I immediately found myself in the middle of conflict as I began writing about the third practical reason people go to Church, the search for a healthy lifestyle. Traditionalists hammer this new spirituality with its wellness theme as promoting “what I want rather than what God wills.” They advocate returning to supposedly eternal laws that represent God’s Word in all stages of history.
That led me to review Karen Armstrong’s characterization of the fundamentalist movement sweeping all world religions in her 2000 book, The Battle for God. I found what could be a frightening synopsis of the present presidential campaign. So let’s take time out to examine my summary of her list.
Characteristics of the fundamentalist movement in world religions include:
1) a radical individualism in which people are expected to relate one-on-one with God with no need for religious community or sacraments. In Christianity, this is often defined as making a personal decision for Christ.
2) basing all on accepting essential doctrine rather than living in an appropriate relationship with the divine. Belief becomes an intellectual decision rather than a trusting attitude. True believers must accept specific doctrines.
3) a Holy Land. It is Saudi Arabia for Bin Laden, Israel for Jews and some Christians, America as Kingdom of God for right wing Christians. The last speak of God placing a protective curtain over the USA which will be raised if we do not live by his laws.
4) anti-woman rhetoric, insisting that women must be subservient to men. We see this in the Taliban, Orthodox Judaism, and fundamentalist Christian churches.
5) concentration on holy wars. Islam fundamentalists call for Jihad which can involve suicide bombings and terrorism; political wars are labeled crusades; killing of abortion doctors are justified as saving innocent babies, etc. Right wing Christians often refer to Israel’s invasion of Canaan under Moses and Joshua.
6) establishment of a religious political government. Separation of church and state is rejected.
7) dependence on charismatic leaders rather than democracy. This occurs in everything from Christian mega-churches to Islamic governments. The idea is that God speaks directly to certain chosen people, and this often has nothing to do with their moral life.
8 ) failure to appreciate religious language. The sacred texts are used as scientific and economic textbooks. Islam religious law is applied to political government, Genesis 1 and 2 become explanation of how the world was literally created.
9) a drive for purity leads to expelling “nonbelievers” from official positions. Fundamentalists plot to take over denominations, seminaries, mosques, temples, etc.
The movement seems to be a reaction against modern life and especially science. It calls for a return to a past that never was in order to find certainty in an uncertain world.
I think Armstrong captures “The Battle for God” taking place around us. We are going to see it play out as we examine the new spirituality that tries to bring the body and spirit back in touch with the natural rhythms of life.