Friday, November 7, 2014

Fundamentalism -- What Every Catholic Needs to Know

Fundamentalism is a psychological distortion of various fundamental truths based on narrow, overly literal, rigid and inflexible interpretation of such truths -- whether they are religious, political, scientific, intellectual or historical in nature. A fundamentalist interpretation of the written doctrines underlying and defining these truths focuses on a purely verbatim, word-for-word construction of surface expression rather than by embracing the comprehensive, underlying, broad and universal meaning intended to be given to these doctrines by those who originally composed them.

While this essay will concern itself with religious fundamentalism, the narrow, unimaginative interpretation given by fundamentalists to any theoretical, abstract framework of ideas has, over the centuries, tended to restrain the freedom of thought and expression of many noble-minded, honorable and virtuous systems of thought. For example there have been fundamentalist politicians, whether liberal or conservative, who distort the very ideology which they claim to promote. And the case of Galileo Galilei, whose forward-looking scientific discoveries suffered at the hands of Catholic Church officials, demonstrate both scientific and religious fundamentalism.

Fundamentalism is a universal problem in all religions. Wherever die-hard and tenacious adherence to doctrine for its own sake exists, there exists a fundamentalist. This is so whether the fundamentalist is Protestant, Catholic, Jewish or Muslim. Because fundamentalism is not really a doctrine in itself so much as a way of looking at doctrine, it is not possible to make a clean distinction between "us versus them" (i.e., non-fundamentalists versus fundamentalists). Yet, we are probably accurate to say we have seen an abundance of Muslim fundamentalists in our recent age, such as the Ayatollah Khomeini, religious ruler of Iran in the late-20th Century, who literally interpreted the Koran, shaping it to his own narrow viewpoint, all in the name of God, by preaching, for example, that Islam taught a thief's hand must be cut off (or even an alleged thief's hand). However, my thrust herein will be with "Protestant Fundamentalism," which I put into quotation marks because Protestants are by no means largely fundamentalists. Yet, because my focal point will be how fundamentalism mostly affects Catholics negatively, I will make an overly broad generalization by calling such anti-Catholic fundamentalists "Protestant" fundamentalists, with apologies to the vast majority of Protestant Christians who are accepting of Catholicism.

Fundamentalist Tendencies; The Code of Slogans: Legalism: Although fundamentalists constantly reiterate their belief in salvation by faith and not by law, the essential characteristic of fundamentalism is its legalism. The Bible is used by fundamentalists as a law book, which they turn into a revised list of nothing but Scripture passages that sound good in terms of their preconceived beliefs about their superiority to other religious beliefs and their hostility toward bothersome contrary passages in the Bible that sound heretical, such as all passages favorable to Catholicism. These passages making fundamentalists superior to everyone else account for their belief about their possession of God as their personal property and everybody else's belief in biblical passages the reading of which sends roughly 90% of the rest of the world straight to hell.

This number is large because 100% of `Catholics are sent 100% straight to hell, and thus Catholics turn the damnation curve sharply upward. We shall call this fundamentalist selection of Scripture passages that give them a sense of their superiority the fundamentalist "Code of Slogans" The Code of Slogans connotes fundamentalists' concentrating on only a small portion of Bible verses and their refusal to accept all other passages in the Bible, namely, those that disturb them. An example of one of their favorite rejected passages is Mt. 16:18, where Jesus tells Peter he is the rock upon which Jesus will build his church and Peter will have "the power to bind and loose." Thus, exactly like a lawyer in a court case who picks out all the cases that -- more or less -- (actually "less)" support his client's position, hoping if he drums these cases into the jury's minds powerfully enough, using all sorts of histrionics, like pretending to cry and pointing toward heaven for support, the jurors will be absolutely convinced that cases which only "more or less" support the first lawyer's case, especially if adverse counsel, on the other hand, hasn't yet discovered cases supporting his client's position, fundamentalists treat the Bible just like actual law books. And like slick Philadelphia lawyers, fundamentalists argue to the jurors of Christianity that the Bible is absolutely unerring in every single detail, even in those details of science, geography and cosmology which everyone knows to be inaccurate.

The fundamentalist legalistic use of the Bible leads to their legalistic theology. Hence, there is a certain body of acceptable beliefs to which one must adhere, or else one is not a Christian. Paradoxically, many fundamentalist doctrines are not found in Scripture, but are part of the "Code of Slogans". For example, nowhere in the Bible does it say that you must accept Jesus as "your personal Lord and Savior." Yet, fundamentalists making Jesus one's "personal Savior," is promoted in order to stress a personal" experience of salvation, which becomes a way of cutting oneself off from organized church life of some sort and giving one bragging rights that he or she has had some higher degree of the experience of a relationship with God (which grows more impressive with each episode of the telling) than people who experience salvation through a hum-drumongoing salvation experience -- in the Body of Christ, or the Church. The next characteristic of fundamentalist legalism is the belief in how one is initiated into fundamentalist Christianity -- namely, by the altar call. Whereas in the early church and even into the 16th Century with the teachings of Protestant reformers, one was universally required to be baptized following a catechumenate of some sort or another. The fundamentalists have turned initiation into Christianity into a flood of people racing down the steps of a football stadium or auditorium to be prayed over by the preacher of the event together with his colleagues. This altar-call initiation brings a more-or less-large number of people forward, down the aisles, depending on how persuasive the preacher's histrionics are. Because of their ignorance of history, buttressed by their legalism, and helpfully persuaded by a young, physically attractive husband and wife team of preachers promising great inner personal power and the coming of wealth into the lives of the altar-call fledgling draftees, altar-call recruits respond to such an extent that they too turn Scripture into their Code of Slogans, the beliefs of which, while quoting Scriptural passages, pervert those passages into a ludicrous fundamentalist creed. For example fundamentalist inductees imitate the elders in the group to which they are directed by declaiming such remarkable nonsense as that at the Last Supper, Jesus and the apostles drank grape juice. Such beliefs violate other important Scripture passages, e.g., at the Wedding Feast at Cana, Mary told Jesus the guests were out of wine and led Jesus to work his first miracle -- by his changing water into wine, not grape juice, for the guests. One presumes the guests drank the wine, as the headwaiter exclaimed to the bridegroom, "[Y]ou have saved the best wine to the last." No doubt, both at the Wedding Feast and at the Last Supper, Jesus himself would have drunk wine, not Welch's grape juice!

The Lunatic Fringe: Here we consider such un-Christian and weird behavior as public street-corner
hollering by fundamentalist Bible Thumpers. Living in a city where the fundamentalists are a major nuisance demonstrates how fundamentalists often verge on lunacy. Consider this monthly gaggle of shouters who presumably scream out Bible passages to motorists. I say "presumably" because no one knows precisely what these bellowing howlers are in fact shouting. That's because the bellowing Bible (or whatever book) ballyhooers have the look of murder on their reddened faces, are sweaty and couldn't be less attractive to anyone, especially to a single woman or a mother with small children in her car, who become understandably anxious and frightened by the stern, uncompromising overall demeanor of the hooters. Hence motorists keep their windows rolled up tightly and stare straight ahead in order to do their best to ignore the starring actors in the overwrought street theatrical performance . The actors' only audience, therefore,are fellow caterwaulers on the next corner of the street. So the public shouting of something or other -- who knows what --- is simply a way for the brainwashed propagandists to proclaim "Look at us; we alone are the true believers, the only ones who have been saved by God, but we have to shout this all over town because we are actually fearful that we are not the only holy elite of God. The louder we scream the more our hidden fears of not being saved are driven deeper into our unconscious minds."

The Fundamentalist Anti-Catholic View of the Bible: Lets run through three common fundamentalist interpretations of Scripture that promise hell-fire, and how Catholics are its principle targets. We'll look at the fundamentalists' anti-Catholic creed and give perhaps the best response Catholics could make to the fundamentalist distortion of Scripture, should a Catholic be so unfortunate as to be button-holed on the street and repeatedly forced to swear allegiance to the Code of Slogans:

(1) First, the be-all and end-all anti-Catholic catch words are "Have you been saved?" This once-saved-always-saved position (a heresy within Catholicism) demonstrates again the fundamentalist belief in the superiority of their "personal,," "insider" position with God. The Bible knocks this mockery of Scripture's position right on its face. St. Paul urges his holy flock in Philippians2:12, to "work with anxious concern to achieve their salvation," i.e., although you may have been baptized and given your lives to Christ, there is still more growth you can make toward your ultimate, end-times salvation. And in Colossians 1:24, Paul says, "I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is his church." Surely Paul had a dramatic moment of radical surrender to Jesus. Yet, he sees his continuing growth toward his ultimate, end-times salvation as requiring a continuation of sacrifice in submission to Jesus before he may be regarded as ultimately saved, with complete finality.

The linguistic tangle here is resolved if we realize that Paul preached justification as the here-and-now moment when someone accepts Christ as one's savior, i.e., justification, not final salvation, was the here-and-now result of accepting Jesus as Lord. Justification sets someone on a sure path to final, end-time salvation. This becomes clearer in Romans 5:9, where Paul says, "Now that we have been justified by his blood, it is all the more certain that we shall be saved by him from God's wrath." If Paul obviously did not believe in or preach a "one-moment-of-salvation" theology, but instead he preached salvation as an ongoing process which Christians continuously appropriate into their lives. Hence "Have you been saved?" is a bogus question for fundamentalists to ask Catholics.

(2) Next is the fundamentalist view that the Virgin Mary had other children beside Jesus. The Bible verse that the fundamentalists distort here is Mk.3:32, where a crowd tells Jesus, "Your mother and your brothers and your sisters are outside asking for you." Here the fundamentalist ignorance of the cultural history of the Jews of Jesus' time is shown. First of all, the early church unanimously preached that Mary was always a virgin. Second, the Jews practiced and believed in the extended family, where the notions of tribes and clans were important. In Jewish society a man could have dozens of brothers and sisters who were not children born of his mother.

The brothers and sisters in Mark's verses were part of Jesus' extended family, most likely his cousins. And since neither Greek nor Aramaic had words for "cousin," the writers of the New Testament relied on the Greek words for brothers and sisters (adelphos, adelphoi) to mean cousins. By this usage Jesus probably also had several uncles, whom he called "fathers" in his extended family.

(3) The preceding fallacy blends into another fundamentalist misreading of Scripture. They love to quote Mt 23:9, "Call No One on Earth Your Father," to depreciate the usage of "Father" for Catholic priests. This title for priests evolved out of the early Church's shared life, where priests called members of their flocks "My children" (1 Jn. 2:1) and where Christians in turn called their priests "Father." Matthew is merely saying that the Father in heaven is available to all of his children by a "direct line" through Jesus himself. This "son-ship" of Christians with God the Father does not depend on a rabbi, priest or minister as substitutes for the Christian's relationship with God the Father through the mediation of Jesus, which early priests as Fathers helped their flocks to facilitate.
--Tony Gilles