Posts Tagged ‘Fundamentalism’

Fundamentalism and Ways Forward

Sunday, November 2nd, 2014

Fundamentalism thrives on several conditions…

  1. Obsessive Rightness
  2. Violence
  3. A concept of an avenging God
Mix those into a culture where basic needs go unmet, where diminished trust of institutions as upholders of basic law and order predominate, where youth no longer see brighter futures than they currently see in their diminished circumstances, where older generations, unsure and worried, fail to speak, and fundamentalism will rear its head.
Fundamentalism then creates a twisted offering … an offering of certainty, predictability, clear lines, clear targets, clear belonging, and clear un-belonging.
That is what we face largely in this day and age, a challenge not limited just to the Middle East, but very much a challenge of Christianity and other faiths and secular organizations as well.
It cannot be said often enough … change must, and can only begin with us. Where lies the anger in our hearts, the “fundamentalist” waiting for battle? Where do we fail to live into solutions of gentleness, kindness, touch as individuals and institutions?  Where do we “circle the wagons” and fail to humbly reach out to the margins?  Where do we fail to speak and fail to act?  ”The best criticism of the bad is the practice of the better.”

Issues Small And Large

Friday, August 8th, 2014

It is hard to grasp the brutal nature of the ISIS insurgency in Iraq and Syria.

Who is ISIS? “The West considers ISIS to be an international terrorist organization. It operates in Iraq and Syria with the aim of creating an Islamic state across the borders of the two countries and beyond. Initially called Al-Qaeda in Iraq, it became the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria last year. It has played a prominent role in Syria’s civil war with the chaos enabling it to quickly develop a reputation as one of the most extreme groups operating in the region.” (New York Times)

The immediate crisis centers around what looms as a potential genocide as ISIS fighters surround  over 40,000 of Yazidis refugees, who have fled to Mt. Irbil in Northern Iraq. They are of Kurdish descent, and their religion is considered a pre-Islamic sect drawn from Christianity, Judaism and Zoroastrianism.  (CNN)  In calling in today’s airstrikes President Obama noted “We can act, carefully and responsibly to prevent a potential act of genocide.”

ISIS holds to a radical view of Islam that in turn regards Shiite Muslims, Christians, Yazidis and others who differ from their conservative views as infidels and worthy of destruction.

As Christians, we must deplore the rank fundamentalism that feeds this kind of genocidal fervor.  We likewise must speak as Christians to the authentic alternative of a multicultural, religiously pluralistic world that embraces diverse faiths and perspectives captured in the words announcing Christ’s birth in Luke, Do not be afraid I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all  people.”

What is the “call to action?” What is the way forward?  While options are limited maybe some thoughts …

  1. Speak clearly and act clearly against religious fundamentalism that seeks to destroy others where ever that fundamentalism appears, in whatever form fundamentalism takes, in whatever religious group however small or large we find it espoused.  That includes our own churches and in the world at large.
  2. Speak clearly and act clearly against that same fundamentalism in ourselves, a fundamentalism evidenced by a binary world view of “ins” and “outs”, of members and non-members.  The word “diabolical” means “to divide”… a poignantly accurate description of hell.
  3. Pray

There is nothing small or light here folks.  This is our world.  This is our choice.  This is where Christianity through you, through me, through courage and commitment, returns to being “The Way.”

The Crazy Danger Of Fundamentalism

Wednesday, May 29th, 2013

With the election for Iran’s next President about to take place, the leader in the race is outpacing his competition by a wide margin through the slogan, “No compromise. No submission. Only Jalili.”

Such is the crazy danger in religious fundamentalism.   No compromise.  No submission.  Only demagogory.

And the challenges of fundamentalism is far from “over there.”  We face the same forces be that within our churches or within political parties.  Wrap the human propensity for machismo in a flag, add religious language, and label a bad guy, and fundamentalism can rapidly spin a nation into a spasm of reactive violence.

How do we find a way out of that cycle?

That is where we will, in the coming years, need to fully re-dedicate ourselves to answers that heal.  That is a large task, a task beyond purely military answers and one where faith communities can find a place of real service.

A case in point was reading a recent article on the refugee camps in Jordan filled with thousands of displaced Syrians.  Living in a compound without jobs or education is hardly a breeding ground for the kind of enlightened action that leads one along the higher roads of human nature.  With guile replacing an open mind as the modus operandi for many of these youths living in these camps, it is hard to see it ending well.

We can however choose to add our voice to the conversation.  Christ’s voice would not be one of evangelization.  I believe it would be one of love, tolerance, and compassion realized through the service.

What does it look like?  I am unsure of the specifics.  But it would not look like “No Compromise.  No submission.”

Some things are a laughing matter. Others are not.

Wednesday, May 22nd, 2013

As a pastor, I want to note an interesting dynamic.  On the one hand is the failure of many Christian churches.  On the other is the failure of the culture.

The Christian church, including the New Church, has been failing for awhile.  Vibrant, engaged institutions seeking to serve simply do not witness the collapse in numbers that many churches are experiencing.  Rob Bell, in his most recent book “What We Talk About When We Talk Of God” phrased it this way…

As a pastor over the past 20 years, what I’ve seen over and over again is the people who want to live lives of meaning and peace and significance and joy – people who have a compelling sense that their spirituality is some vital yet mysterious way central to who they are – but who can’t find meaning in the dominant conceptions, perceptions, and understandings of God they’ve encountered.

Some churches in refusing to face this collapse and their responsibility in it have chosen suffocating literalism and retrenchment over dialogue.  Others have gone to the opposite extreme … a form of “health and wealth” Christianity whose giddy focus on “feel good” leaves one on a sugar high but unmoved at the level of the soul.  I am certainly guilty of both at different times in my career.

Culture – and that includes you, me, us – has likewise been failing.  Attending  a recent Justice conference filled with some of the brightest minds going in the Christian world of service, it was disheartening and eyeopening to hear the frustrations of these incredible leaders as they noted a drop of “long obedience in one direction” among those whom Eugene Cho called, “The most disappointed generation ever.”  Ouch!  These words were not spoken by curmudgeons intent on adding a grinding critique onto today’s culture but were offered by impassioned, knowledgeable, global leaders in topics such as sex trafficking and wage slavery.

A recent study published in the New York Times backs up these frustrations.  The study looked at language usage from 1500 to 2008, specifically over the last half century.  What specific words were used more?  What specific words less?


  1. More Frequent: Personalized, self, standout, unique, I come first, I can do it myself
  2. Less Frequent: Community, collective, tribe, share, united, band together, common good
  1. Overall, usage of the top 50 general words dealing with moral virtue fell 74%
  2. Bravery, fortitude – down 66%
  3. Thankfulness, appreciation – down 49%
  4. Modesty, humbleness – down 52%
  5. Kindness, helpfulness – down 56%

To restate our building blocks are now “Come and learn how to standout, how to find your unique self in this personalized program of self fulfillment!”   We can expect, “Join with us in a life of humility, kindness, and self sacrifice as we seek to serve the common good” to, on the other hand, fall flat.

That is not really so funny is it.  It shows we as a church have great work to do.  To do that work we ourselves need to take on the same tools we seek to give others … courage, gratitude, humility, kindness, and the common good.

The Attack on Malala Yousafzai

Tuesday, October 23rd, 2012

Many of us are aware of the attempted assassination of Malala Yousafzai, a young Pakistani teenager who spoke out for the educational rights of girls in her country.  Shot in the head by Taliban terrorists, she is currently undergoing treatment in Europe.


Reading her story leaves one with a great sense of awe at her courage. This morning, I re-read the words from New Testament letter of James that seem to so neatly capture her life.  It is the God-given command to “humbly accept the word planted in you that can save you.”  (James 1:21)  This is someone who came into her voice – the word planted in her – at a very young age. Unfortunately that voice ran counter to other voices – voices of misogyny, fundamentalism, and cruelty.  Such is our life when we are stirred by God in such a way that we become “dangerous.” As one author noted, “After any “raising up” of our True Selves, we will no longer fit into many groups, even much of religious society, which is often obsessed with and yet indulgent of the False Self, because that is all it knows.”

And that is why we need to continually press the forces of darkness that would strangle that very word/ Word.  We can do that in big ways and small.  A simple story of the way forward …. A few nights ago my wife and I were at a local church taking a course on money management. I introduced myself to the pastor after the program, asking him if he ever rented his building. He said he felt strongly that the building was God’s, not his, so of course they were open to others using the facility. That is not the reaction many places of worship have – including many that I grew up in and have been part of.  In that small comment by the Pastor, – a reaching on his part – speaks to a bigger, more loving picture beyond the tribalism that often passes for “faith” today, a tribalism, in its extreme, that nearly killed Malala Yousafzai.


“Faith does not effect salvation unless love is present.”

Arcana Coelestia 369 Emanuel Swedenborg

Taking the Bible Very Seriously, Not Literally

Tuesday, September 25th, 2012

We are called to take the Bible very seriously but not literally.

In the Western mind, a mind dominated by facts and argument, that is challenging to grasp.  We often approach God’s Word with those exacting lenses, believing that if not every bit of it holds literally true, the Bible can then be dismissed in its entirety.

However the Bible from the very start was written poetically.  It speaks of Adam and Eve giving birth to two sons, Cain and Abel, who then marry.  That progression defies logic, i.e. if the first human beings gave birth to the next two, where did those wives come from?

Traditionally, Christianity has been very comfortable with a more poetic reading of the Bible.  Look at the 4 Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.  Each is a slightly different account of Christ’s life.  Their inclusion in the canon clearly speaks to a people comfortable with “knowledge in the round.”  They did not need one definitive account of His life.  Somehow they knew God was bigger was that.  The New Church is part of the heritage.

Holding the Bible poetically is the path of most resistance.  It is easy on one hand to dismiss the Bible in its entirety.  It is every bit as easy to hide in the literal words as a fundamentalist.  Both are simple “either/ or” solutions.  What God asks however is for us to inhabit the text, to live in it, to wrestle with it, to challenge it, to be challenged by it.   That is not easy but it engages us in an incredible spiritual conversation thousands of years old, opening us to blessings all around.



Please parents …..

Wednesday, August 22nd, 2012

This week a group of Israeli teenagers, including a 13 year old female, beat an Arab youth unconscious on a Jerusalem street.  The same day, another group attacked an Arab taxi in Israel, throwing a firebomb through the vehicle’s window.

It was interesting reading the legitimately concerned reaction in Israel as citizens expressed worry about their own form of homegrown terrorism.  One commenter offered this insight.“This is directly tied to national fundamentalism that is the same as the rhetoric of neo-Nazis, Taliban and K.K.K.,” Mr. Aloni said. “This comes from an entire culture that has been escalating toward an open and blunt language based on us being the chosen people who are allowed to do whatever we like.”

Such attacks, as he saw it, were an inevitable and logical outgrowth of escalating intolerance.  Given the saber rattling around what appears to be a fall attack on Iran, he is correct.  Just last week, I read an article in the same paper of a hero’s welcome accorded to 100 some odd young Americans returning to Israel to enlist in the Israeli army for the upcoming showdown with Iran over the development of atomic weapons.

Shame on Israel right.   Easy for a Pastor in the states to point to the Middle East in condescending judgment about how wrong they are as the cycle of violence churns, and churns, and churns.  Were it that easy to press the issue “out there.”  But the fact is it is “in here.”  So the shame is rightly on us, me included.

Thomas Merton famously wrote how the “sane ones” are the most dangerous.   Sanity without a moral compass endangers our soul. Much of violence is “sane” in the simple math of retribution and protection.  We live a sail in dangerous waters.  And where is the voice for the evolution of the human soul?  Nothing soft about stands around non-violence.  God’s call: “Blessed are the peacemakers.”  God’s gifts: Not “a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, love, and self discipline.”  (2 Timothy 1:7)

The Scary Lion King Voice: Fundamentalism that cuts both ways

Tuesday, May 8th, 2012

Most of us have a “scary” voice, a Lion King voice.  I certainly do.  The voice keeps me in a sense “safe” because it keeps me “right.”  I know the triggers all too well given that I rehearse my responses to perceived criticism daily, specifically criticisms directed at what I believe to be the work of church.

I know there is a tad bit of that “voice” that is even necessary given the tumult of the times in which we live.  But only a “tad”  - an amount far less than the roaring monologue we often would choose to unleash if given our way.

Where is this voice for you?  The scary voice, the one used to “frighten” and “prove”?  The one which after we roar, we look to friends with the question, “Was that good?”  ”Did I sound scary enough?”

We have to wonder more and more how good any of that voice is.  The Third Way is so difficult to write about because it is not a solution but it is the solution. Cutting between the easy division of “liberal” and “conservative” it neither supplies “Safety” or “rightness.”  And I do think more and more it is one of the prized discoveries God places before before us.  Read this powerful reflection from Richard Rohr.

At this time in history, the contemporary choice offered most Americans is between unstable correctness (liberals) and stable illusion (conservatives)! What a choice! It has little to do with real transformation in either case. How different from the radical orthodoxy of T. S. Eliot, who can say in Little Gidding,

You are not here to verify, 
Instruct yourself or inform curiosity 
Or carry report. You are here to kneel . . . .

There is a third way, and it probably is a way of “kneeling.” Most people would just call it “wisdom.” It demands a transformation of consciousness and a move beyond the dualistic win/lose mind of both liberals and conservatives. An authentic God encounter is the quickest and truest path to such wisdom, which is always non-dual consciousness and does not take useless sides on non-essential issues.

Neither expelling nor excluding (conservative temptation), nor perfect explaining (liberal temptation) is our task. True participation in God liberates us from our control towers and for the compelling and overarching vision of the Reign of God—where there are no liberals or conservatives. Here, the paradoxes—life and death, success and failure, loyalty to what is and risk for what needs to be—do not fight with one another, but lie in an endless embrace. We must penetrate behind them both—into the Mystery that bears them both. This is contemplation in action. 

Spot on stuff.  New Church theology is cut right along those lines as well.  As Emanuel Swedenborg noted, “[The] pact is the Lord’s close connection with us through love or to put in another way, [it] is the presence of the Lord with us in love and charity. The Word calls the pact itself a pact of peace.  This is because peace symbolizes the Lord’s kingdom, and the Lord’s kingdom consists of mutual love that is the only thing that affords peace.”

Living into that place is hard because we are asked to give up being “right” and learn to just “kneel.”  Hard to do for the Lion King!



Dangers of Christian Fundamentalism

Sunday, July 24th, 2011

The pictures from the recent shooting/ bombing in Norway are simply heartbreaking.  The grief over so much senseless violence is hard to even hold.  Our hearts go out to all who were lost.

It also brings great sadness to know that the phrase “fundamentalist Christian” in our cultural carries with it a connotation of a warrior like Christianity that can arguably give rise to such senselessness.  If Jesus is held as a religious zealot asking for “war” against those from other cultures and against perceived “threats” to cultural homogeneity, such events are predictable.  This appears to have been a least part of the assassin’s motivation.  It is a motivation not far different from al Queda.

“The Norwegian man charged Saturday with a pair of attacks in Oslo that killed at least 92 people left behind a detailed manifesto outlining his preparations and calling for a Christian war to defend Europe against the threat of Muslim domination, according to Norwegian and American officials familiar with the investigation….  Like Mr. Breivik’s manuscript, the major Qaeda declarations have detailed accounts of the Crusades, a pronounced sense of historical grievance and calls for apocalyptic warfare to defeat the religious and cultural enemy.”

And clearly, nothing could be further from the Christian message, message in which Jesus NEVER took up a sword, a world in which Jesus CONSISTENTLY crossed cultural barriers, and a world in which the primary call was to LOVE and COMPASSION.  And that is where our heart must rest, in that Christianity.  The warrior stuff is simply dangerous crap peddled by those who seek to cloak megalomania in a religious patina.  It is easy to hold it as harmless, a difference of opinion as it were, but it is perspective that carries with it the danger of heartrending consequences.

Osama Bin Laden

Monday, May 2nd, 2011

What a surprise to wake with the news that Osama Bin Laden had finally been located and killed. The news for me frankly was not one of joy, but of saddness.  The sadness grows from realizing the immense toll violence and hatred takes on the human condition.

I remember teaching secondary school students about Bin Laden and terrorism using the “9/11 Report.”  What struck me most was his resolute rejection of all things Western, all things non-Muslim, and all concept of political solution.  That type of fundamentalism – Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Atheist – is ugly regardless of its source.

So what are we do?  How we are to hold days like today?  For some there may be place to celebrate.  That being said, I believe more strongly that it is a time for prayer.  Evil is a real force.  It is not imaginary or made up.  Evil seeks destruction.  It practices deceit and intolerance.  And our first response must be to always guard against it growth not just in the world but within ourselves.  Celebration that comes from a warped desire to rejoice over vengeance speaks to our lower selves, the part in us that separates the world into “us” and “them” – a place that finds no space for compassion.  The line between vengeance and justice is slim.  It is difficult to argue that Bin Laden’s death did not serve the interests of justice.  But if vengeance creeps into our hearts, what then has “won?”

My prayer is for deep compassion.  My prayer is not only for the 1,000′s who perished on 9/11 but for the blood shed that that depraved act unleashed.   My prayer is for our country, that it may keep its heart.  My prayer is for the world that in this Easter season we find in Christ a message of reconciliation, a world in which the “Lion and Lamb shall lay down together.”  And as prayers end – may there be peace.