Friday, July 3, 2009

Some Fundamentals

A very good friend was kind enough to remind me that my posts have been slow in coming on this blog. I'm writing this as a way of remedying that lack of new material. The only real test will be if this is a one-shot, or the start of something more frequent.

But--to the task at hand. A matter that I've been thinking about lately is the nature of fundamentalism. This was all inspired, oddly enough, by a tweet that an author I've been following on Twitter posted a few days ago. We had a short exchange of posts, and I thought afterward that the whole subject deserved something lengthier than 140-character snippets. This is the result of that musing.

First and foremost, I'm speaking of fundamentalism as something broader than the Christian fundamentalism that may come to mind at first. The Christian variety is a subset of the larger mindset that we can label as fundamentalist. It shares with the broader category certain characteristics that I think are worthy of examination.

Fundamentalists, of whatever stripe, tend to be rigid in their ideas. There's no interest in hearing new views on something they've already decided in their own minds. New interpretations are anathema; new contexts to explore are of no interest; the matter is closed.

They tend to be rather humorless. Humor often indicates an appreciation for the happenstance of life, for the introduction of the surprising into one's experience. When your existence has been completely explained, there's little room for surprise. More likely, the new and unfamiliar will be met with dismissal and derision, with the thought, "Why can't you people get a clue and see this like I do?"

The single most salient characteristic that I see in fundamentalism, though, is the insufferable arrogance of its practitioners. When you've got the world all figured out, after all, why should you even consider that there may be alternative, perhaps even more valid and profound, explanations for what we see around us and surmise might be beyond us? The world, then, becomes fixed and rigid--there's that word again--and not fluid and dynamic. Observe that the definition of "fixing" something in the world of art is to render it immovable, for instance, spraying a pastel sketch with fixative to prevent smearing. Life is messy, contrary to the rigidity that fundamentalists hold as such a high value. "Fixing" it renders it static, or, to put it another way, kills it and stomps the life out of it. The pride, the arrogance, of the fundamentalist is that this can be done.

I am a professing, confessing, deeply flawed, practicing Christian. The arrogance of fundamentalism is not part of my life in Christ. There are certain truths that I hold to, truths that are to me of inestimable value. However, I will deny that I have the final word on these truths, or that I've got everything neatly sorted out and ordered. God has granted that I can daily discover new aspects about him. There is no place for pride when I face this fact.

In my tweets to the author, I proposed that fundamentalism wasn't limited to any one sect or religion. I said that even atheists could be fundamentalist in their thinking. She thought that "Fundamentalist Atheist" would make a cool tee shirt. I suppose it would--it is kind of a neat (seeming) paradox. I can't identify with that mindset, though, being so full of my own omniscience that I can delude myself into thinking that my life is completely explained. For me, the world of scripture, and indeed the world itself, remains a deep ocean from which I can draw new truths every day, where I can be surprised and frustrated and amazed by the life and people around me and by my creator. That's something fundamental that I can hang on to.

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