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Every world religion has fundamentalists. Fundamentalists are those people who take their belief farther and more literally than most others. Fundamentalist are also found in business, academics, the arts, sports, the military, and politics. Fundamentalism is found in every corner and club within our society. Fundamentalism is the bedrock of institutional power.
Fundamentalism grows from our soul’s deep need for approval, power, or recognition. Our ego and proud disposition joins forces with competition and fertilizes fundamentalism, growing any belief into a distorted view of reality. Institutions like this. They establish fundamentalism to organize people around the “self-serving” corporate goals. It’s our egoic desire to rise up in the ranks which causes us to drink copious amounts of Kool-Aid because as we incrementally conform, the institution bestows upon us power, recognition and an identity in exchange for serving the institution. This elixir is so intoxicating because it makes us feel superior to others and gives us power to oppress.
The sooner we are able to see our fundamental tendencies, the sooner healing can come to our life. Spotting our inner fundy is not so easy, but we must, for nearly all human rights violations stem from fundamentalism.
If we do not have eyes to see the toxin of fundamentalism in every social system from the school yard, to the White House, to the board room, then we will not understand the next section of Jesus sermon on the Mount. The ancient audience was oppressed and oppressing one another because of their fundamentalism, just like we do today. Fundamentalism is a living Hell and is contrasted with this new paradoxical kingdom known as the kingdom of Heaven. We all want to be liked. We all want to be accepted. And when it comes to God, religion’s version of fundamentalism oppresses and wounds more deeply than just about any other social system. Every religion has failed.
The solution to fundamentalism is quite surprising. Jesus is not proposing we dismantle it. Once again, the new kingdom is that of subversion, or turning from beneath or within. Jesus’ calls this the “Good News” or gospel. Ken Wilber describes the process of raising consciousness as a transcending while including and that is precisely the recipe that Jesus offers. It’s not by excluding fundamentalism, but by rising up through it and including the best aspects of it that allow us to transform it.
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:17-20)
Too many Christians use this passage to become strict literalists because they think it scores them points with Jesus. It’s another egoic power play. We’ve all seen this when every English word in the bible is viewed as sacred and taken as the literal inspired voice of God. Strict literal interpretations of the English words create real theological problems, and make us weird. Very few people are able to reconcile the clear inconsistencies within the sacred texts. This is how strange beliefs still exist. Jesus had literalists in his day too (scribes and pharisees). That is why Jesus is trying to free people from having a covenant with the law into having a loving relationship with the lawgiver, which allows us to preserve the essence of the law without oppressing others with its letter. Let me show you.
Even the most devout believer who thinks every word is infallible, inspired, and complete authority, doesn’t actually believe it. As we’ll see, Jesus suggests amputation or dismemberment instead of giving way to lust, yet I’ve never heard of a single case of someone cutting off their arm or gouging out their own eye. My point is every person is only a partial believer in scripture. No one can possess all truth.
Can you see your inner fundamentalist? Can you see where your loyalty resides? Is it family? Is it military? Is it religion? Is it business? Is it sports? Is it the arts? Is it your politics? Which institution writes the rules for you? For which tribe will you defend the letter of the law? For which team would you get a tattoo? That is where your inner fundy lives. That is where you will gauge where outsiders can become insiders. That is the binary that has indexed you.
Jesus strategy is not to (Katakuow-eradicate, completely invalidate, or abolish) the self-serving paradigm of rule making and rule keeping, but to (Plerow– give true meaning, fulfill) the rule making and keeping. To try and overpower it is to use the same self-serving institutional power strategy. This is what far too many world religions are trying to do in their culture wars. The goal cannot be disobedience, or out-right resistance. This is why so many people left the sermon disappointed. It’s why so many today still cannot hear these words. The gospel is not a political, religious or military overpowering, it is the power to turn something from beneath. It restores rather than destroys.
We can’t throw out the bible and sacred texts. We can’t ignore all religion. We can’t avoid all institutions. These are the means by which people can organize and serve the greater good. However, when we define ourselves or validate ourselves by any institution, we become incapable of bringing true meaning to the rules. Paul says “the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” (2 Corinthians 3:6). We cannot enter (live from) the kingdom of Heaven unless we do better than rule keepers who oppress. It’s not enough to oppress from the other side, we must find the true meaning, or the Gospel will have no power.
This is why fundamentalism is on the rise. This is why our culture is moving into polarities. This is why the world is in the state of pain and suffering and anger and confusion that it is. We simply can’t find our way out of the prison of fundamentalism and most of those who are shown the way see it as pointless, unsatisfying, and an exercise in futility.
If you are disappointed that the “Good News” is not an evacuation strategy to get a sliver of humanity into paradise, but is instead the power to live from “true meaning” here and now. If you feel the world is too far gone to be changed by a subversive power, then you have grasped the essence of Jesus words. That disappointment and hopelessness is precisely what the world needs to understand just how this way of life will liberate all people.
Now you are ready to really hear the Gospel. And if you’ve lived under fundamentalism, then perhaps this will be the very first time.