I recommend Christine Wicker’s The Fall of the Evangelical Nation. In it, she describes one of the most devastating forces to hit modern fundamentalism (yes, that’s oxymoronic)…
Alcoholics Anonymous. Consider:
The single best time to convert an adult has always been when he’s down and out. He hits bottom; God steps in. Any of “the big D’s” will do it. It might be drink, it might be drugs, it might be divorce, it might be death, it might be disaster. A sinner riding high is not looking for Jesus. He’s got to be knocked down so hard that he knows he can’t get up on his own.
For about two thousand years, for your average Western screwup the only help available was divine. And then along came two Christian men whose souls burned with a desire to help the suffering. The were responsible for the biggest shift in Western spirituality in the last one hundred years. Their program rarely makes the headlines, and when it does, no one quite seems to understand what a radical change it has fostered. With hearts full of Christian love, they decimated traditional Judeo-Christian ideas about how God works.
They wrote “the Big Book”, which became the basis for Alcoholics Anonymous and all other twelve-step programs of recovery. Millions of Americans–drunks, druggies, divorcees and divorces, even the bereaved–have taken those programs and been healed…. But twelve-step programs made one critical change in Christian ideas. They switched from God to a “Higher Power” of each person’s own understanding, which doesn’t necessarily mean any god anyone else has ever seen or thought of. This Higher Power, this made-up god, has healing force that had previously been reserved only for known gods. Sometimes twelve-step leaders, in trying to explain how loose this new concept, will say, “That doorknob could be your god.”
And here is the critical part: this doorknob god works wonderfully….if they put reliance on Something–no details needed–and then add twelve steps that are psychologically and morally sound, mostly based on treating yourself and others well, they are on their way to recovery. Make public confession part of it. Then add a group that supports the recovery… Make sure people gather together frequently to share their stories–that is, testimonies. Do all these things, and you can get amazing results….
The most insidious thing about the twelve-steps concept was that it didn’t oppose anything. It helped people. It worked. And it slowly exposed people to the notion that they could get the power of God without the dogma, the doctrine, and the outdated rules. Without the church, in fact. It was a kind of mini-Reformation, cutting out yet another middleman between ordinary people and God. Only it wasn’t just the pope being eliminated this time. It was the preacher and the Bible and tradition.
I’m not sure that I would say this is achallenge to Judeo-Christian beliefs, since many Jews, for a long time, have had non-fundamentalist views of God (e.g., Maimonides; here’s a modern take too). Still, it’s very interesting.