My experiences as a participant in some WhatsApp groups necessitated my reading on the concept of fundamentalism. I recall that I forwarded what I thought was something in the lighter mood about a church some years ago to a group chat. The backlash was stunning. Some Christians who delight in condemning Moslems that carry out acts considered not in the interest of society citing religious reasons usually react strongly whenever a post is made that they read as being antichristian. In one case I had to withdraw from the platform and I continue to withdraw. I happen to be interested in philosophy and that subject circles every aspect of life. There is even an area of academic interest known as the philosophy of religion which studies human religious attitudes and attitudes to religious objects such as deities (Britannica.com). I guess this is the basis of this piece
There are some issues therefore which I raise hereunder as food for thought to readers. There is no intention to offend the sensibilities of any reader; the intention is the activate more informed reasoning.
1. Fundamentalism in religion refers to a desire to keep revealed truth in scriptures pure in theory and in practice. Fundamentalists generally object to any attempt to modify or interpret religious texts and doctrines outside what I would like to term “pure theology.” Fundamentalists usually are not prepared to accept alternative or new views of their faith.
I was surprised in my reading effort to find out that Islamic fundamentalism is a late comer and might be an adoption of the approaches of Christian fundamentalists which dates back to antiquity. The handling of ‘dissent’ in Christianity can range from looking away to mild rebuke, to verbal violence to use of the word ‘heresy’ which elicits punishment as severe as hanging and burning people alive! This was the case with the Inquisition which lasted about 600 years in Europe and led to the murder of an estimated 300, 000 people. If that was not intolerance and violence “In God’s name” (adapted from the title of a novel by David Yallop) then the word violence has to be redefined.
2. This raises the issue of the Inquisition. This was an official policy of the Roman Catholic Church which was put in practice in France in the 12th century AD. Whoever was accused of heresy – a general word for any form of dissent against church dogma or practice – was tried by a panel or Grand Inquisitor. It is doubtful whether there was any provision for defence. Napoleon stopped the Spanish Inquisition in 1808 and the last person to be hanged in Europe following trial was despatched in 1826. Vestiges of this religion-induced violence arising from intolerance of dissenting views remain (people in authority love avenues to eliminate dissent, loud or not so loud). In the Roman Catholic Church, the unit handling such matters now is known as Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Interestingly in the 1970s or thereabout, there was a form of Inquisition in present day Akwa Ibom led by one Akpan Ekwong. That band went after witches and wizards, obtained forced confessions and murdered people till the rule of civilized law took its course. It is pertinent to mention that the celebrated Joan of Arc, a French visionary was condemned as a witch and burnt alive at a stake in 1431 at the age of 19 years although on political rather than religious grounds.
Of critical significance in this brief is the case of Galileo Galilei of Pisa, Italy. This was an astronomer who canvassed the theory put forward by a Polish physicist, Copernicus. Before 1543, the Aristotelian concept of the universe was that the earth is stationary at the centre while other planets revolve around it. Copernicus held what is called heliocentric model where the sun is stationary at the centre while other planets including earth revolve around it. No one should blame Aristotle. It is difficult to understand that the earth is moving when I can leave Uyo today and a year later I return to see Uyo where I left it with my residence sitting where it was. Yet Copernicus and Aristarchus of Samos in Greece who made the same declaration 1800 years earlier tell me the earth revolves around the sun and completes one cycle in 365.256 days every year!
This story is highlighted not just for information of those who may not know. It is highlighted because Galileo trumpeted it and the Church accused him of heresy. During the trial in 1633, he was set free because he recanted, that is, withdrew his position. But on stepping out of the venue sources say he made a famous statement, “Yet it moves,” that is, the earth moves or revolves around the sun even if church elders say it does not.
It took 369 years, in 1969, for Pope John Paul II to apologize on behalf of the Church and publicly accept the church’s error of judgement. Christians do err then though many would go to any length to defend a wrong position.
3. The programme termed “Crusades” was Christian. Several rich Europeans either funded or enlisted in the groups known as Knights (e.g. Knights Templar). The ideal was to liberate Jerusalem from Moslems as well as arrest the march of Islam and new theology into Christian territories. It was an ideal but, in the process, not only Moslems but Jews were tortured and slaughtered. That was a classic case of Christian fundamentalism which extended into bloodletting. The justification was sought and the phrase “just war” came in handy (see Romans 13:4).
4. The concept of just war has been traced to ancient Egypt. It was revised by many thinkers but those of St. Augustine of Hippo (Algeria) and St. Thomas Aquinas (Italy) that are regarded as path-breaking.
In “City of God” and the “Summa” by the two respectively, there were efforts to justify violence where necessary for furtherance of the faith. It is thus difficult to appreciate the hue and cry when Moslems do same thing in their religion. Permit me to add that President Barack Obama supported the concept of just war when he was decorated with the Nobel Prize for peace in 2009. I guess all religions continue to use that concept to justify violence today.
5. Christian fundamentalism has found its home in USA through mainly, the Evangelical Christians. This group generally prefer pure theology at least in theory. It is the group that is currently backing Donald Trump such that the man cannot be seen as ever doing anything wrong. It is evident that the fundamentalist brand of the evangelicals does not include speaking of truth, advocating family values, discouraging racism and abuse of women as acts repugnant to good conscience. If one indicates that in three and a half years Mr. Trump has openly made untruthful declarations (16,241 lies according to Washington Post claims) and that he recently urged Governors of States to suppress black demonstrators, evangelicals in US and Nigeria will say the stories are fake news or hoaxes peddled by Democrats. In my humble opinion, these are human acts that daily amount to violence sponsored or perpetrated by Christians in the US with subtle support even from some Nigerians. The acts of brethren have made people say that the phrase Moslem fundamentalism is repugnant. Rather, violent Muslims are called Islamists.
6. Of the things and write ups I have read, none of them is as fascinating as the one by Julia Ioffe posted on 14th June 2016 in Foreignpolicy.com. The writer, an American Jew submitted that in recorded history ALL religions have been involved in one form of violence or another against perceived enemies or even dissidents. In the list are Judaism, Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam. The writer concluded that all the religions preach peace and yet their adherents routinely practice violence interpreting certain provisions of their scripture to justify their acts. The conclusion of that article is that it is not the religion but the people that go violent and display intolerance. It will be interesting if someone can argue against this. In our Nigeria even traditional religion preaches peace today. However, we know human sacrifices was the norm in the past. We also know that several Moslems abhor violence just as many Moslem men have one wife even when the religion permits them if they can afford. We also know that Moslem on Moslem violence outstrips Moslem on other religion violence. START data shows 68 fatalities arising from terrorist acts (including those from non- Muslims) in USA in 2016 while Gun Violence Archives showed killings by gun violence within America as 15, 112 in the same year. In 2019 it was 15,208. This does not include the 22, 938 people that used guns to kill themselves. Obama fought desperately against gun ownership; our man Trump is fighting desperately to encourage gun ownership because of his fear of the National Rifle Association (US is 65% Christian, down by 12% over one decade. Evangelicals form 7% of the population).
7. A natural question should be, what is the rationale for this seemingly antichristian post? The answer is that there is need to be cautious and pre-emptive. Although not religious, the fratricidal war in Belfast between Protestants and Catholics which lasted 30 years should tell us that intra-religious violence is real and is better handled when it is a spark than when it becomes a flame. Thoughts graduate to speeches and speeches could graduate to damaging acts of proportions not imagined. It is fine to object to transgressions of dogma but by the time the ‘holy’ person uses raw language or fists, the story changes. It is why King Solomon said in Proverbs 25:1 that a gentle answer turns away wrath but grievous words stir anger.
And we should not doubt that fundamentalism is the reason some sects are against blood transfusion while some ministers and worshippers are against delivery by caesarean section. Why would someone ignore that God gave His children the knowledge to open up a woman, bring out a living child, close her up such that she can have a second baby and the same church would have big functions to dedicate the two children? “God forbid delivery by knife” is with us till today, leading to loss of mother and child and increase in our statistics of maternal fatalities. The issue is that of a people perishing because of lack of knowledge and some in the educated corps use fundamentalist principles to create rather than solve problems around us.
9. Let me end this piece with an example I have not been able to forget. About four decades ago I attended Christmas service in Qua Iboe Church in my village, Oboyo. The Pastor commenced the sermon with a challenge. He requested that whoever could recall his sermon of the previous Christmas day would win a prize. The hall was quiet till one man raised his hand. This man was much beloved in the community because he was jocular and friendly but he was also known to lean towards mundane lifestyle. He was therefore the last person that should recall a sermon presented one year before. In the church were those who say they are born again and those who studiously write down Bible portions and topics. The man went home with the prize.
After service the man drew the attention of some people to the fact that outward observances are not the last word in Christianity. As the Bible says in Matthew 7:21, not all those that say Lord, Lord will enter into the Kingdom of heaven. While we condemn others as being heathen, we must constantly remind ourselves of the wisdom of our elders: when we point one accusing finger at others, four are pointed at us. No one can claim to have a reserved seat in heaven till our day is done. Did 1 Corinthians 10:12 not tell us that whoever thinks he stands should take heed lest he fall? Correct people but do so with finesse not violence whether by speech or by fist or by knife or gun. It is only the Good Lord that sees the heart and will judge in the fullness of time.
True religion is not about the size of the scripture in our bag or the number and frequency of observances. It is about a personal relationship with the Supreme Being and service to His creations including our fellow beings. I don’t think the person that does things which destroy earth or society or fellow humans can claim to be a true child of God. Making heaven is not as simple as ABC and does not rest on self-righteousness.
What all human beings should work for peace and love using our religions. TIME magazine once indicated that we are wired for religion. that is, part of our brains has a specific place for religion, after all atheism is still religion. If all the world’s religions canvass peace and love which are intrinsic in every religion, we would be working towards the ,1000 years of peace that Nostradamus foresaw.
10. PostScript: I can imagine someone taking one line or point from this piece and lambasting the writer while ignoring those points that do not serve that person’s purpose. Thank you for doing so and I look forward to it. God bless us all and give us His wisdom to understand His precepts better. Amen.
I rest my case.