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Fundamentalism Is a Disease, a Demonic Perversion


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Editor’s Note: This year marks the 25th anniversary of the Waco Siege that occurred from February 28 to April 19, 1993. Throughout the weeks, we have been sharing on the website the articles that appeared in the May 1993 edition (vol. 23, no. 1) of Spectrum concerning this tragedy.

On Sunday, April 25, 1993, the same day The Washington Post ran two essays chastising government law enforcement for its tragic assault in Waco, Andy Rooney of Sixty Minutes said he was sick and tired of slurs like these. Nobody's to blame, Rooney hissed, except those "religious nuts."

I'm with the Post: the government was impatient, klutzy—and culpable. Still, except for the children, Rooney's description fits. The Branch Davidians were religious and they were nuts—not just weird, but weird to the point of lunacy.

And they were fed by fundamentalism.

All who are cousins to these crazies—and we Adventists are—should wake up to this fact. Perhaps we're not close cousins. I personally had never heard of the Branch Davidians until the media, gorging on the initial shootout, began to belch out the story. And what did I then hear? I heard about a man who had Revelation solved. I heard about a man who thought everyone was wrong but him. I heard about a man who knew all of the answers and none of the questions.

The man, and most of his followers, had once belonged to Adventist churches. Many in these churches thought—think! —that wehave Revelation solved. Many think everyone is wrong but us. Many have all of the answers and none of the questions.

Our best theologians, including Ellen White, know we see through a glass darkly. They know that God, and God alone, is infallible. But it isn't often that our church's leaders, even its thought leaders, have either the spunk or the insight to say once and for all: fundamentalism is a dread disease, a demonic perversion, a groundwork for madness.

Not long ago—but before David Koresh—I gave a talk on "The Adventure of Truth" to some highly educated, second- and third-generation Adventists. Invoking the Abraham story, I said that when you truly love God you leave off arrogance of mind as well as heart. As Abraham set out, "not knowing where he was going" (Hebrews 11:8, NRSV), you walk a path of bravery and risk, all along acknowledging the imperfection of your knowledge and even of your prophecy (1 Corinthians 13:12). I also said that the contrary frame of mind was fundamentalism, a conceit that murders curiosity and leads thereby either to listlessness or to destructive passion.

The idea of truth as adventure appealed to this particular group—I was preaching to the choir. But in the conversation it came out that nearly everyone thought it was a rhetorical mistake to hammer away at fundamentalism. They thought that most Adventists would be suspicious of me, and reject my deeper point, if l came across unfriendly to fundamentalism, and that if I gave this talk elsewhere, or wrote it down for publication, I should avoid an explicit reproach.


I was a fairly patient listener then. Now, after the madness and the fatal fire, and the knowledge that so many of the dead were schooled in Adventism, I'm impatient. The church's leaders, including its privileged thought leaders, must acknowledge the violence of fundamentalism. Now, more than ever, we must confess that closed and cocky minds are an abomination to the Lord. God wants us always to remain open to change and renewal (Isaiah 48:6).

If I am a fundamentalist I take my convictions to be non-negotiable. I reject challenges to my belief before I have considered them. I deny my fallibility and my need to grow.

In other words, I reject God; I worship an idol.

The wild, ominous energy of David Koresh exposed the violence of fundamentalism. But it won't do to say No to this lunatic. We must say No to the frame of mind that fed the lunacy.


Further reading on the Waco tragedy:
Futuristic Highs at Mt. Carmel, April 4, 2018
One of David’s Mighty Men, March 28, 2018
The British Connection, March 14, 2018
Apocalypse at Diamond Head, March 7, 2018
God, Guns, and Rock ‘n’ Roll, February 14, 2018
The Making of David Koresh, February 7, 2018
Paradise Lost in Waco, February 5, 2018
We Didn't Start the Fire but the Tinder was Ours, January 31, 2018
New TV Series Premieres for 25th Anniversary of the Waco Tragedy, January 24, 2018
Beware of Wolves Disguised as Sheep, June 8, 2017
Death of a Branch Davidian Friend and Other Memories, April 19, 2014
Branch Davidians (and Adventists) Revisited in The New Yorker, March 30, 2014
My Trip to Waco, December 27, 2012


This article was written by Charles Scriven for the May 1993 issue of Spectrum. Scriven is Board Chair of Adventist Forum, the organization that publishes Spectrum.



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