I have to admit that I was a little leery about this book, as a result it sat on the bottom of my pile. Problem was, eventually the pile dwindled, and only Stories Of A Recovering Fundamentalist remained. I was worried, having just moved into the very apex of the Bible Belt, I am sure that mere possession of a book with a title like this contravenes some arcane local by-law. It was with grim determination that I gritted my teeth, and launched into it!

Author James Alexander is a fascinating guy, an ordained minister, a PhD, and a thoroughly entertaining and educated writer. At under 200 pages this is not the weighty tome designed to replace sleeping pills, but a lively discussion that covers a huge spectrum concerning religion today, it’s roots, and maybe most interestingly the cause and effect on society, politics, education, and just about every other facet of life.

The problem with Fundamentalism James Alexander explains is the intransigence with which it is applied. To blindly obey and not to question makes no sense. Critical thinking is a hugely important part of human existence, yet Fundamentalism leaves no space for such ideas. What is written in the bible, or the Koran, is to be taken at face value, more importantly it is not to be questioned. When an interpretation is required it will be supplied by the ‘Adults’ of the church, the mere believer, only needs only to believe, not to think. Maybe this is the major reason that my trips to church only revolve around Births, Marriages, and (as I get older), an increasing number of deaths.

I suspect that James Alexander and I have quite a lot in common. I do not seek the truth, I seek the wisdom to make my own decision as to what that truth might be. I will not be bullied in this process.

James readily admits that when the going gets tough, even he has the urge to retreat into the safe cocoon that fundamental teachings offer. It is so much easier to take the well trodden path, than hack your way through the jungle. But it is that hacking process that offers the learning process, don’t be confused with this sentiment, this is not re-inventing the wheel. This is discovering the wheel that suits you best.

This is not your regular dry and insipid look at religion, this is new and fun. Early on in the book James talks a little about his life as a child. It was not the happiest of situations, but he found solace in the local children’s Bible club. It was the leader of this group that started to take James to church. As he describes it, the Bible Club Lady started taking him to church, but he could not understand why it was always the same church. Each time they traveled they passed by several other churches. In what has to one of the funniest dialogs I have read in a while, James asks her “What about THAT Church?” The answer apparently was always the same.

No. Not that one. They baptize babies.
No. That one doesn’t use the King James Bible.
That one? Not a chance! They speak in tongues.
That place!!! You must be kidding! Why, Jimmy, that’s a Catholic Church! They pray to statues, and the pope is the Antichrist. Don’t ever go in one of those churches!

You just have to love such dialog!

One of the concepts that the author establishes early on,is Logos and Mythos. Hardly new concepts, but ones that are often misunderstood, or not understood at all. In layman’s terms, logic and mythology. Both have a valid place in religion, and both have the same standing when it comes to belief. Both offer opportunities to be right, it is a question of how you use this information.

Alexander introduces a term that I had not heard before ‘The Flat Bible’. In a nutshell treating the Bible as flat, means giving the same level of importance to every section. This lends to many seeming contradictions in teaching. However if you treat the Bible as having hills and valleys a much more balanced text is revealed. In support of this notion the author includes an essay that he wrote some years ago, if you read nothing more than this essay out of the book you will gain much understanding.

Christian fundamentalism has been around as long as Christianity itself, however the modern version has its roots in the 1920’s and specifically the 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial, which pitted creationists against evolutionists. The light bulb flickered on again briefly in the 70’s, and now in the first decade of this century it is burning brightly. The movement has found a willing and able ally in segments of the government. As James Alexander points out, G. W. Bush’s approval ratings are at an all time low, and who are those that are sticking so doggedly to him? The Christian Right, during his time in office he has done much to further their agenda.

There are so many facets to Stories Of A Recovering Fundamentalist that I could indeed write a book about the book! Oops, looking at the length of this review, I just have!

Great book, and well worth the price of admission. You can get your copy from Amazon.

Simon Barrett


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