Many are on a desperate search for absolute certainty in an uncertain world. This search compels the mind to completely identify one particular concept of God with God. When the concept is challenged, there’s the feeling that God’s being challenged.
I can respect some semblance of the Christian fundamentalist idea of biblical inerrancy (basic underlying congruence of scripture), except for when this idea pushes ridiculous extremes. (I know that many reject the term “fundamentalist,” yet like author Karen Armstrong, I think it is a helpful term for identifying the absolutistic elements within the world’s religions.) The extreme to which biblical inerrancy is sometimes held is epitomized in an article that appeared in Ministry Magazine entitled “Does God Get Angry?” This article actually defends the Old Testament claim that God commanded the Israelite genocide of the Canaanites. The author’s belief in “irremediable wickedness” contributed to the author’s defense. This extreme adherence to “biblical inerrancy” is scary. Genocide goes against everything Jesus taught in the Gospels. When Jesus said “love your enemies” I don’t think he meant “sometimes kill them all.”
Jesus is the measuring rod of faith for Christian tradition. Yet, remarkably, many fundamentalists read the scriptures flatly, as though each line carries equal weight. When I read the Bible, if an Old Testament passage is out of step with the Gospels I defer to the spirit of the Gospels. I think this is common sense. So, I’m amazed by fundamentalists who lift up Old Testament Scriptures that contradict the Gospels as “inerrant.”
Blind adherence to absolute claims led to the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995 by reactionary Jews; to the bombing of abortion clinics by fundamentalist Christians; to ongoing suicide bombings by Muslim extremists. Distressed souls use religion to strengthen arrogant absolutistic tendencies. Religion turned absolutist becomes ugly, lacking mystery, abounding in finality.
Even conventional churches soft-pedal fundamentalism today. Bill Coffin puts it this way:
“Conventional religious wisdom in Jesus’ time stressed correct belief and right behavior. Conventional religious wisdom in America does the same today… For too many American evangelists, faith is a goody that they got and others didn’t, an extraordinary degree of certainty that most can’t achieve. This kind of faith is dangerous, for it can be and often is worn as a merit badge or used as a club to clobber others… We believe in the Word made flesh, not the Word made words.”
The fundamentalist letter of the Bible is secondary to the spirit of the Gospels. The spirit of the Gospels is the all inclusive love of Jesus, which jumps off the pages.
Faith cannot be about absolute certainty in the letter and wrath against those who don’t comply (Ephesians 2:15). It has to be about overwhelming trust in God’s dynamic love, which as Saint Paul confirms, is beyond the letter of law and narrow legalistic interpretations.