The Fundamentalist's Problem
by C. A. Kernan
One of the most frustrating things for a person who does not subscribe to a fundamentalist way of thinking is that having an open and expansive conversation about spirituality and God with a fundamentalist personality is virtually impossible, if possible at all. You see, the fundamentalist typically argues from one frame of reference only: his sacred text, or his sacred teacher, whatever the case may be. More times than not the sacred text is the Bible and the teacher is none other than Jesus himself.
If you find a fundamentalist thinker willing to discuss a wide array of divergent topics, while allowing and considering other references (such as scientific, theological or philosophical), then you've found a progressive fundamentalist indeed.
In the West many of the alternate thinkers find ourselves butting up against a sort of stereotypical Christian fundamentalist, be it Baptist, Lutheran, Mormon or non-denominational. This particular fundamentalist believes that the Bible, in all its permutations, is representative of absolute truth and positively inerrant. He will not consider the historical truth that the Bible was in fact edited numerous times, interpreted, cut and restructured. The people that conducted this editing absolutely had agendas; this has been historically proven time and time again. The editors who undertook this task were not made up of a board of tolerant, objective historians assembled to fairly serve the global populous by presenting the most accurate work possible; they were men of the cloth who believed a certain way and threw their hats in with a specific church, that being the Catholic church, the forerunner to all organized Christian religions.
The Catholic church has gained bleak notoriety for their bent toward editing and restructuring scripture, law and doctrine, and this all for the sake of preserving their specific ideas about an idea, a movement, a doctrine or a Christly assertion or edict. It is historically accepted that the Church jettisoned out numerous well-accepted concepts and theologies such as that of reincarnation, to name just one, then in turn inserted many others that did not reconcile with what Christ in actuality posited, or what the Church originally set out to believe. The doctrine of Original Sin is one shining example. Where Christ spoke of our inherent divinity, the Church, years later, taught the common man that he had, in effect, contracted a horrid venereal disease from the ejaculate of Adam, and thus remained a sinful creature until such time as he was converted.
But were these assertions the opinions and ideas of Christ? And what was Christ's role to be in our lives? Was it to serve a back seat to the Church's role?
Given the plethora of illustrations to buttress the fact that the Bible was heavily maimed, the fundamentalist thinker still, irrespective, continues to consider it nothing less than sacrosanct. Each 'i' has been dotted, each 't' crossed. What meddling was done, if conceded in the first place, was done with the express permission of God, and under divine inspiration alone. There is no room for variance. No gray area at all. Accordingly, when others who do not share their mental bent attempt to point out the obvious discrepancies in the fundamentalist's logic and frame of reference, said fundamentalist will typically return to that which he has said before ("the circular argument phenomenon"), making thoughtful interchange very nearly unworkable.
What follows the circular argument phenomenon can at times swiftly transform into something quite ugly. When one continues to press the Fundamentalist after his trough of justifications has been exhausted, he more times than not becomes unsettled, defensive and sometimes abusive. When he is unable to return to his argument with any sort of credibility, typically he will cite the "pearls before swine" scripture, waving it as a banner, and hotly deem the recipient unworthy of the truth he is attempting to divulge. When that as well is contested, the Fundamentalist arsenal depletes and he himself can sometimes devolve into something strikingly arrogant, condescending and seemingly incapable of logical and reasonable thought. Personal salvation is often called into question, as is the recipient's personal connection with God. For if another person cannot see things the same way as the fundamentalist, they are lost, and not worth the fundamentalist's time. Truth and reason be damned.
Christians do not own the market on red-faced, passionate fundamentalism. Many other sects and creeds dissolve into the morass of this type of thinking, and, inevitably, more harm than good is done in the name of God and his servants. Take Afghanistan, for example, and the atrocities recently committed there, in the destruction of the Buddha statues. What a prime, shining example of the baleful truth that is Fundamentalism. What is historical, what is true, what is beautiful yet divergent is callously tossed aside, destroyed, all in the name of one particular creed, edict or belief. The rest of the world is sickened, but it does not matter. The microcosm flourishes in the vast frontier of the macrocosm.
So how do we "others" live with these types of people, this type of behavior? How do those that believe esoterically learn to cope and move throughout the volatile macrocosm? Is it even possible? It is.
In fact, the most beautiful perspective belongs to us.
Those with tolerance, with the ability to perceive truly and aptly accept, those are the few who can see the atrocity or the ignorance and respond respectfully. We typically assert an unflinching tolerance, though not always love-filled, granted, toward those who refuse to allow the rest of the world to live freely. But we must watch carefully. Our eyes must always be ready. Much is threatened when the strident fundamentalist thinker comes to town.
So we are to be prudently on guard. We are ever ready with the appropriate argument, as we must be. We are learned, we are schooled, we know how to engage in active interchange and appropriately hold our own. We must. Ignorance cannot win. It cannot. There is enlightenment to be had. That two-thirds of the global society is without this enlightenment cannot serve to reduce our momentum. The enlightenment will come, for it is an inevitability. The question becomes, who shall usher it in?
Can a Fundamentalist flee his cloak of self-righteous, self-serving beliefs and gain enlightenment? It is possible. I myself have done it. I labored through years and months and days considering all dalliances into the metaphysical and mystical as blasphemy, as sacrilege. But where there is a student, a teacher will appear. Even as Christ said, ask, and it shall be given. And so the mind must necessarily expand, the mysteries necessarily unfold. The hope that is manifest in our lives can unfold in the life of another more closed-minded, and so we must continue, as frustrating as it may seem at times, to deal with the Fundamentalist, the Stalwart Church, the permeating hypocrisy which abounds all around us.
Yet do not transform that which is meant for positive into a negative energy or experience. There is a point in which things become futile for those of a particular state of mind. It is at precisely these times that the Pearls Before Swine argument can apply, appropriately, to us. What could have been an encouraging interchange has the potential to bruise and wound, and therefore must be concluded. Fundamentalism is not a religion. It is a state of being. Even we, in our alternate beliefs and meanderings, can find ourselves in this state of being. Fundamentalist even in our esotericism. So we must learn to walk away, and bless the one who cannot understand. The true test of tolerance and love is to believe that, at some point, another soul will be made ready, and the teacher will appear. That we exist with our thoughts and ideas and beliefs can, at times, have absolutely nothing to do with it.
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