Saturday, July 23, 2011
Fundamentalism: A Blessing and a Beating
I am a recovering fundamentalist. I go to meetings weekly--every Sunday morning at a grace-filled church. Ironically, I am grateful for aspects of my fundamentalist heritage. My childhood fundamentalist church instilled in me a respect for and devotion to the Bible as the revealed Word of God. In those early years I memorized much Scripture. It wasn't that I was devout and preferred the Bible to my comic books; the church instilled and impressed those passages upon my mind. To this day recalling some of those passages in times of turmoil has brought me encouragement. For that I am grateful.
My fundamentalist past taught me the reality of objective Truth. There are anchoring truths--realities--which, indeed, are true, whether or not I choose to acknowledge them. That, to this day, instilled within me a passionate pursuit of what and Who is Truth. For that, too, I am thankful.
Unfortunately, virtues pursued to excess become vices--and much of fundamentalism is about extremes, rather than balance. The fundamentalist preoccupation with Word precluded little attention to Spirit. My faith and life was centered on rule-keeping, rather than relationship. It was a life of merely obeying God, devoid of loving God--or having a sense of God loving me. My church instilled a fear-based life of obedience. My obedience was not prompted or fueled by my love for God, but by our fear of falling into the hands of a holy God. I was squeaky clean behaviorally, but shamed and fearful emotionally. It was a terrible world with which to cope.
In our focus on truth, and this is a common trait of fundamentalism, we believed that we alone possessed the Truth. We were very exclusive, which you would think would appear to us as a contradiction to the life and teachings of Jesus. It wasn't a part of our consciousness then, nor is it among fundamentalists now. If there is a disagreement in beliefs, the other party's stance or belief isn't regarded as different, but as wrong. Consequently, even though many of my friends attended other denominations which held the same basic view of Christ/ the Bible that we did, because they differed from us in other areas of belief we viewed them as either back-sliders or heretical, and it was our mission to "witness" to Methodists, Presbyterians, Lutherans, certainly Catholics, and anyone else who wasn't us.
That way of thinking breeds a self-righteousness (which, in the gospel records, Jesus adamantly rejects) and a sense of moral superiority (which--who would have thought?--in the gospel records, Jesus adamantly rejects.) We were concerned about the eternal destiny of these "lost souls" but simultaneously looked down upon them, loathing their language and and judging their behavior.
Fundamentalism tends to breed a negation of life, rather than an affirmation of our existence. Growing up I knew what was wrong, what I couldn't and shouldn't do, but I had no clue what I was meant and designed to do. Thou-shalt-nots prevailed. That negation is all-encompassing; it is a mindset, the Weltanschaaung --the worldview, the way they perceive reality. Typically, if a fundamentalist encounters a different belief or theological concept, the initial and, usually, the settled response is, "I know what is true and I know I am right; there is something spurious about this person's belief. Be wary!!" Seldom is there an openness to the possibility that I might learn from this other person, that maybe they have something to offer me that might enrich or expand my existing faith. Instead, "they are wrong and it's up to me to refute them." It's a negation of anything incoming that does not arise from their own closed system.
I cannot adequately communicate the depth of relief I feel in God having extricated me from that system decades ago. It was oppressive, the dead legalism suffocating. To be transported and transformed from a life of fearful obedience to a life that is loving response is a beautiful thing. To move from being saved by God to being loved by God is, as they say, priceless.
I feel a heaviness lately, birthed on two fronts. On an individual level, I am feeling unfairly judged. Someone I love very much is a fundamentalist and they are rejecting much of what and who I read--my mentors--and is the next step a rejection of me? That would be terribly painful. On a corporate level, our church is facing judgment and rejection by certain fundamentalist believers. I love our church and so that pain is also felt by me.
I need grace. My initial impulse is not one of a loving response. It makes me angry; I want to fight back. I want to tell them how unlike Jesus they are in their condemnation, in their exclusivity. I want to tell them that the Ultimate Judgment will not focus on whether or not we give mental assent to a certain number of theological propositions about Jesus. We will be judged not on the basis if I held all the right beliefs about Jesus, but if I lived and loved like Jesus.
But if I resort to that, then I am no different than these individuals who seem so judgmental. I need grace. I want to love when condemned. I need to bless when seemingly cursed. I want to bestow the love of Christ when hammered by the letter of the law.
I have a long way to go. I don't want my first reactive response to be one of regarding them as "freakin' fundies," but as my brothers and sisters. And I want to love these brothers and sisters in God's family who would question my own belonging to that same family.
I need grace.
(I apologize for the drought in my blogging. We were out of the country the past 2 weeks, preceded by a 3 month hitch in Honduras. I hope to re-establish some consistency in writing. Thanks for your patience.)