Near Cowra, NSW 2011.

The Threat of Fundamentalism

The threat of Fundamentalism to the Church is not simply that they are at odds. The danger lies in the nature of the antithesis of the Church and Fundamentalism.

There is a curious paradox here. On the one hand we need to remember that 'antithesis' means anti-thesis. The two are absolutely opposed. Barr says somewhere that Fundamentalism turns the gospel into bondage. Yet for all that there is an ambivalence about this antithesis. Fundamentalism cannot, because of its very nature, prevent the working of grace.

I will begin with the absolute nature of the antithesis. This danger lies in the nature of Fundamentalism. There is not a disagreement here over theological opinion. There is something here which is greater than, for example, all the disagreement of Protestant and Catholic, who still have the same controlling paradigm of the Christ. Fundamentalism is ontologically at odds with the Church. The system is an ontologically inspired and driven effort to avoid the anxiety of non being whereas, to use Tillich's terms, Christianity as a system aims to help the individual accept and transcend the threat of non being. Fundamentalism cannot go in this direction, it is an 'avoidance mechanism'.

The biblical notion of 'powers' is helpful here. [ I am dependent for this on Jim Wallis Agenda for Biblical People, pp63-5. He uses Berkhof's Christ and the Powers, to which I have not had access.] All institutions and systems can be seen as powers. They are something greater than the sum of their constituent bits. Even the church is a power. A power can be for good or for evil; Paul speaks of the evil side of the powers in Ephesians 6:10-12.

Fundamentalism, with respect to the absolute side of the antithesis I have mentioned, is an evil power. It is insidious evil because it counterfeits the church. At the level of words much of the dogma and language seems the same. Because it is controlled by a different paradigm the actual meanings of the words may be incommensurable, or slightly at cross purposes. [Kuhn pp112]

There is a further danger here that in attempting dialogue the Church may not recognise the incommensurate nature of the 'same' dogmas within the two paradigms. Me must be aware that we are trying to communicate across a "paradigm shift".

Speaking of the Presbyterian Church in Brazil, which was taken over by fundamentalists, Alves says Fundamentalism "lay hidden in the denomination. When it was challenged by a different spirit it revealed itself." [Alves pp8] It is here that we see that Fundamentalism is 'worthy' of the name 'power'. It is not that people are necessarily narrow minded or bigoted. Their system forces them to react. Barr speaks in the preface of his second edition of Fundamentalism of people being subverted by Fundamentalism. It makes them 'narrow minded'. The absolute elements in a Fundamentalist reality construct mean there can be no change in certain directions or the whole construct will crumble. Since this crumbling is what Fundamentalism is designed to prevent, it forces the explicit fundamentalist to react in a prescribed way. There is no choice.

To a greater or lesser degree the implicit fundamentalist is carried in the same direction, either by his or her implicit acceptance of Fundamentalist logic, or by the fact that Fundamentalism provides a ready answer and courage to a prevailing fear, whilst sounding 'biblical'.

There is, therefore, a danger to the mainline church that it does not realize that it is dealing with an archon [the Greek word used for power], rather than just a few intransigent conservatives.

Next: A Powerful Power


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