Waking Up in a Shaking Up

Column by Brian McLaren on 7 March 2024 0 Comments

When I studied the resurgence of life after the world’s five previous extinction events — the Ordovician-silurian, Devonian, Permian-triassic, Triassic-jurassic, and Cretaceous-tertiary — I felt like I was witnessing an Easter-morning resurrection.

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Why do conservative Christians think that “an open mind is the devil's playground”?


Dear Rosemary,  At the core of each of us is our belief system. It is around that belief system that a large part of our personal identity is formed. That reality, at least in part, points to the relative success of fundamentalism in spirituality. You see, one of the real strengths of fundamentalism is that it provides a stable core belief system.

It is much easier to believe you understand who you are and to feel stable when your core belief system isn't fluctuating, which is great for fundamentalists. For folks like liberals and progressives, however, it is a little more difficult because the walls around our core beliefs are a little less rigid and more willing to flex as new information presents itself. This means that we, more frequently than fundamentalists, are reshaping our understanding of who we are and how we relate to society, even if in small ways.

That just isn’t true for a fundamentalist. The protective walls around their core beliefs are tall and rigid – and with good reason. We have to keep in mind, our core beliefs are so much more than ideas or ideals, they are identification and identity. Who we understand ourselves to be is formed around them. So, when you challenge a specific belief, you are also, in small part, challenging the person’s understanding of who they are.

For fundamentalist Christians, it is even more complicated than just that. In both direct and subtle ways, they believe their salvation, at least in part, is dependent upon being correct on issues of faith.

Intellectualism, progressivism, on the other hand, invites the constant assessment of the “correctness” of a person’s belief system. That’s dangerous ground for a fundamentalist Christian. When you confront them on a particular belief, you are not only confronting them on an idea that they have held to more rigidly for a longer time than most other folks, but you are also confronting the very core of who they understand themselves to be.

For them, it is those core beliefs upon which their salvation hangs in the balance, at least in part. Questioning it doesn’t just question the belief but, for them, it puts into question a lifetime of holding on tightly to that belief which, for them, puts into question where they will spend the rest of eternity.

When you take all of that into consideration, it’s really not surprising that most fundamentalist Christians react negatively to, or avoid altogether, any intellectual questioning of their core belief systems. For that matter, it’s not surprising that fundamentalists of all camps tend to have a less than positive reaction to progressivism. They just want to be right, while progressives just hope to sort out some small version of the truth. It's a subtle difference but an important one.

~ Rev. Dr. Mark Sandlin




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