Would people stay fundamentalists if they knew all about how doctrines change? | Bleader

Friday, July 14, 2006

Would people stay fundamentalists if they knew all about how doctrines change?

Posted By on 07.14.06 at 11:53 AM

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Walter Feinberg, who teaches philosophy of education at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, spent three years visiting Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, and Islamic schools. In April Routledge published his book about what they teach and how, For Goodness Sake: Religious Schools and Education for Democratic Citizenry.

One of his recommendations--this comes from the U. of I. press release, not the book, which I haven't seen--is that religious schools should teach the history of their own religious doctrines, because young students "need to know that it is possible for religious doctrine to change over time."

Is this naive? A review of the book in Teachers College Record (behind a pay wall) makes it clear that some religious schools do a fine job of this while upholding their distinctive traditions. But can they all? Isn't fundamentalism all about denying change? 

A liberal faith can postulate that human knowledge of God is inevitably partly false--hence doctrine has changed and will continue to do so. Fundamentalists don't go that way, even when one of their heroes makes a change himself.

For example: In 1993 Pope John Paul II included slavery in a long list of practices that he called "intrinsically evil" and that are therefore prohibited at all times and places. That statement goes well beyond anything written in the Bible or in later Catholic teaching.

Writing in the far-right journal First Things last fall, Avery Cardinal Dulles, S.J., did his sophisticated best to square that circle. Since neither the pope nor the tradition could be wrong or have changed, Dulles argued that slavery isn't intrinsically evil and that the pope didn't mean what he'd plainly said. The piece is a strange and strained intellectual exercise.

Would it be naive to expect Dulles, let alone less erudite Bible-thumpers, to appreciate Feinberg's recommendation?

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