“The Earth is the Lords, and the flatness thereof.” [Ps 24, NFV]*
If it does not seem possible to dialog directly with fundamentalists, we can at least reflect on why this is so. While some refuse point blank to enter any debate regarding the/ir truth, other might see this fact as an opportunity to learn about compassion, difference, peacemaking and unity, and allow the potential “logs in their own eye” to be challenged as they identify the splinters in the eyes of their detractors.
Fundamentalism may have had a good purpose once, as a response to liberal modernism. But now, it is not just unnecessary, or outmoded. It is not only unpleasant and damaging. It does not just discredit the God of Compassion. No, its final flaw is more basic: from where I stand, fundamentalism is in fact impossible.
One of its chief features is its lateralization of language. To literalise is to flatten, removing all poetry or ambiguity – all Life – from ideas. A true fundamentalism outlaws all metaphor. But who does not use metaphor daily: “I’m just popping out” means I am leaving then returning, but true fundamentalist literalisation would be bound to ask “You mean your eye? Or are you leaving us via an explosion?” Yet they do not – they accept metaphor.
And did Jesus not abundantly describe his mission via simile – “The Kingdom is like a net…” Perhaps the fundamentalist requires a strict delineation between metaphor and simile, so that we are very explicit about abstract comparisons, by using the disclaimer “like”. If Jesus had said “The Kingdom is a net”, what would anti-metaphorical fundamentalists make of his words? “Not so Lord, it will never be a net”? No, Jesus assumes his message will be filtered via our imaginations, in order to fire them up and grow faith for the hearers.
And when Jesus says (rather curiously I have always thought) “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again?” is he not implying that it is impossible for this earth not to be good, so long as those who trust him remain true? It is a chemical fact that salt – Soduim Chloride – is extremely stable, and can virtually not lose its salty properties.
As Kabir says, “I laugh when I hear that the fish is thirsty.” Meaning, it is impossible for the fish to be thirsty, and that it is impossible for the earth not to be good: seasoned, purified, preserved and fertilized via the Grace of God and the Salt of Faith.
As I read the scriptures, and as I contemplate the world in which I live, I see abundant evidence of a Poetic God at play in his Universe of Marvels. My ultimate response to Life is one of awe. It is to perceive an endless mystery at every level of being.
If Life, God or the Cosmos are even in the slightest bit Poetic, then any attempt to do away with this poetry in the name of God, Life or the Cosmos, is impossible. It goes against the Truth, and this attempt at the impossible is therefore hypocrisy. And hypocrisy is sin.
From this reasoning, the sin of fundamentalism, and its fatal flaw, is the rejection of the Poetic God of Multifaceted Beauty and the embrace of the Reductionist Idol of Unifaceted Fact.
As we wrestle with truth, these are some of the questions we might ask:
- Is this created Universe reducible, as the Newtonian approach would have it, to an objective series of mere facts?
- Is this essentially Greek approach to truth “biblical” – does it line up with almost all other non-modern traditions, especially the Hebraic – of narrative truth as revealed through story?
- Are the words of Jesus and the biblical authors reducible to a set of codified truth propositions – in effect, laws?
- Is there a single meaning of the cross by which we determine a single, simple approach to Salvation?
To the extent you answered yes to these, you are a modern fundamentalist. Your worldview, whether you know it or not, is deeply influenced by the Enlightenment and Scientific rationalism. You probably see this as normal, and are unwilling to countenance another point of view. You partake in an “excess of confidence”.
If all of this remained merely a philosophical issue, then the sin of fundamentalism would not be that serious. It would fall into the category of abstract problems like any other “ism” might. But the fact is this: the actions and morality based on an impossible belief system, one at odds with Life and ultimately with God, is bound to be problematic. The fruits speak for themselves: a hypocritical belief framework leads inevitably to hypocritical deeds.
In my online skirmishes with fundamentalists I often find myself cast as the villain, the renegade and the rejecter of God. My attempts to effect reconciliation which as I see it are a foundational (fundamental in fact) part of the gospel of reconciliation, are met with scorn and worse. My desire to forge peace is mirrored back as an act of war. Any talk of truth is interpreted as deception on my part.
It is this same toxic thinking that makes people hate homosexuals, for instance. Or kill them. In the name of the Christian God.
We should not be surprised then at the vehemence with which certain people reject the emergent message. The postmodern tendencies of this message, which attempt to reclaim the mystery which rightfully belongs in the broad tradition of Christian spirituality, confound the Modern thought process. Any attempt to question or any hint of ambiguity in the written words of scripture is demonised and condemned as compromising truth by making it less clear and less one-dimensional.
To this, Peter Rollins can have the last word:
“… if we were to do the impossible and render the text into the ultimate fantasy of the fundamentalist (a text at one with itself) then the Word of God would not be clearer; rather, the Word of God would be systematically eradicated.” (The Fidelity of Betrayal, Peter Rollins, Paraclete 2008, p 57)
* The New Fundamentalist Version is not currently available (and will hopefully never become available).