There are those pictures – we’ve all seen them – that show two things; optical illusions. Take that silly dress picture for example. Some people saw one thing, a blue dress, and others saw something else, a gold dress and, a few people were able to see both.
I think this provides a clear metaphor for fundamentalism, in all its forms. The fundamentalist is the one who sees only one picture, believes in only one picture and refuses to even consider that there is anything else to the picture apart from what they see, and we saw this happen clearly with the dress issue. As the debate started about what colour this silly dress really was twitter hashtags sprang up, one was team blue and one was team gold, and on a rather trivial level I think this demonstrates our human tendency to fall into fundamentalist thinking. What happened was people saw a particular colour, they believed in a particular colour, and as a result they separated themselves into camps to show their allegiance for their particular colour; both sides fundamentally holding to their interpretation of the photograph. And isn’t it obvious we tend to do this same thing with religion, politics, and just about everything?
I’ve been reading a lot lately about dualistic thinking, our need to separate everything into these harsh categories: good or bad, right or wrong, black or white. We are natural fundamentalists. Our ability to categorize ourselves and our world is impeccable but it is also something we all have to push back against, especially when it comes to matters of faith.
When fundamentalism finds itself joined to Christianity things get ugly. People simply refuses to have any conversation or dialogue that even remotely suggests the possibility that there is anything wrong with Christianity at all. Beliefs become fixed, rigid, and practically impossible to change. And this wouldn’t be an issue if our beliefs weren’t in constant need of revaluation. Do you know at one time it was considered hearsay to proclaim that the world wasn’t flat? Or that the Earth was not the centre of the universe? If we never allowed ourselves to examine our beliefs and adjust them as needed, where would we be? Where would rights for women be? Where would rights for minorities be? And more importantly we all know fundamentalism at its worst is incredibly destructive,. The horrible things we do to one another when we take one narrow interpretation of the whole world can be devastating. And while it happens within Christianity and religion as a whole, it can also take place on the outside; it’s important to recognize that fundamentalism can go both ways.
Just as you can narrowly believe in Christianity, you can also, and I believe just as narrowly, refute the whole thing. The people who refuse to see anything good that can come from Christianity or religion are also practicing a kind of fundamentalism. You really have to put blinders on in order to completely disregard all the good things that Christians, Muslims, Hindu’s and Buddhists are doing for humanity. To deny that faith can be a positive force on this planet is to deny the work of people like Gandhi and Mother Teresa.
I point these things out because it is my prayer that I never fall into any camp. It has become obvious to me that Christianity isn’t all
roses and sunshine as I was raised to believe. I now know that are some serious questions and critiques that need to be addressed within Christianity and I’m not afraid to bring them up, but to throw the whole thing out and say it has absolutely no value is not a compelling story either. Neither extreme is true, and deep down we all know that, yet many of us fall into these fundamentalist camps anyone because their easier to understand. To open up, and allow yourself to be awakened to the reality that the dress is both blue and gold, not either blue or gold, is challenging.
To admit that Christianity can be violent, repressive, and patriarchal, AND that it can also be beautiful, full of grace and overflowing with hope all at the same time is not an easy task, because it doesn’t allow us to ignore the reality that all these things are present and contending with one another. It’s not a simple picture and it will never be.
If you think I’m writing this blog to tear the whole thing you’re misunderstanding my mission. My goal is to show that the whole thing can’t be torn down because there are beautiful things weaved and intertwined within the ugly. So what’s the conclusion? That the dress is blue; the dress is gold; Christianity is perfect; Christianity is broken and that the reality of things tend to live somewhere within two extremes.
May your heart always be able to see the two stories within every picture.