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What Can Be Done?


R. S. Martin
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It's been quite a few years since I last heard an Old Order Mennonite sermon. Yesterday at my mother's funeral I heard one again. I don't think they are fundamentalists so much as pietists. Last summer I did a bit of reading on 17-century German Lutheran pietism and that seemed almost like a sermon from church. Maybe this is something only theologians would be interested in.

 

What I want to say is that their understanding of the world is very seriously limited. There is practically no awareness of the social, cultural, and intellectual premises of biblical times and lands.

 

My question is: What can be done about this?

 

They are so sincere in their religion and so miguided. I know how to remedy ignorance--provide information and educate people. What I don't know is how to work around the very real fear that they will be led astray from the true faith and doctrine. This fear is barely beneath the surface.

 

My siblings are all solid community members. Most of them are in their forties and they have established their places in the community. They know, understand, and embrace the traditions. I was inspired to see it. One of the preachers was a man who was in the baby news about thirty years ago when I was still completely part of the community--he's the baby of his family. The other was a man whose ordination I witnessed as an adolescent. He preaches today as he preached those many years ago. These people are all cogs in the wheel or strands in the carpet that makes up their community. I was inspired to see it.

 

What, if anything, can be done to remedy fear and ignorance?

 

I guess the answer is probably nothing. Just wanted to share it, I guess.

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What I don't know is how to work around the very real fear that they will be led astray from the true faith and doctrine. This fear is barely beneath the surface.

 

This is exactly why Christianity is as prosperous as it is. Outside information is "of the devil." The virus protects and propogates itself by convincing its host that the very sources of nourishment upon which it depends are harmful to it.

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I'm not sure anything can be done. You can't force people to be educated against their will or to not be brainwashed, sadly. I mean yeah, you can say that children have to go to school, but unless you ban religion, there will always be religious schools promoting nonsense. And even if religion was banned, then it would probably go underground and be unregulated. IMO better to have it in public, where at least we can see what people are doing, rather than to have religious cults steeped in secrecy that we don't know are there. Granted there are probably some, but not as many as there would be if Christianity was legally banned in the US.

 

Unfortunately, until Western culture as a whole decides that brainwashing children from birth is wrong and stupid, there are going to be a lot of ignorant people.

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Well, I'm not sure how "open and public" the education is of kids. They are in church-operated schools and I understand the school system has rewritten the history books to make the focus on the Mennonites. I don't know what that entails. Do the children still learn about Marco Polo and Christopher Columbus and all the other explorers? I have no idea. This Mennonite focus is going to reinforce that being Mennonite is the only decent way to go. It will help keep the kids ignorant of the wider world and it will foster an already intolerable level of arrogance that "we are THE people of God." The bright spot is that these kids get a solid education in terms of reading, writing, and arithmatic. Anyone who can and does pursue reading can learn more about the world. That was my ticket to a better life.

 

I am thinking not so much about educating the kids as educating the parents. Unless and until the parents accept it, they will not allow the kids to be taught the stuff. That is how it looks to me. And for the parents we face major amounts of fear.

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What I want to say is that their understanding of the world is very seriously limited. There is practically no awareness of the social, cultural, and intellectual premises of biblical times and lands.

 

What Xian sect is aware? To date, all of them like to paint Babblical times as these perfect, ideal eras in which man and God lived in harmony and we all obeyed the Will of Da Lard™. No evidence for that exists, just as there is no evidence at all for any of the absurd myths presented as "historical facts" in the Babble, such as a worldwide flood, the Cruci-fiction, or the incineration of Sodom and Gomorrah - or even their very existence.

 

Part of the problem with Xians is that they live in a fairy tale world wherein they believe their story book to be a history book. Only when they decide to give the arguments of their opponents a fair listen will anything even approach the potential for change within their hard hearts.

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Well, I'm not sure how "open and public" the education is of kids. They are in church-operated schools and I understand the school system has rewritten the history books to make the focus on the Mennonites. I don't know what that entails. Do the children still learn about Marco Polo and Christopher Columbus and all the other explorers? I have no idea. This Mennonite focus is going to reinforce that being Mennonite is the only decent way to go. It will help keep the kids ignorant of the wider world and it will foster an already intolerable level of arrogance that "we are THE people of God." The bright spot is that these kids get a solid education in terms of reading, writing, and arithmatic. Anyone who can and does pursue reading can learn more about the world. That was my ticket to a better life.

 

I am thinking not so much about educating the kids as educating the parents. Unless and until the parents accept it, they will not allow the kids to be taught the stuff. That is how it looks to me. And for the parents we face major amounts of fear.

 

I learned about Christopher Columbus when I was going to a Lutheran school, but everything was of course, taught from the religious perspective.

 

I agree that education would help, but the problem is that you can't force an adult to be educated. You can't tie them up and drag them into a school. Even if you did, they would probably resent it and not listen to anything you have to say because it would be to them, "the work of Satan", or some such nonsense. Until Western culture values learning and education and intelligence in general, until we stop looking down on intelligent people as "geeks" and "nerds," people are going to be ignorant.

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What, if anything, can be done to remedy fear and ignorance?

 

I guess the answer is probably nothing. Just wanted to share it, I guess.

It does give you a feeling of despair and frustration. The only thing that can help is to educate people, and it means public education has to be there (and maybe be improved). And maybe we should ban religious home schooling etc too? Kids (people) should learn to think critically, logically and analyze everything, because if they do, at least they have a better chance of breaking the spell of ignorance.

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Here's an idea that's been cooking in my brain. Maybe I need to do some study on cosmology of the ancient world (for an up-coming paper I plan to do just that on a small scale), and also on present-day knowledge. Then integrate all of this somehow with the view conservative Christianity holds today, and write a book presenting the information, tailored specifically for fundamentalists, and doing all this without them feeling like I am patronizing them.

 

One thing really struck me when I was at the table with my siblings on the day of the funeral. The final part of the meal is singing a song of thanks for the food. The minister at the head of the table reads a line of the song, then leads in singing it. That's called lining a song. I've been at funerals where the volume was very weak and no real singing took place. Our family is really good singers. We inherited that from our mother. The volume was good and everybody except me knew the song off by heart. I guesss they have attended many more OOM funerals this past decade than I have.

 

I conclude that my siblings have grown into productive men and women of their community. I spent most of the past decade away from their community, getting a formal education. They spent it carving out niches in the community, starting homes, families, businesses, whatever each was inclined to do. I was favourably impressed. If I want to write something that people like this will give serious thought I most definitely cannot patronize them.

 

Before the server for exC crashed this week we had started a conversation (half-jokingly, half serious) about producing a movie of the calibre of The Passion of Christ and Tim Lahaye's Left Behind series, but from the exC perspective. We realized that it would have to appeal to people. If we aim only to irradicate fundamentalism (which in my opinion is the most dangerous type of religion) we have to aim for something that will undermine fundamentalist thought and religion without alienating nominal and liberal Christians. But it will have to attract the fundies attention, too; otherwise they won't even read it. It can't be a blatant refutation of their religion if we want them to read and digest it. We all know how absolutely they will ban stuff they disagree with.

 

How to differentiate between the two? I've got one idea. One of the ministers are the funeral said "Grace is not conditional." That brought me up short. I've just spent about four years imbibing Evangelical Lutheran theology. It says grace is irresistable. In other words, no matter if we like it or not, God loves all people and will save all people. They say grace/love is unconditional. That means there is no hell for us unbelievers to be tossed into.

 

My idea is that one way of differentiating between fundamentalists and "safe" religion is asking: Is God's love conditional or unconditional? It further seems to me that we might hit our target best if we promote the message of unconditional grace and/or love because the fundies find fault with that idea immediately. What do you think? Do any fundies anywhere promote that idea? Don't they all have a hell for people who don't buy into their beliefs? I think so but I wonder if anyone on this forum knows otherwise.

 

What about cosmology? So far as I know, cosmology would be a neutral topic with which to reach an audience because they neither care nor know that much about it, and it would set the stage for more later. I don't think we can get a good understanding of the Bible unless and until we can visualize the universe as the the biblical writers saw it. The fundies know that people used to believe the world was flat but they have no idea exactly how that universe was visualized. (You can see one article and diagram of ancient cosmology here.)

 

In the same breath, the one minister mentioned the spheric world and also the "pillars that uphold the earth." Neither reference seemed to be conscious. The point he was making had nothing to do with the shape of the universe; he simply used descriptions to make his point come alive. If you're preaching you can't exactly say the same sentence or phrase over and over three or four times until people have had time to digest it. So he used various descriptors as he referred to the earth. He was talking about Job. That book is full of cosmological references.

 

In the New Testament there is considerable reference to "powers and principalities," or "rulers and authorities," or "elements of the universe." Depends which version is being used. The concept makes a whole lot more sense to me when I understand how people viewed the universe two thousand years ago, and earlier. Apparently there was more than one view, too, back then. So I'm thinking that might be not only a safe topic but fascinating for them as well. So why am I writing it all out here? Not sure. Maybe for feedback or input. Gotta play around with ideas to get them right, I guess.

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