Saturday, June 18, 2011


I’ve never really understood the term “fundamentalist.” Often it’s used in the context of an insult or attack, as in, “Those crazy fundamentalist wackos are tearing our church apart.” Although I believe in the existence of crazy wackos, I always assumed that the term “fundamentalist” came from the root word “fundamental,” namely “foundation,” which is what an organization is based on, founded on. So that technically means that any given organization was started by its fundamentalist(s). How could the organizer/developer of an organization or institution, or those who uphold the original fundamental beliefs of an organization, tear it apart? Either you agree to and uphold the foundational principles of an organization, or you don’t, and you go find another organization that you do agree with. It’s like walking into a Boy Scouts meeting, sitting down, and saying, “Hi, my name is Bob, and I’m an alcoholic.” You might get befuddled looks until someone kindly points out that the meeting you’re looking for is actually two doors down the hall on the left.

Will anyone hate you if you show up at a Boy Scouts meeting thinking it’s AA? Probably not (unless you’re really creepy). Likewise, will anyone hate you or chase you out with guns drawn if you walk into Best Buy and ask for a pint of strawberries? Probably not likely, either—although if they do, that is indeed reprehensible, no question. No, most likely the employees’ responses would be, “Sorry sir, we don’t sell strawberries in Best Buy, but would you be interested in our latest mp3 player? It has 120 GB! (Or, perhaps you meant you’re looking for a Blackberry? We have the newest version, better features!)” They’d love to have you in their store anyway, especially if you’re likely to walk out with a new laptop, which is worth much more than a pint of strawberries. Likewise, you are not expected to have the entire catalog of Best Buy merchandise memorized before you’re allowed to set foot in the store. However, if you stay and cause a scene in the store or go and write editorials about judgmental, hypocritical, backbiting, fundamentalist employees who refuse to sell a good man his strawberries, then perhaps the store employees might do well to wonder if this man ought to have gone to the grocery store instead.

Now I’m sure there have been plenty of cases where someone unused to American culture might walk into Best Buy thinking it’s a grocery store and innocently ask for strawberries. They don’t intend to cause a stir, they’re just desperately searching for strawberries and have gone into every Victoria’s Secret, Home Depot, and Petsmart on the strip asking for them. And there have been an equal amount of cases where many of the employees of the above stores have ridiculed them, laughed in their faces, made a public spectacle, called the cops, and so on, and the poor strawberry-seeker has had to leave, dejected, ridiculed, strawberry-less, and feeling too ashamed and angry to ever enter any store, even the grocery store just next door. We have no question what ought to happen to those rude employees when the Store Manager or even CEO comes to take account of his employees and their lost sales.

What I’m getting at is this: Rarely (except in cases such as military draft or therapeutic intervention) is anyone forced to join an organization or institution. In almost all cases, people support and join an organization—whether it be the Boy Scouts, Alcoholics Anonymous, the Freemasons, the Democratic Party, or any given religious group—when and if they are made aware of, agree with, and support the organization’s fundamental principles. If they do not, they usually find another organization—perhaps the Girl Scouts, the Republican Party, or a drug cartel—that they do agree with. (There are, of course, various levels of involvement in an organization: AA leaders versus members who squeak by and may relapse soon afterward, church pastors and leaders versus “pew-warmers,” for example.) We also even take the example of a place of employment: if someone is offered a job and Hewlett-Packard and also at Dell and chooses to accept work at one of those institutions, he has agreed contractually to follow its rules and organizational standards, or else lose his job. If he chooses to violate company standards and is consequently fired, does he have a right to be angry at that corporation or its administration for being “judgmental,” “unloving,” or “unforgiving?” An organization (and a church also falls into this category) “sells” a certain “product,” namely, its fundamental principles. If it’s not what you’re looking for, why stay? There are many choices. So, by definition, I would venture to propose, that every member of any organization is a fundamentalist.

But there is one more factor in play in this question. That is, going back to the illustrations above, the question of perception of how the seeker is being treated. In the first example, the strawberry-seeker is standing in Best Buy, feeling unfairly treated because he’s not given his strawberries. Why does he feel this? Were the store employees truly causing him emotional pain, or is that what he perceived? I had a friend who summed it up well when he said something to the effect of, “Sometimes when I feel like a preacher is yelling at me, I realize later that he was not really yelling loudly audibly, but that I was hearing it so loudly in my own ears.” Whether or not that’s true for me is a decision only I can make, often over the course of many painful, heartbroken years of humility.

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