Monday, December 26, 2011

The Arrogance of Fundamentalism

A few years ago, a tee shirt appeared that had Lucy (of Peanuts fame) announcing, “If Everyone Agreed With Me, They’d All Be Right!”  Now, I am not saying that is the definition of a Fundamentalist, but it may describe the attitude of some fundamentalists I have known.

We see the presence of fundamentalism at every level – in religions, nations, and families.  Within Christianity and in each of its denominations there are the biblical fundamentalists, as well as doctrinal fundamentalists and the rigid adherents to Canon Law and/or “tradition.”  Even within the broad strokes of Anglicanism we find proponents of Biblical fundamentalism, anti-intellectualism, and ultra-conservatism.  This particularly has come to the fore within the Anglican Communion with the attempt to develop an “Anglican Covenant” which seeks a uniform conformity to a more conservative tradition.  This has been aimed particularly at the Episcopal Church in the United States because of its move toward inclusiveness, openness, and its presumed liberal views of human behavior and interfaith participation.

The fundamentalists, in every case, seem to convey to the larger church and to the entire community that they have a lock on the truth and there is a ready willingness to condemn others who may differ from them.  Further, the Christian fundamentalists believe that there is no salvation outside of the beliefs of their own faith community. 

I cannot and will not participate in condemning other religions and other faith seekers saying that they are cast out of God’s love and presence.  As a Christian, for me personally, Christ has been the way, the truth, and the life, and I have come to God through Christ.  But, do I believe that Jews, Moslems, Hindus, Buddhists, and other people of faith in God and who seek God’s presence in their lives and in the life of the world are outside of the presence and love of God?  No!  Absolutely not!  I simply do not believe that the loving, redeeming, reconciling, and faithful God believes that way either.  Do I believe that the likes of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, the Dali Lama, or Mahatma Gandhi live or lived outside of the grace of God?  No!  Not for a moment.  I think these holy people have drawn us to God as clearly as the Tutus, the Mertons, the Bonhoeffers, and the Mother Teresas of the world.  Thank God for all people of faith and together let us grow in grace and peace.

The extremism of the fundamentalists of every sort and the self-righteousness of those who are convinced that they are the only saved ones and the sole possessors of the truth leaves little room for discussion.  The popularity of taking a fundamentalist position is, in some part, because accepting a rigid adherence to a given tradition requires so little thought on the part of the adherents.  They are told the narrow confines of what they are to believe and therefore there is no need for real intellectual participation.  And there is no one as quite as “right” as those who are convinced that God has given them the truth and all others are outside of the truth.  Thomas Merton remarked about the rigidity of some Christians who consider themselves to be among the “right:”

. . . [Some] keep turning the Cross to their own purposes.  Yes, it is for them a sign of contradiction: the awful blasphemy of the religious magician who makes the Cross contradict mercy!  This, of course, is the ultimate temptation of Christianity!  To say that Christ has locked all the doors, has given one answer, settled everything and departed, leaving all life enclosed in the frightful consistency of a system outside of which there is damnation, and inside of which there is the intolerable flippancy of the saved—while nowhere is there any place left for the mystery of the freedom of divine mercy, which alone is truly serious and worthy of being taken seriously.

                                                                     Raids on the Unspeakable

Merton did not have much patience with those who thought they had the truth locked up in their law and whose fundamentalism (whether it be to the Bible, the law, the nations, or tradition) blocked humans from freedom, movement of the Spirit, and genuine truth. 

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