A Critical Essay of Qoheleth-Jonah-Socrates-Aesop-James Bacchus-Jesus

Another excerpt from the closing, synthetic, creative-writing oriented chapter of my forthcoming book, The Mythical Christ.

Only Christian Fundamentalists have anything to fear from this book. Fundamentalism is, after all, a refusal to accept scientific reality and scholarly frameworks, a choice to live instead in a shared fantasy. Fundamentalism is to be so deeply subsumed in a myth as to lose all ability to transcend it or put it in critical perspective by any external, verifiable standard. Fundamentalism is the stubborn or unwitting refusal to see that one’s own myths are just that, myths: beautiful, creative, imaginative, instructive, cautionary, defiant, ridiculous, disturbing, haunting, ritualized, biased, inconsistent, and obviously, inescapably human stories.

Fundamentalism sometimes involves being so devoted to one myth (even a composite one) as to be incapable of finding genuine, human meaning in other myths, whether those of other religions or pop culture phenomena such as Star Wars, Harry Potter, Marvel Comics, or Manga. Part of the decline of organized Christianity in Western culture today likely owes to how many viable, public alternatives there are to its mythology, even as these new mythic alternatives often appropriate Christian signals and motifs. Comicons now draw larger crowds than Billy Graham or Luis Palau or Greg Laurie ever have. Fundamentalists can sometimes accept popular myths, if the popularity of the Anglican Lewis’s Narnia or the Catholic Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings are any indication. But these popular myths must be pre-screened and sanctioned as explicitly deferential to Biblical myths.

The beauty and complexity of the foundational Christian myths themselves (i.e., the texts of the New Testament) account to some extent for the staying power of Fundamentalism. It is quite easy to get lost in intriguing stories and dwell in them as a world unto themselves. That is partly what good liturgy (i.e., worship) aims to do, give us the words and the imagination to inhabit our myths thoughtfully yet devotionally, humbly yet playfully. But the chief reason the Fundamentalist Fantasy endures is not virtue-inculcating liturgy, which is but a form of self-implicating communal-ritual theater. Instead, Fundamentalism persists and spreads via a vicious cycle of ignorance and hallowed reverence to hollow authority. It is the nothing more or less than the continual entrenchment and encroachment of intellectual cowardice and empty authoritarianism in a self- and socially-reinforcing way.

Fundamentalism endures through a false, ignorant submission to “the Bible” as if it were some static, consistent self-contained worldview, regardless of its actual diverse cultures and contents. Fundamentalism endures through pseudo-intellectual authority figures with pseudo-doctoral degrees from pseudo-academic institutions who claim to speak for the Bible without being capable of or practiced in reading its original languages or understanding its most rudimentary historical and literary contexts. Fundamentalism endures through fictive families disingenuously self-designated as “conservative churches” or “Bible-believing churches,” communities who can practice genuine, shared emotional support, yet also ones whose social cohesion and financial viability depend on unquestioning devotion to their tribal leaders, taboos, myths, and interpretations. And Fundamentalism endures through politically and financially powerful institutions, associations, and networks that prop up the myths in public with the veneer of reason and respectability.

To paraphrase George Carlin, Christian Fundamentalism is a form of charlatanism. The sheep are dupes, and the shepherds—at least those who sincerely believe their own sheepshit—are as well. The other shepherds are wolves in disguise, growing fat and wealthy by eating their sheep every day.

If your Christian church is “conservative” and “Bible-believing” (i.e., Fundamentalist), especially if it’s a non-denominational church owned and controlled by a white male pastor (i.e., an independent Jesus business), the best thing you can do as sheep is run. Find and join another flock, preferably one not led by one straight-white-male authority figure, but instead collectively guided by a diverse community of leaders, including: women, non-binary, and trans persons; gay, lesbian, and bisexual persons; persons of many colors, cultures, backgrounds, and socioeconomic statuses; and persons practiced in critical thinking who can be honest about the complexities of life, including the myths in the Bible. Or become wandering-but-not-lost mountain sheep, gifted and intentional nomads who take joy in visiting different Christian traditions and non-Christian religious communities, all the while making life an adventure in personal growth and learning. It is a big, beautiful, multicultural world to explore and enjoy.