Thursday, May 12, 2005

We Are All People Of Faith: Why Fundamentalism Does Not Exist


By Trevor Alexander MacKenzie
Editted by Brandon Alexander Geraghty-MacKenzie

In recent weeks it seems as if the ultra fundamentalist right has become addicted to the phrase “People of Faith.” As a former pastor and as a recovering religionist it seems to me that the term, while initially intended to describe people who believe in a higher power, has been bastardized by the ultra fundamentalists themselves into an emotional, politically correct buzzword to describe what my son, Brandon, refers to as the Radical Christian Right. In other words, the ultra fundamentalists* are the true believers, the genuine “People of faith,” who have the Truth while everyone else is disciple of the Anti Christ.

To be honest I was a little surprised to see such an innocent term transformed into a rhetorical weapon of hate and chauvinism. But then again, we’re talking about the Radical Christian Right, and if we know anything, it is that this particular constuency is long on tribalism and bigotry, but short on logic, reason, and basic human compassion. They really do believe that they have found The Truth. And in their often totalitarian mindset, they have come to accept the dubious fact that they have embraced a form of Christianity that is so pure, and so perfect, and so in keeping with what Christ himself taught, that they somehow of a right and a duty to impose that form of Christianity on others.

But what the ultra fundamentalist right has yet to understand is the fact that no one can be a fundamentalist, religions invariuably being impure and watered down versions of what the original prophet had to offer. Indeed, when it comes to the subject of religion, no one can be a fundamentalist; not a fundamentalist Christian, not a fundamentalist Jew, not a fundamentalist Muslim, not a fundamentalist anything. Simply stated fundamentalism does not and cannot exist. Moreover it is foolish to argue about which form of Christianity, or Judaism, or Islam, or any other faith is the one and true version because there is no such thing as a one and true faith. Eveyone is a person of faith. Whether he believes in Jehovah, Jesus, Allah, Buddha, Shiva, ancestral spirits, nature, or secular humanism, all people are people of faith. And yet, at the same time, no one is a genuine person of faith.

I realize by now the readers must be scratching their heads and asking themselves a few questions. “How can I be going to worship services once or twice a week and not be a good Christian? How can I pray, read my Bible, and engage in all these wonderful church activities and not be a true believer? How can I be a Catholic, or a Southern Baptist, or a Seventh Day Adventists, or a Pentecostal, or a Methodist, or a Presbyterian, and not be a Person of Faith?

Well, my friends, the answer is really quite simple.

Religions remain pure and true while the founding prophet is alive and able to communicate his message in person to his or her followers. But once the founder passes away, the faith which he or she founded becomes a matter of hearsay and from that moment on exists in a variety of similar and yet entirely different sects. Each will claim that it is following in the path of the prophet’s true intentions, but each will invariably contaminate the original faith and intentions with a myriad of personal and cultural biases. It is foolish to talk about a true version of any faith when, in actuality, there are as many different versions of a particular faith (Christianity included) as there are individual practitioners. All will use the name of the founding prophet to support their beliefs. Each faith, each individual will quote various scriptures and theological treatises to convince the masses that its, his, or her interpretation (or bastardization) is the only acceptable version; but beyond fervent or even deceptive rhetoric, the desires of the founding prophet can never truly be known. New situations, new dilemmas will arise that the founding prophet had never foreseen. New discoveries, revelations, and information will come forth to disprove or alter the founding prophet’s most cherished axioms. And in the end only one truth will be obvious: the founder’s original faith is dead, gone forever, replaced by a series of new theologies which are based on, but not identical to the original belief system.

The idea that any modern religion is in any way true to its original version, is the greatest irony of all. Contemporary Christianity, fundamentalism included, is not the religion of Jesus Christ. It is the religion of Peter and Paul; of the Neo Platonists who infused it with the intellectual and mystical flavor of the ancient Greeks; of the early Church fathers and Roman/Byzantine Emporers who were trying, often in fierce competition with so called heretics, to establish an overall orthodoxy of Christian thought. It is the Christianity of statesmen and theologians who have brought their personal beliefs and ethnic biases to the many versions of the Christian faith. It is the Christianity of countless cultures which have embraced and influenced the teachings of Jesus Christ for more than 2000 years of written and unwritten history. We are talking, after all, about a belief system that has been shaped and molded by numerous debates and councils; Crusades and Holy Wars, Inquisitions and Witch Hunts; Renaissance movements and Reformations; scientific advancements and Enlightenments.

Christianity? Would it not me more acceptable to talk about a multitude Christianities instead of a single, monolithic institution? Of course it would.

Defenders of the status quo—or more precisely, those who wish to impose their “true” beliefs on others, will invariably claim that the intentions of the founding prophet can be discerned through holy texts and religious treatises, but such documents only takes the debate to a written level. Again, there are as many different interpretations of the written texts as there are individual readers. And, yet again, the founding prophet, Jesus in the case of Christianity, is not present to explain to the theologians exactly what he meant when he or she said X, Y, or Z.

Take for example the Orthodox teaching on the nature of Jesus Christ.

In the New Testament Christ offers little in the way of explanation as to how he can be both divine and human at the same time. Indeed, he seems to be rather schizophrenic on the topic. During the course of his ministry, when he seems to be intent upon gaining a substantial following, he openly flaunts his divinity: driving out devil’s, healing the sick, feeding thousands from limited resources, ad infinitum. But when his teachings finally collide with the religious and political Powers That Be of the Roman Empire, he becomes a bit more hesitant when he is asked to offer comments about his divinity. When asked directly by Pilate if he is divine he says either “Thou sayest it” (Luke 23.3 and Mark 15.2) or “Thou sayest.” (Matthew 27.11). Only in John 18.33-36 does he offer a longer response to Pilate’s question, but even there he couches the answer in nebulous, almost legalistic terms, which according to today’s standards, might well read “I refuse to answer on the grounds that it may tend to incriminate me.”

His answers to the High Priests and Elders are somewhat different. In the 18th Chapter of John, we get yet another legalistic answer in which Christ basically tells his accusers to ask witnesses what he has already stated on the subject. In the 26th Chapter of Matthew he resorts to the kind of legalistic jargon that he will later use on Pilate, but then adds “nevertheless I say unto you, hereafter ye shall see the son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming on the clouds of Heaven. In the 22nd Chapter of Luke he issues a similar statement: “Hereafter shall the Son of Man sit on the right hand of the Power of God.” And in the 26th Chapter of Matthew he tells us: “I say unto you, hereafter ye shall see the son of man sitting on the right hand of Power and coming in the Clouds of Heaven.”

The ultra fundamentalists will invariably say that the Gospels are in harmony, but that clearly isn’t true. When confronted by the Jewish religious establishment of his time, Christ offers basically the same response in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, but a second and more legalistic response in John. Moreover, his response in Matthew, Mark, and Luke is compromised when he later confronts Pontius Pilate. Only in John do the answers to the Jewish religious extablishment agree with what he later tells Pilate: and in that case he is engaging in a legalistic cat and mouse game so as to avoid torture and execution, not specifically claiming that he is divine.

Nor is this the only area in which the Bible self-contradicts itself. Throughout the Bible there are many examples of God’s love and compassion for humankind. But for every example of God’s love and compassion there is another example of God’s tyranny and barbarism. In one passage he tells the ancient Hebrews not to kill, not to commit murder. A few chapters later he tells them to commit war crimes against their neighboring tribes. One moment he sounds like a gentle, loving father; a few pages later he rants and raves like an obsessive, jealous lover. (One thing you have to say about the Judeo-Christian-Islamic tradition--seldom has there been such a human-acting God!)

And the contradictions continue well into the New Testament. We all familiar with Christ’s gentleness with and compassion for children; how he fed the poor, comforted the sick, and spoke incessantly about loving God and neighbor; about turning the other cheek and forgiving past wrongs. But there are also passages in which Jesus comes off as petty and as self-absorbed as a spoiled 11-year-old. Consider Mark 14.7: “For he have the poor with you always and when-so-ever ye while ye may do them good, but me ye have not always.” And then there’s that little matter of Matthew 10.34-38, when Jesus seems to spit in the proverbial faces of the contemporary “family values” crowd: “Think not that I am come to send peace on earth. I come not to send peace but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a man’s foe shall be they of his own household. He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And he that taketh not his cross and followeth me, is not worthy of me.”

So what does this have to do with the nature of Christ and the validity of sacred text? As I suggested before, the New Testament offers little information on which to draw a conclusion. Jesus did offer a few oblique comments about his human and divine natures, but he never come right out and said how the two natures exist or coexist in a single entity. One would have thought that if he were indeed divine, if he were in fact the Son of God, that he would have had an inner track to this kind of information, that he would have shared that information with his many followers. But for reasons we do not fully understand, he never shares that information. He never came right out and said that he was both, truly God and truly man. He never explained that the two natures are in perfect unity without division, confusion, or separation. Nor do Saint Paul and the Apostles offer detailed explanations either. Instead that particular secret was left undecided for hundreds of years while the quasi Christians in subsequent centuries argued and haggled over the often nebulous meanings of key scriptural phrases, debating and agonizing over the issue until such time as a “rational solution could be concocted at the First Council of Nicea.
(see for additional details ab out the Arian heresy .) And to make the matter even more complicated, the Church had to convene yet another Council, The Council of Chalcedon, in 451 AD to further refine the issue. (Go to for more information on the Monophysites.)

In a similar vein, the early church experienced differences of opinion over everything from icons, to the nature of the Papacy , to the relationship between Rome and the Eastern Church, to the power balance between church and state. And through it all the various factions found increasingly innovative ways to use Holy Scripture and theological treatises to support their conflicting stands on the issues.

And why wouldn’t they? In a work as long and as complicated as the Holy Bible, self-contradictions are a given. Now add to that the human proclivity for interpreting information as the individual sees fit, and you are guaranteed a confused mish mash of ideas and theologies. Is it any wonder that the early church fathers had a difficult time determining which books should be canonical (e.g. there were major debates over the book of Revelations). Should we be surprised by the fact that Catholics and Protestants use different versions of the Bible? Catholic Bibles, after all, include a number of apocryphal books or sections of books, in the Old Testament, which are not considered canonical by most Protestants (although I must confess, I have always liked “Tobit” and, my personal favorite, “Susannah and the Elders,” ). Undoubtedly, the fundamentalists would claim that the basic message remains the same regardless of Biblical versions, but that doesn’t change the fact that the Bible, in fundamentalist thought, is supposed to be the literal word of God. And if it is the literal word of God, as they claim, then we should be asking ourselves why different versions of the Bible exist at all if God’s word is definitive.

The answer, again, is obvious. Jesus, the founding prophet, is no longer here to offer his personal advice on the matter. The Bible self contradicts. The theologians offer conflicting opinions on important matters of doctrine, practice, and faith, resulting in as many interpretations of the written texts as there are individuals who are reading it. Meanwhile, the ultra fundamentalist Protestants have lost sight of the fact that the Reformation—a watershed event without which they could not even exist—created an opportunity for the individual to interpret the Bible as he or she sees fit. A fact which Radical Right Wing Christians “conveniently” forget as they attempt to impose their pseudo literal interpretation of the King James Bible on a nation of more than 280 million people and more than 2000 different faiths.

In closing I would like to suggest that the term “People of Faith is just another in a long line of underhanded tactics which have been designed to denigrate mainstream Christians, non-Christians, and nonbelievers alike as somehow subhuman or undeserving of civil liberties. And the ultimate irony is that the accusation is coming in the form of a rhetorical secret handshake from self-claimed fundamentalists who are intellectually unable to recognize the fact that fundamentalism is itself a myth. They are no more in tune with the wishes and desires of Jesus, their founding prophet than anyone else. They may claim that they deity sits up and night to admire them, but the only truth in religion is that the original version of a given faith dies when the founding prophet dies. And no act of political, rhetorical, or sociological necromancy will bring the prophet and the original faith back to life.

*Regarding the word"fundamentalist," I would like to share what my friend, Jeff told me to do a few years ago, regarding an alternative definition of the word itself Get a copy of a good dictionary. I’ve always been impartial to the various editions of Merriam Webster’s Collegiate, but that’s a personal choice. In any event look up the root words f the word fundamentalist:

Fundament\n [Middle English from old French from the Latin fundamentum, from fundare to found, from fundus] (13c) 1. and underlaying ground, theory, or principle. 2.. a: BUTTOCKS b. anus 3. the part of the land surface that has not been altered by human activities.

Mental\adjective [Middle English from Middle French from Late latin mentalis from Latin ment, mens mind—more at mind] (15c) 1 a: of or relating to the total emotional and intellectual response of an individual to external reality b: of or relating to intellectual as contrasted to emotional activity c: of, relating to, or being intellectual as contrasted with overt physical activity d: occurring or experienced in the mind: INNER e: relating to the mind in its activity, or its products as an object of study: (IDEALOGICAL f: relating to the spirit or idea as opposed to matter 2 a: (1) of, relating to, or affected by a psychiatric disorder (2): mentally disordered: MAD, CRAZY b: intended for the care or treatment of persons affected by psychiatric disorders 3: of or relating to telepathic or mind reading powers.

Put the two together and you can create some truly non traditional, but highly accurate descriptions of the fundamentalist right, my favorites of which are: “butt thinkers,” “ass thinkers,” and, my absolute favorite, “CRAZY ass thinkers.”

1 comment:

Advocate1 said...

Fundamentalism carries the seeds of moral relativism. What begins as an earnest desire to kow and obey the will of God often leads o a belief that the fundamentalist is so right with God that they can break His Commandments in the name of spreading his faith. It sounds loopy, but it so often happens.