After giving a talk, someone from a corner commented and told me that I have a fundamentalist tendency. I listened attentively to what he was saying while at the same time, at the back of my mind, I was trying to figure out the sense of all that’s been said.
Fundamentalism – such a strong and heavy duty word to be branded to an ordinary seminarian like me. While the word has a theological color, it is not always a positive one. It connotes a tendency which is old-fashioned, rebellious and irrelevant. So how did that gentleman from a corner come up with such an assessment?
First, what is fundamentalism? It is used to describe a cognitive approach to doctrine and scriptures and on the whole as a theological movement which grew within American Protestantism. As a cognitive approach, fundamentalism has been associated with a closed, dogmatic, exclusivist, particularist, LITERALIST, and rigorist stand in matters of doctrine and the interpretation of sacred scriptures. As a theological movement it came to be applied to certain groups within Protestantism which opposed modernist and ultra liberalist trend which was gaining ground within the wider spectrum of Protestantism. It seeks to draw out points of belief which are to be considered essential or fundamental to the Christian faith, hence the word fundamentalism. So in opposition to modernists who subjected the Bible to extreme historical and literary criticism who exposed doctrines to reinterpretation, the Presbyterian General Assembly in 1910 issued the Five Points of Fundamentalism which are:
- The inerrancy of Scriptures
- The Virgin Birth
- Christ’s substitutionary atonement
- His bodily resurrection
- The authority of miracles
These are the beliefs which qualify a fundamentalist. So aside from some differences in my Catholic understanding of the inerrancy of Scriptures, I wonder why the word fundamentalism should sound derogatory. Maybe because it is Protestant or maybe because it is literalist, the second I believe is the reason why.
You know, the only biblical passage I used during my talk was 1 Timothy 6:10 “The love of money is the root of all evil.” There I emphasized that according to the Bible, it is the love of money, not money itself which is the root of all evil. Many people today when they quote the verse would readily say “money is the root of all evil” which is not the original wording of the Bible. I then proceeded it explaining further. Now, if fundamentalism is literalism then I couldn’t find any reason why the gentleman earlier considered me a fundamentalist than this particular case. And if this was the case, was I too literal in my explanation? Did I explain the passage in a naively literal sense? And if indeed it was literal, was it wrong?
I consulted some versions of the Bible and indeed it was the proper translation.
The Jerusalem Bible translated it as love of money.
The New American Bible translated it as love of money.
The Christian Community Bible translated it as the love of money.
The Good News Bible translated it as love of money.
The Contemporary English version translated it as love of money.
And even the King James Version translated it as love of money.
Furthermore, according to page 356 of the Jerome Biblical Commentary, “Paul is not speaking directly about those who are actually rich but about the desire for riches, the love of money, the love of money is the root of all evils…” If he meant something negative when he called me a fundamentalist, why should it be when I just followed this thought right from a Catholic commentary? So, common misguided understanding equates fundamentalism with literalism and Bible-tottering. It is even ironic how easy it is for us Catholics to label someone as fundamentalist whenever we hear him frequently quote from the Bible. For Protestants, quoting from the Bible during preaching is ordinary but if a Catholic does that, he is one of the few, he is extraordinary. And not only is he extraordinary, he is corny and pretentious especially if he is a layman. To get rid of him we call him fundamentalist.
So, should we go away with literalism altogether? While there are passages in the Scriptures which require thorough interpretations, there are many passages which we simply take as it is i.e literally; the Ten Commandments for example, Paul’s admonition to pray without ceasing, Jesus’ command to love God and our neighbors, the Virgin Birth and many others. They can be further explained but they are accepted as stated. In fact, paragraph 116 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church states that;
“The literal sense is the meaning conveyed by the words of Scripture and discovered by exegesis, following the rules of sound interpretation:”All other senses of Sacred Scripture are based on the literal.”
Furthermore, there are also aspects of our Catholic interpretation which are literal but are accepted as true and reliable interpretation. For example, in Luke 22:19-20 when Jesus said that this is my body and this is my blood in reference to the bread and wine respectively, how does our magisterium interpret it? That the bread and wine becomes the Body and Blood of our Lord – the truth we call the Real Presence. Protestants on the other hand cannot accept this and they do not interpret it literally. In this case, we accept Christ’s words as it is, as written yet we do not consider ourselves fundamentalists because of that. So not all literal interpretation is fundamentalism.
So thorough consideration must be employed before we brand someone as fundamentalist as this word carries a dangerous tone in the Catholic sense. Our world would be better off if we take away our biases and end throwing each other slurs. On my part, I resolve not to let the incident put me down – I know where I stand, I know whom I have faith with. Call me a fundamentalist – I know I’m not.
I just love the Bible.