“Levin tried to drink a little coffee, and put a piece of roll into his mouth, but his mouth could do nothing with it. He took the piece out of his mouth, put on his overcoat and went out to walk about again.”
― Leo Tolstoy,
I have been listening to an audio recording of a classic work, Anna Karenina, and have been particularly drawn in by the character of Levin. As quoted above, he is a tense, stumbling and doubtful soul who has given himself over to simplicity and an existence held to his own values. The brilliance of this character is that while all of the characters surrounding him have mastered there outward life at the expense of their inward life, Levin has mastered his inward life at the expense of his outward life. He consistently second guesses himself, and speak in absolutes during conversation, but he is the one character in the entire novel who is truly authentic. Sometime those who seem the most afflicted in our midst are the most truthful, while the rest of us who give ourselves over to cultural mastery have inadvertently forgotten the last time we were honest with one another.
In our culture today, much like the Russian culture Tolstoy was attempting to critique in his novel, we face a similar dilemma in the area of faith and society. Sometimes we must create and construct an idea for a better way forward. I, of course, believe that the best way forward is the way of Jesus. I make no apologies for this, as I see his life demonstrating truths which can be applied and tested for their validity and in the end, are found true. The new atheists, however annoying and ignorant of theology, have done all people of faith a service is this one area: exposing what we are not. Sometimes one has to examine what he is not in order to finally see what is. The rest of this post will follow this line of reasoning in the area of fundamentalism.
Fundamentalism, which I define as the negation of all peoples for the glory of a god made in our own image, is a ghetto or insulated community which – in an attempt to be different from the world – ends up becoming the very world it despises, which is hypocrisy.
Fundy-land denies the great commission, falls into the trap of consumerism and creates poor art. Let me begin with the first: An insulated community will never enter into the risk of mixing with the “darkness” in order to bring about lightness. I understand that the world is given over to appetites of a corrupt nature, but perhaps there is some goodness left in those system that we are meant to bring out? We are salt and light, after all, and salt is meant to bring forth the taste of a dish, and likewise we as Christians are meant to bring forth the taste of true life. Our war is not with flesh and blood and the more we continue to think of life as an us-verses-them matrix, we will only bring forth the results of a us-verses-them universe brings forth: violence, retribution and misunderstanding.
I believe we are to be an us-with-them matrix designed to love those who don’t want it, and bring into the fold those who are searching.
Friends to all, and enemies to none.
Standing up for truth but walking in the way, which brings us to the life.
The second point I make is that the trap of consumerism was set and fundamentalism cannot help itself but to run right in its way. Because of the insulated nature of this kind of movement or ideology, fundy-land can only reject everything that neither looks or talks just like it. All books, music, and art become coopted to be form in the likeness and image of a set of values that intentionally mimic the “world” in order to counter its claims with the claims of the “truth.” Unfortunately, this continues to graze on the surface of what it means to actually engage with culture by only falling into mimicry. At the very least, fundy-land could create a product that is leagues better than that of their enemy-consumers, but they can’t so they settle to enjoy things, not because they are good, but because they agree with the message.
Lastly, fundy-land creates poor art. Because they need to combat the “enemies” message is at the forefront, and the mimic-machine is in full swing, the art it produces is sub-par the honest expressions of art in the outside world, simply for this one fact: it is not authentic. Authenticity is only possible if the truth of the individual is united in a way of life. Blessed are we in the way of Jesus, for we have the truth united in the way, and only then do we perceive the life! Otherwise, when you strip the way from the truth, you have propaganda or as Eugene Peterson calls it, the anti-christ.
We think we live in the existential ghetto of propositions, ideology and reason; we are actually in narrative country. Seeing life as a war of truths may lead one to be consumed with his own reasons, but never to understand or seek the reasons of his fellow neighbor. We are called to love our neighbors, and how else can this be done but by first listening?
In conclusion, how much of us survive a traumatic fall out? Fundamentalism is always the fruit of trauma. It is reactionary, and whenever we have an experience, whether an individual or a nation, a piece of us is left behind in the rubble. Don’t be a percentage of your former self. Grow, expand, hope-again and live!