23 January 2007

We have found the enemy and he is...

I was surfing the Web this morning, and came across an announcement that the Institute for Progressive Christianity his holding a symposium on The Fight against Fundamentalism.

It struck me as rather odd, and indeed likely to be counterproductive. There are surely more important issues to engage the attention of Christians in the world, whether they call themselves "Progressive" or "Fundamentalist" or "Emerging" or "Mainstream" or "Evangelical" or even "Orthodox" -- issues like climate change, the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Sudan and Somalia, trade imbalance, health and many more.

Why Fundamentalism?

Many years ago I was at a student gathering to discuss ecumenical cooperation among Christian students in South Africa, which was under threat from the Dutch Reformed Churches, who were advocating the splitting of the Students Christian Association into four separate ethnic bodies.

There was a visitor from overseas, Albert van den Heuvel. and in referring to the Gereformeerde Kerk, commonly known as the Doppers, the most conservative and fundamentalist of the three Dutch Reformed Churches, he said that Karl Barth had once said of the Doppers that one should not worry too much about them, because they believed that the Bible was the Word of God, and so one day God would speak to them through the Bible. And it was interesting that it was when South Africa had a Dopper president, F.W. de Klerk, that the opposition parties were unbanned, and negotiations begun that led to the first democratic elections in 1994.

Now historians may argue about whether that was caused by F.W. de Klerk's Dopper conscience, or simply his political savvy, but the fact remains that it was a Dopper president.

Now some Fundamentalists may have strange and very unChristian political and social ideas, but the point remains -- they believe the Bible is the word of God, and so some day God will speak to them through the Bible, and they will realise the error of their ways. Treating "Fundamentalism" as the enemy is really not likely to help in the process.


Pastor Phil said...

Thanks for this observation. When someone has been burned by the institutions of superstitious Christianity it can be easy to write them off.

Steve Hayes said...

I wouldn't have thought Fundamentalism was superstitutious -- rationalist, maybe. I don;t agree with it, but I don't see much point in demonifying Fundamentalism or Fundamentalists. That takes us back to the religious wars of 17th-century Europe, and smacks a bit of a witchhunt (you probably know about those!)

We had things like that here in the 1960s -- there was a "People's congress to combat Communism", and there was a lot of real rabbl;e-rousing stuff. But all it showed was that those who were against it were as bad as what they were raving against.

Pamela J Weatherill said...

Thanks heaps for doing the Blogging Survey - I appreciate your thought out comments Steve (and your blog!).

Hey do you want me to link your blog???

Dougald Hine said...

I like that Barth story a great deal.

For a while, I worshipped at a large "progressive" Anglican church whose vicar was very much engaged in a war against fundamentalism. I found it uncomfortably similar to my earlier experiences of the kind of church he saw as "the enemy". Not least at the point at which he called me "an intellectual defender of fundamentalism" because I spoke positively about Radical Orthodoxy. I began to feel like his Jesus would have denounce the Pharisees, then turned round to the Sadducees and told them they had it all right.

My friend Sebastian Mary invented the word "goom" to describe the way people invest importance in something, irrespective of whether that importance stems from love or hate. When you're in love with someone, you goom them. But when you protest against someone, you also goom them. So when we focus all our energy on fighting fundamentalism, we're actually gooming it. And the more goom something gets, the more power it has over you. (In fact, I think gooming something is very similar, in one sense, to worshipping it.)

Steve Hayes said...


I have long thought that theological liberalism was linked to political conservatism, and your comments seem to bear that out.

I saw something else that seemed to bear it out on one of the blogs I read -- I might blog on that, with suitable links.

The problem I find with Fundamentalists (or other Christians) who espouse right-wing politics is that very often their theology is in conflict with their political views. Of course, we all do that to some extent. We like to say "Jesus is Lord", except over the parts of our lives or opinions where we think we know better.

But, as Barth suggests, eventually one will become aware of what people sometimes call "cognitive dissonance", and that happened with some people in the Gereformeerde Kerk.


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