Insight into the literalist mind

2005/07/11 at 20:36

Fred Clark, self-avowed liberal evangelical Christian and one of my all-around favorite bloggers, has posted about a series of ‘snapshots’ of experiences with creationists that he has had over the years (read posts one, two and three). In the latest one, he shares a good insight into the mind of Biblical literalists:

The most dangerous thing about fundamentalism is not that it sometimes teaches wacky ideas, like that the world is barely 6,000 years old or that dancing is sinful. The most dangerous thing is that it insists that such ideas are all inviolably necessary components of the faith. Each such idea, every aspect of their faith, is regarded as a keystone without which everything else they believe — the existence of a loving God, the assurance of pardon, the possibility of a moral or meaningful life — crumbles into meaninglessness.
My classmate’s church taught him that their supposedly “literal” reading of Genesis 1 was the necessary complement to their “literal” reading of the rest of the Bible, which they regarded as the entire and only basis for their faith. His belief in 6-day, young-earth creationism was not merely some disputable piece of adiaphora, such as …
Well, for such fundamentalists there is no “such as.” This is why they cling to every aspect of their belief system with such desperate ferocity. Should even the smallest piece be cast into doubt, they believe, the entire structure would crumble like the walls of Jericho. If dancing is not a sin, or if the authorship of Isaiah turns out to involve more than a single person at one time, or if the moons of Jupiter present a microcosm that suggests a heliocentric solar system, then suddenly nothing is true, their “whole groundwork cracks, and the earth opens to abysses.”

I’ll try to keep this in mind next time I’m inclined to try to persuade a literalist of the fallacy of his views on a particular topic.