My difference with David, I think, is that I still believe; and I refuse to believe in something that has been disproven, however socially useful or salutary or admirable its social or personal effects may be. Fundamentalism, in this sense, is not a rigorous theology. It is rigid resistance to a rigorous theology. It’s a form of denial and despair. It is rigorous only within a theological structure that does not account for the growth and expansion of human knowledge. It is therefore, to my mind, an expression of a lack of faith rather than an excess of it. And the use of fundamentalism by those who do not even believe in it – for whatever purposes, good, bad or indifferent – is the real blasphemy.
Last evening my wife and I went to see Of Gods and Men, the remarkable film that tells the true story of eight Trappist monks who decide to stay in their monastery in an Algerian village in the Atlas Mountains even though they are likely to be killed–and are killed–by Islamist guerrillas. Certainly the monks work hard and pray regularly. They also read the Koran, provide their Muslim neighbors with medical care, and participate in the life of the larger community. In turn, the villagers, devout Muslims that they are, consider the monks as holy sustainers of their world–as one woman says, the “branch” on which “we birds” sit.
Historically, communities have dealt with religious differences much more the way the monks and the villagers do than in the manner of the guerrillas. The latter are the theological rigorists who come and go, depending on social, political, and economic circumstances. No doubt, they will always be with us. But it is not their rigid theologies that have sustained religious traditions throughout the ages. That has had much more to do with, yes, the love and service that, underneath the doctrinal particulars that may or may not be superficial, they all do tend to preach.