biblical interpretation, fundamentalism, Jesus, Matthew 25, peace issues, right wing evangelicals, social justice
From time to time, usually as criticism, I’m asked why I have such “issues” with fundamentalism. I’ve answered many a time, and what it boils down to is simply this:
When atheists and other non-believers decide there is reason to take pot shots at religion, it is always the lowest common denominator that they choose–fundamentalism. We all get lumped into the amorphous category of “Christian” based on this model, and excoriated.
The problem is, that often, I agree completely with their criticism. Yet, they refuse to agree or admit, that there are other Christians, mostly the majority, who adhere to none of these bizarre notions that are part and parcel of the fundie mind. (I know this is deliberate on their part–easier to kick a dead horse than argue with a healthy one and all, but that’s another post.)
I like to think of myself as a rational, critical thinker. I don’t appreciate being lumped in with bizarre non-thinking that leads to the distortions in “interpretation” that are common among our fundamentalist brethren.
Although I’ve often given my opinion as to why fundies are such (deeply ingrained psychological imperatives that overcome common sense, I would argue), I am still always confounded when a so-called Christian angrily tells me and others that universal health care is not a priority, and that climate change is not reality. I have documented before my utter shock that Roman Catholics would espouse creationism and deny the obvious age of the universe and this earth.
A hugely great post was brought to my attention yesterday by Professor James McGrath of Butler University. I recommend you read it in full as well as look for the part two which hopefully is coming soon. It’s focus is why do evangelicals, who are largely biblical literalists (fundamentalists), refuse to believe that peace and social justice issues are the primary “work” of Christians. This comes on the heels of another story that has been traveling around the media, both mainstream and Internet.
Glenn Beck, (alas, a favorite of the fundie right), has encouraged all “Christians” to look into their churches and if they see evidence of “social justice” ministries, they should “run for the hills.” Such churches, Beck argues, are merely socialist/communist sympathizers, and will ultimately destroy the US.
I’m begging you, your right to religion and freedom to exercise religion and read all of the passages of the Bible as you want to read them and as your church wants to preach them . . . are going to come under the ropes in the next year. If it lasts that long it will be the next year. I beg you, look for the words ‘social justice’ or ‘economic justice’ on your church Web site. If you find it, run as fast as you can. Social justice and economic justice, they are code words. Now, am I advising people to leave their church? Yes.
Professor Richard T. Hughes, the author of the first piece linked to, tells an amazing story that I think illustrates the problem we face within the Christian community. We are definitely of two minds, and it seems that our worldviews are so diametrically in opposition, that I wonder if there is a solution.
It’s important to relate the story, however as I said, do read the post.
Dr. Hughes teaches at Messiah College, clearly a religiously oriented school. For first year students, the faculty decided to use a text about Dr. Paul Farmer, who left a lucrative medical practice to devote his life to ministering to the Haitians. All felt the book perfectly illustrated the ministry the college hoped to engender in its students.
Hughes reports that a young student approached and complained that the book was an improper choice, since it was clear that “Farmer was no Christian.” Hughes is dumbfounded, since Dr. Farmer is a life long Catholic, and has spend years treating tens of thousands of poor Haitians, following the call of Jesus himself in Matthew 25.
Dr. Hughes asks for elucidation. The student replies. Having read the book, the student claims that there was NO reference to any efforts on Farmer’s part to teach the gospel and convert the “heathens.” Thus, in her mind, he could not be a Christian.
This sets the tone, I would suggest, of the problem. How do biblical literalists ignore the utter clear directive of Jesus to “love one’s enemies,” to “turn the other cheek,” and to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, minister to the sick, and so forth, because in doing so, they are caring for Jesus himself. What can be more powerful than this?
Yet, somehow, this message is ignored, explained away, or perverted into something unintelligible, simply because all this “ministering” is worthless if the soul is lost and not converted to a “personal” relationship with Jesus. In other words, our primary and overriding ministry is to preach Jesus as savior. All else is but window dressing.
Of course, to most of us, this is breathtakingly wrong. It is missing the point. It is denying the tenor of Jesus’ message. While Jesus did send out his disciples to “preach the Good News,” they were empowered to cast out demons and to heal the sick. Time and time again, he told us that the peacemakers would inherit the Kingdom. The poor would have good things. And of course Matthew 25 lays out the strongest of all orders to “feed the sheep” and not by way of theology, but in concrete ways, with food, housing, clothing, medical care.
How do we reach accord when we are at such odds? I have no clue frankly. I’m hoping that Dr. Hughes will offer some suggestions in Part II. And that may lead to Part II here as well. Ponder it friends.