Tuesday, August 21, 2007

It's From Them That I Expect to Hear the F-Word

In Christianity, of course, the "F-word" is fundamentalism. It's the cheap slur of "enlightened" and "civilized" religion, used against anyone who insists on any hard limits to theological statements.

The real Fundamentalism is a particular Protestant theological system, and many American preachers commonly associated with it are not in fact fundamentalists, by this strict standard. Jerry Falwell was a true fundamentalist; Pat Robertson is not. It takes a fair bit of digging to find this out, because the mainstream media are tone-deaf about this (and really don't care anyway). And so, for that matter, are a lot of mainline clerics and theologians, not to mention laymen.

It's popular to point at Akinola and other African bishops as fundamentalists, implying that they are ignorant, bigotted rubes. Well, I don't know about bigotry, but as far as education is concerned, their papers at least some them to be the equals of their American counterparts, if not superiors. There seems to be enough bigotry to go all around.

Anyway, courtesy of the young fogey we have a nice little bit from Eunomia about the use of the word these days, this time with respect to Islam.
No offense to Mr. Krikorian, but does he really think that Muslims are going to conceive of their religion as an “ideology” and “way of life” that have failed? If they believe, as I assume they do, that their religion is the final revelation of God to humanity, it will take a lot more than its “inadequacy” to adapt to modernity to persuade them to abandon it.

Well, sort of. He goes on to say that
The lesson of mainline Protestantism, to follow his comparison, is that religion without substance and conviction is dead and uninspiring and doomed to stagnation and irrelevance. People flee it as they would from the plague. Those inclined to belong to religious communities are going to seek out communities where there is a sense that the religion they practice is true and edifying.

The thing is that American religious communities don't work exactly this way. The religious community is the parish or congregation; larger units like dioceses or presbyteries or synods or conferences or denominations don't function as communities in the sense that immediately comes to mind. They tend to function (for laymen, anyway) as distant potentates who make occaisional intrusive appearances, but have little to do with the week-to-week life of the parish. And particularly with mainline protestants, it is often possible to live as a deviant refuge within a hostile church.

And fundamentalism-- the real thing-- is precisely such a posture. One of the problems with modernism (and not coincidentally part of what gave rise to postmodernism) is that life in self-examination is emphatically subjective. It invites external criticism, and among sinful men, that is often hard to swallow. Modernist theology has been conspicuously arrogant in this from the start, especially following WW I and the European-based "nobody knows the trouble I've seen" rejection of any other standing to criticize it. Fundamentalism exists precisely as such a criticism, and is thus, in its way, modern.

In considering the claims of disiilusionment proffered by the modernists, one would do well to remember that those two great conservators of the past, Tolkien and Lewis, were quite literally in the trenches in the Great War. Both had close friends killed; Tolkien caught trench foot, and Lewis was wounded. Lewis in particular expressed impatience with the notion that the horrors of the twentieth century were crucially alienating, a position I have to agree with. For me one of the biggest issues with theology in the century just past is that hardly anyone is willing to step up to the task of trying to pull of of these disparate strands together; the loudest sound in the theological synod is that of not listening to others. Here I think Anglicanism had the possibility of being post-modern early, for the via media was based in the restraint of one's ego to the point of being able to agree to disagree. But like other mainline churches, Anglican theology has in practice been captured by modernists, and the position of Anglican revisionists-- those in the driving seat of the Episcopal Church-- is conspicuously modernist, arrogant and political. What "fundamentalist" means is really anyone who is willing to admit that they do not feel the "disillusionment" that the moderns claim is universal, because those people then appeal to the texts and to older tradition in criticizing the modernist program.

There is clearly a problem because the whole claim of disillusionment goes unresolved. The moderns can't defend it, and the others cannot get past it. But "fundamentalism" per se has little to do with it. It's simply a way of dodging the obligation to defend modernist precepts.

No comments: