Monday, November 10, 2014

Threading the middle? Belief, fundamentalism and the centre

I recently stopped following a Facebook group. Nothing unusual there. A post pointed to a Patheos blog which assured me of various things the bible doesn't actually say. Nothing unusual there either. There's lots of folk theology as there is folk medicine (anti-vaxxers), folk science (climate change denial), and so on. It's a good thing to question the sources of information. My issue though was when I looked at the first couple of entries, it was just standard (yawn) Liberalism. Sure I know Jesus was a human, a first century Jew, a Messianic claimant and prophet. But the usual "he never claimed to be God but actively denied it" just doesn't wash. The "Paul invented Christianity" is so patently wrong, as with it the view that Jesus had no interest in Gentiles and that a move away from Jews was Paul's plan B. There's plenty of good scholarship to show the gospels reflect the earliest years of the church (where's the conflict on circumcision for example), and that placing Jesus in the full story of Israel and its true location made Gentile mission a matter of when, not if. My point is, in trying to stay with the Progressive (so-called) crowd, I often become weary of some of the so-called assured results of enlightened scholarship, as well as the ironic conservative bashing. Sure Mark Driscoll earned his critics ire, but please, something else. Likewise, when I can't say some things in front of some Conservatives because I'll end up in an argument over their ideological refusal to see the truth of human caused global warming, there's another end of the spectrum I'm unhappy with. All that said, any time we claim the middle ground, are we not repeating other people's errors? Pushing others to the margins, do we not commit the same exclusivity? Well, yes and no. If you have no centre, you have nothing. It's pointless defining a community, a belief system, etc without some core identity. This will include a central story (which contains propositions that can't be abstracted), practices, symbols and questions. But having a centre isn't the same as having hard boundaries (that's fundamentalism). That said, assuming you have even the centre 100% nailed down can be an overreach, as each new idea will open more and more questions. More than that though, overfilling the centre will quickly approach the bounded set, and hence back into Fundamentalism. We all want to think we occupy the centre in politics, religion, culture etc. There ARE extremes to avoid - but maybe not always? We find some Fundamentalisms as morally repugnant if they involve extreme behaviour, such as suicide bombing. Is any idea worth being extreme about? But what if Jesus really is God? Can one be too extreme as a Christian? I think history tells us though an extreme Christian is one who is willing to be persecuted and martyred, not be a persecutor. Likewise, what if the new atheists were right? Would there be something noble in their crusade to rid the world of all superstition? So maybe we don't always shoot for the middle, because sometimes we need to be extreme. Reasonable ideas can end up being simply not worth bothering with, and I think this phenomenon is killing some Christian denominations. So here's the punchline. Christians, be true fundamentalists by putting love first, just as we were commanded. A whole lot more extreme things may follow, and some may thread the middle - but at least it won't be a life satisfied by simply being extreme at either end for its own sake, or threading the middle to play it safe.

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