Fundamentalism: Not a Bad Thing

January 5, 2007

Why, why, why, say a thing like that? Everyone knows that fundamentalism in its various forms is the biggest threat we face. Rosie O’Donnell on The View said that Christian fundamentalists are every bit as big a threat as Islamic fundamentalists, and the audience cheered.

Why did the audience cheer? Because they were ignorant and/or thoughtless.

I’ve long been suspicious of the labeling of Islamic radicalism as “fundamentalism”. It appears the label was applied to suggest these radicals were the Muslim equivalents of Christian Fundamentalists. Apparently, the label was applied based on the fact that the Muslim radicals rejected the modern world in favor of 7th century Islam, which was considered similar to the way Christian Fundamentalists rejected modern science and culture.

The problem with this “analysis” is that it misunderstands both Christian Fundamentalism and Islamic Radicalism. Besides, it distorts the real meaning of the word “fundamentalist” into “anti-modern” and “strict” .

This is a bigger topic than could possibly be addressed in a short post by someone who Actually Has A Life, but I’ll hit on the three problems listed in the above paragraph anyway. Of course, I may have to continue the topic across several posts, since it’s already past my bedtime …

Topic One: What does fundamentalism mean?

At its heart, fundamentalism means a focus on the fundamentals. Basically, until you answer the question, “Fundamentals of what?”, you have no specifics on what a fundamentalist is or believes or practices. That’s why it’s unfortunate that so many use the term as if it has a distinct and universal meaning, as if a Christian fundamentalist and a Muslim fundamentalist are basically the same thing. By extension, we should also be able to speak of “Hindu fundamentalists” and “Buddist fundamentalists” and “Shinto fundamentalists.”

But fundamentalism really refers to a focus on the fundamentals of anything. I’ve known basketball coaches who were big fundamentalists, primarily at the junior high and high school levels. Essentially, a basketball fundamentalist is one who says you win basketball games by doing the fundamentals of the game better than the other guys. And at the foundational level of sports, the fundamentalist coach is hard to argue with. At the college or professional level, of course, the fundamentals of the game are a given, and the focus usually moves beyond that.

And this bit of language is one of the biggest problems in the foolish equivalence of Christian fundamentalism and Islamic fundamentalism: The fundamentals of each are very different. To take one obvious difference — and possibly the core difference — one of the fundamentals of Islam is jihad, while one of the fundamentals of Christianity is evangelism. Though there have been offences in the past of those who named themselves Christians but sought to expand the “kingdom of God” through conquest, history is pretty clear that this is not a core value, if you will, of Christianity. That is, jihad is not one of the Christian fundamentals. Neither is evangelism a core value of Islam. It is somewhat practiced, particularly in non-Muslim countries with a history of religious freedom. I have in fact encountered at least one Muslim who tried to “proselytize” me, and made about as good a case for his beliefs as your typical “Jehovah’s Witness”. Still, no Muslim countries make any practice of proselytization, and it seems more an accommodation to the reality that jihad is not always practical.

Having outlined what “fundamentalism” means and given at least one example where the fundamentals are very different between Christianity and Islam, we’ll pick up the discussion of Christian fundamentalism and where it came from. With that background, we can then proceed to Muslim radicalism and really ask the question, can it be fairly described as “fundamentalism”?

Next post: What is Christian fundamentalism?

But not tonight: I’m going to bed. As aforementioned, “I Have A Life”, and it’s going to be knocking on my door in the morning….


New Year’s Resolutions

January 5, 2007

I’m always leery of starting something new around the 1st of the year, because it looks like a New Year’s resolution.  Which of course means that I can’t stop doing it without it looking like a failed New Year’s resolution.

This blog was started on Dec 25th, Christmas day, and posted on daily for, like, almost an entire week! ;-> Now here it is the 4th of January — though not for much longer — and I’m just now coming back to it.  Maybe this is more of an … Anti-New Year’s resolution?

It’s not surprising that I may post irregularly here.  After all, I have a life other than my web log.

Yeah, that’s the ticket.  All those popular blogs must belong to complete nerds with no personal life!

(I would worry about someone misinterpreting that last statement, if there was any real chance someone would read it…)

Since I’m most likely just speaking to the chickens here — who, of course, go to sleep when the sun goes down — I’ll just make a further note about the devotionals.

The devotionals really are a sort of exercise for me.  I’m not nearly devotional enough in my regular life, since I’m usually occupied in fixing computer problems at work, or on the internet at home, or wrapped up in the daily thankless tasks of modern life.  Trying to post a devotion daily, more or less, is at least partly a way of keeping my mind from being completely secularized.

Still, I’m very tempted to move them somewhere else.  They don’t seem to fit in with discussions on politics, religion, computers, and all that other divisive stuff.  And I may yet move them for exactly that reason.  But I think I’ll keep posting them here, anyway.  In fact, if not for the ease a weblog gives me in posting daily devotionals, I’m not sure I would have one at all…

Ding, Dong, the Dictator’s Dead

December 30, 2006

And all the world rejoices, right!

Well, not exactly.  It’s unequivocally a good thing that the monster with a human face, Saddam Hussein, has finally met his Maker.  Justice was done.  I think the whole world should breathe a sigh of relief and feel a certain … satisfaction.

In spite of that, God himself says, “I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way, and live.”  (Ez 33:11)  We should always feel a little saddened when we see a Saddam Hussein put to death, even as we nod our heads and say, “Justice.”

The Times in London has a piece worth reading for its description of Saddam’s infamous career, though it veers into silly bias and near-slander when it says, “But a new American President, George W Bush, determined to find a scapegoat for the Muslim terrorist attacks on the US in September 2001, was in no mood to abide by the niceties of international law. ”

But the death of Saddam, sad or not, should be a very sobering thing.  Saddam was the ultimate survivor.  He waded in blood to reach the top, but had multiple enemies who would have gladly killed him many times along the way.  The full measure of his ability to survive can be seen in the fact that he stayed in power after the first Gulf War.  If he hadn’t been dragged from his hole in the ground, if he had still been missing at this point, if the U.S. finally pulled out of Iraq … he might have actually managed to hang on long enough to be restored to power.

But for all his reign of terror, he was pulled from the ground like a homeless beggar.  And for all his bluster in the courtroom during his trial, and his fearsome reputation, he was just, in the end, another criminal fearing death.

Death, in fact, was the one foe he was really not ready to face.

At this point, there  are conflicting reports about whether he met his death bravely or not.  Settling that question may require actually watching the video of his hanging.  But it doesn’t really matter.  He still died.

I guess there are limits to being a survivor.

Heb 9:27 And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment

Saddam Hussein was a walking argument for the death penalty.  He was also a walking argument for the existence and justice of Hell.

Sobering indeed.  But for now, at least, a horrible murderer and torturer received justice.  His victims and their families, of course,  even now do not have real justice.  Saddam’s death can never atone for all the lives he took or destroyed.

But it’s as good as we’re going to get…

In Everything Give Thanks

December 29, 2006

In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.

It doesn’t say to give thanks for everything — I can think of a few things not to be thankful for.  But in everything, we are to give thanks.

Sometimes, that’s a strain.  Sometimes, the only thing I can find thankfulness for is that it could be worse!

But maybe that’s OK.  Maybe the whole point in every circumstance is to just be thankful, because it turns your eys to God.

Psalm 107:2-8

  2 Let the redeemed of the LORD say so, whom he hath redeemed from the hand of
the enemy;
3 And gathered them out of the lands, from the east, and from the west, from
the north, and from the south.
4 They wandered in the wilderness in a solitary way; they found no city to
dwell in.
5 Hungry and thirsty, their soul fainted in them.
6 Then they cried unto the LORD in their trouble, and he delivered them out
of their distresses.
7 And he led them forth by the right way, that they might go to a city of
8 Oh that men would praise the LORD for his goodness, and for his wonderful
works to the children of men!


By His Name Jah

December 29, 2006

Side note: One of the posters on Tzetzes, called it a conflict between Jah and Allah. I don’t think that’s at all right, since I think only one side wants it to be a religous war. But another poster says that Jah is a Rastafarian term for God.

That’s news to me. But I can confirm that Jah is very much an appropriate term for the Christian God. It is a shortened form of Jehovah or Yahweh (in the Hebrew, YHVH) used often in names and in songs or praise. Curiously, no one can seem to agree just how to pronounce the full name of Jehovah, or Yahweh, or Yahveh, (your pick), but the shortened form seems to be pretty safely pronounced as “Yah”.

The only place in the Authorized or King James Version where JAH appears is in Psalm 68, verse 4:

Sing unto God, sing praises to his name: extol him that rideth upon the heavens by his name JAH, and rejoice before him.

So one would think it wrong to say the name JAH is used often in praise. However, that’s just because it is usually translated as God in the book of Psalms. In the one exception noted above, the verse says, “by his name JAH”, so it really would not make much sense to translate it there as, “by his name the LORD”.

We do see the word used in many Hebrew names, e.g. Isaiah, Jeremaiah, Hezekiah, Obadiah, and even Micah (a contraction of Micaiah). In such cases, the word shows up spelled with an I, but apparently still pronounced as “Yah”.

The most obvious use of the name JAH, though, is in the word, “Hallelujah.” Or, “Hallelu” to “JAH”

Jihad for Me but Not for Thee

December 29, 2006

So on HotAir we read the story about the Ethiopians routing the Islamic Courts movement of Somalia in about 9 days. The Islamic Courts movement is a radical Islamist movement intent on imposing Sharia law in Somalia. One of their recent pronouncements promised vengeance against all lackadaisical Muslims who pray only 4 times a day instead of 5. They had given the real government of Somalia fits, and basically controlled somewhere around half the country.

But they apparently were not as invincible as they considered themselves. After making threatening noises against Ethiopia, the Ethiopians decided not to wait to be attacked. Nine days later, the Islamic Courts have surrendered to the Ethiopian army.

Ethiopia, to most Americans, is known as the country that suffered famine and was sent tons of aid in the 80’s. It’s also the country which had a eunuch come to Jerusalem in the early days of the churches of God to worship with the Jews, who was converted to a Christian by Philip the evangelist. Ethiopia saw churches established and prospering long before the first one in France, Spain, or Britain.

So yes, you could argue that we just saw another conflict between Islam and Christianity, and that, once again, Islam came out a very poor second. But that is to frame the conflict the way that radical Muslims want to frame it.

There is nothing in Christianity that calls for Christians to war against Muslims, radical or otherwise. Christianity advances through the Great Commision, not conquering. Defense against threats by radical Muslims is a function of government, not of the Christian faith.

Muslims, radical or not, are used to their religion calling for Jihad to advance. They must see the Christian disinterest in fighting back as a great weakness, and as a sign that the best days of Christianity are behind them and that Islam will conquer all.

Which might explain why the Islamic Courts were unprepared for an actual fight from Ethiopia.

When Jesus stood before Pilate, he said, ” My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of
this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the
Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence.” (Jn 18:36)

Here we see two things: 1) Christianity is not of this world, and 2) kingdoms that are of this world, naturally, fight to defend themselves.

Which Ethiopia did. More power to them.

The Seventh from Adam

December 27, 2006

Enoch, the Seventh from Adam, said this:

Behold, the Lord cometh with ten thousands of his saints.

To execute judgment upon all, and to convince all that are ungodly among
them of all their ungodly deeds which they have ungodly committed, and of all
their hard speeches which ungodly sinners have spoken against him.

Little harsh there, Enoch. And yet, as much as he hated wickedness and called for judgment, he was a man who came so close to God that at one point, God just took him to heaven without dying.

It’s interesting to read this quote from Enoch that pops up out of nowhere. In no scripture in Old Testament or New is this quote from Enoch recorded, except in the Epistle of Jude.

All Genesis tells us of Enoch is this:

And Enoch walked with God: and he was not; for God took him.

It falls to probably the single most obscure book in the New Testament to fill in the gaps from one of the best recognized. Jude reminds us that Enoch was the 7th from Adam (Adam -> Seth -> Enos -> Cainan -> Mahalaleel -> Jared -> Enoch), and tells us furthermore that he made this prophecy.

Hebrews also speaks of Enoch’s faith, in the famed “Hall of Faith” of Hebrews 11, which makes it clear that “God took him” means that God “translated” him from this world to heaven, without death.

The Westminster Confession says, “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” Apparently, for Enoch, it was as simple as walking with God.

Maybe it should be that simple for us as well…

A Christmas Wish

December 26, 2006

Christmas always reminds me of the story of the wise men who came from afar to see the new King. The coming of Christ was nothing less than world-changing, and these wise men came to see it. But equally as compelling, though much less sweet, was the aftermath of the story. The wise men may have been wise, but they were not familiar enough with the prophecies to go to Bethlehem. Instead, they went to the capital city, Jerusalem, and spoke to the king there. But that king was not David or Solomon, or even of their line. The king was Herod, an Idumean, of the descendants of Esau. And he was the very picture of a despot in the Roman Empire — willing to do absolutely anything to protect his power.

Herod, of course, cared nothing for the Jewish religion or its prophecies per se. But the promise of a king born in fulfillment of those prophecies spoke a language he understood all too well: a threat to his own kingship. And so, when wise men were reported to be seeking a king, he immediately invited them to the palace and feigned great interest in their quest. After diligently extracting every bit of information he could from them, he secretly called in experts in the Jewish scriptures and asked where this “king” should be born. They, of course, told him Bethlehem.

So Herod told the wise men to go to Bethlehem, begging them to let him know if they’re able to find this king, saying he would come and worship, too. Then he let them do the hard work of finding the child, waiting for the word of where he was.

All so he could kill this threat to his power. Machiavelli was a piker compared to Herod.

And he waited. And waited. Until it became obvious they were not coming back.

So he went to Plan B. Unable to find the exact child to destroy, he settled for destroying all that might be the one — all baby boys in or around Bethlehem under the age of 2.

As astonishing as this cruelty appears to us, it was not all that unusual in the ancient world. After all, Bethlehem was a small town. A few lives lost, and the throne was secure.

As transcendant as the promise of Christ was, as much as it was heaven touching the dust of our earth, the powers of the world cared only for themselves.

It’s tempting sometimes to question whether the birth of Christ could really be called a “world-changing” event. There’s certainly been plenty of cruelty and death in the world since then.

But for many nations across the earth now, the act of Herod, the slaughtering of innocent babies to protect political power, is now unthinkable. The coming of Christ and the influence of Christianity has changed what we see as “acceptable.”

And if that’s not world-changing, then you don’t appreciate the mundane cruelties of life before Christ.

I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

I heard the bells on Christmas day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men.
And in despair I bowed my head
“There is no peace on earth,” I said,
“For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.”
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail
With peace on earth, good will to men.”

Merry Christmas to All

December 26, 2006

Merry Christmas to all!

Froehliche Weihnachten!

Feliz Navidad!

Joyeaux Noel!

And Seasons Greetings/Happy Holidays to no one at all…

Hello world!

December 25, 2006

This is a new blog.  I make no guarantees that it will be maintained, updated, popular, interesting, educational, uplifting, cute, passionate, dull, ugly, etc.

In fact, it’s late now and I’m going to bed.