Opinion Spiritual Prescriptions

Fundamentalism is Fear

Written by Durrell Watkins
[Christian] Fundamentalism grew in opposition to the discoveries of the 19th and 20th centuries.  As new information changed how we understood ourselves and our world, some people of faith became anxious. They thought they knew everything of value and could look up the answer to any question in their sacred texts; but evolution, depth psychology, changing economies, and new social theories shook their world like a shockwave.

These discoveries came after other discoveries had already left the faithful a little wobbly. The discovery that ours is a heliocentric rather than geocentric universe was devastating enough, and the discovery of the egg cell pretty much ended any reasonable debate about virginal conceptions; and the world going to war in 1914 and again in 1939 with atomic power being unleashed in war in the summer of 1945 made everything seem utterly uncertain, fragile, uncontrollable.

As the myth of predictability and control was shattered, fundamentalism struck back by saying that not only is Christianity the only “true” faith, but one must accept certain fundamentals in order to be a true Christian.  It was a desperate attempt to freeze time and to feel secure in a world of constant change.

Of course, the only constant in the universe is change, so to refuse to accept or even acknowledge change can’t be a healthy choice. But fundamentalism isn’t about health; it’s about feeling secure and right. Saving others from afterlife perdition not only is part of the fundamentalists’ own “fire insurance” plan, it is also part of making them feel at least a little safer in this ever changing, unpredictable world. They need others to agree that they have all the answers so that they can continue to pretend to believe that they have all the answers.

Fundamentalists then were those who insisted that there were fundamentals necessary to embrace in order to be a true Christian—aka, to be “saved” [to feel eternally safe, secure]. There were only five fundamentals, the first being the inerrancy of “their” scriptures (which robs scripture of the beauty and abstract power of its many myths, allegories, and idioms while ignoring its scientific inaccuracies, internal contradictions, and moral indiscretions). The other four fundamentals were opinions that they insisted be held about Jesus – his virgin conception, his divinely ordained execution, his physical resurrection and literal return in the future. You will notice, however, that critical thinking, new discoveries, understanding religious stories as allegories rather than literal facts, or even love itself are all glaringly absent from the list of fundamentals, which I, for one, find problematic.

Fundamentalism in any religion is about fear; and obsessive fear leads to intolerance, hatred, and the need to control. Fundamentalism is never healthy, never life-giving, never joyful, never harmonizing, and never empowering for anyone beyond its own cultic system.

Let me hasten to add that I am a religion guy. I am religious to my core. My world view is spiritual. My self-understanding is rooted in liberal faith. I have spent my life using religion to encourage people, to share hope, to cultivate peace, and to build loving, generous communities of faith. My critique of fundamentalism is not a rejection of faith, or spirituality, or even religion; it is, however, a rejection of the fear-mongering, the meanness, and the psycho-spiritual abuse to which fundamentalism’s misuse of religion inevitably leads.

Fundamentalism is just a system of fear, and the cure for fear is love. Luckily, love is something LGBT people have in abundance.

Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins is the senior minister of Sunshine Cathedral in Fort Lauderdale. Sunshine Cathedral’s website is www.sunshinecathedral.org