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Don’t Consider Christian Fundamentalism “Violent”

February 14th, 2009 · Posted by Hugo · 10 Comments

Peter Rollins, one of my favourite authors-that-I-haven’t-read-yet, but-his-books-are-waiting-on-my-shelf, and-I’ve-read-his-blog (create an acronym out of that one!) has an interesting post:

Fundamentalism isn’t too violent, it isn’t violent enough.

His primary thought is “fundamentalism is an impotent movement”, and compares it to war. For the truly radically violent, those that are “violent enough”, those that accurately expresses the violence that is Christianity, he proposes Martin Luther King and Mother Theresa. That is the violence that is worth committing, the true church militant.

Go read the post! My regulars might see why I like him so much: might complain of an inversion of the typical understanding of words, to dig at deeper concepts and ideas those same words “ought” to refer to! ;-) The comment thread touches on similar arguments as well, “what is a fundamentalist, anyway?”, and a little bit of struggling to direct the discussion towards what Peter meant, as opposed to the understandings that people take issue with. Consider this comment, which mentions Rosa Parks as another example.

Categories: Worldviews
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10 responses so far ↓

  • 1 miller // Feb 14, 2009 at 11:19 pm

    As much as I’m in favor of being flexible with definitions, I must take issue with this particular inversion of words. Here’s why:

    1. This is a very poor argument against fundamentalism because it is based entirely on the equivocation fallacy. Once you assign new definitions to “violence” and “impotence”, you cannot assume that such properties such as “good” and “bad” carry over to the new definitions.

    2. If I’m going to allow Peter Rollins to use inverted definitions, then Peter Rollins will have to allow everyone else to use standard definitions. But Rollins’ essay is very prescriptive in spirit. He says things like “Let us not then attack such a position for being too violent” and “we should avoid the trap of arguing that their image of Jesus is too violent” (emphasis mine).

    3. I feel that rather than drawing new distinctions, he is removing distinctions. In particular, he is removing the distinction between progress and violence. What about “nonviolent resistance”, as promoted by Gandhi and MLK? The phrase may have been ironic at the time, but the irony has worn off, and that is a good thing.

    Coming back to what Peter meant, I would express the gist of it in this way: “Fundamentalists value violence, but it’s the wrong kind of violence because true violence is progressive in nature.” I see this in the same light that I see statements such as, “He could not have been a true Christian because he was a bad person”.

  • 2 Hugo // Feb 15, 2009 at 1:29 am

    OK, here’s how I see it:

    Peter isn’t arguing about what is a “true Christian” and what isn’t. He’s writing for his community, for those that read his books and read his blog. He’s writing for people following a certain path with him, a certain way of life. (And don’t confuse it with typical conservative Christianity, Peter’s a philosopher, and he’s big on Zizek. Um, FWIW, dunno how to most quickly break down the typical stereotype. How about this: have you heard of the “Alpha Course”? A course introducing people to… um… “conservative” Christianity. Peter’s community runs something they call the Omega course… ;) )

    Much of what he writes about, is in challenge to an oppressive system, writing about the “violence inherent in the system”. That particular article talks about the concept of a “church militant”, in a good sense, as a theological idea found in the tradition within he works: he’s pointing out a way to be a church militant, in the tradition of MLK, and he’s contrasting it to the kind of “church militant” that a fundie might try to be. He’s certainly not upset about everyone else using normal definitions. He’s not thinking about an in-crowd and an out-crowd.

    To rephrase in the context your points:

    1) I don’t consider it an argument against fundamentalism, I rather consider it an argument for “non-violent resistance”. The words and definitions used are not important, and chosen only to connect to a certain theological idea and paint it in a new light.

    2) His essay is indeed prescriptive, sure, I don’t have any problem with that. It’s like saying “let us not support a way of thinking that preserves a bad status quo. Let us not confirm their theological validation. (Let us find a better way of being, and be more radical in addressing the problems of the oppressive system.) Hmmm: while I have just claimed he’s not thinking in terms of an in-crowd and an out-crowd, he is talking to his community. I think there’s quite a difference (i.e. there’s a community, but there’s also the absence of an “out-crowd” if you know what I mean?)

    3) Again, in the context of the theological idea of those prepared to take a radical stand, being a “church militant”, the removal of distinctions that you point to is useful. He’s not meaning to undermine the concept of “non-violent resistance”, he’s just supporting and reconfirming it in different words. I’m sure he’s not going to go running off with this idea and making it his new creed, “we’ll be militant!”, it’s just an isolated essay challenging us to a rethinking of the meaning of “church militant”. A concept I think I’ve emphasized too much now, that my commentary emphasizes it much more than his essay ever did.

    FWIW. Does my comment above contribute anything to the way in which you perceived his essay?

  • 3 Pieter // Feb 15, 2009 at 10:41 pm

    So in summary, though war and fundamentalism is physically violent it is always about the status quo desiring things to stay the same. So in a way non-chaotic and thus non-violent.

    While pacifism and civil disobedience is about changing the world. Quite chaotic and thus very violent.

    I had same initial reaction as miller. Playing with words and connotations being one of those primal philosopher sins that lead to long fruitful academic careers ;)

  • 4 miller // Feb 15, 2009 at 11:12 pm

    I don’t consider it an argument against fundamentalism, I rather consider it an argument for “non-violent resistance”.

    Argument for, argument against, same difference.

    The words and definitions used are not important, and chosen only to connect to a certain theological idea and paint it in a new light.

    Well, but isn’t the “new light” an important part of his point? So the words and definitions are important. This just sounds like a nicer way of saying “equivocation”. I cannot approve of the use of equivocation in an argument, even if conclusion is something I agree with.

    However, I am wondering a bit whether this is really meant to be an “argument”. I might instead see it as a piece of “inspirational” writing, designed to make us think about connections between different ideas. That’s okay, I guess. But it looks like an argument, doesn’t it? I mean, I think everything looks like an argument ;), but then you saw it as one too?

    His essay is indeed prescriptive, sure, I don’t have any problem with that. It’s like saying “let us not support a way of thinking that preserves a bad status quo.

    Well, yes, that’s what he’s saying. But then we’d have to argue about whether his way of thinking is in fact any better at destroying the status quo. Though I suppose you could make some fair points in favor of it, I don’t think I believe it.

    He’s not meaning to undermine the concept of “non-violent resistance”, he’s just supporting and reconfirming it in different words.

    Yes I agree. But now “non-violent resistance” is changed to “pacifist violence”. Now it’s all ironic. Well, okay, irony is pretty cool. :)

    FWIW. Does my comment above contribute anything to the way in which you perceived his essay?

    I don’t think so. However, it obviously persuaded me to read Peter’s essay.

  • 5 Hugo // Feb 15, 2009 at 11:31 pm

    @Pieter: *bingo!* Yay academia. ;-)

    There is another reason to play around with the meaning of words though: if you’re in a tradition with a long history, and immutable scripture, pondering different definitions is often a *requirement*. You’d certainly start wondering if isn’t easier to just throw out the immutable scripture, eh? :-P

    In the end, when it comes to getting humans from bad to good, I’m happy encouraging any means available. As miller mentions:

    I might instead see it as a piece of “inspirational” writing, designed to make us think about connections between different ideas.

    Yes! And now you’ve got me wondering if I could maybe commit some equivocation around “inspired” versus “inspiring”… the Bible is most certainly inspiring, aint it?

  • 6 Hugo // Feb 15, 2009 at 11:42 pm

    Oh, and he’s got this Zizek on his “Read Recently” list on his blog, I don’t thinkt it’s wrong to make a connection here ;) :
    http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0312427182?ie=UTF8&tag=httpwwwignicd-20&linkCode=xm2&camp=1789&creativeASIN=0312427182

  • 7 Pieter // Feb 15, 2009 at 11:55 pm

    Yeaaaah nigger, a whole new field of glori-frickin-fyin gangsta sainthood. Keep it real!

    More violent than Gandheee, da G-man. Wild.
    Marching to hell with MLK, millions on da road millions in da bank. Stylin’
    Shake it out with Motha T, down wit da homeys outta luck. ReSPECT.

  • 8 Bendul // Feb 16, 2009 at 10:54 pm

    flipping sweet thread

    I would have liked to see more deconstruction of the way the term violence is used in different contexts though. It’s kinda like my buddy who wanted to call himself a Christian Nihilist because “he realised he was screwed & needed Christ”. While I knew what he was on about; I felt he didn’t know th word “in it’s natural habitat” and was therefore kinda insensitive to it’s connotations; an the logical inconsistency of this kinda use of the word.

    I am not sure that is the case with Rollins though…

    blah blah. too lazy to finish this train of thought.

  • 9 Hugo // Feb 19, 2009 at 8:04 pm

    Here’s some interesting thoughts to consider, if we want to continue this discussion on another level:

    http://gatheringinlight.com/2009/02/17/a-more-authentic-fundamentalism-peter-rollins/

    In particular, the six comments below that post. Thoughtful, considering the source, influence and nature of Peter Rollins’ work.

  • 10 Some Easter Reflections // Apr 14, 2009 at 12:17 am

    [...] most useful way possible. Reward the valuable and useful. Not like this guy, bob, who commented on Don’t Consider Christian Fundamentalism “Violent”, of all posts: You guys are stupid as hell. God isn’t real. America needs to become more like [...]

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