Saturday, January 24, 2015

Help! Fundamentalists on the rampage


“The problem is the extremists,” a Jewish friend said during a discussion about religiously motivated violence.
BBC news story on violence

Religious fundamentalists are frequently in the news nowadays—largely because of some threat or horrific act. Recently, a Muslim group made news in France with the murder of Charlie Hebdo magazine staff in Paris (BBC).

Hindu fundamentalists are on the rise in India and persecuting Christians according to a story in Christianity Today 23 January 2015. Some 300 clergy and church leaders are targeted. A report from 2014 claims some 7,000 Christians faced aggression and persecution from non-Christians.

Muslims have also been under attack by Hindu fundamentalists who seek to convert Muslims and Christians. Muslims are about 14% of the population according to Free Speech Radio News.

Popular Pope Francis has seen the need to speak out against all fundamentalists with a challenge to their respect for God: “Religious fundamentalism, even before it eliminates human beings by perpetrating horrendous killings, eliminates God himself, turning him into a mere ideological pretext.” WSJ 12 Jan 2015.

How do you Recognize a Fundamentalist?

Fundamentalists have been categorized in different ways by different scholars. A general consensus focuses on the key role of sacred texts and how they are read. Christians who read the Bible and take each word or phrase in a literal sense can be dangerous when they read about God ordained killing or ancient rules depicting a low view of women, children, and foreigners.

Sometimes it is hard to see the difference between fundamentalists and evangelicals. Marcus J Borg quotes a common phrase that a fundamentalist is “an evangelical who is angry about something.”

Evangelicals are often concerned to distance themselves from fundamentalists. Some have doctoral degrees from major universities and seminaries and teach at respectable schools. Evangelicals appear to be about beliefs and doctrines—check out their Statement of Faith, which pops up in a search for the NAE (National Association of Evangelicals). 

You’ll find tabs indicating other concerns of evangelicals, e.g., World Relief. They also define the concept evangelical and refer to four distinctives. Fundamentalists could surely agree to this list as well. Take a look at the Bible as the ultimate authority statement. And consider all the different Christian groups who believe that too but are divided into separate denominations because they disagree on how to interpret select verses from the Bible. So who really is the ultimate authority?

Psychologists, sociologists, and anthropologists have studied fundamentalism using different definitions. At this point I favor the approach used by a short scale with decent psychometric properties. I wrote about it before so here’s that link Fundamentalist Religion.
Progressive Options to Fundamentalism

Atheism or agnosticism can seem like an attractive option when fundamentalists appear to represent the true faith of any religious group. Who needs a religion focused on destruction and highly improbable ideas about life?

The found of Newsboys, a popular Christian band, declared that he is an atheist in a patheos blog post 21 January 2015.

But there are other options. I’ll have to leave it to those in other religions to explain more moderate and life-affirming paths in their traditions. In Christianity, there are moderates within the major traditions (e.g., Catholic, Mainline Protestant groups). People more concerned with compassion and restoration than killing. People who will offer a meal or shelter in the name of Christ rather than a bullet or hellfire. Progressive Christianity is a movement. It’s popularity continues to make news as an Atlantic story indicates.

Marcus J. Borg
One progressive leader died the other day (RNS). Marcus J. Borg offered Christians a progressive option. He was labeled a liberal theologian for several reasons notably the view he took of the Bible and Jesus. He wrote a number of books that would help many find alternative ways to interpret troubling biblical texts. Essentially, he encouraged people to take the Bible seriously but appreciate
the stories as containing theological truths represented by the experiences of ancient people when they expressed what they learned in their encounters with God. You can probably guess Borg is not popular amongst evangelicals or fundamentalists. But he has influenced many progressive Christians and those in mainline protestant churches. You can read much more on his website

Perhaps a more popular progressive leader is brian d. mclaren (self-styled lower case). He often focuses on what brings Christians together rather than on what divides them. There is an appreciation of what each Christian group can offer people. His book, A Generous Orthodoxy, was dubbed a “manifesto of the emerging church conversation.” I confess, I am a fan of his attitude.

Some thoughts

1. Educated young people will continue to leave fundamentalism—especially when hatred and violence are the links to such faith.

2. Evangelicals are often close to fundamentalists in their beliefs and statements that appear in the media. It’s hard to tell how they are different sometimes. Evangelical groups may not look like a good option for some. I think Evangelicals have a lot of work to do if they wish to retain educated leaders.

3. I wonder if some deconversions from Christianity occur because people have been so burned by fundamentalism that they want nothing to do with anything Christian?

4. If you are doing research on fundamentalism, check out the scale I mentioned above along with the references. Even if you disagree, you might find the idea of intratextuality helpful in understanding the fundamentalist mindset.

A quote from Borg

“The Christian life is not about pleasing God the finger-shaker and judge. It is not about believing now or being good now for the sake of heaven later. It is about entering a relationship in the present that begins to change everything now. Spirituality is about this process: the opening of the heart to the God who is already here.”

― Marcus J. Borg, The God We Never Knew: Beyond Dogmatic Religion To A More Authenthic Contemporary Faith


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