Article source for : Fundamentalism
I really enjoyed reading this editorial. I hope you do as well. If you don't read it all, don't bother commenting. If all you have to offer is a personal attack or blanket attack on all Christians, save it...because all it does it make enemies. Aren't there enough wars going on in the world?
How About Some Left Wing Fundamentalism?
By Carl S. Milsted, Jr.
In reading left-leaning publications over the past year or so I have come across many articles critical of “fundamentalism.” Fundamentalists have been described as hateful, uncaring, inflexible, right wing, conservative, violent and/or unspiritual. As a Christian who is more fundamentalist than most, I take some exception to these characterizations.
Yes, there are many fundamentalist Christians who meet some of the above descriptions to varying degrees; however, these are not the defining characteristics of Christian fundamentalism. Oft times, these characteristics are more associated with people better described as traditionalists, not fundamentalists.
Fundamentalism, in the original sense of the word, is often opposed to traditionalism. Fundamentalism is reactionary, not conservative; it is a call to reject both questionable new doctrines and accumulated traditions in favor of a faithful interpretation of the original text. When the original text in question is the Christian Bible, the resulting moral views are not exactly right win.
True, the Bible does espouse some very conservative views; it is very intolerant of idol worshipping, homosexuality, adultery, and channeling spirits. The Old Testament is big on the death penalty, extending it even to those who merely light a fire on the Sabbath [Numbers 15:32-36]. And the military tactics applied in the conquest of the Holy Land make George Bush look like a pacifist.
But note that such enforcement of the Law was limited to the Holy Land. There was no call in the Old Testament for the Hebrews to sweep across the world destroying idols and other abominations. The Holy Land was an example for the rest of the world, which could choose to emulate its ways or not.
This pattern continues into the New Testament, with the holy nation being replaced by holy people. Jesus called upon his followers to spread the word across the world, while at the same time calling for his followers to be forgiving and non-violent. Forcible conversion to Christianity is a later tradition, one that should be rejected by a true fundamentalist. The same goes for enforcing Christian standards of behavior on non-Christians [see 1 Corinthians 5-6].
But even if we restrict our study to the Old Testament, we can find many ideas which qualify as liberal and/or libertarian.
Under the original system set up by Moses, there was to be no police force or standing army. Such matters were community affairs like in the wildest parts of the American Wild West. The closest things to taxation were the tithes that were mainly for supporting the priesthood and for religious celebrations. From what I can tell, paying tithes was a mostly voluntary act; the only enforcement provision I could find was peer pressure.
Yet despite the lack of what most conservatives would consider the “necessary parts of government,” there was an extensive welfare system! The poor were allowed to pick food by hand from other people’s fields [Deuteronomy 23:24-25], and to use tools after the harvest [Leviticus 19:9-10, Deuteronomy 24:19-22]. The rich were forbidden from buying up large estates; they could only buy leaseholds. Every 50 years farmland reverted back to the original families [Leviticus 25]. Furthermore, the wealthy were expected to grant zero interest loans to those in need [Deuteronomy 15:1-18].
In many areas law enforcement was more lenient than today. There were no jails. Property criminals who provided adequate compensation were let off without further punishment [Exodus 22:1-9]. Those who could not repay had to be servants for a time[Exodus 22:3, Exodus 21:2], but they were to be well treated [Leviticus 25:40], not to be separated from their families[Exodus 21:3], and given startup capital (including wine!) upon release[Deuteronomy 14:12-14].
Speaking of wine, calls for complete abstention from alcohol are a later, post-Biblical, tradition. The Bible has many passages celebrating the virtues of alcoholic beverages (and good food) [see Deuteronomy 14:22-26]. It is the excessive consumption of such (and gluttony) that is condemned. Prohibition is a recent tradition. And unless getting stoned and watching Gilligan’s Island constitutes witchcraft, the War on Drugs is also a violation of fundamentalist Christian principles.
One can even make a case against anti-prostitution laws on fundamentalist Christian grounds. Under Old Testament Law, a woman with other means of support – a married woman, a girl still living with parents [Deuteronomy 22:13-21], or the daughter of a priest [Leviticus 21:9] – was forbidden upon pain of death to play the harlot. There was no blanket probation on harlotry, however. It is worth noting that Solomon’s first recorded action upon receiving wisdom was to adjudicate a dispute between two harlots; he did not have them punished for harlotry [1 Kings 3:16-28].
One can even make a Biblical case against factory farming [Deuteronomy 25:4 and Exodus 20:10] and genetically modified foods [Deuteronomy 22:9-11].
So, whenever you are troubled by right-wing Christian fundamentalists, keep in mind that the problem could be that the objects of your ire are not fundamentalist enough.
Carl Milsted is a senior editor for The Free Liberal.