One of the challenges for a writer, at least this writer, is launching a dozen new blog posts, two or three books, and like an average college student, changing your mind halfway through the process, perhaps changing majors a few times through the course. This is true for me and my writing.
I may yet still publish the book Two Steps from a Commune: My story in a Christian Cult, but my focus has changed to looking at religion, and specifically Christianity as a whole and talking about my perspectives on how fundamentally flawed it can leave people. And the problem isn’t Christianity, the problem is Fundamental Christianity.
This, of course, is a product of my perspective, my background, and the studies and inspection/deconstruction of faith my background forced me to take. Having spent 15 years in what can only be classified as a cult, I was neck deep in fundamental waste, the kind of waste that gives faith, specifically Christianity, a bad rap. It’s also the sticky kind that takes a while to wash off. For some, decades.
But what do I mean by Fundamental Christianity? What is Fundamental? The irony is the word and phrase can mean different things to different people. This led me to polling people online, asking for what they first thought when they heard the term, “Fundamental Christianity”.
Through my work with DivideTheWord.blog, the companion YouTube channel, the many social media groups I am part of, my experience was that people knew exactly what I meant when I used that phrase, Fundamental Christianity. But I also met some people who suggested I might be using the wrong words, or phrase, that it doesn’t mean what I thought it meant, that it paints a ‘negative’ light on Christianity.
So let me define Fundamental Christianity
First off, the word Christianity probably doesn’t need to be defined right? But when you put the two words together, different meanings come out and it might be worth looking at it.
Christianity, at its core, is the religion that follows the teachings of Christ, handed down from Judaism some 2,000 years ago when they rejected the Messiah Christ, but even this is a difficult description because Christianity is the most splintered religion on this home we call Earth. So when you say Christianity, the question becomes, which one? Lutheran? Baptist? Catholic? Pentecostal? Calvinism? Arminianism? Non-Denominational? Episcopalian? Methodist? Orthodox? Assembly of God? Trinitarian? Non-Trinitarian? How about the non-orthodox sects like Jehovah’s Witness, Mormonism, Modalism/Oneness Pentecostalism, and on, and on, and on we go…
See what I mean? At first, we thought Christianity needs no description, but then when we realize there are nearly 30,000 sects of one religion, splinters within splinters, it gets a little more confusing. Sure, you and I can say, ‘Group [A] isn’t really Christian!’ But…they call themselves Christians and so they are lumped into that global category.
Because of this splintering, we’ve started labeling Christianity to break it into large sub-groups, such as Protestant or Evangelical Christianity, Fundamental, or Liberal/Progressive Christianity. This allows for a quick way to identify commonalities amongst all the splinter groups within each broad category.
So what is Fundamental Christianity?
Well, the problem for those minds that thrive on semantics is that you’ll be confused or maybe even disagree at first. The root definition of Fundamental is this;
serving as an original or generating source [a]
Going by the core Webster’s Dictionary definition, Fundamental Christianity is just… Christianity. It is a faith/religion based on a central or primary rule or guiding principle – the source of that being Christ. Right?
The problem is, in reality, this just isn’t true. There are a lot of Christian sects that I’ve been exposed to that do not follow the core rule of Christ (John 13:34) – they have their own take, flavor, interpretation, and in reality, just use the name to identify as part of the ‘Christian’ movement. Not surprisingly, generally these groups claim to be the ‘true’ Christians. The authentic and/or original Bride of Christ.
The irony is that for a movement based on love and unity, the walls of division (Denominationalism) are high and today’s Christianity is a faith with separation/distinction at its core. In fact, when you review the base definition of fundamentalism, this starts opening up our understanding.
a movement or attitude stressing strict and literal adherence to a set of basic principles. (I.e. Islamic Fundamentalism) [b]
The general googlesque definition of fundamentalism is “a form of a religion, especially Islam or Protestant Christianity, that upholds belief in the strict, literal interpretation of scripture.”
To some, Fundamentalism is just sticking to the basics, not allowing the shifts of time, culture and human intellect to take Christianity off course. This, however, is not the natural understanding of the word Fundamentalism nor the public opinion of the phrase Fundamental Christianity. I ran an opinion poll on Facebook to see what the general audience of people I’m connected with thinks of when presented with the phrase Fundamental Christianity.
As of the time of this writing, the number of votes was lower than I hoped but diverse enough, but this was a public poll which would account for people I am connected with from all sides of the Christian aisles.
75% of the voting base voted that Fundamental Christianity, to them, was Extreme, Hard and Rules-based as opposed to meaning the Original Church, the foundations of Christianity, the core beliefs of faith.
I know of course, that the way in which questions are framed can have an impact on the result set so I put the screenshot here to leave no doubt as to what the question was. Only 1/4 of the people voting believed Fundamental Christianity related to the origins of our faith.
The court of Public Opinion wins here, and really, the definitions of the words in a string, creating a phrase, exemplify the court of public opinion. If the word Fundamentalism is pointed to Islam, and you put that word in front of Christianity, you have a clearer understanding of how I am using it.
Rather than using my own carte blanche definitions of Fundamental Christianity, this is what 76%+ of the Christian population (by poll sample) thinks when hearing the phrase Fundamental Christianity. It is the side of Christianity that is hard & literal, where we got such events in history as prohibition and worse, open murder and genocide, and has created sect after sect of militant and elitist Christian groups that segregate from the ‘body’ and claim to be THE Only Body.
This is the definition of Fundamental Christianity and the division of Christianity this book is focused on, and more importantly, how it has flawed the faith of those who have been caught in the crossfire of Faith and Fundamentalism. It isn’t my intention to target any particular group of people who call themselves Christians nor to paint a negative light on Christianity itself. Rather, to expose the damage that has been done people, souls, and faith in the name of Fundamental Christianity.
I cannot support this statement with hard evidence, but it seems that the majority of atheists who grew up or were exposed to Christianity became atheists due to the hardness and perhaps rejection of fundamental religion. The inability for the system to answer for itself, the lack of true accepting love and the rampant cases of abuse in many forms drove faith from people, leaving them to seek a system that could seemingly provide answers and feel safe.
The Christian faith should be one based on love, of all, regardless of their affiliation, gender, color, race, creed, etc. In fact, the greatest examples we have of Christ, the radical founder of this new religion, made his case by walking with, sitting with, eating with and accepting all of those who the religions of the day rejected outright as unrighteous, unholy, unclean and unworthy of love.
One of the most fantastic examples of Christ’ love for all was the contested story in John 8 and the Adulteress woman brought to Jesus to be stoned. The contestation is whether or not this story was part of the original manuscripts or if it was a later addition by scholars. Regardless, it is a beautiful illustration of how Christ approached humanity – with open kindness, love, and no conversation of denominational doctrines, dogmas or any other inkling of “who’s who”, what church to attend, what rules to obey, how much to tithe, etc.
This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground.
And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.”
And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground.
But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him.
Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”]] – John 8:6-11, ESV
Fundamentalism always robs the simple truth of faith and creates an obstacle course of requirements for believers to navigate, combat and conquer in order to believe they have attained the grace of Jesus Christ. The performance of the believer becomes paramount, and the performance of Christ superficial. The death on the Cross insufficient as compared to the actions of the believer.
Going back to the reference of Islam, the fundamental side of Islam believes that murdering infidels will grant them special favor in the eyes of God and indeed, medieval Christians and crusaders believed the same thing. Their works were what granted them grace, their zealous acts inspired God’s attention rather than simply resting in the grace of Christ.
This is such a slap in the face to a God (if you believe in the God the New Testament purposed to share with us) who came to say, “My grace is sufficient. My power is made perfect in your weakness [inability and lack of strength to gain salvation].” (2 Corinthians 12:9), and to have a group of people say, “Well, maybe…your Grace is only applied/enough after I…”
The Fundamental sect of Christianity I existed in for 15 years was one in which you could/would lose salvation almost daily and that at any point in time, should the rapture take place, and you were un-repentant, you would surely be lost. For any number of reasons, such as if you were watching a movie, laughing at an off-color joke, wearing a short sleeve shirt or shorts out in public, kissing before marriage…
I can remember to this day hearing the screaming in my ears from a PA system cranked up way to high,
“If you haven’t spoken in tongues recently, you probably aren’t going to make it!”
If you aren’t running these aisles there is something wrong with you!
In fact, we were the type that thought the more hoarse your voice was Monday morning the more Holy Ghost you had Sunday night. The intensity of worship, the sweating, screaming, pumping, jumping, running and falling was the indicator and measuring stick of spiritual condition. Performance.
Couple that with the ever-present system of obedience to the leadership/pastor that exists in Fundamental Christianity, you have a recipe for a cult. Create a system of fear, the ever-looming loss of eternity, the high and adrenaline rush of mosh-pit church, and unquestioned loyalty to the one who brought you to these highs and the one who could take them away, and you have created a kingdom in which you are the King and your subjects at your beck and call.
As you can see from the last few paragraphs, the focus of Christ and Him Crucified is completely absent (1 Corinthians 2:2), and this is the greatest flaw of Fundamental Christianity. It is Christianity without Christ, or, Christianity without the Cross. The latter being a valuable book to read by the way!
As the chapters progress I want to explore more of my experience with you, but more importantly, the experience of hundreds of people I have interacted with who left similar systems of Fundamental Christianity, ranging from Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witness, Oneness Pentecostalism, and more, and what those experiences did to them, how it scarred them, and for some, how it drove them far away from their faith, and the God they were supposed to have been drawn closer to.
My prayers and hopes are that I can provide those who have suffered through Fundamentalism an understanding, knowledge, and peace, that they are not alone, and hope that they can have a lasting, fruitful and loving relationship with Faith without the trauma and fear of fundamentalism.
Recently, a woman shared a heart-touching testimony how decades after leaving the system she was in as a youth she still struggled with inner turmoil and stress over faith and salvation. After watching some of my videos she said that she was able to find a peace she had never come to before. She was released from the toil of her fundamental scars and felt a release, a feeling of peace and joy that she could now know her savior without fear and the need to perform.
A man who was 75 and had left the same system I was part of when he was 45 (three decades later) told me on my YouTube channel how he still suffered periodic bouts of fear and trauma due to the dogmas pressed upon him for the majority of his life.
A young woman who was raised in the same system I was part of confessed to me a devastating relationship with her father whose love was restricted and pulled away because she came out as a lesbian. And regardless of one’s view of the lifestyle, to withdraw a fathers love from a child is so far from Christlike as to prove Christ may not at all be present in this system.
The stories are endless, and many more will be shared, mine included. Fundamental Christianity may well be the problem with Christianity, alongside hyper-progressive Christianity. Through these stories, my hope is to find redemption, and balance, and connection with a faith that was meant to include and protect and bless those whom fundamentalism (Pharisaical Judaism) had rejected.
As a parent, the love of my children is unconditional, and I know, to my children, I am their world. When I return from a day at the office my oldest daughter runs to the door to jump into my arms. My youngest squeals and crawls across the floor at break-knee speed to reach me, looking up with a smile that would melt the most non-empathic heart.
To imagine a day when they have to wake up and realize my love is based upon them performing well enough breaks my heart. To think of a day when they realize daddy doesn’t love me anymore…or that when he comes in the door he might say “Depart from me…” is unimaginable. The turmoil of living a life believing papa isn’t there for you is mind-numbing and when put into that perspective, causes me to be willing to come against fundamentalism and expose it for what it is.
Anti-Christ. (Charity, Love, Acceptance, and Grace)