The AZ to believe: F is for fundamentalism | The independent

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Written and presented by Dr Ed Kessler MBE, Founder and Director of the Cambridge-based Woolf Institute, this compelling guide to religious beliefs and skepticism is a must read for believers and non-believers alike.

Founded in 1998 to explore the relationship between religion and society, the Woolf Institute uses research and education to foster understanding among people of all faiths with the goal of reducing prejudice and intolerance.

According to Dr Kessler: “The latest surveys suggest that 85 percent of the world’s population identify as belonging to a specific religion, and in many parts of the world the most powerful actors in civil society are religious. Understanding religion and belief, the role they play and their impact on behavior and decision-making is therefore vital.

Dr Kessler – who received an MBE for services to interfaith relations in 2011 – is an Affiliate Lecturer in the Faculty of Theology at the University of Cambridge, a Director of the Cambridge Theological Federation and also teaches at Cambridge Muslim College.

He says: “This AZ of Believing aims to show how the meeting between religions has influenced and has been influenced by the evolution of civilization and culture, both for better and for worse. I hope that a better understanding of belief will lead people to realize that while each religion is distinct, they are also deeply connected.

F is for… Fundamentalism

Pop an egg out of a Pullman window and almost everywhere in America today you’ll hit a fundamentalist.
HL Mencken

Between 1915 and 1920, “The Fundamentals”, consisting of 12 Protestant theological brochures, were published and since then fundamentalism has spread beyond Protestantism and is found in Roman Catholicism (often referred to as “traditional Catholicism” , which seeks to overturn the reforms of Vatican II), as well as in other religions, notably Judaism and Islam.

Fundamentalists wish to return to a (mythical) golden age and live as much as possible by ancient rules and scriptural authority. They have a nostalgic vision of a utopian past, when their religion was pure and which they aspire to reclaim. Muslim fundamentalists, for example, seek to return to the purity of Islam and live the same way they think the Prophet Muhammad and his companions lived in seventh century Arabia.

Fundamentalists reject modern biblical criticism, human evolution, abortion and euthanasia, and secular humanism, a catch-all and derogatory term used to describe their opponents. They claim that the scriptures are perfect, although in practice fundamentalists do not apply the same authority to every word. Yet any criticism, however small, is seen as a criticism of the whole of religion, which helps to explain the reluctance of fundamentalists to compromise.

Fundamentalists emphasize the role of patriarchy; specific roles for men include leadership and for women childbearing and family life. Wives are submissive to their husbands and this submission can also apply to sisters to their brothers, providing a religious excuse (without ignoring a cultural context) for what are to be called “honor crimes”.

While nearly all fundamentalists believe that the Bible is the word of God, there is an almost even division (according to surveys of Christian fundamentalists in the United States) between those who believe that everything in the Bible must be taken seriously. the letter and those who disbelieve it. .

Prooftexting is a common fundamentalist practice. He uses biblical passages to draw conclusions without considering historical context, lifting a text out of its location both in time and in the narrative in order to solve an unrelated theological problem. For example, the “Suffering Servant,” attributed to a disciple of the prophet Isaiah and written towards the end of the Babylonian exile, i.e. the 6th century BCE, is used to identify Jesus as the suffering messiah. by Christians, while for Jews the servant represents the collective people of Israel. A careful reader of the biblical text will notice that the text focuses more on the role of the Servant than on his identity.

Jewish, Christian and Muslim fundamentalists share a similar understanding of prophecy and 22 prophets are shared by these three religions, the most famous being Abraham (Ibrahim) and Moses (Musa). Some fundamentalist leaders, believe their supporters, have received divine approval and speak the truth of God.

While fundamentalists agree that prophecy has ended (although it will be restored at the end of time), they understandably disagree when. For the Jews, the prophecy ended with Malachi. Christians believe that prophecy returned with Jesus and Muhammad is the seal of the prophets for Muslims – the revelation each brought is meant to replace the previous revelation.

In recent years, fundamentalist leaders have come together in strange ways: conservative Catholics and Protestant fundamentalists work together to support pro-life movements; evangelical Christians and Israeli fundamentalist Jews support the right-wing policies of the Israeli government; and Islamic fundamentalists and anti-Zionist Jewish fundamentalists collaborate in opposition to the State of Israel, and so on.

Jewish fundamentalists generally focus on issues related to Israel and have become a significant political force today, seeking to impose biblical and rabbinical laws on the modern State of Israel in areas such as education, food, transport and sovereignty over holy places. There is a widespread tendency to speak of the State of Israel in language that echoes Bible prophecy. Some Christian fundamentalists, commonly referred to as Christian Zionists, are well represented among Baptists in the southern United States and have considerable influence in American politics, as evidenced by President Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

Other Christian fundamentalists join their Jewish partners in calling for the construction of a (third) holy temple in Jerusalem, believing that this temple, alongside the creation of the Jewish state in 1948, is a prerequisite for the second. coming of Jesus. Some of these same fundamentalists are also actively seeking the conversion of Jews to Christianity.

While the sacred land is important to Jewish fundamentalists, as well as Sikhs and Hindus, it does not matter to Christians or Buddhists. Likewise, proselytizing is at the heart of Christian and Muslim fundamentalism, but not Jewish or Hindu. It requires further investigation, but whatever the similarities and differences, fundamentalism is a major and growing global force, gaining ground against its liberal and secular counterparts.

All fundamentalists see themselves as believers under siege who try to preserve their distinctive identities in the face of modernity and secularization. There is a separate group of initiates and all the rest are outsiders. The initiates are fed and taken care of. Foreigners are rejected and fought.

We have been warned.

Next week: G is for God

Listen to every episode of An AZ of Believing: from Atheism to Zealotry on the Woolf Institute podcast site or wherever you get your podcasts


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