Thursday, January 09, 2003

Fundamentalism is, at its heart quite legalistic; all the spiritual aspirations of mankind are reduced to very simple formulae, which, if you don’t buy into them, you are “irrational” or “illogical”, or just perversely determined to ignore the truth. I sent, via Grandma, a web page to my brother on Christian mysticism, which characterized the fundamentalist stance as “legalism” -- and he was predictably outraged. Then he turns around and sends me stuff on evolution and “proving” that the Bible is the Word of God that are just as legalistic as you can get. For one thing, they overwhelm with detail. One reason I won’t touch the evolution debate with a ten-foot pole is that I’d have to spend an enormous amount of time in an area that I’m really not that interested in, even to adequately address it. One reason that the anti-evolution arguments seem so plausible is that the people who are knowledgeable in this area don’t spend their time discussing it with fundies, and for people who aren’t knowledgeable, all that detail looks impressive. I’m more knowledgeable in the area of Biblical studies, but still -- it’s a tar baby. I could spend hours researching and discussing one little point, only to have the next one thrown at me. Besides, I don’t want to be in the position of arguing “against” the Bible; I just don’t have a need to do that. And I don’t think its truth is “proven” by pointing out accurate prophecies, and talking about how Christians believed in the physical resurrection early on.

Another thing that’s typical of the fundamentalist approach is the emphasis on being “rational” -- the website I was sent repeated emphasized that religious matters cannot be decided emotionally. Religion as a supra-rational experience is completely disparaged -- which seems odd given the emphasis on “a personal relationship with Jesus”, which is certainly emotional. This lack of understanding of the mystical element of religion is why the concept of the unity of religion just seems like self-evident nonsense. It is in the spiritual path that this unity is found, so they miss it completely. Actually, so do Baha’i fundamentalists, who tend to try to defend this teaching by saying that the real teachings of other religions were lost or corrupted and can therefore be discounted. Christians (and others) are quite right as seeing this as a convenient cop-out. I can find my spiritual life enriched by studying Christian mystics, even though I don’t share their theology -- Christian fundamentalists seem scarcely aware that Christian mystics ever existed.

Now, to me, there is a place for rationality in looking at religion. The same fundamentalists who argue that they can “rationally” prove their position will, for example, argue that the Church was infallibly guided as to the choice of canon, which is an idea that I think is pure nonsense. It is really a way of “rationally” justifying the irrational. You can’t “prove” the physical resurrection of Jesus -- an irrational a belief as you can get, and one that was not universally held by early Christians. So, I’m rational when it comes to looking at history. What is beyond rationality is the effect the Baha’i Writings have on my life -- which would be real to me, even if every single thing they seek to “prove” were really true.

No comments: