May 19, 2005

Wine, psycho-fundamentalism, and liberalism

There is a common knee-jerk reaction amongst psycho-fundies. If you suggest the horrible, dangerous notion that perhaps the Bible does not support the premise that imbibing beverage alcohol is sinful per se, you will be accused of endorsing all sorts of vices: drunkenness, recreational drug taking, adultery, or pornography, just to name a few. (If the fundy is especially psycho, you might personally be accused of drunkenness, recreational drug taking, adultery, and pornography.)

Similarly, if you suggest to some KJV-onlyists that God might minister to his people through the NIV translation, then you will be accused of "relativism": questioning whether the King James Bible is exclusively the Word of God is tantamount to endorsing any so-called "holy book," whether it is the NIV, New World Translation, Quran, or Book of Mormon.

In other words, it's all or nothing with these people.

The debate over alcohol has flared up once again on the Fundamentalist Forums, and I have seen this kind of reaction no less than four times in the last 24 hours. Here's one such message (all-caps, spelling and grammar mistakes all as in original):

BOY OH BOY! I GOT WASTED LAST NIGHT. I READ THE POSTS AND FOUND OUT IT IS OK TO DRINK. I WENT TO THE PUB AND NEVER HAVING A SHOT BEFORE, I GOT WASTED ON THE FIRST GLASS. AFTER THAT, I MET A GIRL AND WE TALKED A LITTLE BIT. SHE GAVE ME HER PHONE NUMBER. I CALLED MY WIFE TO SAY THAT I WILL BE HOME IN THE MORNING. SHE GOT ALL MAD SO I CALLED HER AN IFBX. LIBERTY IN CHRIST IS SO MUCH FUN...

GOD HAS SET UP LAWS TO PATTERN OUR LIVES AFTER. NOT THE LAWS TO PATTERN AFTER OUR LIVES!

THE ABOVE WAS FABRICATED BUT PROBALBY WOULD FIT MOST OF YOU READING THIS POST.

HAVE A GOOD DAY!

Responses of this kind are so common, I am convinced that the psycho-fundies simply switch off their brains and go into auto-pilot when they are confronted with a challenge to their extra-biblical "standards" (or, as they should be known, STAAANNNDEEEEERRRRRDSSSS!!!!). The effect is not unlike Pavlov's dogs that were conditioned to drool when he rang a bell. (I recently took up posting nothing but "Here doggy! *ring ring*" in response to these kinds of macros.)

The problem with this kind of thinking (or lack thereof) is that it confuses liberty with libertinism. Liberty, in the Christian sense, is the freedom to follow one's conscience in matters where there is no consensus amongst Christians, and no express statement in Scripture one way or another. Examples of such situations include the eating of meat sacrificed to idols and drinking wine (Rom. 14:21). Libertinism, on the other hand, is the rejection of all moral restraint: the supposed freedom to do whatever one wishes. The failure of the psycho-fundies to distinguish between the two is not the fault of those who wish to exercise their liberty. At best, their knee-jerk reaction is a straw man argument; at worst, it is an ungodly slander against fellow Christians. "[T]he kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost" (Rom. 14:17).

Some of the fundamentalist reaction against a moderate position on alcohol also appears to be based on revisionist history. It is a common claim that when the Bible uses the word "wine," it does not necessarily mean an alcoholic beverage. "Context," we are told, must determine precisely what the word means. While this is sound enough advice taken at face value, invariably it seems that "context" always supports the prohibitionist position. Here the critic is guilty of circular reasoning: having already presupposed that alcohol = sin, he automatically assigns the meaning "alcohol" to any negative mention of wine, and the meaning "grape juice" to any positive mention. (This methodology does not withstand scrutiny on Scriptural grounds any more than it does logical: Isaiah 25:6, for example, speaks of "aged wine," or "wine on the lees," which can only mean fermented wine.)

My friend Coyote made a very good point about this kind of reasoning. It is indistinguishable from the kind of thing theological liberals say about doctrines such as hell or substitutionary atonement. No way would a loving God demand justice! Bloodshed as atonement for sin? How barbaric! Hence hell cannot exist, and the death of Christ accomplishes victory over sin in some manner other than penal satisfaction. Similarly, the fundamentalists cannot reconcile their preconceived notions of Christian ethics with the plain language of the Bible (if they are right, it also means that 500 years of Bible translation has been wrong!), and hence they redefine the terms to something more sympathetic to their own position.

It just goes to show that, sadly, worldly thinking is not absent even from those who claim most strongly to defend Christian truth against worldliness.