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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,

7 Comentários leave one →
  1. 13/10/2014 4:45

    well, fundamentalist are all of us that don’t accept the other. It didn’t start back in the XIX, its far back. And its not in the Islamic world, its also in the Christian, Judaism and all other religions. Its not an religious issue its a human problem. The bag is called “eliminationism” that grows in the revenge. Whenever you are intolerant the victim will gather it in his emotional memory. One day, someone siking for power will put this revenge on the track under one religious flag. Most of us need order in their lives and need to feel usefull: this groups do it very well for a long time. Off they go. Its not this simple. But, from what I read its the way I explain it.


  2. João Carlos Lima permalink
    13/10/2014 22:50

    Há em vária passagens Bíblica que trata do assunto da discriminação mas, parece que as pessoas não querem ver. Tg. 2:9 Mas se fazeis acepção de pessoas, cometeis pecado, sendo por isso condenados pela lei como transgressores.
    II Cr. 19:7 Agora, pois, seja o temor do Senhor convosco; tomai cuidado no que fazeis; porque não há no Senhor nosso Deus iniqüidade, nem acepção de pessoas, nem aceitação de presentes. Dt. 16:19 Não torcerás o juízo; não farás acepção de pessoas, nem receberás peitas; porque a peita cega os olhos dos sábios, e perverte a causa dos justos.


  3. Tatiana Eames permalink
    14/10/2014 11:03

    Interesting point Mr.Boff, however I must ask why picking on Catholicism as an example of fundamentalism. Personally I find that in North America, Catholics are the least of fundamentalists when it comes to religion. One will never see a catholic knocking at your door inviting you to get to know their religion. Contrary to that, Baptists and Mormons have this “ritual “as a part of their journey in life. Their job is to travel the world as missionaries to spread the gospel of their faith.
    Another point that makes me feel “unquiet” is that by contesting or questioning the right to act on religious fundamentalism I am actively doing the same mirrored act. The act of criticizing people’s faith, political views or even sport’s team is an act of fundamentalism itself.
    I have seen a lot of atheists, who feverously argues against the existence of God; cite names like Richard Dawkins and other scientists/ writers/ philosophers to make his/her point and by doing it so this element is creating its own specie of fundamentalism. Soon enough, Dawkins will become their “God, Mentor and Prophet”- the one who opened their minds to the light.
    The candidate to presidency Marina does have religious beliefs, all of which I don’t share, however, it would be un-human to expect her to separate her faith from her job as a politician. Despite the Brazilian constitution state that “no given religion may impose its points of view on the whole nation”, I must say that in thruthfullness that is an utopical idea.
    Back in the day in North America, british settlers arrived trying to get away from religious persecution in England. As you know they want to live free of religion, or at least, with freedom to express their own believes without fear. Tocqueville had to come to America and see that with his own eyes, because he thought that there couldn’t be any order without religion. Now I must ask… does the United States continues or have ever been a land free of religion? I don’t think so.
    How many times does one has heard the president of the United States say “God bless America” at the end of his speaches? Why does the dollar bill says “in God we trust”? How about the common life… what is the reaction of most people if one were to turn to them ( specially in the south) and say that they are atheists?
    Marina Silva acted as any human and I woun’t label that as a “sad thing”. I see that above the mask of a politician there was a human who neeeded to express her own desires, her own faith. Some may see this as a dangerous threat. Some don’t. Personally I would like to think that religion and politics would never get mixed in the same pot, but I alwa


  4. Mª Carmen Rodriguez Ortiz permalink
    14/10/2014 14:12

    ¡Hola Leonardo! ¡Que alegría encontrarte en estos medios, aquí todos nos encontramos!.
    Hay una canción que dice; ¡o mundo da muchas vueltas, la gente se va a encontrar, en cada vuelta de la vida, su mano encontrar…
    Se que será muy difícil recordarme aunque yo me acuerdo de ti de una forma singular y dolorosa.
    ….Te daré alguna pista: Aquel día nos encontrábamos en un encuentro con la Pastoral de la mujer en una Isla. Eramos muchos y nos precedían algunas mujeres de Juazeiro.
    En un momento te llamaron de Roma, ¡todo se vino a bajo! Al verte muy abatido me acerque a ti y te pregunté ¿Que te pasa? y muy discretamente me dijiste; me llaman de Roma. Pues bien; todo se termino, continuamos con un nudo en la garganta no sabíamos como podía ser una cosa de estas,
    Pues bien yo soy Irma Mª Carmen, Religiosa de las Ir. Oblatas do Smº. Redentor.
    Me encuentro actualmente en España después de muchas andadas por África, Portugal y ya algo cansada me tienes en España; concreta mete Segovia.

    …¡Grande amigo! siento muchas saudades también del P. Ivo, frances.y de tanta gente que todavía siguen.

    Estimado amigo, termino con un sudoso abrazo y si ve esta carta espero sus noticias.

    Ir. Mª Carmen Rodriguez Ortiz


    • 18/10/2014 22:49

      Maria Carmen, que alegria encontrarte aqui en este espacio. Yo sigo como un teologoc peregrino, dando cursos y charlas por todas las partes, includo a obispos. Que Dios nos bendiga y que sigas en el caminho de Jesús.Bendiciiones.



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