Fundamentalism. The great divide.
Christianity is hard to pin down because there are so many varieties of it. I have often said that each individual claiming to be Christian has their own version and thereby their own religion.
But there are as always ways to group people together by the basic beliefs they share. Catholics have basic criteria for what is to be believed and what isn’t. In the old days if you didn’t believe what is to be believed according to the church you were a heretic. But even among Catholics of today there is a lot of variation. Bernardo Gui, famous inquisitor of 12th century France must be rolling in his grave.
Though Catholicism has always considered itself the most fundamental belief system, it really isn’t anymore. The fundamentalists of today aren’t even Catholic. Most are Calvinists and other forms of Protestants.
Though there is no need here to define all the various differences between the Catholic Church and its splinter groups, there are some basic differences which fundamentally make them entirely different religions. For instance, the Catholic Church does not take the word of the OT literally, where as the modern fundamentalist does. Or so it is usually portrayed.
However, that really is not the case. Fundamentalists do not take the bible literally, they have a specific interpretation of the bible which skews it for them. If one truly reads the bible literally it becomes a problem. The bible contradicts itself in several places. So what the fundamentalists do is what everyone else does. They cherry pick their interpretations.
The result is one major difference between most Fundamentalists and most moderates. The Catholic Church for all its history of violence still believes that all people are saveable. We could all go to heaven if we want to. All we have to do is accept Jesus as our saviour and make sure we don’t sin too much. Oh yes, and always honestly ask forgiveness, and do so with feeling of contrition.
The Calvinist believes that the book is closed. There are a specific number of people who will go to heaven and the rest will not. This means that it doesn’t matter what we do, we are either in that book or we are not. There is no free will in the matter. Instead, there is a calling. If you are called to be Calvinist then chances are you are one of the chosen few that are on your way to heaven. Same thinking goes for other fundamentalist Christians.
Other Protestants vary in their beliefs, of course. But all of these religions think that if you do not follow their interpretation, you will, or are far more likely at least, to be headed for hell. Particularly if you are one of those darn Roman Catholics. The JW’s call the Catholic Church “The whore of Babylon.”
You even hear fundamentalists saying that other Christians are not Christian at all. They are the first to condemn others, even though their bible seems to tell them not to condemn others at all. That’s supposed to be god’s purview. But that’s one of the things in the bible they seem to ignore.
Fundamentalists do not read the bible literally. They take specific passages and base their interpretations of the rest of it on those, while ignoring others or indeed interpreting those other passages in ways one couldn’t if they were looking for a literal meaning. JWs tell us blood transfusions are the way to hell. This from a passage in the bible telling us not to eat or drink blood. I hardly think blood transfusions are what the writers of the bible had in mind. And wouldn’t that idea be contradicted a bit by the fact that Jesus told his followers to ritually eat his flesh and drink his blood if they wanted to be saved?
JWs do not celebrate the usual holidays like Christmas or birthdays, and like the Taliban they don’t like music and marry making.
The Calvinist and others like him/her do not find any cruelty in the bible. God punishes the wicked. Even when in one passage he tells a sect of Jews that he will make them eat their own children, they don’t see that as strange. They see it as justice.
Now it is true that all Christians and Jews feel that god can’t by definition do wrong because he decides what right and wrong are and we are to obey without question. But most Christians see the OT as mostly metaphor, not to be taken literally. Written by men, yet inspired by god. Most people see that if the OT were true, and god really did do that, or at least threaten to (depending on your take of the story) it would be a cruel thing to do.
According to fundamentalism god does not want us to love everyone. Not everyone. And god does not love everyone. He loves only his chosen. To me that doesn’t really sound like Christianity. It sounds more like a perverted form of Judaism. But who am I, an atheist, to judge?
Moderate Christians, and even the Catholic Church tell us to love everyone, and that god loves everyone. Wasn’t that the good news? Not according to the fundamentalist.
You see, we have two different religions here, not just two different opinions. And where does this stem from? Yes, there was a backlash to evolution after Darwin published his book which created modern fundamentalism. But that isn’t where it began because there were Calvinists and Baptists etc long before Darwin.
They had evolved from the fact that the OT is part of the Bible. Simple as that. When the protestants split from the Catholic Church they started to pay more attention to the OT again. The Catholics didn’t take it literally, in fact they were not allowed to read the bible until after Protestantism made the bible public.
Before that only the pope and a few bishops had the right to read the entire book and interpret it. The average person wasn’t educated enough to interpret it properly and the church had always feared the divisions it would create if people were just allowed to interpret it as they liked. And they were right in thinking that.
The moderate Christian used the NT as their guide to life, because it represents a new deal. They also sight the fact that Paul said the OT did not apply to Christians anymore. It was the Jewish book and applied only to them. They do not have to justify the cruelty in the OT because it is all just an ancient teaching tool to them. The fundamentalist uses the OT almost exclusively believing every word is true historical fact, so they have to justify the cruelty and explain it.
In that respect they are right. The OT depicts a cruel god. But god cannot be cruel. Our puny brains can’t figure it out. But god, whatever he does, is righteous and just, even if we sinners think it is cruel. Even if he says that if we were to do the same it would be a mortal sin. It is not sin for him because he is god. Do as I say, not as I do.
Again, I am not trying to make either party’s point here on any theological level, I am merely pointing out who believes what. Being an atheist I don’t believe either story or belief to be true. But I do enjoy reading the bible and I do read it literally without trying to add too much interpretation. But I do employ logic to my reading. Was I to read some of the stories of the bible wrapped up a little differently in a good fiction novel I would have to conclude that the god in the story was cruel at times. No doubt. So would any rational being.
And in fact I would have to point out that any conscious being that created this world as it is where everything must kill something else just to eat, and where all living things suffer pain, both mental and physical, has got be seen as cruel or inept just for that fact alone. But I have written many times about the philosophical implications of the OT god, and that’s not the point this time.
The Jews thought about god in much the same way. God is the only game in town, so what he says goes. In a very real sense: ”Might means right” in the case of god. He created it all, including cruelty as well as compassion. Moses even suggests that he puts the words in our mouths. Isaiah tells us god created light and dark, as well as good and evil. After all, he was the only god. Who else could have created the conditions for everything? There was and still is no devil in the Christian sense, in Judaism. There is no war in heaven or for the souls of mankind.
But to the fundamentalist, man is evil by nature. Nature itself is evil.
The Jews, after all, were the first Christians. According to the story all of Jesus followers at first were Jews. Paul is the only one of the bunch who was not really a believing Jew. He came from a Roman father and Jewish mother. The evidence is clear that he had problems with the other apostils. Matthew, for one, and had a large following of Jews.
But Paul didn’t preach to Jews. He preached to Romans. He taught in a way Romans could understand. This is where the present day Catholic faith came from. It was mostly influenced by Paul and his message.
But the Protestants wanted to get back to the old religion, even though it is long gone and there isn’t enough historical data to piece together what it might have been. It seems in fact to have a rabble of many different factions as it is today. The Romans did what the church fathers couldn’t do. They united the factions under one roof and ruled the world with it. In the process they lost most of the books those factions were reading. The NT is a Roman compilation, not a complete one.
But never the less, the fundamentalists began to identify with the Jews and their testaments as much as with the NT. Even more so. Again, this has caused a mixing and a perversion of Judaism that now calls itself fundamentalism. It is not fundamental at all. It is not like the old Jewish Christianity either. It is more like old Catholicism than anything, at least in the way it views itself and its place in the world. And in the USA at least, it is also the religion of choice for the KKK and other white supremacist groups. Some of whom I have heard tell that they believe the Jews took our identity, and that we whites are really the chosen people of the bible. What can one say to such obvious nonsense?
The fundamentalists think the creation story in the bible is historical fact. They also think all the other stories are a fact. But nowhere in the bible does it give coherent, let alone accurate time line from which to claim a young earth. The bible doesn’t tell anyone how old the earth is. But fundamentalists claim it is only 6000 years old. Science and ample evidence begs to differ.
Even the Catholic Church has no problem with evolution and feels that faith and science can co-exist. Most moderate Christians feel that way. Most scientists have after all been Christian these last two thousand years. At least the West’s Scientists have up till recently.
But the other thing about fundamentalists is that they want to have creationism taught in schools instead of evolution. They want to bend science to their rules. They want more say in the laws of the land as well. Sound like any other religion we hear about these days?
There really is no difference between fundamentalist Christianity and fundamentalist Islam in the way they want to rule all of us. Fundamentalism, as we learned from the early Roman Church, is theocracy. It dreams of a theocratic world.
It was the moderate Christian as much as anyone who helped create democracy in the West. It wasn’t scientists and it wasn’t us atheists. It certainly wasn’t fundamentalism.
So the fight against fundamentalist ideas is a fight that should not be left to atheists and scientists. It should be taken up by moderate Christianity as well. All any of us want is to be free to believe what we want, and co-exist with each other in peace. That is why church and state have been separated in most democratic countries in the West. That is why religion is not taught in public schools. That is why religion is not taught in science class and science is not taught in religious studies.
These things protect us from any one faction of our society taking over the rest of us and making their way the law of the land. Perhaps persecuting us for what we might believe or not believe. We have to fight fundamentalism and fanaticism. I am not advocating or suggesting any violence here. I just mean we that we cannot allow the fundamentalist factions of our world to rule us. Not Islamic fanaticism nor Christian fanaticism.
Hey, fundamentalist have the right to believe whatever they like. But they do not have the right to take away our freedom to the same.
Live and let live, and leave religion a private thing between your god and yourself. Most of the modern world gets along fine when it does just that.