Through an exchange of correspondence I’d like to explore something that is beginning to trouble me more and more. I begin with a caveat (as you know Suzy hates my caveats saying I’m being too much of a lawyer, but I am what I am). That caveat is — I dislike labels and categorizing individuals into groups, but I fear I must to some degree to make my point understood. Nevertheless, it is a poor use of language. I also will do this over time, so as to allow thought and comment from our readers. All that said I begin.
I fear we are moving to a time when those who have faith and love their neighbor are becoming more and more reticent to proclaim their beliefs for fear of being linked with fanatical elements of their faith. I do not limit my fear to Muslims or Christians, but I suspect the same goes for Jews, Sufis, Hindus, etc. I fear that fundamentalism in its worse sense offends most believers so much that rather than confront, we withdraw from being identified a Christian, Muslim, Jew, or Sufi. More importantly, we withdraw from the dialogue of what role our faith has in this earthly world.
I speak as a Christian, but I believe the same goes for other beliefs, that if I withdraw from the dialogue I relegate God to a God that is limited to my secret thoughts and sins. I allow others in the name of fundamentalism to define the role God plays in our society. Yet, the God I know is not limited to my private meditation but is Lord over everything, including scientific discovery. Lord over not just what we don’t know, but what we know and are discovering scientifically.
I fear that if we reserve God to a corner of the room, we allow others to place their view of vengeful God in the center of our life. We have an equal obligation to speak of a loving and forgiving God at the center, not in weakness but in strength, and not only in death and guilt, but as a constant presence in our life and the source of all goodness.
Tom, words escape me, but I hope by airing my concerns in inadequate words we can began a meaningful dialogue. Thanks. Your friend. Webb
This is an interesting subject to me, and one I’ve struggled with. My own sister is a fundamentalist Christian, believes in a literal translation of the Bible, and even though a nurse, she is very skeptical of science. However, for the most part, she practices her beliefs quietly and privately. She’s a very good person and I love her much. We just don’t talk about our respective belief systems!
Karen Armstrong addresses fundamentalism in her book The Case for God (Anchor Books). In the book, she points out that all of the fundamentalist movements “are initially defensive movements rooted in a profound fear of annihilation, which causes them to develop a paranoid vision of the “enemy.” (p 293) She adds that “(p)rotestant fundamentalism was chiefly exercised by theological questions that had been challenged by the new scientific discoveries.” She also points out that most if not all of the movements among protestants, Jewish, Hindu and Muslim fundamentalists springs from the surging of secular life that is seen as one of the threats alluded to above.
Turning to my understanding of the Sufi perspective … and by the way, I’m not aware that there is such a thing as a Sufi fundamentalist although I am certain there are Sufis with different perspectives! … I’m drawn to the writings of Hazrat Inayat Khan, whom I’ve spoken of in previous postings. In his book Mastery (Omega Publications), he says, “One’s purpose in life is accomplished when a person has risen above (all life’s challenges). It is that person then who will tolerate all, who will understand all, who will assimilate all things, who will not feel disturbed by things which are not in accordance with his own nature or the way which is not his way. He will not look at them with contempt, but he will see that in the depth of every being there is a divine spark, which is trying to raise its flame towards the purpose.” (p 304)
Given these thoughts, it seems to me that a positive course to take when a fundamentalist perspective is being pushed in one’s presence is to listen respectfully, ask questions where appropriate, try to understand the person, and refrain from challenges to the integrity of the person. Khan also says that our egos are “the lion of lions” but that when we conquer ours “… wherever we go, with anyone, whether foolish or wise, good or bad, we now have peace.” (p-223)
So, hopefully my friend, the foregoing can stoke some additional thoughts!
Tom, thank you for responding so quickly. I once thought that “whirling dervishes” were fundemental Sufis, but thanks to you I know better.
I hope others will comment on my post or your comment, whether they do it in writing or in private thought or meditation. Webb
This is good for me to dwell on. I have a great deal of trouble with the Bible and particularly with those who thump it. I have a lot of trouble with Levitcus and the creation, particularly the part where 2 nudists are taking dietery advice from a talking snake.