Certainty and Fundamentalism

Christian Fundamentalism. Islamic Fundamentalism.  If you are like most people, the word brings about a subtle fear and dread about the kinds of people the term is referring to.

Fundamentalism is defined as: “the demand for a strict adherence to specific theological doctrines usually understood as a reaction against Modernist theology, primarily to promote continuity and accuracy.”  While the term typically centers around theological perspectives it is certainly not limited to those spheres. There are fundamentalists in social philosophies, in business, in politics, in academia, and all throughout the sciences. Like it or not, fundamentalism abounds.

But why if so many people are apposed to it, does it seem to proliferate in every strata of human endeavor?  The answer, I think, is because of peoples need for certainty.  We just want to know how things really are.

The very moment one becomes convinced of something, they begin viewing the world through that particular lens, and take on new presuppositions about how things really are. This is a good thing and marks how progress is possible. It is the very essence of how we relate to truth. We live in accordance to what we perceive as true. It means we can grow in our understanding of truth.

The interesting thing is that this “living out” of our belief (regardless of what it is) is the very definition of FAITH.  Thus all people are people of FAITH, but that is not to say that all people have equal truth claims, although all people live equally in accordance to the truth they perceive.  Philosophy tries to get at this, but studies of faith require experts in Theology, and that is a subject that is loaded with fundamentalists.

I’ve been reading Penn Jillette’s new book: “Everyday is an Atheist’s Holiday.”  Despite the fact that he and I start from different presuppositions about the existence of God, we almost always end up sharing the same perspective on many things. We are both libertarian, we both strive to free people from oppressive fundamentalism, we both dislike the “cultural” expression of modern Christianity (though I hold that a real expression does exist and is quite visible in the world).  When Penn states that his atheism is really a statement of “I don’t know” then his doubts with regard to Theism seem to comport with those Theists who also have doubts about their faith because in both camps they have acknowledged that they don’t possess all truth.

The problem in Penn’s logic is when he becomes so certain in his assertions of atheism. This kind of militant atheism as Dawkins prescribes in his T.E.D. speech, is where he becomes a fundamentalist and joins those he loves to despise.

Wisdom has always led people away from extremes and polarities.   “Be not overly righteous, and do not make your self too wise. Why should you destroy yourself? Be not overly wicked, neither be a fool. Why should you die before your time? It is good that you should take hold of this, and from that withhold not your hand, for the one who fears God shall come out from both of them.”Ecc 7:16-18

Though this is a biblical reference which presupposes theism, I think all people can benefit from it (though it is only rational for the theist). Further more, it points to the fact that modern Christianity has lost its way in the same way that modern Atheism has, both have departed from wisdom and put on a team jersey.

The only certainty we have is that we don’t possess all the truth there is. But we all live in accordance with the truth we apprehend. This should provide solidarity among those humble enough to resist fundamentalism of any sort, and allow a subset of people to emerge who hunger for truth.

I believe that subset will come from all over the globe from every tongue, tribe, and nation. I believe that group of people is the authentic church-“The called out ones” and that changes everything we thought was true, and kills our fundamentalism

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