Saturday, March 25, 2006

WWJD? Jesus Wouldn't be a Fundamentalist

When George W. Bush was elected president the first time, by the Supreme Court, not by the people, his victory could at least partially be attributed to the lack of a strong candidate by the Democrats. Al Gore was tainted by his association with a president who directly lied to the American people, albeit about a matter not pertaining to national security.

When Bush was elected president the second time, again by a slim margin, his victory could also be attributed in part to a very weak Democratic candidate who appeared to vacillate on key issues.

But his second victory was also helped significantly by what was viewed as a giant shift to the right by a constituency that was tired of what they saw as a national trend toward sinfulness and debauchery. Score one for the religious fundamentalists.

That victory made it seem as though the country had turned some corner toward salvation, and the fundamentalists wasted no time in capitalizing on their presidential victory.

Bush had already stymied medical research in key fields like stem cells and therapeutic cloning. So the fundamentalists turned their attention to the American education system by attempting to infiltrate it by posing as science professionals.

It didn’t work, of course. And now they’re regrouping following a stinging setback by a federal judge in Pennsylvania and, more recently, by the failure of an anti-Darwin bill in Utah.

But there may be even more regrouping necessary than many may believe. The shift to the religious right in this country on the coattails of our increasingly faltering president may not have been as seismic as many originally thought. And it might have been only a temporary anomaly.

Polls continue to indicate that, while belief in God is quite high, most Americans do not adhere to most fundamentalist beliefs, especially younger Americans.

A former pastor of the First Christian Church in Edinburgh who now is behind the pulpit of a church in Southern California was recently featured in a Santa Cruz newspaper article about fundamentalism. Steve Defields-Gambrel is a preacher on a mission, against fundamentalism.

He says fundamentalist Christians belie the whole message that Jesus intended us to hear.

Fundamentalism is the belief that the bible is the unerring word of God, spoken to men by God, and that every last sentence of it is true and literal in its meaning. Fundamentalists also believe that Jesus Christ is the only path to eternal salvation. It supposedly harkens back to the early days of Christianity, when it was in its purest form.

Not true, according to Gambrel.

Fundamentalism was founded only about a century ago, around 1901. It grew out of several church revivals in the South that were partially the result of what some believed was a shift toward godlessness brought on by advances in scientific discovery. Prior to the 20th century, nobody was a fundamentalist Christian.

Gambrel said that fundamentalism often results in a harsh and even unloving form of Christianity that is just the opposite of what Jesus intended. Fundamentalism stymies one’s progress toward religious enlightenment; Jesus boldly stepped ahead.

“In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says he’s not here to abolish the law or the prophets, but six times in a row he revises them,” Gambrel said.

Jesus was a revolutionist who was eventually condemned to death for his heresies against the established “fundamentalism” of the day. There’s no reason to believe he would be any different if he walked the earth today.

Fundamentalism is repressive; Jesus was progressive. Fundamentalism is judgmental; Jesus was accepting. Fundamentalism is condemning; Jesus was forgiving.

As for the bible, the early Christians had none. It had not been canonized yet. That didn’t happen until centuries after Christ.

“The scary thing about canonizing is that it was done by committee," Gambrel said. "Nowadays we don’t respect many things done by committee.”

Gambrel’s point, and mine, is that we as Americans can certainly oppose depravity and immorality. We can do so by avoiding the things we disagree with, but also by constantly learning and evolving. Faith should be a dynamic process, not stalled in time and stultified.

If we choose to be Christians, we can be enlightened ones, not those who blindly follow the dogma of the unenlightened zealots.

According to Gambrel, early believers didn’t call themselves Christians; they called themselves the people of the Way, as in highway. They even used the phrase, “according to the Road,” instead of “according to the Bible.” He said following paths God presents means staying on the road, but simply moving forward.

And moving forward is something that fundamentalism cannot tolerate.

No comments: