Fundamentalism and Fear: The Great Enemies of Creativity & Art

Many of the contemporary religious leaders in the “new” fundamentalist movement are eerily reminiscent to fear-mongers of the past.

To this weary artist who has spent fifty years watching, listening and yes, cringing with eyes and ears wide open, these new “jesus-jocks” certainly look different – many dress in jeans, sport soul patches and defend their manhood by lauding the extreme violence of UFC while “preaching the gospel” to hundreds and sometimes thousands of faithful followers. They are entitled leaders who demand and receive absolute submission, insisting they be referred to by titles such as “Pastor”and “Bishop” by their parishioners, staff and close friends.

But if you close your eyes and listen closely to their machismo sermons and mental games, you hear the same rhetoric espoused by religious fundamentalist leaders from the past. Leaders such as Bob Jones and Joseph Smith come to mind.

Same bully pulpit. Different players.

Richard Rohr says, “Fundamentalism is a huge mental game played by people terrified of inner experience. Those who don’t have full inner authority rely on external forms. The dualistic mind divides experiences, knowing everything by comparison: for instance, the good guys and bad guys”.

Fundamentalism at its most fundamental is fear. It is a merit/demerit system. It takes the forms of  legalism and idolatry of its leaders. Rohr says, “Fundamentalism creates a system of words, bible quotes, and techniques for salvation that are supposedly certain, so that you can always knows the ground on which you stand and keep God on your side.” Just as Afghanistan and Iraq provide the impoverished breeding grounds for Muslim fundamentalism, America’s collapsing family system and absent or abusive fathers breeds Protestant fundamentalism.

People who are attracted to fundamentalism, Rohr states, “are suffering from a lack of masculine energy, a lack of union with the heavenly Father.” As you listen to the almost psychotic ravings of these “new” fundamentalists (friends have given me mix-tapes that would be hilarious, if they weren’t so desperately sad), it is easy to hear the dearth of inner peace and father’s love.

When fundamentalism and fear become the essence of a religious community, artists and creatives will either flee or be destroyed.

And unfortunately, that is exactly what is happening around the world. Creatives by the millions are fleeing fundamentalist religions. It doesn’t matter if the label is Muslim or Protestant, the end results are creative and artistic death.

Freedom is the opposite of fear, and just as I have written about the impact of religious control on our sexuality, the same is true of our creativity. The gifts of the gospel are freedom and a heavenly Father’s affirmation and love. Fear breeds death. Freedom brings life. Control breeds clones. Freedom brings creativity.

Benjamin Franklin said it this way, “Those who desire to give up freedom in order to gain security will not have, nor do they deserve, either one.”

55 Responses to “Fundamentalism and Fear: The Great Enemies of Creativity & Art”

  1. “Fundamentalism is a huge mental game played by people terrified of inner experience. Those who don’t have full inner authority rely on external forms. ” — and the places where fundamentalism had its largest real estate in me years ago were the areas that lacked peace and that inner authority, which happens to be the same places where my dad’s absences had their greatest fallout. But not all fallout is permanent and restoration of The Wasteland(s) seems to be the pulse of my Father….
    .-= kendall´s last blog ..Seeing in Nowhere =-.

  2. I love the way richard rohr writes! i grew up in this kind of fundamentalism and i think it takes a major toll on people and gives them a false perspective on life as it probably should be. I’m so thankful to not be in that place anymore…

    thanks for the run today:)
    .-= Spence Smith´s last blog ..An Email To Steve Jobs From My Mother =-.

  3. This resonates deeply Randy. I am both recovering from being a Fundamentalist and being abused from/by Fundamentalism.

    “Fear breeds death. Freedom brings life. Control breeds clones. Freedom brings creativity.” – AMEN!!
    .-= Rocco´s last blog ..The Prodigal… =-.

  4. Why not just name some names and not a semi-veiled stereotype? It’s very easy for people to make wrong assumptions about who you mean. The question I would have to ask is, have you met these people? Talked with them? Discussed these things with them?

    • @Jim, Jim, thanks for joining in the conversation, but some people call that slander. And I don’t think what I said is veiled at all.

      And I also feel it is NOT easy to make wrong assumptions. Fundamentalism is all too in your face. We all know who they are. I don’t have to say it.

      And oh yes, forty years of living and working with these people breathe life (and grief) into this post.

      You sound somewhat defensive. But, nonetheless, thanks for joining the conversation.

  5. Two thoughts:

    Freedom is not doing whatever comes to your mind–that’s slavery. I know because I have been that kind of slave.

    And there are a few things in life that it pays to be afraid of.

    • @NathanJ, Agreed, but also Text without context is pretext.

      • @Randy Elrod, Then the context is this: I know of no basis for freedom without regard to a foundation. Gravity and our relation to the earth allow us to “move.” If we were deprived of those limits, we would lose even a basic understanding of movement.
        A person could claim to build on the foundation and be a liar, a hypocrite, and “fear-monger,” but if you have a problem with the Foundation, it might be more to the point to attack it directly rather than indirectly–attacking those who misinterpret it. Excuse me if I’ve got you all wrong.

  6. @Randy Thanks for your response! In fact I tend to agree with you on your overall point. I have had many of those same experiences in my 36 years.

    When I read your description in paragraph two, certain people come to mind. And those people may or may not be who you are describing. I imagine many reading your post had the same thoughts.

    My overall point is my frustration, that came through in my first comment, is that I am tired of the Body of Christ tearing each other down. I am just as guilty as any in this.

    • @Jim, I agree and thanks for your response. But someone has to call a spade a spade. I talk to so many artists who have been brutally torn apart by these fundamentalists.

      Thanks again.

  7. Just discovered your blog via one of your tweets. I look forward to looking around!

    I assume you read Steven Pressfield’s book, War of Art? I love how he ties fundamentalism to the “Resistance” that seeks to destroy creativity and art:

    “The fundamentalist…cannot stand freedom. He cannot find his way into the future, so he retreats to the past. He returns in imagination to the glory days of his race and seeks to reconstitute both them and himself in their purer, more virtuous light. He gets back to the basics. The fundamentals.” (pg. 35)

    He goes on to say that fundamentalism and art of “mutually exclusive.” Your post furthers the thinking on this.

    Thank you for sharing. It appears what has drawn many of our comments is the fact we grew up in and around fundamentalism, and your post hit a nerve.
    .-= Keith Reynold Jennings´s last blog ..A Cathartic Experience =-.

  8. Love it… a thousand times…. love it… I’d say more, but I’m afraid I’d sound whiney — I get it… I see it, and wish I knew how to change it rather than just walk away from it.. kwim?

    “Creatives by the millions are fleeing fundamentalist religions” — and yet walk away is what we do… it’s that or get destroyed by those so blind to their own fears they can’t stand the light within us. You can’t be a servant/leader next to these people — once you start changing, growing and knowing who you really are… they freak out. They seem happy at first, but then it’s like they try to punish you back into submission and idolotry.

    It is not a sin to say “No. God created me to walk THIS path, not that one.”

  9. Thanks for this today, Randy. It resonates deeply.
    .-= Chad Estes´s last blog ..The Value and Limits of a Letter =-.

  10. Randy– I think what’s still confusing for me is the definition of fundamentalism in use here, since I’m not familiar with the jean-clad UFC fans you’re referring to. Does holding to the fundamentals of the faith, such as the inerrancy of Scripture, the virgin birth and deity of Christ, substitutionary atonement, salvation by grace through faith, a real hell, etc. make me a fundamentalist in your eyes? If so, I hold to these beliefs while maintaining my masculinity, a solid family, relative freedom from fear, and a BFA in fine art from a liberal state university. If, however, you define fundamentalism as adding to these truths anger, personal ambition, pride, distrust of new ideas, and extra-biblical teachings elevated to the level of gospel, I agree with you.
    .-= Ray Cullins´s last blog ..RayCullins.com Re-Launch =-.

    • @Ray Cullins, Thanks, Ray. I personally don’t see inerrancy of Scripture in Orthodoxy, but the others describe Orthodox Christian belief. Much different than fundamentalism.

      There is much of importance for you to read in classic and contemporary literature about definitions of fundamentalism. I would add a few key words in your last sentence: extreme anger, arrogance, entitlement, and elitism.

      • Ray Cullins May 27, 2010 at 14:18

        @Randy Elrod, thanks for the recommendation about looking to literature for definitions of fundamentalism. To be clear, I wasn’t seeking *a* definition but *your* definition — the one that motivated your post. I think you’ve clarified that.

        Briefly, regarding the inerrancy of Scripture, you’ve piqued my curiousity– if the Bible has errors, how can we trust it? How can we have faith in the Christ it reveals? How can we know our foundation is firm? If it’s partly true–which parts?

        Are evangelical churches like CrossPoint who hold to a belief in Biblical inerrancy (http://www.crosspoint.tv/nashville/about/beliefs.html) incorrect? I use that example because I know you’re a friend of that ministry, and am trying to reconcile the two.

        Honestly, I’m not trying to pick a fight. I’ve been following you primarily because I *am* seeking community with creatives who profess Christ, and am seeing a vacuum of real creativity in much of the church. I am concerned about doctrine, though, because what we believe obviously has consequences, and don’t want to sacrifice truth for freedom.

        Thanks for the discourse, and your patience.

  11. As a recovering Southern Baptist youth minister and former United Methodist Recreation Minister I can relate!

    I think any time we try to share or show Christ with fear God weeps for us.. And I think the general population turns off the switch to Christianity.

    You have to lead with Love.. That’s kinda what Jesus did! duh…

    Great post..

  12. I know family members who still feel that if they follow a certain formula, they will only get God’s best blessings…not realizing that pain and disappointment can be some of the biggest and best of what He has for us!!
    Thanks for this, helped to frame some of what I have been praying for when lifting them up in prayer!

    • @bluegoose, Yes, one of the biggest eye-openers for me as a Christian and a parent is that the simplistic formula 1+1 does not always equal 2 as Mr Dobson teaches about parenting. It leaves out a very crucial element. Free will.

      I can do everything the parenting books say and my child is still human and able to make their own choices.

      I can do everything I was taught by my fundamentalist teachers and still be barren.

      I grieve for your family members.

  13. awww, I love the example of parenting…as I am in the throes of it!!!
    I have a 19 yo (almost 20) heading off to Bible college in the fall and a 16 yo with a tremendous will! I am learning how to deeply lean into Christ as we walk a minefield of emotions when everyone is together….and I’m pretty sure that is just how He wants it to be. Is my 16 yo rebellious? I don’t think so, but some of her choices, her acting out, is rebellion…just like Mom, Dad and big sister!!!
    Okay, thanks for letting me share and ‘vent’ a bit!

  14. I’m so weary of using the word “fundamentalist” any more because I don’t personally know of anyone who refers to themselves as that, and when we begin using words to label people who wouldn’t use those same words to label themselves I find that – in doing so – I often struggle with the same aspect of “fundamentalism” that I so detest: seperatism, judgementalism, and the like. Besides, the heart of the fundamentals are good and true, and all things good and true – being from God – should and will inspire creativity, not hinder it. That’s just to say, I had mixed feelings when reading this blog. Keep up the creativity, though.

  15. thank you for putting words to something I’ve been struggling to get out. I grew up in a fundamentalist environment and only now exploring my way out from under the rules and regulations into freedom.
    Thank you for sharing so openly with us!

  16. Hey Randy… hope my reply didn’t read harshly… as an artist whose done both the “Christian in the general marketplace” and the “Musician/Songwriter/Painter/Author in the Church” for years, I’ve experience much of the same problems that you attribute to “fundamentalism” from all sides: humanists critical of anything that suggests genuine spirituality, liberal spirituality that critiques anything that doesn’t pander to their agenda, and genuine, Bible-believer’s that are uncomfortable that some of my songs don’t say “Jesus” enough… likewise, I’ve gotten great praise and encouragement from others who also fit into each of those camps. It sucks that people hurt people, but it’s just that: people hurting people. Each of those people are individuals on each side, ya know? I think it’s just that people suck, generally, and no matter what circle we find ourselves in, that tendency towards suckiness – and potential awesomeness at times, too – with touch us in ways that hurts, and blesses. I know it has me.

    Anyway, God-willing I’ll make it up to Re:Create sometime with Fred (my co-worker) and McKendree (my brother-n-law)… love what I’ve read of your book so far!

  17. Michelle,

    Keep coming out of the darkness and into the light.

  18. Ray, I going to jump in here about the inerrancy of the Bible. I think we have spent way too much time on trying to make all the pieces of the Bible fit together into a neat package that we can hold up and say this is the right theology. I’ve been an ardent consumer of the Bible for over forty years and have discovered that its real meaning comes from the “organic” (living) experiences that many individuals had with God over several thousand years. The Bible shows real change and growth in how people discerned God before Christ and how they did after Christ. I believe that the Bible has everything we need to have in order to know and understand the absolute love of God. I also believe that, as we seek Him, God will transpose what is written in the Bible’s pages to help us manifest His love to our world and to help us overcome the kingdom of evil.
    .-= patriciazell´s last blog ..#43 THE RETURN OF CHRIST: THE CAST, PART ONE =-.

  19. Scott Leonard May 27, 2010 at 22:02

    I was at the infamous Doors Concert in Miami in 1969. I guess the fundamentalist would say I was sinning. A grace-oriented Christian committed to the fundamentals would know it all depended……..

    When you look at the great theologian on grace, the apostle Paul, what you will find is that he was committed to the fundamentals. He was so fundamental that he (ie, the Holy Spirit) told the church at Corinth not even to eat with those who called themselves Christians and yet were characterized by greed, idolizing, excessive drinking (whatever that is), and a few other notorious things. Wow. Was he a fundamentalist? You’ll have to whip out a definition and see if it fits. What he was NOT was a legalist. He was so grace oriented that he scared people. Grace, properly taught, sounds dangerous. Grace-oriented commitment to the funmdamentals, (check yourself) will produce people who have a growing passion for God, his word, evangelism and giving away what they accumulate so the kingdom can be realized, instead of figuring out how they can vainly attempt to create their own heaven on earth. They love what really matters, and their schedule and their Blackberry and their checking account prove it. There are two ditches we have to avoid: legalism and license. Blessed is the man who has the cajones to ruthlessly examine where he is on the road! Read The Heavenly Man (the modern story of Brother Yun and the house church in China) and you’ll be reminded of what will matter in a few more blinks of the eyes, when all this ‘stuff’ is burned up. A life-threatening commitment to the fundamentals is what has produced 120+ million radically saved believers in China. What a commitment to license and loving pleasure produces is getting more jazzed about my fave team, fave vacation, fave band, my fave…..(fill in the blank) than I get jazzed about Jesus and his word and will. I notice a waning passion in my life for the glory of God. My money and my hobbies become the oil that lubes my life, rather than the Holy Spirit. Both the legalist and the lover of pleasure make God sick. Lord, keep us out of those ditches. Then we are free to enjoy creativity that pleases him. I love art. Music is my passion. But art in this country has become a god for many. God is the author of creativity. The evil one can only copy him as he blinds through the deceitfulness of sin. Interestingly, some of the greatest artists of our time are some of the basest people. May the tribe of those who stay passionate for Him and create under the leadership of the Holy Spirit increase.

    If Jim Morrison had the eyes of the Holy Spirit that night, he would have known I was sinning. Not because I was there, but because of why I was!

  20. Randy,

    Here are some of my favorite Christian creative’s that don’t make it on the Fundees play list.
    Keith Green, Third Day Toby Mac Casting Crowns Amy Grant Vineyard Music and one of my Faves is Darryl Mansfield and many more.The system of Fundees hurt not just themselves but the cause of Christ. and his message of Love and Grace, I am a creative that is misunderstood. Great Blog.

    Pease Out Bro
    Ted A

  21. Hey Randy, Thanks for the topic today. It has stirred up some great points. I truthfully have not really understood the total meaning of “fundamentalism” until reading this and researching a bit. I can’t help but think about my late nephew and niece who were both on the creative side of things. They both struggled with the rigidness of the church which we belonged to. My nephew was very much into “Ska” music, tatoos, and wearing jeans to church. He gave his life to Christ early on and went to Bible college and was to start a church plant in Portland Oregon. He often talked about being judged by the clothes that he wore, which were basically a tshirt and jeans to church. He was concerned about the standard our church had set and how not everyone can go out and by dress up clothes and not everyone likes a set type of music to worship to. My niece on the other hand was a bit lost her dad had commited suicide and in 2004 lost her brother to undiagnosed diabetes. She spent time in her room on a keyboard, drawing pictures of pretty girls crying, She struggled with her faith and it seemed as though in her churches eyes the family did not fit the norm there.
    She passed away, in an ATV accident, questioning her faith. She had a dream one night where people were running past her to get to heaven. She noticed that they all had angel stamps on their hands to get in but she did not have one nor did she know where or how to get it.

    I lost my point. Sorry maybe someone can figure it out for me.It’s 3 am and I need some sleep.

  22. If it’s true but not literal, then man is the measure of its meaning. If the Bible can’t be taken at face value, then we must each decide for ourselves what it means. I think you can see where that leads.

    • @NathanJ, Hmmmm. Just for starters, please explain the literal meaning of these verses:

      2 Kings 2:23-24

      Then he went up from there to Bethel; and as he was going up the road, some youths came from the city and mocked him, and said to him, “Go up, you baldhead! Go up, you baldhead!” So he turned around and looked at them, and pronounced a curse on them in the name of the LORD. And two female bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of the youths.

      Mark 14:51-52

      A young man was following Him, wearing nothing but a linen sheet over his naked body; and they seized him. But he pulled free of the linen sheet and escaped naked.

      Deuteronomy 23:1

      No one whose testicles are crushed or whose male organ is cut off shall enter the assembly of the Lord.

      Comments: We can’t just be letting anyone in. We have to draw the line somewhere.

      Genesis 38:8-10

      Then Judah said to Onan, “Go in to your brother’s wife, and perform your duty as a brother-in-law to her, and raise up offspring for your brother.” Onan knew that the offspring would not be his; so when he went in to his brother’s wife, he wasted his seed on the ground in order not to give offspring to his brother. But what he did was displeasing in the sight of the LORD; so He took his life also.

      1 Samuel 18:25-27 ESV

      Then Saul said, “Thus shall you say to David, ‘The king desires no bride-price except a hundred foreskins of the Philistines, that he may be avenged of the king’s enemies.’” Now Saul thought to make David fall by the hand of the Philistines. And when his servants told David these words, it pleased David well to be the king’s son-in-law. Before the time had expired, David arose and went, along with his men, and killed two hundred of the Philistines. And David brought their foreskins, which were given in full number to the king, that he might become the king’s son-in-law. And Saul gave him his daughter Michal for a wife.

      Comments: How do you present a gift like that? Do you tie a bow on the box?

      Exodus 4:24-25 NASB

      Now it came about at the lodging place on the way that the LORD met him and sought to put him to death. Then Zipporah took a flint and cut off her son’s foreskin and threw it at Moses’ feet, and she said, “You are indeed a bridegroom of blood to me.”

      Comments: I imagine the son was screaming in pain and Moses just kinda stared at it in disgust.

      Ezekiel 16:17 NIV

      You also took the fine jewelry I gave you, the jewelry made of my gold and silver, and you made for yourself male idols and engaged in prostitution with them.

      Comments: What did she do with her gold and silver idols?

      3. Ezekiel 23:19-20

      Yet she increased her prostitution, remembering the days of her youth when she engaged in prostitution in the land of Egypt. She lusted after their genitals as large as those of donkeys, and their seminal emission was as strong as that of stallions.

      Comments: Can’t wait to hear this taught from a pulpit.

      Judges 3:19-25 ESV

      And Ehud reached with his left hand, took the sword from his right thigh, and thrust it into his belly. And the hilt also went in after the blade, and the fat closed over the blade, for he did not pull the sword out of his belly; and the dung came out.

      Comments: Apparently the sword pierced all the way through and something unexpected came out the other side. The author felt this was a necessary detail to include.

      Deuteronomy 25:11-12 NASB

      If two men, a man and his countryman, are struggling together, and the wife of one comes near to deliver her husband from the hand of the one who is striking him, and puts out her hand and seizes his genitals, then you shall cut off her hand; you shall not show pity.

      Comments: My question is why would she do this and were there any repeat offenders?

      I could go on and on…
      .-= Randy Elrod´s last blog ..Fundamentalism and Fear: The Great Enemies of Creativity & Art =-.

      • @Randy Elrod, I confess that other than the bizarro/violent/sexual thread, I don’t see your point. Are you saying you don’t htink these really happened?

  23. I love this post. A friend of mine and I were talking about this last night. She accepted Jesus as her Saviour last October. She has so many questions. I don’t know that much, I wasn’t raised with the Bible. The pastor in her church is a kind and humbling man but he can’t prevent that there are people in his church who aren’t like that. They make it hard on her. They tell her to live by some rules which are ridiculous. They point at the Bible and tell her what it means but it’s missread. I tell her she is saved and accepted just as she is and is allowed to live life to the fullest and enjoy everything in life. I would love to meet these people and talk to them but it won’t happen. They try to make her live the way they want. I told her not to listen to them they are stuck in rules they created themselves. Why do people have trouble accepting people just the way they are and want to control them? I would love to speak to them and ask them about 1 Corinthians 13, if there is no love…. It’s about love. God is love Himself. Jesus died for us out of love. So where is the love? I’m glad she hasn’t lost faith and didn’t leave that church because the pastor and sermons are good and the majority is kind.

    I have had my share too like most people and I think there always will be. Because people hurt and there is injustice in the world. I know I don’t fit in because I don’t always agree and I have my own opinion and I’m not about to whine about difficulties very long. People love negativity and gossip. I refuse. So I don’t fit in but I know I belong to Jesus and I’m accepted by the Heavenly Father so I live my life and I don’t care what people say. I care about people but not what they think about me. To think what they have done and said, it makes me laugh now. At the time it didn’t. I turned to Jesus in prayer and to the few people I trust. I’ve learned to thank and praise Jesus in the valley. At the end I got stronger and I still enjoy life. It’s actually stupid. God gave life to enjoy and people make it harder than it is. Jesus died on the cross so we might be free and they create their own rules. It’s already hard enough don’t make it tougher. Just love God, yourself and your neighbour as yourself and life is great.

  24. Randy, Thanks for calling it like it is and not pussyfooting around it. Whether the leaders in Fundamentalism realize it or not, they are seriously damaging or wasting many years of people’s lives. It’s leaders were obviously poisoned by the same legalism they inflict on others and it becomes a vicious cycle. Having grown up in this movement from childhood all the way through ministry training at Bob Jones University and ministry in 3 Fundamental churches, I’ve personally received and brought on others some form of that abuse especially when it came to musical styles. For that, I am ashamed; on the flip-side, I also knew that my life SUCKED and I had no joy in my life whatsoever! God graciously brought people into my life who had deep and happy relationships with Him that made me scratch my head and wonder, “If EVERYTHING they believe and practice is SO wrong, how are they so happy?! In the last 15 years, God has transformed and renewed my mind to what real freedom is and to not close my mind to the creativity of artists and the gifting that God has given. In doing so, God has exponentially transformed my creativity and so much more when it comes to my kids’ musical development. Love your passion for the voices of we artists! Thank-you!

  25. Enjoyed reading this Randy, and some points resonate with me yet left feeling a bit confused. Confused in the fact I am tired. Tired of trying to perform or relate to a particular group/denomination that takes away from being who God created me to be. Trying to live up to a set of legalistic rules that are put in place because of mans fear people will think on their own. I am uneasy where I am and what I feel, and this post was spot on for me. Hope I am not misintrepeting what you have posted but for me it seems a little freeing. The more I read and get to the basic simplistic nature of the Gospel I find that His words are freeing and that is where I want to be. At a place where I rely on God and his word, and accept others where they are, helping them to experience a personal relationship with Christ in which they can be who God created them to be. Take my rules out of it, and put God’s truth in it and let his word resonate with their hearts…hope this is understood, thanks again for the post. As confused as I may be at times, I am still in pursuit. – George
    .-= George Tallmage´s last blog ..Sometimes I Act The Part Of A Fool…Do You =-.

    • @George Tallmage, I truly can empathize. “Tired” has been the term to describe me the past five or so years. “Trying to live up to a set of legalistic rules that are put in place because of mans fear people will think on their own.”

      so true. “As confused as I may be at times, I am still in pursuit.”

      so true. thanks.

  26. This is right on. I was raised with fundamentalism, and although I was never totally comfortable with it I was afraid to move away from it for fear of hellfire. But both fundamentalism and my fear of leaving it completely drained all my creative impulses from me. It wasn’t until I was able to move toward the surety of an all-loving, all-forgiving God and grace based living that I was able to begin to write and create once more.
    .-= Orual´s last blog ..Fear and Judgment: Why do we have a problem learning about other religions? =-.

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