Thursday, October 13, 2005

Fundamentalism as an intellectual vice

Frank Walton wrote:

With all due respect, Victor, I think you're exhibiting an attitude that comes close to fundamentalism itself:

Lewis agrees with them on several important points and has numerous valuable apologetical and spiritucal insights, but, because he doesn't fully agree with them, he is to be denounced. Intellectual opponents aren't just mistaken, there is something really wrong with them, they are enemies, intellectual frauds to be demolished at all costs.

"Intellectual frauds?" "Demolished at all costs?" I think words like this are apt at use with fundamentalists. I don't think being a fundamentalist is equivalent to being a Christian either. Having read a score of apologetical and philosophical works by would be "conservatives" or "fundamentalists" I can tell you that the majority of them look highly upon C. S. Lewis. I have only read but a few who think Lewis should not be elicited as a great apologist. But that's a very very very very few. You'll definitely have a harder time finding C. S. Lewis bashers than C. S. Lewis praisers within the Christian community. Also, JP Holding is politically mixed; so, by definition I don't think it would be fair to call him an ideologue or fundamentalist. Anyway, that's how I see it.

I think there is some confusion going on here. I wrote that there are a couple of uses of the term fundamentalist. One is as a term of abuse directed at people theologically more conservative than oneself. See Plantinga's hilarious discussion in Warrented Christian belief. Second, one can be an adherent of the Five Fundamentals: the verbal inspiration of the Bible, the virgin birth of Christ, the substitutionary atonement of Christ, the bodily resurrection of Christ, and the return of Christ. Lewis, as I noted defended three of these claims in the course of his apologetics. But there is a third way in which the concept can be used, and that is to define some kind of ideologue who looks at everything through a "are you for us or against us" lens. Some people who did refer to themselves as "Fundamental Baptists" have attacked C. S. Lewis for his theological deviances. I've even seen an article by someone arguing that C. S. Lewis almost certainly did not go to heaven. This kind of ideological attitude is, I maintained, an intellectual vice, but it is not an intellectual vice that can be found only among conservative Protestant Christians. The Scribes and Pharisees in their response to Jesus seem to exhibit it in spades. And, the Holding list saying "You might be a fundamentalist atheist if..." suggests that it is possible to be a fundamentalist atheist or a fundmentalist evolutionist. Even though I don't completely agree with everything on that list, I think he does show that it is very possible to be possess the vice of fundamentalism as an atheist. In fact, so long as we understand clearly that we are talking abotu this kind of intellectual vice, it seems to me that at least some former fundamentalists have merely changed their brand of fundamentalism.


Jason Pratt said...

Actually, I think Frank believed you were talking about the fundamentalists as "intellectual frauds to be demolished at all costs".

What Victor was actually saying, Frank, is that the particular fundies on that particular website were treating _Lewis_ that way--which is indisputably true. (And to be honest, I suspect more of them would if they read Lewis more closely. More than once I've received blank stares when I mentioned Lewis' stance on scripture and evolution, to name two hot topics, to fundamentalists who professed to have read him widely.)

Anyway, _I'm_ the one who said I expected God to backhand them into eternity; not Victor. After which I had some pretty strong words to say against _myself_, too. {s!}

Mike Darus said...

It is not helpful to discount an argument by attributing a derogatory label on the person making the argument. One criticism of Lewis I read from a (very) theologically conservative writer questioned his views of heaven and hell. I think rightly because Lewis seems to stray from the Christian mainstream. Ideas like a second chance to choose and self-inflicted separation from God are philosophically tidy but definately subject to debate. The critic unfortunately lept into conjectures of the implications of such views. That is usually where things go wrong.

Frank Walton said...

Thank you for responding, Victor. As for the question of fundamentalism, yes, I get what Plantinga is saying. Fundamentalism is usually used as a pejorative when historically it wasn't used as such. Nowadays, when someone uses words like "fundamentalism" it conjures up images of the Salem witch burnings, crusades, and such.

Victor Reppert said...

I'm surely not saying that no one who criticizes Lewis from a more conservative perspective theologically is guilty of the intellectual vice of fundamentalism. There are plenty of Christians who think well of Lewis in general but really do accept all 5 points of fundamentalism, and therefore are understandably disappointed in his failure to defend inerrancy or the Anselmian view of the atonement as penal substitution.

Some theologically conservative Lewis critics, however, really seem to want to throw the baby out with the bath water and Robbins is even suggesting the Lewis probably went to hell.

I'm pretty sure Lewis never advocated the doctrine of the "second chance" after death; though he did write a fictional account of a bus trip from hell to heaven in The Great Divorce. As for self-inflicted damnation; I suppose that is a kind of consequence of an emphasis common to Arminians and universalists, that statements like 2 Peter 3:9 "God is not willing that any should perish" should be taken in an absolute, literal sense, that God really does want to save everyone and that the only way you can end up being lost is if you freely act in ways that make it impossible for God to save you. This intuition is about the deepest theological intuition that I have, so I have a lot of sympathy with Lewis on these matters.