How to argue with (and like) a fundamentalist

I lived long enough in the fundamentalist world that I became well-versed in how they argue. Sometimes it’s fun to flip the script. It may not be right, but it’s fun.

1. Know your Bible well. Like really well. Or at least know the important verses that make your point. Fundamentalists know their Bible freakishly well – or at least the important verses that make their point.

2. Proof-text. Context doesn’t matter to your fundamentalist friend. He or she believes the words in the Bible are all equally true, except for the parts that are metaphorical. So quote lots of verses.

3. Question their belief in the Bible if they don’t agree with you, because, for fundamentalists, not taking literally every verse that isn’t obviously metaphorical means not believing in the Bible. And as every fundamentalist knows, if you don’t believe in the Bible, you’re not a Christian.

4. Force them to choose between your perspective and “not believing in the Bible.” There’s a beautiful scene in Mark 11 where the chief priests, scribes, and elders try to trap Jesus by asking by what authority he’s doing what he’s doing. Jesus replies, “Was the baptism of John from heaven, or from men? Tell me, and I’ll tell you.” This is checkmate.

5. Strike first. Your fundamentalist friend will launch every single one of these attacks on you, if given the chance, and if they find out you’re not a Biblical literalist before you trap them into not being a Biblical literalist, they’ll accuse you of not being a Christian and discredit anything else you have to say about God and the Bible.

A sample conversation between you and a fundamentalist to demonstrate:

You: I think something fundamentalists believe is a lie.

Fundamentalist: How dare you think that! The Bible —

You: Yes, the Bible! Why, in chapter X verse Y, it says Z.

Fundamentalist: Now wait just a minute!

You: And in another place, it says this.

Fundamentalist: You’re misusing that verse.

You: And of course, in Romans 4:27…

Fundamentalist: You’re cherry-picking.

You: I’m just telling you what the Bible says. Don’t you believe in the Bible?

Proof-text. Question their belief in the Bible. Strike first.

I’ve been on the receiving end of this conversation so many times it’s not even funny, so every now and then it’s fun to flip the script.

But there’s something you should know: this will never work. It may leave you feeling smug and self-justified, and it may leave them speechless, but it will no sooner convince a fundamentalist to change his beliefs than quoting Dawkins will.

Roger Wolsey has apparently repeatedly said,

Atheists and fundamentalists each tend to read the Bible in the same wooden, overly literalistic manner. The difference is that atheists reject what they read in that manner, while fundamentalists believe it.

While some atheists have denied this, at least the part about how fundamentalists read the Bible is largely true. If you’re aware of that when you’re talking to fundamentalists and don’t share that view, you can take the conversation to some pretty interesting places.

The sad part of this? “Strike first” is rule #5 because if you don’t strike first, hardcore fundamentalists usually will.

I’ve found that arguments with fundamentalists are un-winnable. The best you can hope for is a stalemate, but on the bright side, fundamentalists take anything other than absolute victory as defeat.

On the not-so-bright-side, fundamentalists hate losing, so as fun as it can be to flip the script, it might ruin a relationship.

About David M. Schell






3 responses to “How to argue with (and like) a fundamentalist”

  1. ccws Avatar

    LOL! My dad (an American Baptist minister) could out-Bible any Fundy anywhere, any time. He’d have them prooftexting themselves into a corner in nothing flat. You never knew whether to laugh or feel sorry for them when it happened.

    1. David M Schell Avatar

      I feel like I would like your dad.

      1. ccws Avatar

        I suspect you would have. He was one of those quietly intellectual people who you’d expect to be teaching at a seminary somewhere, but his passion was “the Gospel that is social by definition” so he chose a ministry in social work and community organization.

        Sad to say, he was so good at what he did – calling the system to account and going out and empowering people to help themselves instead of administering charity to make the powers-that-be look good – that he was driven out of 2 jobs in quick succession (he lasted a year and a half at each) & blacklisted. When he came home the second time with the contents of his office, I said, “You’re in good company. Even Jesus only had 3 years.”

        He was never the same after that. He went back to work as a machinist, taught adult Sunday school & preached a few times, and headed the committee at church that helped resettle a Burmese family, but mostly he withdrew into his books. Eventually he quit going to church altogether because he couldn’t stand the dumbed-down theology there.

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