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Are We All Fundamentalists?

Steroid users should never be elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Yes, I realize my position has its problems. What qualifies someone as a steroid user? Is one use, even for medical reasons, enough to disqualify the player? How about three years of use in a 20-year career? Should we only keep confirmed users out of the Hall? Strongly suspected users? And how strongly is strongly? Suspected by whom?

Legitimate questions all. Ultimately, however, they won’t change my basic conviction. Sure, we can talk about those borderline cases, like Alex Rodriguez. But in general, keep them out.

This stance may qualify me as a baseball fundamentalist.

Fundamentalists of all types, but particularly religious fundamentalists, take a lot of flak for the perceived rigidity of their beliefs. Many people—some based on first-hand experience, others on hearsay or stereotype—think of fundamentalists as overbearing, self-righteous, unwilling to listen or consider other opinions. True, when fundamentalists act in this way, they erect barriers between themselves and others. But the stereotypes of fundamentalists can erect those same barriers.

Maybe we could start removing the barriers if we realized that most of us—maybe all of us—are fundamentalists in one way or another.

Think about it. Do you hold any belief about which you are unwilling to hear other opinions, let alone compromise? Are there values or viewpoints where you simply will give no quarter? I didn’t think I had an inner fundamentalist—until I started thinking about Barry Bonds. Surprise, surprise.

So if I have an inner fundamentalist, I suddenly share some common ground with those other fundamentalists. I can get a glimpse into the mindsets and emotions that go into holding a belief or value or interest tightly with both hands. If I can stay mindful of that insight, perhaps I see fundamentalists in a different light—with a bit more empathy—when I next run into them. Maybe that opens the door a crack to hearing them out.

This is not about rushing to agreement with fundamentalists, or with anyone who disagrees with us. It is simply about finding a way into dialogue with a group of people who, in the minds of many, are impossible to engage in dialogue. To the extent that any given fundamentalist (or, again, any other person) refuses attempts to reach across divides, dialogue will not occur. But by considering our common ground, we can at least remove the barriers from our side.

So…in what areas are you a fundamentalist? How do you feel when these areas appear to be under attack? Can you imagine how others might feel the same about their fundamentalist areas? Feel free to share your thoughts here.

5 Responses to “Are We All Fundamentalists?”

  • Debbi Regimbald says:

    I have found that “judgmental mind” is far more pervasive and pernicious than one might think. We see and want to protect ourselves from “judgmental mind” as it reaches the most advanced stage of disease, fundamentalism, but the disease begins way before that.

    Buddhism figured this out a long time ago and through its practice of mindfulness, one gets to see the rising of “judgmental mind” at the moment of its inception. Trying to stay in the present moment, moving from thinking to being, one gets to see so clearly the constant background chatter of the mind which inevitably tries to label every experience as “good” or “bad”. Once the labeling starts, the experiencing is gone and the thinking takes over.

    Our thinking mind is incapable of comprehending the timeless nature of reality. The mind thinks in concepts, imagining everything to be outside of itself and judging it. That is the root of our judgmental attitude toward life. The present is the domain of our being, not of our mind. Through being present and actualizing the principle of “no judgment”, an atmosphere of acceptance is created.

    I think it is very interesting that the “original sin” was the taking of fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The Greek word hamartia (ἁμαρτία) is usually translated as sin in the New Testament. In Classical Greek, it means “to miss the mark” or “to miss the target” which was also used in Old English archery. By eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, we humans have missed the mark? We have missed the point of life itself? The point is not to judge or label things and experiences as being good or bad, but to live and experience being alive. Offer no resistance to experience by judging it and just accept life on life’s terms.

    Judgment is a mechanism of the mind. Although people often assume that there is no human life without the busy activity of the mind, this is simply not true. No-mind, as the Buddhist refer to it, does not mean no cognition- the brain is still active and engaged. Yet, it is active in receiving life rather than active in producing thoughts.

    Is this the narrow gate that Jesus talked about? Experiencing and appreciating the miracle of life without reservation, like young children do all the time? If we understand that most of this chatter, if not all of it, is from society, as they gave us our words, our fears, our values, and our expectations. So, in judgment we are allowing society to dominate us. The path to returning to our true selves, to finding that narrow gate, is to come back to the present through becoming aware of what is real.

    In short, to answer your question, I would say we are all POTENTIAL fundamentalists. But fundamentalism, fundamentalist thought, is the antithesis of what we as Christians should be involved in. We will never find the narrow gate on the fundamentalist path. Jesus is the Way but Buddhism and its practice of mindfulness can help us find the Way. Fundamentalism surely won’t.

  • admin says:

    Hi, Debbi,

    I love the notion that we are all POTENTIAL fundamentalists. Yes, that sounds right. And I so appreciate the Buddhist approach to this. For one thing (not that this is really a gauge of truth), approaching life without the judgmental mind takes the pressure off. What pressure? Maybe the pressure to assume a role reserved for God: judgment. When we lay aside judgment, perhaps, we get to be who we were created to be. (I’m thinking out loud here, so if you think I’m all wet, please say so.)

    I’m a bit more ambivalent about your points on fundamentalism–simply because I know people whose beliefs fit the fundamentalist label but who live lives of extraordinary love, caring, and peace. I do see all kinds of problems in fundamentalism as a system of thought, but I don’t know whether I’d go so far as to say that fundamentalism will never get anyone to the narrow gate. Again, thinking out loud.

  • Jan Verbanck says:

    Empathy seems vital for any genuine dialogue. Fundamentalism – possibly even potential fundamentalism – might be an insurmountable obstacle. We plead guilty, Your Honor. Alexander Pope, in his “Essay on Criticism”, said: “To err is human; to forgive, divine.” Maybe we should introduce the notion of compassion into the argument – which also fits nicely with the Buddhist approach that I highly appreciate. (jhv)

    • admin says:

      Agreed, Jan. For me, the larger point is whether we can empathize with others AND hold uncompromising beliefs at the same time. I’ve run across people who think they can–and others who think it’s impossible. For a good example, look at the tension between conservative Christians and LGBTQ people. The former would say they “hate the sin, love the sinner” and therefore meet the “empathic yet uncompromising” test; the latter (many of them, anyway) would call that nonsense. My gut instinct is to call it nonsense as well, but then how many of us have family members whom we will love to our dying day even though they live in a way that drives us nuts? Maybe it’s not all that cut and dried.

  • Jan Verbanck says:

    Especially your final quote – “Maybe it’s not all that cut and dried” – appeals to me, John. I’m inclined to think that it indeed isn’t. Maybe our minds just aren’t clever enough to grasp all the paradoxes that surround us, and – above all – to reside in them. Besides, would such a humility not contribute to the intended empathy and compassion? (jhv)

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