Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
Other Sellers on Amazon
+ $3.99 shipping
Spirit and Flesh: Life in a Fundamentalist Baptist Church Paperback – 2005
The Amazon Book Review
Author interviews, book reviews, editors picks, and more. Read it now
From Publishers Weekly
Since they began flexing their political muscles with Jerry Falwell's Moral Majority, Christian fundamentalists have attracted increasing attention from curious, and often suspicious, outsiders. Setting out to make a documentary about the religious right in the early 1980s, Harvard- and Brandeis-trained sociologist Ault found his way to a Falwell-influenced church, the pseudonymously named Shawmut River Baptist Church, and ended up spending more than two years there. There, much to the bewilderment of his fellow academics, he found a community whose beliefs sustained a social world of surprising richness. Ault masterfully combines narrative with careful, and frequently groundbreaking, analysis: "While fundamentalists' timeless, God-given absolutes may appear rigid from the outside, within the organism of a close-knit community... they can be surprisingly supple and flexible over time and place." But what is most striking is the way Ault brings his whole person, not just his capacity for insightful abstraction, into the story—and into the quest to know not just his subjects, but also their God. While most of the book's events took place almost two decades ago, Ault's hours of verbatim recordings, which he retells with gripping immediacy, keep the book fresh. This title joins Randall Balmer's Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory as required reading for anyone who would understand America's most conservative Christians.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
For a self-admitted left-wing sociologist, Ault provides as unbiased a glimpse into the hearts and minds of the fundamentalist members of the Shawmut River Baptist Church of Worcester, Massachusetts, as might be found. His relations with the church began in the mid-1980s when his postdoctoral dissertation on why new-right conservative women eschew feminism led to a PBS documentary. Having continued, they now eventuated in this lengthy account of the professional and personal lives of the pastor and several congregants. Ault's narrative style should appeal to the Left and Right alike, particularly after he confesses his frequent discomfort when others mention their unqualified faith in the word of the Bible, which doesn't, however, impede his portrayal of that faith as earnest and heartfelt. Ault discloses all that the people of Shawmut River Baptist taught him about how fundamentalists make the world work for them; and by noting how liberals see the same world quite differently, he just may have written the seminal opus for bridge-building between those two factions. Donna Chavez
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
Top customer reviews
There was a problem filtering reviews right now. Please try again later.
Ault did his study decades before allegations of child molesting in Christian Fundamentalism came to light. The church he selected (while Jerry Falwell was still alive) was pastored by a man who belonged to the Falwell stratum of Fundamentalism in the late 1980's or early 1990's. So Ault never saw either the Hyles or BJU strata of Fundamentalism.
Ault’s most disarming and perceptive insight is that Fundamentalism, though it emphasizes reliance on the sacred Scripture, is primarily a religion in the Oral Tradition. The beliefs, which have a certain flexibility, are disseminated through the sermons and lessons and by person-to-person conversation. People share sermons, pass around tapes, and attend conferences where they hear the leaders of the religion make their pronouncements. Bible reading, rather than being systematic or scholarly, is performed selectively in order to “hide God’s Word in the heart,” which is a euphemism for memorization. At the appropriate time, learned texts are slapped onto a situation. But sermons carry the beliefs and transmit them. Bible reading serves the sermons.
Ault’s next most disarming insight is that Fundamentalism relies upon situation ethics. He expressed surprise that the preacher, a man he came to admire, would thunder that divorce was always wrong, and everybody would shout “Amen!” yet several people in the church were divorced. They felt no incongruity about condemning divorce yet also being divorced. Ault learned that the Fundamentalist mindset believed that it believed in the absolutes that it claimed, yet the culture was one of addressing every situation individually and evaluating it in light of multiple factors. While remaining conservative and morally strict, Fundamentalism, nonetheless, relied upon situation for its moral decisions, not absolutes. Divorce, in the end, was NOT always wrong if a situation was one that was intolerable or “unavoidable”. The people, he noted, saw no contradiction in what they said vs what they actually practiced. They thought they believed in an absolute morality, and they practiced situation ethics.
As Ault himself has no grudge against situation ethics, this double standard struck him more as an amazing irony rather than anything shameful. Indeed, he appears to find some relief in the notion that the bark of Fundamentalism is worse than its bite, at least for people inside a “Fundamentalist community.” And Ault found many admirable qualities within the community, especially their care for each other. Ault’s chosen church, by the way, was not a Jack Hyles type church but one after the model of Jerry Falwell.
Instant hsitory of Fundamentalism - But in terms of the Oral Tradition that Ault found within the church, he also saw that the heavy reliance of the people upon the spoken word rather than written texts created a sort of “instant history” for them. They believed that Fundamentalism had created far more impact in history than it actually has, and their view of history was shaped by their view of Fundamentalism. Names that most people have never heard of, such as J Frank Norris, Billy Sunday, etc., were lynchpins of significance for the church members. They had very little knowledge of more substantive makers of history.
Cosmic Struggle - The Oral Tradition of Fundamentalism created a ready-made culture where one had not existed before, complete with its own history and its outlook of being at the center of a cosmic struggle. This cosmic struggle, by the way, is not the victorious struggle of Christ to overcome Satan and sin, but rather the struggle of Fundamentalism to restore the present culture to godliness.
Ault's analysis had a few gaps because he observed only one church, and yet his insights are compelling and profound. I will also add that Ault became more devout in his own faith in Christ (though certainly not a Fundamentalist) after seeing answers to prayer when the church members insisted that to observe them properly he had to engage in sharing prayer requests. That was probably one of the most charming parts of the book. Ault treated his subjects of study gently. These days, knowing the horrors against children that are permitted in Fundamentalism, I think new studies are essential.