While you might think this is a post about religion, it’s not necessarily. Religion is just one way in which fundamentalism can be seen. Let me start by how I am defining fundamentalism. I’m defining it as a way of looking at the world in which there are only two options – right and wrong. And, when those are the two options, there is really only one option – the right one – why would you choose the wrong one? Anyone who would willingly choose the wrong one is questionable at best and evil at worse. This means that anyone who doesn’t see the world that same way as me is wrong and should change their ways so they line up their beliefs about the world with my obvious, logical, and common sense way of seeing the world. If they don’t willingly change their views to mine, then they should be forced to change or should be opposed like any enemy would be.
That’s a long definition and actually more than a definition – more like an explanation of how fundamentalism works.
I observe fundamentalism in religion – I don’t think that’s news to anyone. We even use the label in religion. At least we are honest about that.
But I also observe fundamentalism in other areas of life too. Politics and sports come to mind. I can’t tell you how many conversations, articles, stories, etc. that I have been in, observed, listened to or been exposed to in some way in which a fundamentalist position came out. It’s actually quite shocking to me. In recent months, there are plenty of fundamentalist political positions that people take on any number of political questions. Oh and don’t think it’s only a right-wing conservative thing either. It ranges across the political spectrum. It is amusing to watch politically left-leaning friends criticize religious conservative fundamentalists over some issue in the news and then turn around and take a fundamentalist approach to the issue. But we don’t call this fundamentalism in politics.
Instead we say things like we stand on principles. Or this is a common sense approach. Or this is obvious. Or anyone in their right mind would come to the same conclusion. Or this country and that country are doing the same thing and it works there, so we should do it too. Or the Supreme Court said so, so the discussion is over, get in line. That’s just some of the phrases I have heard lately.
Another one is this – if you aren’t out protesting (for or against any given issue), doing political activism, or pushing the envelope on facebook with political comments, then we have to question your commitment to the cause (pick whatever cause you want here – again either conservative or liberal in nature). You know you are either for us or against us, right?
See, what I have learned is this about fundamentalism. Fundamentalists give the appearance of being sure about what they believe – so sure they know they are right. But when you dig down a little, you discover something – they are very unsure. So unsure that they need others to follow in their way of thinking in order to legitimize it. The logic goes that if this person over here thinks the same way as me, well, then we must be right. And if more people think the same way, then that’s even more certainty. And we fundamentalists are on a constant quest to make more people comply with their worldview so they don’t have to face uncertainty. Fundamentalism is ultimately about control. Humanity has had a fundamentalist bent for most of human history. This is one reason why we have had so many wars in history. Fundamentalism is all about having the answers so we don’t have to face the fear of the unknown.
The truth is, we don’t know about many things. We think we do, but we really don’t. And in many cases, the things we know about, we don’t have control over.
Being right and being certain feel good – they give us the sense of control and allow us to avoid facing our fear of the unknown. It can be scary not being in control and not knowing all the answers, or many of the answers for that matter.
Some will turn to the Bible and say it has all the answers – news flash – it doesn’t, it’s not a book of answers and isn’t meant to be a book of answers for everything. Some will turn to political leaders and party platforms for the answers – news flash – politics is about power, not about providing answers. Some will turn to sports, or drugs, or sex, or food, or TV, or any other idol they can get their hands on. All of these things are ultimately efforts to fill the void of uncertainty that we all have.
And all of these things will ultimately fail because they are an effort to avoid something scary and painful. They help us to avoid the fact that we aren’t in control. So where do we go from here. Well, to follow my own line of thinking and be true to it – the answer is I don’t know. I can only speak of my own experience. For me, the only thing that fills my uncertainty is God. Not with all the answers. But with God’s presence. For me, God isn’t about all the answers. God isn’t about taking away the pain and scariness of life. God is about the truth of life – that sometimes life is scary and painful and out of control. And God will walk with me and sometimes carry me through it. And sometimes I won’t even recognize that God is there in that moment. And sometimes I will doubt God and try my own way. And yet, God reaches out again and again to me, coming to me and reminding me that God is there. Kind of like right now – I look out and see so much fundamentalism and false certainty. Yet, even in this God is here and I am reminded – God is all I need. Not certainty. Just God.