A sickness called fundamentalism
Everything healthy may become ill. Religion, contrary to what critics such as Freud, Marx, Dawkins and others contend, is part of a healthy reality: the search by the human being for the Ultimate Reality, that gives final meaning to history and the universe. That search is legitimate and is found in the oldest expressions of the homo sapiens/demens, but it also has unhealthy expressions. One of them, the most frequent now, is religious fundamentalism, that is also found where a unique form of thinking reigns in politics.
Fundamentalism is not a doctrine in itself, but an attitude and a form of living a doctrine. The fundamentalist attitude appears when the truths of its church or its group are understood as the only legitimate ones, to the exclusion of all others, which are deemed erroneous and therefore to have no right to exist. Those who imagine that their point of view is the only valid one are condemned to be intolerant. This closed attitude leads to contempt, discrimination, and to religious or political violence.
The niche of fundamentalism is historically found in the Northamerican Protestantism of the late XIX century, when modernity emerged not only in technology, but also in democratic forms of political coexistence and the liberalization of customs. In this context a strong reaction arose within the Protestant tradition, loyal to the ideals of the «founding fathers», all derived from the rigors of the Protestant ethic. The term fundamentalism is linked to a collection of books published by Princeton University for Presbyterians under the title, Fundamentals: A Testimony of Truth, 1909-1915.
This collection proposes an antidote to modernization: a rigorous, dogmatic Christianity founded on a literal reading of the Bible, considered infallible and unequivocal in each and every word, because it was considered to be the Word of God. They opposed all exegetic-critical interpretation of the Bible and the application of its message to the present context.
Since then, this fundamentalist tendency has been present in Northamerican society and politics. It gained religious expression in the so-called «electronic Churches», that use modern means of tele-communication, covering the country from coast to coast, and that have similar churches in Brazil and elsewhere in Latin-America. They combat liberal Christians, those who practice a scientific interpretation of the Bible, accept the contemporary feminist and gay movements, and defend the decriminalization of abortion. All that is interpreted by fundamentalists as the work of Satan.
The political side assimilated the religious, marrying it to the political ideology of «manifest destiny», created after the United States confiscated territory from Mexico. According to that ideology, it is the divine destiny of Northamericans to bring to all peoples, clarity, the values of private property, the free market, democracy and rights, as John Adams, the second President of the United States, asserted. According to the popular and political version, Northamericans are «the new chosen people» that will bring everyone to the «Land of Emmanuel, seat of that new and singular Kingdom that will be given to the Saints of the Highest». K. Amstrong, In the Name of God, (En nombre de Dios, Companhia das Letras, São Paulo 2001).
That political-religious amalgam has led to the arrogance and one sided vision of international relations found in Northamerican foreign policy, that is still prevalent under Barack Obama.
We find a similar type of fundamentalism in extremely conservative Catholic groups, that still claim that «there is no salvation outside of the Church». They are eager to convert the greatest number of people possible, to save them from hell. Some evangelical groups, especially in sectors of the charismatic churches with their TV programs, engage in fundamentalist disparagement, particularly with regard to the Afro-Brazilian religions, because they consider their celebrations to be the work of Satan. This results in frequent exorcisms and even invasions of terreiros to «purify them» from the Exu.
Fundamentalism in both Catholic and some evangelical groups is most visible in the moral questions: they are inflexible on the issues of abortion, same sex unions, and women’s struggles for freedom in decision making. They foster true ideological wars in the social networks and the means of mass communication against all who discuss such questions, even though they are part of the agenda of all open societies.
Sadly, we have a candidate to the presidency of Brazil, Marina Silva, who adheres to a type of fundamentalism, namely, Biblicism. She maintains a literal reading of the Bible, as if the solution to all problems could be found there. As Pope Francis put it so well, rather than a warehouse of truths, the Bible is an inspiring source for beneficial human initiatives. The Bible must be held in our brains to illuminate reality, not in front of the eyes, to obscure it.
The Brazilian State is lay and pluralist. It welcomes all religions without adhering to any. According to the Brazilian Constitution, no given religion may impose its points of view on the whole nation. An authority can have religious convictions, but must govern through the laws, not through these convictions. There are four Gospels, not just one. They coexist through the diversity of interpretations they give to the message of Jesus of Nazareth. It is an example of the richness of diversity. God is the eternal coexistence of Three Divine Beings, that through love form one single God. Diversity is fecund.
Free translation from the Spanish by
Servicios Koinonia, http://www.servicioskoinonia.org.
Done at REFUGIO DEL RIO GRANDE, Texas, EE.UU.