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Christian Fundamentalism: Trust and Fear

Posted on: February 09, 2020

Category: Theology

Christian Fundamentalism: Trust and Fear

Christian Fundamentalism: Trust and Fear
Over the next three issues of the Quest E-News, my aim is to share my impressions and worries about fundamentalism. I will address the questions of 1) trust and fear, 2) dependence on rationality, and 3) the Bible.

As a qualification, I will say that we can and should be open to learning from others; every person has a different life experience, and it is consistent with religious teaching that our neighbour has a story we can learn from. In Buddhism, the people or groups who most irritate us are the people or groups we are most likely to learn from. The Buddhist lesson is one of humility.

I have tried, in the past, to remember humility when addressing Christian fundamentalism. However, I confess that over the last decade I have become increasingly aware that Christian fundamentalism is a political position. I no longer think it has much to do with the Bible or Christianity. Still, it remains a Christian problem. Fundamentalism equates Christianity with a political party. So, it forces Christians who are not fundamentalist to deal with political ideologies that threaten both peace among nations and the climate health of our planet (not to mention education, health care, and social welfare). I once thought Christian fundamentalism was an innocent but uninformed expression of religion. Now I think it is a narcissistic and dangerous form of politics. I no longer think it is religion in any form anymore.

Fundamentalism is the act of reducing complex issues or questions to absolute, non-negotiable principles (“truth”). It involves a conviction to dogmatic beliefs no matter what the cost, even if the cost is the very planet we inhabit. We can witness fundamentalism in science and in social studies, but fundamentalism seems mostly at home in politics and religion.

Christian fundamentalism used to be distinguished from evangelical Christianity, and to some extent that distinction still holds. The two words, though, have slowly become synonyms, which is unfortunate for people who understand evangelical in the Greek sense of good news. Critical scholars of religion used to believe that education was an antidote to fundamentalism. A critical understanding of the Bible makes biblical literalism virtually impossible, but today fundamentalism is marked by the rejection of education and the ridicule of people who think critically. Then, to ensure isolation from education, fundamentalist organizations have their own (so-called) schools.

What is at the heart of a fundamentalist attitude? For decades the same answer has been given. The heart of fundamentalism is fear. In the Southern United States, fundamentalist Christians carry military assault weapons and believe this is part of their Christian practice. God blesses guns. It is hard to imagine sentiments more fear-based than such confessions. The outward expression of fear is control. This is both a psychological and religious insight, though the insight requires a liberal (that is, open and honest) education, which fundamentalists reject. The fear is usually about the unknown or a perceived threat, and control is about shutting down the perceived threat. Such fears require objects of fear, and the objects are usually immigrants, people of another religion, atheists, scientific breakthroughs, liberal arts, feminism, and several other subjects or people who challenge or question the privileges of the usually white fundamentalist. Christian fundamentalism is a politics of fear, and it gravitates to any political party that is about controlling its objects of fear. In Canada, that has become the Conservative Party, and in the United States that has become the Republican Party. There are older Canadian Conservatives and older American Republicans who mourn the loss of the progressive elements their parities used to hold.

The irony about Christian fundamentalism is that fear is the opposite of faith, and fundamentalism is based on fear. Christian fundamentalism has stopped being Christian in this way. Christianity is not a religion of fear. It is a religion of trust despite fear. There is no other way to understand the crucifixion of Jesus than as an experience of fear and an act of trust.

Faith is something that unites science and religion, for in both science and religion faith is related to the act of exploring the unknown. Faith is different from belief. Fundamentalism is about belief, which is why it is politics, not religion. Faith is the activity of trusting, which is necessary for exploring the unknown without the fear of what might be. Of course, in exploration, it is always possible to discover something terrifying. That’s the risk we must take. But risk is taken because courage rests on trust, trust in the universe, trust in life, trust that new forms of knowledge can improve our human conditions or answer our most bewildering questions. Faith is slightly different in science because in science faith is not related to God, at least not directly. In religion, faith is more mystical or even psychological. It defines a personal way of life, a way of living with trust. Faithful people who are religious will not be afraid to ask questions about their own religious tradition, to find unexpected answers that can change us, and to be open to learning from other religions, too. Faith in this psychological sense is the real fundamental element of religion. It does not matter if you believe in a supernatural reality or not. Faith in the sense of a psychology of trust is about becoming truly human.

Due to fear, faith dies in the hands of Christian fundamentalism. Consequently, Christians of trust are tasked with teaching Christians of fear that faith is not a political party but a way of being in the world. The trouble is that Christians of fear have forgotten they have ears to hear.

©By David Galston

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