The term fundamentalism evokes within me something of a Make America Great Again feeling. It’s not a happy feeling — but the words themselves taken out of context are innocent. There’s nothing inherently wrong with making America great again — though that statement brings with it a steam-powered train full of questions. In a similar fashion, there’s nothing inherently wrong about focusing on fundamentals (and in this context, I’m specifically talking about the Christian religion)— in fact, there’s a lot to be said for it. Returning to the core of a faith whose adherents have gone astray — shouldn’t that be celebrated?
In a similar fashion, Christian fundamentalists often spend very little time focused on what’s truly fundamental about their faith — substituting an impure ideology for a pure one and labeling it fundamental is, if Christianity is true, a surefire path to the broad road leading to destruction.
I hate dictionary definitions, but in this instance, I’m going to grab one.
Really? A strict, literal interpretation is very far from what the fundamentals of the Christian faith should be. I grew up a Christian, and considered myself a fundamentalist — with the fundamentals being the teachings of Jesus and an understanding of God as the artist and architect behind the universe. Concepts like blessed are the meek…turn the other cheek…the last will be first and the first shall be last rang in my heart and soul, and I tried to do my best to allow them to shape my being and guide my interactions with others.
Focus needs to be on the basic principles, not a strict, literal interpretation of scripture.
I know there are Christians who pursue Jesus with all their heart — I am not speaking to you right now. Thank you for your faithfulness to the fundamentals that God has made clear. Part of me is sorry to have left you — but it was necessary, at least this time.
The only proofs I will offer you to establish that fundamentalism does not involve a literal reading of scripture is simply this:
A reading of the Bible as literal truth is a relatively recent belief.
That’s it. Jews, of which Christianity is a daughter religion, don’t believe it. Early Christians did not believe it. Early Christian leaders did not believe it. Endless research on the internet, of scholarly articles, of church leaders will show this to be true.
If this is true, do you need any further truth? Is seeking a facade of truth keeping you from the true fundamentals of your faith?
A literal reading of the Bible is perhaps the most dangerous manifestation of Christianity. It claims an absolute truth from God that is infallible and trustworthy — yet we simultaneously see competing claims for which version of the Bible is the most true. The most literal. The best translation. Churches split and wars are fought over different definitions of truth.
Even if the Bible were literally true, the evolution of language and culture necessitates that it be interpreted. Clever apologists will restructure their language to say in the original language, in the original text, and so on, but that’s really skirting the inescapable issue — language and culture have changed, and therefore requires interpretation. People were never as monolithic in their beliefs as we think — if the Bible were written now, in English, directly by God, we’d still struggle with different means to interpret it.
Does literally true mean that Psalms is literally metaphor, so should be taken as metaphor? Why does belief in Genesis according literal reading coincide with a literal six day creationist viewpoint — why can we not interpret the creation story as a “literal” myth -(which is to say, it’s literally a myth, not literally true as written). Why is Revelation clearly metaphor, Song of Solomon clearly a poem, and the letters of Paul universal truth, except for when it’s more convenient to call them cultural?
Interestingly, the claim of absolute, inerrant truth in an attempt to preserve the Word of God puts it at the greatest risk of being corrupted. A reading of the Bible as divine metaphor and wisdom keeps it much more pure, filled with the possibilities that come from an architect of a Universe.
Mankind’s cleverness serves to keep him blinded. Our reason and rationality allows us to justify almost any reading or interpretation, and in the shuffle, we lose what’s truly fundamental to the faith.
What, then, are the fundamentals of the faith? Does the term fundamentalism need to be reclaimed?
Ask God. Listen when you receive an answer. That’s how you know.