Vampirism and Fundamentalism

Fundamentalism is the vampire of the religions of the world.

At some level, I realize that, just as I want others to tolerate my opinion, I need to be tolerant of my brothers and sisters.

But on another level I feel like fundamentalism is a vampire that sucks the life and blood out of Christianity. How many people have run away from it in horror never to return? How many people have had the soul sucked out of them and leave their church a miserable wretched husk never wanting having to do anything with it?

Of course, part of the reason I say this is I’ve spent the greater part of my life participating and contributing to it.

Fundamentalism is destructive. It is destructive to God’s message, it is destructive to the Kingdom of God, it is destructive to people’s lives.

Fundamentalism is the tendency to require a following of a specific interpretation of scripture. In the Christian faith, it is a strict compliance with one person’s or one group’s interpretation of what the Bible says. Appropriate that the analogy I’ve heard of how a single interpretation of the scripture can be the only one is, “If one person says there is one moon, and another person says there are two moons, one of them must be wrong, and one must be right.”

But, in addition to it being destructive, this is an illogical and arrogant way to approach God and His Bible

Arrogant because fundamentalism states “I am smarter than you and closer to God than you and that’s why the conclusion I have arrived at of the meaning of scripture is accurate, while everyone else’s is insufficient”.

Illogical because we’re not talking about statements of facts that we can prove or disprove. We’re talking about interpretation of translations of copies of copies of ancient writings – written under completely different ways of thinking than our modernist frame of mind.

Peter Rollins describes this (a little) better than I can in How to Speak of God:

…it was believed that, by employing pure reason (reason untouched by prejudice) one could decipher the singular meaning of what was being studied (whether it be the natural world or supernatural revelation).

…when we make absolute claims concerning what we believe about the world or God, acting as if our opinions were the result of some painstaking, objective and rational reflection, we end up deceiving ourselves, for our understanding is always an interpretation of the information before us (whether the raw material of the world or revelation) and thus is always affected by what we bring to the table.

… In the aftermath of these deconstructive thinkers, it was virtually impossible to think critically about the world without acknowledging that our views have been influenced by such factors as our cultural tradition, biological traits, unconscious libidinal desires and economic position. The overall result of this genealogical critique was a radical undermining of any system that declared absolute authority by claiming to somehow reveal God or expose Ultimate Meaning to the clear light of day.

In this post-modern world, it just doesn’t make sense to attempt to assign one meaning to a particular Bible passage and state that there is no other way to interpret it.

Fundamentalism forces a cult-like devotion, that – even if not spoken, implied – if you leave this specific fundamentalist group, there is something wrong with you, and bad things will happen to you. This is evidenced when you are shunned for leaving the group, are treated as an outcast because you have left, and are told, in no uncertain terms, (often in a language of “love and concern”) that you no longer have the gift of the grace of God – even if you find another community of people that believe in Jesus. (Because that community does not practice and preach “our” interpretation, they don’t have the love of God, either.)

Fundamentalism tries to turn us into Renfield-like zombies making us feel like we’re not good enough for who we are. While God tells us He loves us, and says “come as you are, I will make you whole”, fundamentalism tells us that only by conforming to their pattern can we see God.

I have a hard enough time living my life with the myriad mistakes I make – I need the support and encouragement of other people. I don’t need to be reminded of what a screw-up I am. “If you don’t conform to our perfect image, there is something wrong with you. If you don’t follow us, there is something wrong with you. If you’re not perfect in all ways as we are you are bad. Bad, bad, bad.”

Fundamentalism feeds on your insecurity, telling you that you can be perfect only if you conform. Lulling you, hypnotizing you into becoming one if the legions of its minions.

And once it has you, it supplants God as the object of your worship. It fills your head with lies making you believe that it is all powerful and that you are acting as its agent. In effect you are speaking with the voice of God. Everything you do is beyond reproach, nothing you do can be suspected of being wrong. I’ve seen people hurt others, nearly destroying other people’s lives all the while believing they are not only sanctioned by God, but that they are actually doing the work of God, having been lied to by the Dark One.

For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve.

Only by exposing this sort of fundamentalism to the sunlight of truth can it forever be destroyed in fire and ash.

The Shining, The Fear

I just finished reading (well, listening to) The Shining It really is brilliant, if horrifying. Stephen King does a fantastic job of getting inside Jack Torrance’s brain as he tries to figure out what’s right, knowing that no choice he makes will be the right one. How often we find ourselves paralyzed by making a choice knowing that if we go one way it will end badly, but if we go the other it will be worse? This book gets into one of our more basic fears – how do we know that what we’re doing is the right thing? How do we know if what we’re choosing is the right path? Sometimes we don’t know and that’s scary as hell.

With your back against the wall, between a rock and a hard place, when you’re losing your mind, which way do you go?

That uncertainty, that insecurity you deal with every day. As good as I try to be, as kind as I try to be, maybe deep down I really am just an asshole. Maybe in actuality I’m really not worth anything. That little itch in the back of your mind; like in the Matrix – “What you know you can’t explain, but you feel it. You’ve felt it your entire life, that there’s something wrong with the world. You don’t know what it is, but it’s there, like a splinter in your mind, driving you mad.” Except in this case it’s the feeling that there’s something wrong with you. A coalescing of every negative thing that’s been said to you all your life – by your father, by that horrible teacher, by someone you love. That feeling that you are not OK. That what you believe isn’t true. That something about you is fundamentally broken.

And it really plays on your insecurities as a parent. You never know what you’re doing is right. And maybe never will. This is what’s really scary about this book – it mirrors the real fears we carry with us every day.

And part of that fear – that innate insecurity about who we are – freaks us out. It scares us that that’s the way we were born and we can’t do anything about it.

How do we live with the cards we’re dealt when those cards suck? Sometimes it seems like such bullshit that you have to live with what we were born with. I have to deal with things that we didn’t have a choice in. But all we can do is live with what we’ve been given. For better or for worse.

I can almost hear the old cook Dick Halloran saying, “You ever wonder why God made you that way? You may never know. That’s just how he made you. For better or for worse.”

Hold on, I suddenly have the urge put on some Lady Gaga. You were born this way, baby.

We can scream and rant and rave about how we were born. About what we are born into. At some point, we just have to make peace with it, or, like Jack, we will drive ourselves insane. And it’s hard to deal with all that shit by ourselves, much less when other people are giving us shit for who we are. That’s the truly sad thing. We’re looking for a place where people can love us for who we are. The church should be that place. In my experience, it’s not. It persecutes you for who you are. Like the Overlook Hotel, it gets in your mind and twists things.

Borg and Wright – Final Thoughts

I finished The Meaning of Jesus. I’m glad I read it. Even if, as I mentioned before, it was to point out that a lot of these arguments aren’t going to have an impact on my faith. If I learn that the virgin birth was a metaphor – it’s not going to shake me. If the bones of Jesus really were left in the tomb – maybe his resurrection was different than we think of it.

To be clear, I still believe in the virgin birth and the bodily / physical resurrection. But reading Marcus Borg’s arguments, I can see that a Christian could still be a Christian if our understandings of these changed.

The arguments aside, there were some really good things in the book – and they really ended up bering areas where Marcus Borg agreed with N.T. Wright.

Part of this is the process of discussion, of argument. I think I remember Rob Bell referring to it as “wrestling with the text”. Part of the point is to talk about the Word, discuss it, think about, agree and disagree about it. Towards the beginning of the book Wright talks about how in the real world, things:

…meet, merge, fuse, question each other, uncouple again, swirl around each other, undergird and undermine each other, examine each others’ foundations and set about demolishing or reconstructing them, appearing at one moment inseparable and at the next in an embarrassingly public family squabble.

I think this is part of the whole process we miss when we try to force everyone to agree with us.

But both authors also have some really good things to say about how we should live our lives.

I love how Wright talks about the Kingdom of God,

Jesus challenged his contemporaries to abandon the attitudes and practices toward one another which went with the xenophobic nationalism, especially the oppression of the poor by the rich (a constant strand in much of his teaching)…He was welcoming of sinners into fellowship with himself precisely as part of his kingdom announcement; he was declaring that his welcome constituted them as members of the kingdom…Jesus was offering forgiveness to all and sundry, out there on the street, without requiring that they go through the normal channels. That was his real offense.

Jesus welcomed everyone – you didn’t need to be perfect and white and clean to enter into His (God’s) Kingdom.

While I had major issues with Borg’s treatment of the birth stories, he does use it as a wonderful metaphor that I really liked. (His issues range from bad to worse in this area. He claims that Luke shows the genealogy of Jesus going through the prophet Nathan; which is only true if you believe that David’s son Nathan and the prophet Nathan were the same man – but I can’t find anything in the text to support that. And then, completely forgetting about Okham’s Razor, he writes, “How does one account for the common emphasis upon Bethlehem? One possibility, of course is that Jesus was really born in Bethlehem…What then is left historically from these stories? …He was probably born in Nazareth, not Bethlehem.” Wait…what?)

But back to the metaphor – Borg ends his section on the birth stories of Jesus with this, referring to the Christian mystic Meister Eckhart:

Eckhart spoke of the virgin birth as something that happens within us. That is, the story of the virgin birth is the story of Christ being born within us through the union of the Spirit of God with our flesh. Ultimately, the story of Jesus’ birth is not just about the past but about the internal birth in the present.

That’s just beautiful.

And Borg finishes up the book bringing the Kingdom of God full circle:

A vision of the Christian life that takes Jesus seriously awakens not only compassion but also a passion for justice. Like those who stood in the Jewish prophetic tradition before him, Jesus knew that the desperation of peasant life flowed from systematic injustice. Destitution and degradation, in his world and ours, are neither natural nor inevitable but are the product of domination systems created and maintained by the rich and powerful to serve their own interests. Such structures are neither ordained by God nor mandated by scarcity.

That’s worth talking about.

(Well – not just talking about…doing something about…you know what I mean.)

Superman IV

I watched Superman IV with my kids tonight.

My 10-year-old thought Superman was “lame”.

My 5-year-old thought Superman III was scary. (Remember the woman turning into a robot?)

But we all agreed that Superman IV was horrible.

I live-tweeted the whole movie. If you’re interested: Jim’s Live-Tweets of Superman IV. You know you can’t wait to see it.

Our whole family agreed that this was the best part of the movie. Dramatic acting.