Do You Need to Move Past Fundamentalism?

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Unfortunately, the Onion gets it right again, I’m afraid.

When I was a fundamentalist many years ago, I would hear negative media reports about Christians and think, “What’s wrong with us? We’re perfectly nice people! Super friendly. If only others would learn about Jesus, and come to our church, the world would truly be a better place.” I meant this sincerely, and no I didn’t understand — at all — how scary that way of thinking was.

It allowed me to say and do some really dehumanizing things to people.

I was sincere. I truly loved the people I hurt. But for some reason they just couldn’t see my love through my words and actions that were constantly hurting, devaluing, and patronizing them, treating them as “marks” or “targets” or “lost.”

[I’m not denying people can be lost. I’ve been lost myself. Lately I feel I’ve been lost for weeks. But if anyone else told me I was “lost,” I wouldn’t respond well. When I already know I’m lost, I already know it. When I don’t know it, chances are pretty good I won’t be very receptive to someone else telling me that.]

I wasn’t an evil person during this time.

I meant well.

Most Christians do, I deeply believe that.

But when Christians can use our faith to explain away the call to sacrificial love for all people (yes, including even those gays!), defend war of all kinds, defend hostility toward the poor — the very people Jesus loved and defended most — and somehow explain away the life Jesus lived and taught, something huge is missing.

And just like when I’m lost no one can tell me that but me, the journey out of the strange kind of religious lostness we call fundamentalism is a personal journey. I can’t make someone see it. The harder I try, the more they will dig their heels in.

My life now is about making sure people know it’s not just between fundamentalism and atheism. There’s a deep, rich, Biblical, nourishing Christian life beyond fundamentalism that offers more than you could ever imagine. But everyone is on their own journey and everyone needs different things.

For those who have burned out on fundamentalism and strict and rote evangelicalism, maybe you would allow me to introduce you to something else.

It’s not new, but it will be new to you.

Stay tuned.

Question: What is your story about coming out of fundamentalism? Engage with  me in the Comments section!

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  • Cathy Bicknell

    I am curious what your definition of fundamentalism is. I go to a non-denominational church that focuses on “Making a difference one life at a time.” That is our slogan or motto, if you will, right off the website. The website invites people with “We welcome you to a church where you can feel comfortable and be challenged no matter where you are on your journey with God. ” Yet, I would consider myself a Fundamentalist because I hold the Bible as the true incorruptible Word of God.

    • Hi Cathy. Loaded question, but certainly fair!

      I had a much longer answer written, then I realized that really to me a fundamentalist is a person who thinks the answer to who God is is contained in the scriptures, rather than understanding that what they see in scriptures is a reflection of who they already are. It can’t be any other way.

      “We see the world/the scripture not as it is, but as we are.”

      Fundamentalists are people who, no matter how long they have been on the spiritual journey, sadly never move past ego as the ultimate foundation for faith. It’s ultimately all about making sure I’m right, I’m saved, I’m in the proper/good/saved group, that I never have to let go of what I treasure most, which is my precious certainty about who God is.

      As long as that certainty remains unchallenged, the sweetest stages and places of spiritual growth will be off limits. Fundamentalists make sure it never is challenged by defining the spiritual journey so strictly and tightly that very little that’s spontaneous or mysterious or unexpected can get through. There’s a “Biblical” answer for most questions, and if we simply find that answer, and adjust our lives accordingly, all will be well.

      So it ignores paradox, mystery, and most of what we cannot understand.

      Fundamentalism mistakes the first few steps of the spiritual journey for the whole journey.

      Please forgive me if my answer sounds like a very long non-answer. 🙂 It just might be that you have challenged me to do something very basic and important, which is to define my terms.

      Perhaps I said it best in another post, which is at http://davidkflowers.com/2010/12/p-is-for-progress/

      If you end up reading that post, fundamentalism never gets beyond stage 3, at the very most because should it ever get to stage 4, it retreats back to early lessons and experiences and forces itself back into those “old wineskins” instead of pouring the new wine (new — and often threatening — understandings of God) into new wineskins (systems of understanding God).

      • Cathy Bicknell

        I think I see what you mean. Fundamentalists would be people who try to make rules from the scriptures but never have an actual personal relationship with God that moves beyond that understanding. The journey with God is way beyond what is contained in the scriptures; though, I believe, it will always agree with them. And that relationship with God where we’re always learning and growing is the best part! Thank you for your time and effort in explaining. I appreciate it. Cathy