Monday, March 9, 2009

The Double-heart of Fundamentalism

Fundamentalism has two hearts. These hearts pulsate, and beat, and pound out the rhythm of life of the fundamentalist. Just as it is the heart of a person that circulates the blood, the lymph, the nutrients, the force of life that maintains our one's existence, so fundamentalism has a living center. However, in contrast to human biological life, the center of fundamentalism represents two foci, two hearts, one within and one without. To continue to function as a "living, breathing", and I might add, irritating, entity, fundamentalism requires both hearts.

The inward heart is whatever central authority informs the given variety of fundamentalism we might consider. It might be the Koran, the Bible, the imams or mullahs, preacher or popes. In the case of atheistic fundamentalism, it might be the collection of "tried and true" buttons to push, which are known for their shock value. No matter what it might be, as Tillich so clearly pointed out over half a century ago, such rigidity will quarter no doubt. In the vanquishing of doubt, unknowingly, the fundamentalist institution (whether paper or pope one might say) also vanquishes truly mature faith, which always includes an element of doubt.

The outward heart is the "interface" of fundamentalism and the world, i.e. the individual adherent. The key character of the adherent is unapproachability, unreasonableness, and the inability to entertain any notions contrary to "the party line." Fundamentalists are "hardliners" they know what they believe, even if they have lost sight of why they believe it. As the interface, they are cocksure, "signed, sealed, and delivered." Forget about any silly notion of finding middle ground or rapprochement. It ain't gonna happen! End of discussion.

From these two "hearts," absolute infallibility and a mind slammed closed to any other possibility, fundamentalism derives its very life. It needs both "hearts" to live and thrive in our world. The truly sad thing thing is that the world has become such a confusing place that many will sell their very human birthright of asking difficult questions and being willing to live without all the answers-- even when it hurts. That is what maturity is. It means living in the face of mystery without having all of the answers and seeking truth even though we will surely make many false starts and wrong turns. Living that way takes courage. Maybe, reflecting on Tillich again, that is central to faith as well.

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