God in a Box

Thoughts from a Recovering Fundamentalist

by Marion Pember


Book Details


Do you consider yourself “spiritual” but not “religious”? Do you shy away from associating with modern-day Christian churches, or do you avoid religion altogether? Perhaps you simply hang your hat on the spiritual peg…just in case? God in a Box takes a look at Christianity from the perspective of one who believes that religious fundamentalism is oppressive and controlling, with fear and guilt as the natural consequences. Author Marion Pember describes his journey from being a fundamentalist Christian to becoming a Christian agnostic—or a “recovering fundamentalist.” His book eloquently explores what it means to believe in God, and introduces the concept of the “God box”—the metaphorical box that holds your personal beliefs about God, regardless of your religious background. The book also sheds light on the truth of the Bible hidden within the myth and metaphor found in the pages of scripture. Whether you’re struggling with questions about fundamentalist beliefs or simply need to evaluate your own belief system, God in a Box offers clear, insightful logic. It’s a thought-provoking study of what it means to be a Christian, offered in a way that everyone can understand—and enjoy.


Book Excerpt

Religious fundamentalism is basically oppressive. This is true of all fundamentalist religious faiths, and Christianity is not an exception. Religious fundamentalism is more often about controlling behavior than it is about teaching truth. Control is maintained by making sure followers know what will happen to them if they dare to deviate even one iota from stated fundamental beliefs. The issue of “correct beliefs” becomes more important than behavior. For Christians, being faithful means holding to a certain set of “correct beliefs” about the Bible, Jesus, and God. The most faithful Christians are those who hold rigidly to the inerrancy and infallibility of those “correct beliefs.” Fundamentalists often use the words “fact” and “belief” interchangeably. If it is a “belief” it must be a “fact.” In all reality, a “belief” may not be a “fact.” Not all things contained in fundamentalists’ “correct beliefs” about scripture are facts. That doesn’t bother them too much: what can’t be proven you just accept on faith. You accept it even if it can be factually proven to be in error. Beliefs begin to break down when you are more concerned with “Did it happen?” rather than with “What does it mean?” I read in scripture, “…and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” (John 8:32). I’m not sure I have ever met a “free” fundamentalist. I think the knowledge of truth and the freedom it can bring is scary to those who hold to a rigid, unquestioned, unwavering set of religious beliefs. It is certainly a threat to the gurus who want to keep followers within the “correct belief” system. This I would say is true of any religion or faith group. I believe these people live in fear that too much freedom would destroy the house of cards containing their beliefs. They live in fear of finding out the truth, not in freedom through knowledge of truth. I can speak to that personally. I have been there. ---------- CHAPTER THREE—I BELIEVE IN GOD: WHAT DOES IT MEAN? Most people put God in a box. Along with God, they have a lot of other beliefs in the box, some of which I have already discussed. Even though it is impossible to put God in a box, people try to do it anyway. We are all familiar with boxes. There are all types and shapes, and they have many uses. When we use boxes, they have to be able to hold whatever it is we are placing inside. Your “God box” holds whatever god you decide to place inside. Maybe it would be better to say that your God box holds your God beliefs, whatever they might be. That would be true regardless of your religious belief. It would also be true if you consider yourself an atheist. If you are an atheist, you have to put something in the box in order to have something in which you don’t believe. The sad thing is, most people build that box when they are very young, probably as a child in Sunday school. It may even be a box they inherited! The disaster is the God box for most people doesn’t change much even into adulthood. We have the god in which we believe—or disbelieve—in a box constructed with the help of others, and no one else better mess with it. It may even have been stored for a while. There is a type of security in having that old God box around, even if it might be rough around the edges, and even if you are no longer sure of the contents. You have an idea of what is in it, and you keep the lid on tight. The problem with that approach is the limitation on how one understands God. It also can drastically hinder any growth in the spiritual realm. The words of an old familiar tune comes to mind: “Give me that old-time religion, give me that old-time religion…it was good for my father, it was good for my mother, and it’s good enough for me.” But where is your input, and what is good enough for you? Do you have your own God box, or do you have one that was passed down from a previous generation? It might be a good idea to look and see what your God box contains. We can get very defensive about our God box. We may not even be sure of all that is in it, but don’t anyone mess with it, especially if you yourself don’t believe in what’s in the God box. How can I say I don’t believe what’s in the God box if someone replaces what’s there? Maybe we should take a look at some of the things people put in their God box. Maybe you have some of them in yours. What kind of god is in your box? 1. Is the god in your box one that picks sides in a war to help the selected side defeat their enemies? The Israelites certainly believed that was true. Today it may be the god that helps your team win on the basketball court or the football field. We have many examples of athletes paying homage to this god after a spectacular play on the sports field.


About the Author

Marion Pember

Marion Pember earned a bachelor of arts in sociology from Ottawa University in Ottawa, Kansas, and a master of divinity in New Testament from the American Baptist Seminary of the West in Berkeley, California. He also completed a master of science in guidance and counseling and later a master of arts in marriage and family counseling. Marion Pember served as an Army chaplain for 30 years, and after retiring, he and his wife Carol moved to Shawnee, Kansas, where they are active in their local church. They have two children and six grandchildren.