Posted on: Friday 10 September 2021
Posted in: Anglican Faith Connections
Once Jesus told a parable about two men who went up to the Temple to pray. One stood and prayed, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax-collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.” (Luke 18:11-12) But the other man acted in a totally different manner: “But the tax-collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” (Luke 18:13).
Jesus told this parable to illustrate the attitude that some Pharisees had; an attitude that verged on a fundamentalist approach to religion. It is this attitude that Jesus spoke against again and again in the gospels. He would certainly have agreed with the American author Ursula K. Le Guin who wrote “By such literalism, fundamentalism, religions betray the best intentions of their founders. Reducing thought to formula, replacing choice by obedience, these preachers turned the living word into a dead law.” But if this is the effect of fundamentalism, what is it?
Fundamentalism can be understood as a religious, a political or a social movement – even simply a point of view – which is characterised by a return to the fundamental principles of that movement but also by a very strict adherence to those principles and often accompanied by intolerance to any other views. It is the product of a closed mind.
The Pharisees, for example, had kept Judaism alive during the Babylonian exile and the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem by their strict observance of the Torah. Their very name in Hebrew refers to division or separateness. A division between those who knew they were right regardless of what others thought. Given this attitude, it is not surprising that by the time of Jesus they had made the observance of the Torah (the Law), which was the Jewish way to God, an end in itself. Strict of observance of the Law was a condition of being righteous, nothing else would do.
But Jesus rejected this fundamentalist view. For example, when he was accused of breaking the commandment about working on the sabbath, Jesus said “The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath.” (Mark 2:27) Jesus looked to the spirit of the Law rather than just the letter of the Law. Thus, Christians are called to have an open mind but not an empty one. As the Twentieth Century writer G. K. Chesterton commented: “Merely having an open mind is nothing. The object of opening the mind, as of opening the mouth, is to shut it again on something solid.” What more solid spiritual food could there be than the words and work of Jesus himself?
Fr Patrick Duckworth