The more I think about it, the closer extreme relativism and extreme fundamentalism seem to be together:

  • Both is entirely subjective, and do not even seek to be objective, in it’s extreme forms neither to recognize their own subjectivity.
  • The individual caught up in both will hold to their already-found believes come hell or high water, and wouldn’t even consider the possibility that it might be they who are wrong, since it isn’t needed to even consider that they might be wrong.
  • Both approaches give it’s proponents the amazing ability to percieve their worldview as absolutely consistent even when it clashes with all of reality.

In the end both approaches adhear to the same basic idea: their is no truth except for the truth which I hold.

Brought up in an Evangelical-Reformed church, in the nineties of South African youth culture, with the quasi-charismatic youth revivals running high, as a young theological student Universalism had the meaning that everyone was going to heaven… or maybe it rather had the meaning that no one was going to hell. This was a doctrine to be feared, some had to go to hell to legitimize the God we prayed to (if you find yourself within this approach, and distance yourself from fundamentalism, wouldn’t you please leave a better understanding in the comment section).

Universalism knocked on my door thanks to our Western linear approach to time. Thing is that I believed that the Jews of the Old Testament was children of God, a.k.a children of Abraham. Then Jesus came, and you had to become a Christian. But this 19/20 year old wannabee theologian started wondering: when did it change? I mean, at which stage did you move from being a Jew going to heaven to being a Jew going to hell? Well, my evangelical-reformed-quasi-charismatic-semi-fundamentalist theology could probably answer it, but it needed to much of metaphysical ideas, and so much of psychological presuppositions (such as whether someone “really” believed, “really” regretted his/her sins etc) that it didn’t really help me.

One sentence I read today brought this question up again. It talked about the “train going to hell”, the train that was going to Auschwitz, carrying Jews. The hell that it was talking about was the hell of Auschwitz, a hell that made Dante’s Purgatory look like children’s party. The question I wondered about was whether my theology should say that this train was also leading to the metaphysical hell that Dante wrote about, since everyone on the train was Jews, and wouldn’t convert before they were killed.

Anyhow, how would they have converted, since the only Christians they would have had contact with after getting on that train was Nazi Germans, probably Lutheran, from the tradition that talked about Sola Gratia and Sola Fidei more than anyone. Am I willing to also say that those Lutherans would go to the metaphysical place called heaven as well while their Jewish victims go the Dante’s hell?

I don’t think Universalism is the answer, so please don’t quote me for saying so. But I do think the system that I had (and whether this was an accurate understanding of Reformed doctrine is highly debateble) wasn’t addequate, and that it has to be modified. This is some of the questions that we really need to look at somewhat more seriously.

I’m reading The Song of the Bird by Anthony de Mello which Cori and Kevin gave us for our wedding. The following story de Mello wrote explains a lot of my own struggle with religion, faith and church. But it’s a story, so you decide what it mean for you:

Nasruddin is Dead

Nasruddin was in a philosophical frame of mind: “Life and death-who can say what they are?” His wife, who was busy in the kitchen, overheard him and said, “You men are all alike-quite unpractical. Anyone can tell that when a man’s extremities are rigid and cold, he is dead.”

Nasruddin was impressed by his wife’s practical wisdom. Once when he was out in the winter snow, he felt his hands and feet go numb. “I must be dead,” he thought. Then came a further thought: “What am I doing walking around it I am dead? I should be lying down like a normal corpse.” Which is just what he did.

An hour later, a group of travelers, finding him by the roadside, begad to argue whether he was alive or dead. Nasruddin yearned to cry out, “You fools, can’t you see my extremities are cold and rigid?” But he knew better than to say that, for corpses do not talk.

The travelers finally concluded he was dead, and hoisted the corpse onto their shoulders with a view to carrying it to the cemetery for burial. They hadn’t gone far when they came to a forking of the ways. A fresh dispute arose among them as to which road led to the cemetery. Nasruddin put up with this for as long as he could. Then he sat up and said, “Excuse me, gentlemen, but the road that leads to the cemetery is the one to your left. I know that corpses do not speak, but I have broken the rule this once and I assure you it will not happen again.”

When reality clashes with a rigidly held belief, reality is generally the loser.

Well, you interpret the story. I’ll keep on telling it for some time I think, because it so beautifully sums up my feelings on so many things I find in the way people approach religion, faith and church.

The sermon on “God” coming up on Sunday evening, and a number of stories… and stuff… and then this video (man could it get this bad), just got me near tears tonight. And I just want to say: I’m sorry! To everyone out there who saw the worst side of the church, to all the people who are atheists and have been hurt by the church… I’m just so so sorry…

Update: After watching it the second time, someone pointed to the email adress of the guy who created this, and we realized that this must be a mockery, but the fact that it is actually possible that people say these things still remain…

After having a birthday party till after 2 o’clock this morning, great conversations, great people, I got up at 8:50 to be at Greenfield at 9:30 for a meetup of Tswane Christian Bloggers. The following bloggers (and others) attended:

Steve Hays, Roger Saner, Cori Wielenga, her husband Kevin Parry (an atheist blogger), Ronald van den Bergh, Joe Reed, myself and Chris, a guy visiting Nieucommunities at the moment.

We had the standard exchane of blogging tips, with Roger basically explaining some of the technical things to us, had quite a lot of conversations about David Bosch, and a long conversation about fundamentalism (and this is just those I can think of now and that I followed, because at most given stages there was at least two conversation going on).

Oh the endless question of fundamentalism! The idea that I alone are right, but not only that, that everyone differing from me on certain key points (whatever that might be), must be evil. One interesting thing is the agreement we had, including Kevin, that you also find fundamentalism in atheism. Now, this is not a new discovery, but maybe just something realised more and more.

I’m reading Matthew with my grade 7 Sunday school class, we started yesterday. We will draw up a timeline of the words and deeds of Jesus in Matthew. At one point yesterday I just put some basics on the table: What is a gospel? How is the Bible devided? How many gospels are there? Do they agree on everything? Why do they differ? And without even thinking a number of the kids told me that they obviously differ because they were written by different people, and different things was important to them. Now, obviously this does on encompass the full complexity of the synoptic problem, but it does show that in kids there is comfort with of a view which is not fundamentalistic.

But OK, meetup was great! We should really do this more often.

Just read a number of posts touching on liberal and conservative again, so here is some thoughts…

I guess the liberal/conservative debate just wont ever stop. I actually find it quite funny. I remember earlier in my studies often saying that the problem with fundamentalists is that they simply define themselves by what they are not: “We are not like those liberal people who don’t believe in the resurrection”. Today I must acknowledge that many of my non-fundamentalist and non-conservative friends, are just that, non-conservative: We are not like those conservative people who take the Bible literally.

OK, I know I’m making a caricature again, and many evangelicals or reformed people (I guess the two groups I have the most contact with) would be able to talk about what they are. We believe that sin is the problem of the world (see Nati Stander blogging on the blog of his father Hennie Stander yesterday), or we believe in the grace of God (for the Reformed people), and obviously many would say that they simply believe in God.

So while it’s funny to see people identifying themselves by who they are not, it’s just as funny to see people asking excuse for who they are, Nati is a good example. In a way I think it’s a manner of speaking, saying “I’m sorry but this is what I believe”, but there also sometimes when there seem to be a factor of having this gut feel that the other one is saying something that makes sense, but not being comfortable with what is being said, and thus saying sorry because you just can’t get yourself to agree, but can’t really disagree without this nagging feeling that you might be wrong.

I’m pretty sure that those who know me, and those who’ve read the blog for a while, would be able to point me to places where I’ve done similar things, and I won’t mind you joining me for a laugh when you notice me doing it.

I guess I could go on for quite some time with stories on liberals and conservatives, but let’s get this post done. Two things I just want to point to: One, I’m not sure what liberal or conservative mean. I learned the terminology in the context of Theology and Biblical interpretation, but later found that the terms is much more complex than that, so complex that I usually consider the terms useless in a conversation, just a way of saying that I disagree without giving a reason. Two, and this is well-known, people can be labeled conservative on one aspect of life, and liberal on another, which further adds to the complexity.

More and more I think that there must be something much deeper than this divide. I have conservatives that I love to work with, while in our context most would consider me a liberal (not sure if this is an appropriate label though). Steve also point to something similar when he write about the real liberal. And for fun read this post about how liberals and conservatives really sometimes seem to play for the same field (a feeling which many of us must have had quite a lot of times in our lives).

As a footnote let me just point out that I think there might be a difference between not something, and not anymore something. The not something state which I’m describing is finding identity in whom I’m against. Philip Harrold wrote an article about Deconversion in the Emerging Church which talk about not anymore whatever I’ve been. But this is seen as a transitionary state, even by those who find themselves in this state, it’s the post state of being. This state of self-critique, of looking back at where I was but cannot be anymore I think should be taken very seriously, but let us all strive to find identity in who we are right now, rather than in who our enemies are.

I owe the title of the post to a book by Jürgen Moltmann and Hans Küng, but necessarily the content. Sometimes I’m really sorry for my fundamentalist friends… well, not that I really have any of those in all honesty. I guess I’m not that good at the ecumenical challenge thing. But I had many, many of them don’t really want to be my friends anymore. But this is my thoughts nevertheless.

OK, let me again start out by saying some words on what fundamentalism is. Part of the reason why I don’t have any fundamentalism friends, is because I don’t consider my conservative friends to be fundamentalists. So let this be clear: charismatics or evangelicals ain’t neccesarily fundamentalists, neither are those without theological education, and fundamentalists ain’t those who think Paul wouldn’t have approved even of monogamous homosexual relationships, or that drinking beer is bad. Yes, fundamentalists isn’t even those who think the earth is 6000 years old, that the great flood covered mount Everest, or that Moses wrote down the whole Pentateuch (including the part describing his own death). Granted, some of these characteristics and groups or characteristics do largely overlap with fundamentalists, but when writing this I do not equate them.

I like Dominic Crossan’s destinction between literalism and fundamentlism in the second half of this video. In summary: literalism is taking everything in the Bible that could be taken literally literally. Fundamentlism adds that if you don’t take it literally, your not a Christian, and suggesting that maybe it shouldn’t be taken literally, makes you an anti-Christian. So, I have friends who are literalists, but who can still say: “we are open for conversation, although we warm you that chances are really slim that you’ll change our minds”. Even within this more narrow definition of fundamentalism I also had some friends who I have to label fundamentalists.

Now, I’m sorry for these people, and for many of the literalists as well, because they really have a hard time in theological conversations, especially when talking to university trained theologians. Not necessarily a hard time defending their statements, but a hard time being liked, a hard time being taken seriously, and sometimes also a hard time being considered as part of the conversation… even the church. It’s really funny, how people would want to get rid of the fundamentalists by throwing them out… this act would kind of ring a bell… this act would be reacting against something by doing things in a very similar fashion to that which you are reacting against, not true?

It was this website (yougoingtohell) which again got me thinking about this. The easy thing would be to throw these kind of people out of the church. The easy thing would be to tell the Muslims in the middle-East that George Bush is a fundamentalist, and therefore not a Christain. The reality is that if ever I get to a Muslim community where the kids were killed in the war, I’ll have to say: “I’m sorry for what other Christians have done”. In Heart of Christianity Marcus Borg (one of the people fundamentalists would like to see in hell) say that at the heart of faith you’ll find “God, Bible and Jesus”. And at the heart of fundamentalist faith you find basically the same things, although interpreted differently.

Now this is the difficult part. Your fundamentalist neighbour who might considered you non-Christian because of whichever reason (and trust me, many of them have a loooong list of reasons they could possibly use), is a Christian. You cannot rid yourself of John 17, and maybe we should stop throwing John 17 at the fundamentalists (although it would be nice if they read it) and start living John 17. Yes, I know it’s difficult, and many times when we try we are thrown out, but I think you catch my drift.