Fundamentalism is associated with a strict and literal interpretation of Scripture. It is often associated with the idea that there are only two options available – no gray areas. You are either right or you are wrong, you are saved or you are damned. There is no room for mystery in fundamentalism. Fundamentalism provides answers to all questions and believes that there is an answer to all questions that we can discern.
There are many problems with fundamentalist beliefs. The first is taking all Scripture literally. Genesis 1-12 would be a prime example. So would the Song of Solomon. So would the parables and many sayings of Jesus. So would the books of Daniel and Revelation. Each of these books and portions of Scripture are written in different literary styles and purposes. To read each one the same is a disservice to the text. Would you read a comic book in the same way you read a technical manual? Why would you do the same thing with different books and styles of Scripture?
Second, when there is only two options – a right and wrong way – then there is little room for conversation, debate, mystery, learning.
The initial question is are we all fundamentalists now? That can be asked in a religious context, certainly. But the same question can be applied to a political context as well. Does the foundation of fundamentalism, along with its characteristics, permeate politics and political discourse now in such a way that the question is really this – are we all political fundamentalists now?
Political discourse currently, if we can call it that, is not about discovering truth. It is solely about being right, having a rabid defense of one’s ideology and ideological figures, demonizing the other, and excusing away the inexcusable.
And for what?
What have we gained when we traded our very souls for a political soteriology – political salvation? Are we any different from the Israelites leading up to and during the time of Jesus who were waiting for a Messiah to come who would throw off Rome and establish an earthly kingdom and bring retribution on their enemies?
What have we gained in this trade-off?
We gained a tribe to identify with, but we lost a faith that was given to us to live out. We lost our identity as being children of God. Is it worth trading in that identity for a political party identity?
We gained a promised dystopian future of constant conflict and perpetual enemy, along with staying on our toes in order to drink in the kool-aid of the latest version of the end justifying the means.
In the end, we gained nothing.
Why are there so many who willingly let go of the message of Galatians 3:28: “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” Our addiction to a political identity is in direct conflict with what Christ offers us.
Why are there so many who willingly reject the hope-filled promised future of Revelation 21:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,
‘See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.’
(Revelation 21:1-4, NRSV)
We reap what we sow. And what we sow is a destructive theology where the ends justify the means, where the strong survive, where our identity is attached to something temporary and destructive.
The good news is that God loves us. But this comes with a challenge too. God loves us so much that God will honor our rejection of God and God’s promised future. God loves us so much that God will honor our desire to trade in our identity for an identity that can not ever save. And God will weep as we willingly do this.
So what is the good news? Right now I’m leading a Bible Study on the Book of Daniel. In chapter 7, Daniel has a terrifying dream with vivid imagery. The angel interprets Daniel’s dream. The message that comes through is this:
As I looked, this horn made war with the holy ones and was prevailing over them, until the Ancient One came; then judgement was given for the holy ones of the Most High, and the time arrived when the holy ones gained possession of the kingdom.
(Daniel 7:21-22, NRSV)
What does this mean? That things get worse before they get better. People are asking if we have hit the bottom. I don’t think we have. And for some, there will never be a bottom.
But Daniel is a hopeful book. In the end the Most High intervenes and God wins. There isn’t even a battle when God steps in. It’s just over. Like the snap of a finger.
The kingship and dominion
and the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven
shall be given to the people of the holy ones of the Most High;
their kingdom shall be an everlasting kingdom,
and all dominions shall serve and obey them.’
(Daniel 7:27, NRSV)
And the writer of Daniel presents a picture that is different – a picture of hope.
In the meantime, we wait. We wonder why God doesn’t intervene. But we also don’t understand God’s ways. We wait, patiently for the Lord. We wait. We remain faithful. We cling to our identity as children of God. In the face of a fundamentalist political culture, we continue to proclaim boldly of God’s love, mercy, grace, and forgiveness. We continue to pray for those that we deem as opponents because their identity isn’t wrapped in a political party, politician, or flag. Their identity is that as a child of God. We continue to live out the teachings and commands of Jesus to love our enemies and our neighbors. We continue to live counter to what the culture offers. In the end, God wins.