Christian fundamentalists usually come to the notice of the Skeptics when they make pronouncements on scientific matters, as with creationism. But, as Ross Miller indicates, fundamentalism results in junk religion, not just junk science.
The major damage to intelligent Christian profession in this country is being wrought not by secularism or liberalism, but by what theologians know as biblicism, and by charismania – that is, by large sections of the New Zealand Christian Church itself.
Biblicism treats the Bible as a sacred, infallible book, internally consistent, an accurate historical record, and so on. Jesus certainly never handled the Bible that way, and was angry when he encountered people who did.
Charismania is the religious naiveté, gullibility and hysteria associated most recently with “gold dust”, the alleged appearance of gold dental fillings, and many claimed miraculous healings. It also comes with speaking in alleged “tongues”, “prophecies” (which, when you get to hear them, are mainly tedious and mindless babble in poor Authorised Version English), and “worship” which includes the kind of behaviour the scriptures mainly associate with Baalism, and much falling on the floor.
Biblicism and charismania are the main reasons many people I talk with now have come to regard the church and much of its profession as a joke. I have come to the view that it is often a healthy, life-enhancing decision to leave such a church. But perhaps for the moment it is urgent to focus on charismania.
Why is not most of the church writhing with embarrassment at the latest reports of hysteria and delusion? Why are so many “charismatic” pastors and others actually such spooky people? Part of the reason these things happen has to be that charismatic leaders tend to be scarcely trained in any of the serious disciplines of Christian ministry. These include systematic and classical theology, church history, psychology and human spiritual development, and study of the biblical record in its original languages using historical/critical methods. They are too afraid to undertake such training. Are there any astrophysicists who are also astrologers, or chemists who are alchemists?
As one might expect, there are good people among these pastors and leaders; there are also incompetents, poseurs, people who enjoy personal power over others, and frauds – and their churches have frighteningly few checking mechanisms.
Why is there apparently no end to the gullibility of so many would-be believers, so much craving for miraculous signs and “fixes”? Why did that Timaru woman say on TV, without a blush, that you should indeed leave your brain at the church door, in order to acquire these blessings?
Some years back, on an inspired whim, I became a paid-up member of the NZ Society for Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (Inc.), more commonly known as the Skeptics. It has been such a refreshing and liberating thing. As a Skeptic, I know that God does not transmute amalgam into gold, or rain gold dust upon us (which, conveniently, like the manna in the wilderness, is never anywhere to be found when you want to get a sample for analysis). As a Christian believer I know that God, about whom one is less and less willing to be dogmatic, does not in any case bother with such juvenile humbug.
How many charismatic pastors are there, who privately know very well that such “miracles” have not actually happened — but also that these things are filling their churches and paying their salaries, and maybe financing newer and bigger church buildings?
How many are lying awake at night, knowing they have to face yet another crowd of the credulous expecting miracles…?
I once went to a “healing” service at which the preacher claimed we would be able to smell the Holy Spirit arriving at the venue — all on the basis of some obscure text in the Book of Psalms which, whatever it meant, most certainly did not mean that. Sure enough, just about everyone (not I) began to smell this fragrance. It was simple heresy — not so much the Olfactory Effect, which is merely suggestion and delusion, but the assumption that God was the last to arrive and thus formerly absent.
I do not see how all this differs from paganism, Baalism, Druidism, which are essentially unremitting attempts to propitiate the gods, to make life go well, to ward off disaster and evil spirits, to feel good, to employ “miracles” against pain and sorrow and death, to manipulate life the way we want it – and, for some, to get wealth (which is called “blessing”).
Jesus taught otherwise. He called people not to some safe haven of good feelings and miracles to make everything right, but to die to self, which is quite the opposite. The deceptions being practised, wittingly or otherwise, by much of the charismatic persuasion are becoming too wacky altogether to pass without comment.