This post marks the beginning a multi-part series that I have wanted to do for a while now. As a disclaimer, I want to say that I know not everyone is going to appreciate this series, perhaps some will even become offended. I understand that there are millions of people who believe and read scripture with a fundamentalist mindset. My goal is not to attack, but to educate.
That being said, it is important that I explain a few things. I believe that fundamentalism is dangerous no matter what religion (look at the radical Muslims for a perfect example). However, being that I am a Christian, it makes the most sense for me to address it within my own religion due to familiarity and exposure.
According to Dictionary.com, Fundamentalism is defined as:
A usually religious movement or point of view characterized by a return to fundamental principles, by rigid adherence to those principles, and often by intolerance of other views and opposition to secularism.
This definition is not too far from what we see today in regards to fundamentalism. For instance, someone who is a fundamentalist and reads the Book of John is more likely to have a negative position towards the Jewish people because it adheres to intolerance and rigid acceptance. A “negative position” can include anything from hate, anger, disgust, etc.
An alternate, more specific, definition is as follows:
a movement in American Protestantism that arose in the early part of the 20th century in reaction to modernism and that stresses the infallibility of the Bible not only in matters of faith and morals but also as a literal historical record, holding as essential to Christian faith belief in such doctrines as the creation of the world, the virgin birth, physical resurrection, atonement by the sacrificial death of Christ, and the Second Coming.
At this point I should mention that fundamentalism adheres to the specific doctrines that make Christians who they are. For instance, there is a shared belief in only one God, that Jesus is the son of God, that Jesus died to save humanity, and so on. Attributes such as these are fundamentals of Christianity - not to be confused with fundamentalism, a distortion of Christianity.
There are two immediate dangers with fundamentalism. First, in many cases, the fundamentalist Christian believes what he (for sake of simplicity, we shall use he throughout) does because it was told to him. He goes to church, listens to the preacher, and then goes on his merry way. There is a danger in doing this. Folks, God wanted us to use our intellect, reasoning, curiosity, and to put it frankly, he wanted us to use our minds! He does not want us to be robots with our faith. I address this issue in my post “Responsible Christians are Rare”.
The second danger is that in the case a fundamentalist Christian does refer to the Bible, he reads it at surface value. Now what do I mean by “surface value”? Essentially, reading scripture at surface value is when one neglects the context of the particular story (and sometimes the context of the writer). What I am saying is that sometimes there is more to a story than what it seems (Jesus’ parables give us a good example of what this means).
Fundamentalists will generally take a strict, literal interpretation of the Bible. Friends, this is a disservice to the religion. For starters, it discredits Christianity. When one reads at surface value, apparent contradictions appear in scripture (and atheists often point these contractions out. In fact, most atheist only attack the fundamentalist approach to religion). Fundamentalism tends to ignore logic, inspection, and science. Interestingly, these contractions don’t exist if you read the Bible the way it was intended to - symbolically.
Symbolism transcends time (again, Jesus’ parables) in the way that literalism cannot. Perhaps you are saying to yourself, “that is not true, the Bible is the word of God and we must read and follow it literally”.
Well here is a test to see if you are doing a good job at the literal interpretation. Open up to Mark 9:42. To paraphrase, in this verse Jesus is telling his followers (us Christians) that if our hand causes us to sin, to cut it off. Or, if our eye causes us to sin, then to rip it out and cast it from our body.
Well, I’m going to assume that if you are reading this, then you still have your eyes; if you write a reply to this post, then you still have your hands. But why? In a literal sense, if you do not do this, you are not obeying Jesus!
This begs a few questions. First, why is it that so many Christians like to read literally? Simple - because it is easy. It is easier to read a sentence and interpret it based on our own context and experience than to do a little research and intellectual investigating to see it from a different angle. It is easy and people find comfort in a “set of rules” to follow. But remember, Jesus didn’t come to establish a religion (Christianity), no, He came to rid the world of religion; He is irreligion.
The second question that arises is how exactly do we read the Bible? I mentioned this earlier, but in the next post in this series (sometime in the near future I hope) I will give you a good example of why it is important (using contemporary science in my example/explanation).
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Hhhmmn, methinks the only real "problem" with fundamentalism is that in trying to obey scripture one may do so from a purely intellectual mind set at first. Until the spirit awakens a person's heart to the spirit of the word that's about all any person who comes to Christ can do... It takes time for the Spirit to awaken a believer's spirit and soul to realize there's more to intellectual understanding of scripture or to emotional responses that wane after a time..
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