Wednesday, February 20, 2008

I worry about fundamentalists

I watched a documentary on BBC 2 last Wednesday - "The End of the World Bus Tour" - part of the 'Wonderland' documentary series. The blurb said:

"The eclectic, observational documentary series continues this week with The End Of The World Bus Tour.

Most package-holiday tourists are seeking sun, sex or adventure, but the customers in Sharon Stolebarger’s charge are looking for something rather different.

Sharon is the tour rep on a special 10-day holiday for people who believe the Apocalypse is only a few years away. Her customers are off to Israel to take a last-chance look at the “valley of Armageddon” – before it’s awash with the blood of unbelievers – and to get baptised in the very waters that Jesus once walked on. They even get the chance to spend a day helping out at an Israeli military base – the highlight of the holiday for many of the tourists.

As the bus winds its way through the Holy Land, the tourists talk about their vision of Doomsday and reveal troubled pasts that seem to have led some of them to take refuge in such extreme religious beliefs. But as soon as film-maker David Clews gets to know them better, they decide they want to save his endangered soul and threaten him with an eternity of suffering."
So basically the documentary followed a group of (mostly, but not exclusively, American) Christian fundamentalists as they visited the 'holy land', not to follow in the steps of Jesus or anything like that, but to see where the final battle between God and man will take place. All these people passionately believe that they are living in the 'end times' and that Armageddon will happen sometime soon, 'within the next ten years'...

Two things struck me the most about these people.
  1. The think that the slaughter of all the 'armies of the world' will be a glorious thing. There definitely was a suggestion of relish in the voices of those who spoke of it. They don't want to save all the lost before the end comes, they want the end to come so that the sinners can be slaughtered.
  2. They sing the same worship songs that are sung in the church I go to. We are literally singing from the same hymn sheet. I don't want in any way to be associated with these people, and yet to the outside observer we're on the same team.
How can these people hear the non-violence message of Jesus (e.g. the 'turn the other cheek' bit) and sing songs of God's love and also relish the slaughter of thousands. God doesn't want anyone to perish (2 Peter 3v9) so how can his alleged followers long for it? This is pure doublethink.

I really do worry about poeple like these. Are there folk like that in my church?


Chris Hamer-Hodges said...

This is sad and scary indeed. Further evidence why a good eschatology is so important! The Dispensational Premillennialists have a lot to answer for.

But is it fair to lump all fundamentalists together? The word is used often these days, and never in a good way... but I wonder... wouldn't Jesus himself have been viewed as a fundamentalist?

Surely the merits or dangers of fundamentalism rest in what it is you consider to be fundamental. If you are a fundamentalist for the life of love, peace and reconciliation that Jesus lived, that's nothing to be ashamed of.

Ricky Carvel said...


I agree with you that it matters what (or who) you are fundamental about. There was a time when I would gladly have used the phrase 'fundamentalist' about myself - in that I wanted to stick to the fundamentals and not get obsessed with the other, non fundamental stuff - but those days have gone. The word 'fundamentalist' carries with it so much baggage these days that I avoid it.

The book I just read ('The End of Religion' by Bruxy Cavey, highly recommended) makes an interesting distinction between 'Jesus-Fundamentalists' and 'Bible-Fundamentalists'. If you're fundamental about Jesus you seek to follow his ways, his example and his teaching, you live according to his Spirit. But if you're fundamental about the bible itself (as an end point, not as the thing which points to Jesus) then you can end up very legalistic and often quite intollerant, indeed, sometimes dangerous.

So yes, if someone claims the word 'fundamentalist' we need to know what they are fundamental about.