Some Crazy Stuff I Believe In ‘Cause I’m an Ex-Fundie

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by Tim Widowfield

That sensational title was supposed to grab your attention. However, my remark was “not intended to be a factual statement.” Frankly, most of the things I believe in (or, rather, theories I subscribe to) are fairly ordinary. I thought it was P.J. O’Rourke who once said that thinking outside the box was overrated — “There’s plenty of good stuff still inside the box” — but I can’t seem to find a reference.  Maybe I imagined it.

Defending the status quo

You may recall a few months back when I defended the venerable Documentary Hypothesis against a scholar who did not understand it at all. I own books by OT minimalists, and I have great respect for Thompson, Lemche, et al. However, I still find myself more persuaded that the creation, transmission, and redaction of the Hebrew Bible followed a process similar in most respects to the one described by Wellhausen and Friedman.

Similarly, while I may entertain doubts about Q, I’m still a proponent of the Two-Source Hypothesis. I own a copy of The Case Against Q, and I’ve read a couple of the chapters more than once. Goodacre asks a lot of probing questions that do not yet have fully satisfying answers, and his contribution to Synoptic Problem scholarship is undeniable. However, I am still firmly in the 2DH camp.

Why am I an old fuddy-duddy when it comes to Wellhausen and Streeter? Because these standard models in particular have a great deal of explanatory power and compelling coherent logic. So while it’s true that many people “stay inside the box” because of inertia and lack of imagination, oftentimes it’s just as likely that there’s nothing outside the box that explains things better than the boring old standard model.

But that’s not to say that we should ignore new ideas. The dominant hypotheses in source criticism (the DH in the OT and the 2SH in the NT) aren’t set in stone. I’ll be the first to admit that Markan Priority without Q (aka “The Farrer-Goulder-Goodacre Hypothesis”) might be correct; however, like Agrippa I am almost but not quite persuaded.

Keeping an open mind

We should keep our minds open even to far-out ideas like Scripture Ninjas and the Galatian Bastard Theory. But the proponents of such theories should not be surprised by the ribbing they get here. You know what they say about extraordinary claims.

In short, I’m pretty much a bore. So what does our dear friend Steph mean by this?

They’re all pitiable, Tim. Widowfield “escaped fundamentalism” (Nazarene Church), when he was 15, Bob Price did, etc etc. and on it goes. As you said ‘once a fundie, always a fundie’. As also said a friend of mine N.T. Wrong. They just swop one set of convictions for another, similarly without coherent argument or evidence (or learning), just an illusion they’re now ‘self critical’.

(Note: The “Tim” in the first sentence above refers to Tim O’Neill, an old Vridar visitor who got his feelings hurt.)

Gosh, I would hate to think of anyone wasting their time pitying me. For one thing, it’s sweet corn season here in Iowa right now, and I could not be happier. I fear the cheese-purveyors at New Oxonian have conjured up the straw-men versions of Neil and me so often that they’ve forgotten it’s fiction.

I’ve already explained that “once a fundie, always a fundie” is a myth, but beyond that, such an attitude betrays a lack of trust in human nature, an assumption that people can’t change. If I went through life thinking people couldn’t change, I guess I’d be miserable too. Such humanists who lack faith in humanity are to be pitied. You should picture me now as I stop typing, look up wistfully at the ceiling, shake my head, and sigh.

“Poor Hoffy.  Poor Steph.”

But seriously, what new set of convictions could Steph be talking about? I’d ask her, but I’m afraid she’d accuse me of mischaracterizing her previous statements.  Trust me — you don’t want to risk stepping into that minefield.

A new set of convictions

Let me think. Well, I used to have the conviction that truth emanated from God and that the Bible was inerrant. What are my current convictions? I suppose I’d start with the conviction that truth is something we look for and strive for, not something we receive from a higher power.  And further, that we’re imperfect beings, but that we can keep trying harder.  I believe that most people want to do the right thing, and that they will if they have the opportunity. I would like to be thought of as someone who has the courage of his convictions, but who’s also willing to change his mind based on evidence and reason.

But you can never change your mind if you don’t learn about all the options. And therein lies the problem. I suppose we’ll never shake the reputation of being a fringe blog, because we take seriously some options that are now supposed to be off the table and previously debunked, especially Jesus mythicism. As I’ve said many times, I am not a mythicist, but I’m all for giving everyone a fair hearing.  And a fair hearing is not what Earl Doherty has gotten over the past decade or so.

The other reason Vridar gets under some people’s skin is that we don’t pay proper reverence to the mediocre scholars who pass themselves off as experts these days. But there’s no easy or safe way to bring this problem to the fore. I sometimes choose to do it with humor, which offends some people, but I think it helps the message “stick.” NT scholarship is sliding into mediocrity, and as far as I can tell, nobody inside the ivory tower seems to care.

To the humanists who dislike humans

The straw-men versions of Neil and me hate the Bible and would love to see NT studies crumble and burn. If that were true of the real Vridarians we’d just sit on our hands and watch the fun. What the misanthropic humanists who haunt New Oxonian’s cloistered courtyard fail to understand is that we want NT studies to get better, just as we want them as people to live long and prosper.

שָׁלוֹם עֲלֵיכֶם‎

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Tim Widowfield

Tim is a retired vagabond who lives with his wife and multiple cats in a 20-year-old motor home. To read more about Tim, see our About page.

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7 thoughts on “Some Crazy Stuff I Believe In ‘Cause I’m an Ex-Fundie”

  1. Great summary under the Title of “A New Set of Convictions”!

    From one ex-fundie to another, my hat is off to you. There’s no freedom like being able to follow the evidence & allow it to guide your conclusions. There’s also no freedom like refraining from a conclusion in the absence of conclusive evidence. The New Oxonians have made up their minds though that certain trains of thoughtful investigation and consideration are out of bounds and attack anyone even entertaining such ideas. Rather fundamentalist of them really…

    Keep up the good work.


  2. I’ve said it before, but indulge me once more. One of my biggest shocks in leaving fundamentalist thinking behind and entering the “normal world” was discovering, contrary to my naive expectations, that oh so many people are not any more open-minded than those I knew in my fundie past. And the more intelligent one is the more stubbornly one can rationalize the indefensible. Reading the comments on New Oxonian in relation to the recent fiasco here is not at all unlike reading the comments on Holding’s or Christian Cadre’s sites — both sides are totally lost in their own world of self-projections and have not the slightest interest in actually seeking to build bridges and open dialogue.

  3. I’ve never been a fundamentalist of any kind. I was raised Catholic and stopped caring about “the faith” when I was about twelve years old (which, coincidentally, is when I no longer was forced to attend anything church-related). No trauma … no stress. I suspect that leaving religion behind probably gets progressively more difficult on the psyche the older we are when we realize it’s all mythology and not history.
    Anyway, I truly enjoy and get a kick out of you guys’ blog. Thank you for (mostly) keeping your cool under the frothing-ire-fire of the mighty Jesus Process (C). While I, for one, love to watch a bully get his ass kicked, I think that it is important to not become one’s enemy in one’s dealings with them, especially in this age when our every tantrum is recorded for posterity. I commend you on your relative moderation. I honestly think that anyone who has eyes to see will see in the end what was going on during this recent volley of “scholarly” raving.

    I shudder when I think that I once actually looked forward to Hoffman’s contribution to the field back when he was trying to start up the Jesus Project with Bob Price. I also shudder to think that I used to engage McGrath a bit. It’s a similar feeling that I get when I remember that I once voted for Senator Edwards for VP.
    Ugh. What a disappointment. (I feel dirty.)

    A suggestion, since that frothing crew has said goodbye to you guys, why not return the favor? Why not stop mentioning them altogether and thus stop publicizing their delusional neuroses?
    I mean, some people believe in a historical Moroni — what are you gonna do? Y’know? (shrugs)
    If they ever come back, though, then hit them again, hard.

  4. I disagree, somewhat.
    Sparring is good for the brain.
    All scholars do it all the time, and have done it throughout history.
    If you look at the immense diversity of schools of thought in Ancient Greece, they spent a lot of time and energy criticizing each other.
    Same thing with early Christianities.
    And the Jews love quibbling at every opportunity.
    So basically, no harm done, and probably it’s a healthy tonic.

    It’s only when the Roman Emperors endorsed and annexed the Catholic branch that it started acting like the Emperors, eliminating dissent and variety. The Church tried to stop the noise and confusion, for the sake of one voice only.
    The dictatorship of the mind promulgated by the Christian Churches deadens brain activity.

    So let them spar, and relax.
    Even if the other side uses a lot of insults. Big boys can take it and survive.
    The trouble, they always are stuck on the same groove. It’s always the same limited litany, and that too gets very boring. Only Hoffmann was striving for variety, but remained mostly incomprehensible.
    The art of insult with clear communication was lost around WWI.

  5. With respect to Q.
    You may find this interesting.
    Its from Mike Goulder [sadly I’ve lost the original] and is not, I think, referred to by Goodacre et al.

    “The gospels are full of imagery, but one striking set of images is animals; and we find that animal images often occur in pairs, the animals frequently being in some way symbolic. There are 10 such pairs in the gospel tradition.

    Give not what is holy to dogs, and cast not your pearls before swine.
    Or he asks for fish, will he give him a snake?
    Who comes to you in sheep’s clothing, but inward are ravening wolves.
    Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests.
    I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves.
    So be as wise as serpents and innocent as doves.
    You strain at a gnat but swallow a camel.
    You snakes, you brood of vipers!
    As a hen gathers her chicks under her wings.
    As a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.

    All 10 of these paired animal images are in “Matthew”.
    None is in “Mark” or Special “Luke” or John” ; 3 recur in Q passages in “Luke’.”


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