My Big Fat Greek Wedding

by on February 11th, 2010

In the 2002 film, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, the main character, Toula, enumerates the primary expectations of a Greek woman:

… nice Greek girls are supposed to do three things in life. Marry Greek boys. Make Greek babies, and feed everyone, until the day we die.

Many of us (particularly those who can laugh at themselves) can chuckle along with the characters in what at first may appear to be a bigoted view of the world. The father states:

There are two kinds of people in the world. Those who are Greek and those who wish they were Greek.

This phenomenon is not limited to the Greek culture but exists in many cultures of first generation immigrants to the United States of America. We would suggest that this is not really designed from evil motives but rather is the result of finding oneself in a foreign culture. It is an attempt to preserve a particular cultural identity or worldview and protect children from abandoning their heritage, adopting beliefs and practices which are considered to be inferior at best and dangerous at worst.

With the dawning of the twentieth century, the church found itself in what it would have considered a decidedly foreign culture. In 1906 forty one percent of the population were members of a religious organization. Of course, not all of them were Christian. As we have seen, the previous century had witnessed the growth of various cults and new religious movements, many of them claiming to be restoring true Christianity while denying the essentials of the biblical faith. The Enlightenment had mounted a substantial challenge to the validity of the Scriptures. Charles Darwin’s views on evolution had begun to dominate the thinking of science. Marx had made great inroads into politics and university thinking. Freud was beginning work on his theories of psychoanalysis. After publishing three books on the subject, The Interpretation of Dreams (1900), The Psychotherapy of Everyday Life (1901), Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality (1905), and he began to gain recognition in 1908 at the first Psychoanalytical Congress in Salzburg. In 1909 he began lecturing in the United States and in 1916 published his book Five Lectures on Psycho-Analysis.

C.G. Jung was also making his making his mark on academic thinking. In 1907 he published The Psychology of Dementia Praecox, which brought an introduction to meeting Freud. Although they worked fairly closely together for the next 11 years, their worldviews and hence understanding of why humans do the things they do were decidedly in opposition to one another. Freud was an atheist while Jung was steeped in occultism and Eastern metaphysics.

Jung went equipped with a background in Freudian theory, of course, and with an apparently inexhaustible knowledge of mythology, religion, and philosophy. Jung was especially knowledgeable in the symbolism of complex mystical traditions such as Gnosticism, Alchemy, Kabala, and similar traditions in Hinduism and Buddhism.

This would explain his view of the “collective unconscious” since most of these religious views hold to the idea that we don’t really exist in a physical sense but that all is merely an illusion (Hinduism for example calls this Maya) and there is really only one mind of which we are but a part. This caused no little consternation among some of his friends:

After the publication of Psychology of the Unconscious, Jung says his former friends and colleagues deserted him, declaring that he was a mystic and his book was rubbish.

In an effort to address the various attacks on the faith, Dickson, Torrey and Meyer edited a twelve-volume work, published between 1910 and 1915 titled simply, The Fundamentals, which were the outgrowth of the Niagara Bible Conference, where 14 fundamentals had been outlined and adopted at the 1895 conference. A committed Presbyterian layman as well the founder of Union Oil Company, Lyman Stewart, underwrote the cost of the production, publishing and distribution of this work. He was so committed to this task that he made sure it was given free to English speaking Christian workers. Christians who rejected theological liberalism and affirmed the cardinal truths delineated in these books came to be known as “fundamentalists.” In its early days, fundamentalism was a broad-based movement, which included some well-educated pastors, theologians and lay people from a variety of denominational backgrounds such as D.L. Moody, J. Gresham Machen, Charles Eerdman, A.J. Gordon, C.I. Scofield and J. Hudson Taylor. They disagreed over many things, but shared a high view of the Bible as God’s inerrant Word, and a willingness to engage secular culture on issues essential to the Christian faith. This attempt may be seen as too little, too late. The fundamentalists, being very much concerned to protect “their own” from what they saw going on around them were busy creating their own traditions and sense of identity. A continuation of Charles Finney’s altar calls had become the recognized method of salvation, and then there was a development of dress codes and a growing list of “what we don’t do” which become the defining characteristics of the fundamentalist movement.

Christians Leave Academia

Despite the fact that old-line theological liberalism was in disarray and decline after World War I, it retained its hold on American institutions of higher learning, effectively shutting conservative views out of higher education. Marxism and Darwinism seemed to guide political thinking in the Universities and much of the political arena while the Social Gospel which had been introduced by Walter Rauschenbusch, Washington Gladden and Richard T. Ely in the late nineteenth century was at its peak about this time. Fundamentalists responded in kind to protect their flock, differing only in technique. What liberals had accomplished through the political manipulation of the academy, fundamentalists accomplished through sheer authoritarianism. Christian young people would be kept “safe,” not by training Christian youth to respond intellectually to the liberal arguments, but by keeping them out of liberal Universities. Thus, liberal views would simply not be heard, except as they were filtered through fundamentalist polemics. Certainly no dialogue between the two camps would be encouraged and in fact, some of the fundamentalists attempted to protect the public schools through legislation.

Fundamentalists also pursued the battle through legislatures, courts, and denominational machinery. In the 1920s they tried to monitor public school curricula by presenting anti-evolution bills in the legislatures of eleven states (mostly in the South). Undoubtedly the best-known instance, the so-called “Monkey Trial,” pitted the Fundamentalist politician William Jennings Bryan against the agnostic lawyer Clarence Darrow in a steamy courtroom in Dayton, Tennessee in the summer of 1925. Bryan won in the court but lost in the press.

As a result, the 1930s witnessed the isolation, intellectual stagnation and ideological hardening of the “fundamentalist movement.” Pastor and budding evangelist, John R. Rice founded “The Sword of the Lord” in 1934 which grew to international prominence. We get an excellent sense in his biography of the way fundamentalists viewed the world in those days:

After World War I, humanism, higher criticism, evolutionary teaching began undermining biblical faith as well as the foundation of morality, home education.

Every area of human life was infiltrated; aye, infected with the unbelief, compromise and indifference of these infidelistic teachings. Religion was no exception. Christian educators and pastors prided themselves on their “new freedom” in biblical interpretation.

What began as an attempt to bring Christians back to the fundamentals of the faith and stem the tide of apostasy, now forsook altogether the notion of challenging culture and answering the attacks on the faith. Christians, having abandoned the institutions of higher learning, started a sort of “Christians Only” college and university system called the Bible College Movement. Over the next 10-15 years about 200 Bible Colleges were founded. Often, these schools indoctrinated Christian young people, teaching them what to think instead of how to think and moved toward an extreme legalism. By and large they did not stress academic scholarship, replacing intellectual pursuit with a more authoritarian approach to higher education.

One response to “My Big Fat Greek Wedding ”

  1. Margaret says:

    Is the article implying with its beginning quote from “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” that the current movement of Patriarchy, “militant Fecundity”–the eighteen plus baby business, a blessing when God gives it but not to be sought in pride–and apart-from-the-world homeschooling, are the result of fundamentalism withdrawing from the mainstream culture and become isolated, an attempt to keep a separate culture growing? Makes this phenomena interesting as a sociological study, and not seem so threatening to those who have been abused by its weirder off-spring–”A Matter of Basic Principles” et al. Thank you for the article, and the book, and the ministry :)

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