January 26, 2006

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My Fundamentalist Education, by Christine Rosen (PublicAffairs, 2005, 240 pages)

B

Of all of the potential Antichrists on the world stage in the 1980s, Ronald Reagan might have seemed an unlikely choice for the chief enemy of Christ who will oppose Him during the End Times. But then again, consider this:

Each of his names has six letters. Ronald Wilson Reagan. 666 — the Mark of the Beast. Also, the Gipper survived an assassination attempt — The Book of Revelation speaks of the Antichrist having survived a deadly wound. You see?

Such was the logic of Christine Rosen in the late 1970s and 1980s while a student at Keswick Christian School in St. Petersburg, Fla.

In My Fundamentalist Education, Rosen (her married name — Jewish kids don’t usually attend schools with the word “Christian” in the name) shares the often funny, sometimes sad, but always entertaining story of the fundamentalist worldview she was taught and accepted as truth into her teens, as well as the impact it has had, and continues to have, on her life.

Keswick Christian was a fundamentalist school. By and large these are the most numerous Christian schools down South, aside from those operated by the evangelicals.

Fundamentalists are not the same as evangelicals, Rosen points out. Whereas fundamentalists stick strictly to the fundamentals of Christianity, she explains, evangelicals take certain liberties with the One True Faith. For example, they might use, gasp, the Revised Standard Version of the Bible. “Real Christians,” of course, will settle for nothing less than the King James Version.

Brought up as a Southern Baptist in the Deep South, I found myself nodding and laughing in agreement with many of Rosen’s experiences such as having to pledge allegiance to the Christian flag (“and to the Savior, for whose Kingdom it stands”) and having to endure such lame fundamentalist/evangelical mainstays as Christian puppet shows and Clowning for Christ.

But Rosen went further than I ever did. She actually tried, while in grade school, to convert her non-believing friends. In this endeavor she failed miserably, which also effectively ended any aspirations she had of becoming a missionary. Try as she might, she writes, “by the close of third grade, I found I’d not yet converted a single living soul.”

Rosen’s mother also gets significant attention in My Fundamentalist Education. The mother found her spiritual niche in Pentecostalism, a denomination even stricter than fundamentalism. Forbidden in her house were anything remotely New Age or “cultish” like Dungeons and Dragons or Harry Potter — it’s a “gateway to witchcraft and membership in a coven,” after all.

By high school Rosen had begun to question much of what she had been taught as a child. She currently lives an “entirely secular life.” That said, My Fundamentalist Education is not an indictment of fundamentalist schools. While Rosen does point out what she thinks is lacking in this kind of education, she also shows that it’s not quite as awful as some imagine it to be.

Will Stewart

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