Sunday, January 03, 2010

Are fundamentalists dangerous?

Religions start all the wars ... except for the ones that aren't started by religions. After all, lots of wars are just territory-grabs, and neighboring tribes did the same to each other long before even Judaism came on the scene. (I've been tempted to answer that governments start all wars and therefore we should become anarchists, just as a tongue-in-cheek response. Relatively few wars happen without state sponsorship, after all; should all the governments be pressured to disband?) On a more serious note, I think hatred, pride, and greed explain more wars than any other factors. For that reason, whatever encourages love, humility, and generosity will promote peace.

The religious are more violent than the non-religious ... except for all the atheist mass-atrocities of the 20th century. I see a lot of people lining up to criticize their favorite opponents, selectively reading both history and current events to make their side appear to be the good guys and those who disagree appear to be the bad guys. The dissenters are portrayed as not only wrong but also dangerous.

Is it accurate to define firm belief as inherently dangerous? For example, is the belief that you should love your neighbor inherently dangerous? How about the belief that you should kill people who will not convert? If those two beliefs were held equally firmly, would they be equally likely to result in harm to the neighbor? One more belief might be worth mentioning here. If you consider the deaths of people of all religions under the communist regimes of the 20th century, then the belief that "Religion is dangerous" may deserve a place among the destructive beliefs that cause violence when someone holds it too firmly.

As we have seen, it is careless to label all firm belief as "dangerous." If the word "dangerous" has any meaning at all, there must be some risk of harm behind it. Where the content of the belief does not endorse the use of force, and if the larger framework in which the belief is held does not endorse spreading beliefs by force, then there is no risk of danger, no matter how many people hold a belief firmly and unswervingly.

Is fundamentalism inherently dangerous? The most fundamentalist Christian that I know spends her time loving her family and helping her neighbors. That's what you actually get from adhering to Jesus' teachings and example. "Fundamentalism" is a label without a particular content; it basically means there is, somewhere, something on which you aren't willing to compromise. If the thing you won't compromise about is love of neighbor, we could use more fundamentalists.


Oliver said...

Hi Anne,
Glad I found you here. At the same time, I'm sorry that you found the discussion about fundamentalists and being dangerous so offending that you even dedicated an entire blog post to it.
Which reminds me that almost a year ago, Lingamish had a rant on a similar topic (albeit in a completely different vein), cf
As a missionary in a largely evangelical organisation, I've often been accused of being a fundamentalist myself. I've learned to deal with it by trying to establish what the other means by that term. In most cases, I quickly find out that I don't qualify. As you seem to have done too, over at James McGrath's blog.
Blessings on your week!

Oliver said...

Argh! Wrong html code - so I'm trying for a last time (and please delete my previous comment with the same wording):
David Ker's rant on Lingamish is here (with discussion of what it means to be a fundamentalist in the comment section), and our recent encounter at James McGrath's ExploringOurMatrix is here. Just to facilitate cross-referencing (and I hope it works).

Weekend Fisher said...

Hi Oliver

Thanks for stopping by.

That's kind of you to leave some background. I'll check into that later this evening.

But McGrath and the ever-intriguing Angie aren't the sole reason for this current post; one of the blogs that I normally enjoy has been running a "pick on fundies" series lately, and they've really gone dumpster-diving for things to complain about. Unfortunately, the tone has nearly come to "Thank God I'm not as other men." It's not healthy for either side to have grievances addressed in that way. More likely to accelerate the polarization than anything.

I don't really care if I don't qualify as fundamentalist in some peoples' minds. I know some people are of the view that, if they just exempt me from the over-the-top caricatures that they heap on my Christian brothers and sisters, that I should be fine with over-the-top caricatures of them. (Can't we all make common cause in caricaturing some of my friends?)

A number of my "heroes in Christ" are fundamentalist in the sense of YEC, inerrancy, literalism, & all that, without a nuance in sight. And they live lives of love and compassion.

So even if someone were willing to exempt me because I can articulate my views, I'm not willing to abandon my friends. (And they might not exempt me anyhow if they knew the content of my views. It's not like they've asked. At Dr McG's thread, I think "believing anything in the Bible should be taken literally" is enough to be blacklisted, which would have me blacklisted in spades.)

Take care & God bless
Anne / WF

Oliver said...

Hi Anne,
Thanks for more explanations.

I'm afraid that's the problem with general blogging. Personal relationships don't play a role (however much we'd like to propagate that - see your attempt with expressing a preference to start with "Hi, my name is Anne .." over at James' blog), so each commenter is free to spout forth their thoughts without a relationship context. Maybe that's why quite a number of blog posts and their comments strike me as egocentric. Of course! They don't have any 'other', any Thou to meaningfully respond and to react to. It's all virtual.

In order to undermine that tendency, I usually only interact with bloggers who I'm friends with in real life (I've gone to a Bible college in Britain with James). And of course, many commenters on certain blogs (at least the few which I frequent) seem to know each other in real life. So even though I've grown apart theologically or socially or whatever with certain friends, we're still friends thanks to electronic media (while we may not have seen each other face to face in years). When it comes to personal relationship, a lot is possible: I know homosexuals, agnostics, Catholics, extreme liberals etc who are supporting evangelical missionaries due to personal relationships - to name but a few groups who may not normally be sympathetic to evangelical missionaries.

Well, nice to have met you, and I hope and pray that your personal relationships will continue to grow and be blessed in a way that way surpasses any impersonal insults which may be heaped on you and your friends in the "virutal" world.