the middle of the street (hopefully they catch on after a few get hit).

    You could also argue that the free will and the active decision to avoid sin is essential.

    In any event it is important to note, that fundamentalism is a deeply American phenomenon. Young Earth Creationists, Creationists, etc. are rarely found outside of America and where they are they almost always trace back their origins, etc. to America.

    Also taken to a logical extreme, one could ask why Fundamentalist Christians don’t set up abortion camps. If fetuses are without sin (or even more likely to go to heaven), then surely killing them before, during, or shortly after birth would result in their salvation and even if the minority who do the killing are condemned to hell, surely that is a small price to pay for the salvation of the much larger majority.

    Like

  4. quote;

    ‘First, consider the following thought experiment. You’re standing in the middle of a highway, with no cars around. However, there are two people standing on the curb. They both think that a giant truck is going to appear out of nowhere and slam into you, killing you. However, you don’t think such a truck is going to appear.

    One of the people on the side is more “respectful” of your beliefs, and just lets you stay in the middle of the highway, even though he sincerely believes you will be run over any minute. The other person, also sincerely believing you will be run over, starts yelling at you to get off of the highway. When you ignore her, she runs into the highway and shoves you out of the way. Which is the better person?’

    And who is driving the truck? God or the Pope?

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s