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Tribes at War: Fundamentalism, Liberalism, Atheism and Biblical Scholarship

I hate fundamentalism, liberalism, atheism, and biblical scholarship alike. But I love the people from those tribes. I have watched the patriarchs from these clans pillage the weak minds and faith of those camped on the outskirts of a rival camp. I have been horrified as supposedly strong men and women became bounty. I have seen intellectual war and fought in the bloody battles—I have been victor and captive. All the while, all the tribes left me unsatisfied and sad because their rogue leaders and followers are hurting inside as much as the rest of us.

So, why do I love them? Simple answer: They are people (Matt 22:34–40). Complicated answer: Because I have been in their sandals. (Well, at least in some of their sandals. And man, some of them have big feet and big egos. Others wear uncomfortable shoes for the sake of fashion or because their buddies called them trendy.)

Fundamentalists supposedly solidify faith, endorsing what they call orthodoxy and condemning those nasty, undermining liberals. Liberals slap fundamentalists in the face and call them Susie, saying, “You moron. Wake up!” Atheists look at both fundamentalists and liberals and think, “Why do you care? Just live life and be happy; life is so much easier that way. And if you are going to care, care about social justice.” Biblical scholars come in all shapes and forms: fundamentalists (a little more rare), liberals (pretty common), and atheists (they’re the ones in the media, like the Misquoting Jesus guy, Bart Ehrman).

Okay, I will admit it; I am characterizing the clans and creating my own straw men so that I can burn them up for kicks. But aren’t these characterizations often more true than false? Think about it. Very few don’t fit in one of these camps. What camp would you put me in? I am dying to find out. What tribe are you a part of? You’d like to think you are in one, and not in the other—but we often become what we hate, so look out.

What should we do? What diplomacy act can keep us from going to war, again? Can we hate the method, the idealism, and the flat out ridiculousness of these tribes, and still love the people? We are commanded to love our neighbor (Luke 10:25–37), but does that mean not confronting them on their stupidity (Lev 19:17)? And what if we’re the ones who are wrong? Then what? Drop a comment; let me know. (And remember, honesty separates the men from the boys, and the women from the girls.)


John, this is a great post. Funny and sharp. Really enjoy your writing.

I just had a conversation similiar to this post with a friend. We were talking about homosexuality and the church's response. We agreed to err on the side of love. I assume I'm going to miss something, that I can't be perfect in doctrine (maybe that makes me a liberal?), so I hope to make the mistake by leaning too far in love. If I'm not sure, love.


Thanks for the comment. The church's response to homosexuality is indeed a similar issue and one that I have wrestled with as well.

Anyone else want to offer their two cents or respond to Mark's comment?


I agree with Mark. In fact, I think many Christians do not have a clear vision of God's absolute love--we're looking at God through the prisms of traditions and doctrinal statements. I love what Isaiah 25:6-8 tells us about the power of the love that is perfect, complete, and real. As for myself, I have no right or ability to judge any other person because I am so limited in what I see and understand. God is the One who sees our hearts, our circumstances, and the battle against us, so I'll leave the judging to Him.

Just a thought about the recent usage of the word "tribe"--Revelation 7 uses that word in its description of what happens right before the return of Christ. Isn't ironic that now our use of "tribe" does not reflect blood ties, but spiritual and intellectual ties? But, we must remember that vast multitudes from all nations, tribes, peoples all are coming to Christ. So, our responsibility is to pray and to love.


Thanks for the comment. Anyone want to pick up on Patricia's comment and perhaps carry this conversation forward in light of what she and Mark have said? I would much rather here what the community thinks before re-articulating my view.


Hi. I came to your blog through a search for what atheism and fundamentalism have in common. Interesting.

I'm a former atheist, and am not a Christian, but I am no longer anti-Christ, as I once certainly was. I've been doing a lot of thinking and research and writing about the possibility of intention in the scientific picture of nature and our existence and our place in the universe.

I think the most bitter and annoying people of any group are the most visible and audible. On that note, I feel that the entrenched, angry strains of atheism have a lot more to do with anger toward religious abusers and extremists and hypocrites than with an unbiased assessment of whether we live in a, perhaps, loosely intentional universe. That loosely intentional quality would allow for nifty things like free will. I also feel that fundamentalists and atheists have too much in common for my comfort. They both seem to think that they know all the answers. They're closed minded.

Not that it's all about my needs... =) Mike.


Some really good stuff here. You have made some excellent points. Thanks for joining the conversation and sharing where you are coming from. I have thought about writing a little more on this topic down the road, so stay tuned.

Just in case you are interested, here is a post I wrote a while back on Science and The Bible:


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The Infinite God is everywhere, are you looking? I am dedicated to finding God in all aspects of life – the Bible, the news, and the arts. Because I find that the most fulfilling journey of all is searching for heaven here on earth.