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Friday, March 8, 2013

What do I think? Let me check a book.

     Isn't that what fundamentalism is all about? In fact, there's no need to talk to a fundamentalist because if you want to know what they think, all you have to do is read whatever book it is they adhere to. The question is: is that anyway to live?   
     I don't blame anyone for being a fundamentalist. They're scared. And life is scary so it makes sense to be scared. But oh, the cost in what they pay in terms of their freedom. Cat Stevens wrote a song called "Ruins" where he talked about "freedom at what cost." That's the thing, fundamentalists are so afraid, they surrender their freedom. And ironically, especially considering the lyrics of the song, that's exactly what Cat Stevens did. He panicked and embraced fundamentalism. And what a loss that was to all of us. Cat Stevens in a sense is gone to all of us. Replaced by a book.

     This from The Courage to Be by Paul Tillich:

So he (man) tries to break out of this situation, to identify himself with something transindividual, to surrender his separation and self-relatedness. He flees from his freedom of asking and answering questions for himself to a situation in which no further questions can be asked and the answers to previous questions are imposed on him authoritatively. In order to avoid the risk of asking and doubting he surrenders the right to ask and doubt. He surrenders himself in order to save his spiritual life. He "escapes from his freedom" (Fromm) in order to escape the anxiety of meaninglessness  Now he is no longer lonely, not in existential doubt, not in despair. He "participates" and affirms by participation the contents of his spiritual life. Meaning is saved, but the self is sacrificed. And since the conquest of doubt was a matter of sacrifice, the sacrifice of the freedom of the self, it leaves a mark on the regained certitude: a fanatical self-assertiveness. Fanaticism is the correlate to spiritual self-surrender: it shows the anxiety which it was supposed to conquer, by attacking with disproportionate violence those who disagree and who demonstrate by their disagreement elements in the spiritual life of the fanatic which he must suppress in himself. Because he must suppress them in himself he must suppress them in others. His anxiety forces him to persecute dissenters. The weakness of the fanatic is that those whom he fights have a secret hold on him...

     Isn't it the truth? I've experienced it firsthand. I was in a fundamentalist church and whenever I would express a doubt about something in the Bible it seemed just about the whole church would rise up to silence me. They just couldn't handle the idea of someone questioning the truth of their doctrine, because if the doubt was legitimate (and their doctrine shown to be false) it meant they were wrong about what they were believing and accordingly wrong about how they were living their lives. So instead, they label the doubter as wrong, confused, deceived or even demonic.
      The pastor at that church often preached about the need for the congregation to "die to self." It was like Tillich said "meaning is saved (in fundamentalism) but the self is sacrificed." And I knew that "die to self" stuff was all wrong. (It worked. As far as I could tell the pastor had no "self." Talking to him was like reading the Bible. 'Pastor, what do you thing about this?' 'Well, the Bible says in the gospel of John...') No, I wanted to live to self. To know who I was. To grow as a person. To have the courage to endure the burden of doubting but also to experience the exhilarating freedom of thinking for myself.
     I wish fundamentalists well. I truly do. They are simply very scared human beings. But I am not letting them stop me from pursuing the most fulfilling life for myself that I possibly can.
     I am more than any book.

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