Flannelgraph Christianity

by Max Andrews

The following is a guest blog post by John Quin.  John, a 40-year-old electronics engineer working for the Australian Government. He was raised as a Seventh-Day Adventist, a fundamentalist Christian denomination that teaches elaborate narratives beyond what even scripture can reasonably support. It has only been in the last few years that John has simultaneously discovered the flaws with fundamentalism and strength of philosophical based Christian apologetics. John hopes to be able to share his new perspective on Christianity with as many people as God places in his path.

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The field of interaction between science and religion is quite vast and in this blog entry I will concentrate on a couple of issues that concern the impact science has had on Abrahamic monotheism/Christianity.

For many people who were raised as a Christian and then went on to study Science at University the religion they had once believed with childlike certainty seems to have been totally and utterly falsified. For them believing in Christianity has become completely unthinkable. But what exactly has been falsified, God’s existence, a Divine genesis, or perhaps the Incarnation and Resurrection of Christ? I would like to propose the hypothesis that the Christianity that has been falsified for many of these people is what I’ll refer to as “Flannelgraph Christianity”.

But what is this Flannelgraph Christianty (FC), where did it come from and what about it is in conflict with science. Most every child that attended Sunday school in the Western World would be familiar with bible stories that were brought to life by the teacher using colourful felt figures which were placed on a felt canvas. This is Flannelgraph and it has proven to be very popular tool for educating young Christians about Christianity. Now I am not trying to make the bizarre assertion that Sunday school classes are at the heart of the conflict between Christianity and Science. But the concept of creating a concrete narrative for every part of the Bible has proven to be detrimental for Christianity. This is especially true for the creation narrative described in Genesis where it seems that only a listeralistic interpretation will do. A quick skim through the history books will show that this treatment of Genesis is something of a recent phenomenon with early Christians such as St Augustine warning against any imperative to take the Genesis narrative literalistically[1].

For many people, both inside the church and out, these concrete narratives seem to either be the main tenants of Christianity or at least are essential to it. In reality while there are many aspect of the Bible that should be defended as a literalistic account of events there are very few of these events that would be critical to the truth of Christianity. Christianity could be reduced down to a small set of literalistic truth claims regarding the incarnation, death and bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ.

While the concept of falsification /verification should never be considered synonymous with truth it seems that Christians should stand firm on the idea that the Resurrection was literal and that Christianity stands and falls with it. Upon the falsification of a literal resurrection to then redefine the Resurrection as being a “spiritual” resurrection would be to commit an ad-hoc fallacy. At that point traditional Christianity would have been falsified and have been replaced with a Neo-Christian belief.

The issue of whether there is conflict between science and the truth claim of the Resurrection is essentially the same as the issue of whether science will allow for the existence of miracles. The issue of science and miracles may be addressed in a future post.

[1] Saint Augustine: The Literal Meaning of Genesis (De Genesi ad litteram libri duodecim)


2 Comments to “Flannelgraph Christianity”

  1. This is interesting. A friend of mine was making the parallel that modern Christians are only taking their Sunday school understanding of Christianity and using that for the rest of their lives. The silliness of such a thing is as if one only took kindergarten understanding of history (very caricatured) and keeping only that for the rest of their lives. Of course, when you are in kindergarten you learn a basic, narrative illustration of certain known truths, and as you grow older, and enter into high school and college, you go over the things formerly learned and learn it in a more mature, accurate way.

    However many Christians don’t do that. They hold on strongly to their “kindergarten” understanding of Christianity and Scriptures, never maturing in their understanding. Having never really studied their Bibles or anything more than what was taught them when they were young and forced to go to church, it’s as if, as Christians, we are kindergarten-dropouts. I suppose this is what is meant by “flannelgraph Christianity”. I like that term…

  2. I should add that Flannelgraph Christianity has a counterpart in Pop Science Atheism.
    I know many ex-Christians who have rejected theism (a non-sequitur IMO) on account of the falsification of “Flannelgraph Christianity”.
    The Pop Science Atheist would be a proud skeptic and would only accept belief in scientifically verified concrete narratives.
    It’s all fundamentalism of one kind or another as far as I can see.

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