My podcast interview with Peter Enns elicited some interesting responses. One of the more memorable came from one very disgruntled bloke who commented at Pete’s blog:
“In he [sic] interview you claim to believe God and the Bible but your following words contradict your claims. YOU ARE A LIAR. You do NOT believe God or the Bible. Do the right thing, either repent or remove the word Christian from your title and leave the church.”
Note how this fellow moves seamlessly from “Pete Enns is wrong” to “Pete Enns is lying.” It is an extraordinarily presumptuous leap. And yet it is one that fundamentalists make all the time.
What is a fundamentalist, anyway? As you can probably guess, that is not a simple question. A good place to start is with those who wear the label proudly. If somebody is happy to call themselves a fundamentalist, as (for example) Jerry Falwell was, then it is a good guess that they really are a fundamentalist.
The term “Fundamentalism” may derive from a conservative Christian movement of the early twentieth century which galvanized around the publication of a collection of booklets called “The Fundamentals”. But the ethos of fundamentalism is one which can be found in any large movement. The fundamentalist ethos represents a perceived conservative retrenchment around certain defining principles of the group in question as well as a refusal to engage in wider societal trends beyond the group.
Another aspect of the fundamentalist ethos, as I point out in my book You’re not as Crazy as I Think, is the propagation of sharp, binary thinking, often expressed by contrasting the stupid, ignorant or evil people of the out-group with the wise, informed, good people of the in-group. This is why I call John Loftus a fundamentalist in one of my podcasts. Loftus perpetuates the fundamentalist binary categories by dismissing all theists as irrational and deluded. He doesn’t impute immorality to them, but he does impute a sweeping cognitive dysfunction or irrationality.
In his book The Making of an Atheist (which I review here) James Spiegel imputes sweeping moral dysfunction to atheists. And so Loftus and Spiegel in conversation would be, in essence, the meeting of two binary-category fundamentalists who are retrenching into their own positions by imputing sweeping cognitive and/or moral deficits to those of the out-group.
And that’s just what this commenter at Pete Enns’ blog does as well. The fellow has absolutely no ground to presume to know that Pete Enns is lying. But this extraordinarily presumptuous assertion is justified by the bracing binary categories to which the fundamentalist is committed. Since it isn’t possible to read the Bible in good conscience in a way that diverges from the fundamentalist, and since Pete cannot be dismissed as ignorant (he is, after all, a renown scholar), it must be that he’s lying.