Sunday, April 19, 2009

"Revulsion toward fundamentalism"

A correspondent writes:
Fascinating in so many ways is all I can say about a book I am just finishing, The Lion & The Lamb: Evangelicals and Catholics in America, by William M. Shea....

You hear someone say it's hard to believe a child came from a certain set of parents. Sort of like that, it is astounding that a book with so much accurate and fair description of conservative Christians comes from the pen of a liberal, laicized Catholic priest. In fact, when he finally manages to spill some info about his own ideas and upbringing, I asked myself, "How could he not get it [the sin/salvation crux] when he seems to 'get' about everything else?" Here again I stumble over the ongoing riddle of how Catholics who began as biblically entranced excavationists veered away from the more orthodox pylons of old school Protestantism and into the wrong-headed platitudinarianism of Vatican II [Hans Kung as a posterboy for evangelical Catholicism? Not these days, Dr. Shea.].

But you won't find anything quite so trenchant in an assessment of current ecclesiastical reality as Shea here:
...Paragraphs on fundamentalism in a statement of the PBC on biblical interpretation repeated most of the charges made against fundamentalism by theologians... The final paragraph was particularly unfortunate: it stated or suggested that fundamentalism is "dangerous," "deceptive," illusory," an invitation to "intellectual suicide," and "injects into life a false certitude." The document displays a measured and balanced response to other "methods," including liberation theology and feminism, but explodes with revulsion toward fundamentalism.
Revulsion. Hits the nail on the head with a thwack. And continued...
There is a sobering irony to the bishops' warning Catholics about biblical Christianity. The leaders of that Western religious community which most vociferously and dogmatically opposed the Enlightenment, and who created a vast counterculture in opposition to it, and which was opposed bitterly by it, must now warn their flock about simplistic and dogmatic Christian answers to the complex problems and stresses of the modern world! There is a further irony in the leaders of a church that, for most of a century, asserted without fear of contradiction both doctrines and theological opinions that their successors now with furrowed brow denounce in fundamentalists. What is absent from episcopal and Vatican letters is even a rudimentary interest in fundamentalism itself, no fellow-feeling for it, and no grasp of the possibility that it represents a serious alternative understanding of Christianity. The bishops and the Vatican are defending souls and tribal turf. They are capable of dealing reasonably with the possibility of nuclear war and with a systematically unjust economy, and of bringing spiritual and intellectual light to those topics, but they can only deal with a competitor Christianity as a threat.
Shea plows through the whole history of fundamentalism, and also pre-conciliar apologetics and today's Karl Keating, for whom he has fair (if also distant and skeptical) words.

Something really different from everything else out there. Sort of a liberal rejoinder to ECT. The interesting thing is that if one considers Evangelicals so overwrought, then why bother with them at all? I think Shea may be a bit more schizophrenic, and sympathetic, then he himself realizes.
[Hat tip to J.M.]

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