THE BLOG

Fundamentalists Gripe Me

10/18/2012 11:04 am ET | Updated Dec 18, 2012
  • Steve McSwain Speaker, Author, Counselor to Congregations, Ambassador to the Council on the Parliament for the World's Religions, and Spiritual Teacher

I think the thing I find most troubling about fundamentalism, whether in politics or in religion, is the war fundamentalists declare and then wage on almost anyone whose opinion or understanding of truth is different from theirs.

In its more extreme forms, fundamentalists take up swords and AK-47s and seek to maim or kill their perceived enemies. Frankly, I'm a little at a loss for how to deal with such people. In some instances, I'm not sure it's even possible. Of course, conversations and negotiations are my preferred methods for resolving disputes. But this crowd seldom seems too interested in talk when they're ticked off. And some of them have been ticked for a long time. So there's hardly a day that goes by but what I'm reminded of how much our military and law enforcement means to the safety of our country.

It's the more moderate or controlled forms of fundamentalism I deal with on an almost daily basis. These fundamentalists limit their attacks to pen, picket lines and pronouncements. They write and/or say nasty, hateful things to you and about you. Just yesterday, for example, one such person, angry about something I had written, wrote to tell me, "I'm praying for you," which I've learned really means, "May God grant you the wisdom to know how right I am and how wrong you are ... before it's eternally too late and you're damned to burn in the flames of hell, hallelujah!" They label you, write you off, block you on Facebook, ignore or otherwise hold you at arm's length.

Now that I am free of the fundamentalist way of thinking, speaking and behaving, and often in the name of God and with her presumed blessing, I think the thing I find most troubling now about myself is the tendency I feel to believe I have arrived at a superior place of knowledge or understanding. If fundamentalists are wrong in labeling me, which of course they are, then I am wrong to look down on them which of course I struggle to not do. When I hear from them or am around them, I can easily act like some sophomore in high school who looks askance at the incoming freshman class.

In a New Testament letter to the Corinthians, Saint Paul said (with just a little of my own paraphrase):

Even if I hold a Ph.D. in Quantum Physics, know Hebrew, Greek, Japanese and dozen other languages but have not love, I'm just another noisy voice in a busy airport terminal.

If I know, not just the Christian religion, but Buddhism, Islam and a dozen others as well, but have not love, I'm just another well-informed and open-minded religious person.

If I know theology and scrupulously maintain a more pure orthodoxy -- if I am more correct than John Calvin or more courageous than Martin Luther, but have not love, I'm just another narrow-minded Christian person.

And even if I could outdo Warren Buffett and Bill Gates and give it all away, but have not love, I'm just another generous, but bankrupt fool.

Even now, with all my advanced understanding, I see so very little and I know 'litt-ler' still. I'm hardly as wise as I think. One day, however, I'll know. One day, however, we'll all know.

Meanwhile...

What matters in this world -- I mean, what really matters -- is faith, hope and love. But nothing matters more than LOVE" (adapted from 1 Corinthians 13).

This is the secret to happiness. It is the only way to peace among religions of the world. Even peace among people within the same religion.