Tolerance, fundamentalism and theocracy

Today I got to spend some time with a whole bunch of amazing church leaders from the Colchester area, a loose affiliation called “Seeking God’s Blessing for Colchester”. We were discussing the role of the church in society and to kick off our thinking considered the pros and cons of faith based education.

Whilst there is strong governmental support for faith based schools there is also a vocal secular backlash which would seek not just to abandon faith based schools, or at least cut off all state funding to them, but take any reference to faith out of the education system, as is the case in the USA. This is just one manifestation of a creeping agenda of secularisation by a vociferous minority who would seek to erase all faith from public life and relegate it to the realm of privatised individual myth.

Over on his blog, smulospace, John Smulo has been asking a similar question about the ‘New Atheists’ and the rise of atheist fundamentalism which condemns not just faith but even respect for faith. There are some great comments too.

So what turns people from sincere, strong, passionate believers into fundamentalists? My thinking has been helped by some wise thoughts from Jim Wallis in his book “God’s Politics”.

Firstly, he suggests that…

Fundamentalism is essentially a revolt against modernity. It is a reaction usually based on profound fear and defensiveness against ‘losing the faith’.

This would account for the aggressive apologetics of ‘New Atheism’ in the face of the seeming lack of interest or respect for science versus the current resurgence of authentic faith, public openness to spirituality, and terrorism that claims religious justification.

Wallis also notes that…

Of particular concern is how modern fundamentalism has made the move to theocracy – in Christianity, Judaism and Islam. …all theocrats desire their religious agenda to be enforced through the power of the state.

Of course, here in Britain the standing of Christianity, if not enforced, has certainly been endorsed through the power of the state in the ordering of our political, legal, social and educational structures for the good of many, whether Christian or not.

Wallis’ context is the appropriation of Christian fundamentalism in the service of, principally right wing, political ambition. But increasingly, attacks on faith are coming not from those of another religious faith but from secularist fundamentalists who invoke human rights or equality legislation in support of their campaign to rid public life of any vestige of religion or spirituality. Co-existence of religious and secular beliefs, a tolerant plurality of theism, atheism and agnosticism, is not an option. Some seem optimistic about a kind of atheistic theocracy.

If we try to hold on to the place of the inherited standing of Christianity against the growing alternatives that come from other secular or religious groups, what does that say about our mission to the nation and our relationship with power? And how would a loss of the inherited status of Christianity change the influence of everyday missional Christianity and our impact in communities across our land?

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3 Responses to Tolerance, fundamentalism and theocracy

  1. Sally says:

    Tim, there are times when I think our inherited ” endorsement” of Christianity is one of the biggest stumbling blocks to true Incarnational mission. There is an assumption made that this is a Christian nation when the fact is we are far from it.
    The church needs to open its eyes to recognise the sub-cultures which exist within the nation, not only those of race and religion but increasingly the near tribal nature of certain interest groups. I like Wallis’s quote and believe that we need to allow the perfect love of God to cast out that fear so that we can step creatively into our nation with a truly missional mindset. I know that the Seeking God’s Blessing group has much of this in mind.
    If you read John (Smulos) next post you will note that it is about missional apologetics- this needs serious consideration in our efforts to preach the gospel in an increasingly pluralistic society!

  2. Tim Abbott says:

    Sally,
    I agree about the assumption of still being a Christian nation. I think we’re in the ‘long tail’ of being a Christian society, but the legacy is fading fast and is increasingly under attack.
    I think there’s a difference between trying to make the law uphold a Christian society and Christians speaking out publicly about major issues of the day, including religious issues.
    I’m looking forward to John Smulo’s site on missional apologetics.

  3. Tim Abbott says:

    Sally,
    I agree about the assumption of still being a Christian nation. I think we’re in the ‘long tail’ of being a Christian society, but the legacy is fading fast and is increasingly under attack.
    I think there’s a difference between trying to make the law uphold a Christian society and Christians speaking out publicly about major issues of the day, including religious issues.
    I’m looking forward to John Smulo’s site on missional apologetics.

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