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On escaping fundamentalism

| Monday, April 27, 2015

Growing up in a conservative Protestant farm town, you learn from an early age that there is Right and there is Wrong. You sit in church unflinchingly, defend your faith unshakably, love God unwaveringly and hate sin unapologetically. You are convinced of your devotion and love others who are as well. You do not question. You are going to Heaven. And so you are Right.

But there are those who are Wrong. Now, they are not Wrong because they steal or cheat or swear. (After all, everyone is a sinner!) Those are mere slip-ups, barely registering on the Sin Scale™, really. (This must be the case if even the Right struggle with such mishaps!) To lie is not Wrong; it is human.

No, the Wrong are the divorcees. The partiers. Those who teach evolution in schools or choose to lead godless homosexual lifestyles. The Muslims. The Lutherans. The Anglicans. The Atheists. The Wrong are the heavy hitters on the Sin Scale™, the men and women who have allowed Satan to infiltrate their lives so entirely so as to make them (shockingly) (threateningly) disagree with your worldview. And though you may mask it with simpering kindness and feigned concern, you hate them. And so they are Wrong.

Yet even after growing up inundated by such views, doubt inevitably creeps in. “Wait,” you begin. “How exactly are we choosing which sins are worse than others, again? Doesn’t God want us to love everyone? Who’s to say — ”

But then mortifying, gut-wrenching guilt razes you. What is happening?! You are doubting, thinking like someone who is Wrong! “Stop it,” you tell yourself. “Lord, forgive me!” you pray. And you retreat back into your prideful self-righteousness, your hesitations smothered.

But your inner well of faith you have been filling for years with holiness and Right and steadfast certainty has now begun to leak: slowly, at first, but one day, you wake up and realize there’s no water left. You are tired of clinging to a divinely ordained supremacy over those who think differently. You are tired of believing that even though God “loves everyone,” he loves only a fraction of them enough to actually save them. And you are tired of trampling on others’ beliefs in order to convince yourself of your own. Right becomes right and Wrong becomes wrong.

Of course, at this point, friends and soccer moms and your chill, jeans-clad pastor (Right comes in many shapes and sizes) will begin doing everything in their power to shame you back into submission. They will shake their heads sadly. They will label you as Lost. They will tell you they will pray for you. They will seem so kind and genuine and concerned and sure, that it is impossible not to wonder, sometimes, if they have indeed been Right all along.

It is then you discover that fundamentalism is like chronic asthma, never quite going away, always lying in wait for just the right moment to attack and suffocate. Because even though you do not (cannot) (will not) believe religion based on damnation and disgust is what God had in mind, there remains a fear instilled long ago that since you do not agree with a certain interpretation of a certain Biblical passage or hate people that sin in certain ways, you have strayed from the Truth. You worry you have become the butt of some supernatural joke, the kind of wicked person your Sunday school teacher helped you learn to loathe when you were 8.

You worry you are Wrong.

And herein lies the chilling reality of contemporary fundamentalism: You are doomed from the moment you step inside. You believe for so long that the Bible-thumping IV jammed into your arm is nourishing you that when you finally have the courage to take it out and live a life of compassion, you are left afraid you are dying.

But you see, making the decision to remove the IV does not mean you have been cut off; it means you have been set free. You can step out of the hospital and into the sun. And there, basking in the light, are the multitudes living for Jesus without operating under the assumption that it is in their holy job descriptions to hate Muslims or argue that evolution is a conspiracy. You help each other grow in faith. You seek to be like Christ in love, not judgment. And you finally recognize that those who will try to convince you most vehemently that you are Wrong might be doing so out of fear that they have failed to do the same.

Congratulations, friend. You’re free. And I, for one, am glad you’re here.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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