Food For Thought

A Collection of Heretical Notions and Wretched Adages
compiled by Jack Tourette

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What Fundamentalists Need for Their Salvation

by David James Duncan

The question before the human race is, whether the God of nature shall govern the world by his own laws, or whether priests and kings shall rule it by fictitious miracles.
     - John Adams, to Thomas Jefferson, 1815

I was born a chosen person, though this state of affairs was not of my choosing. My mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother were staunch Seventh Day Adventists -- an Apocalypse-preaching, Saturday-worshiping fundamentalist sect that arose in the mid-nineteenth century. Our faith's founder prophesied Jesus' Second Coming and "the Rapture" in 1850. When both failed to occur, he instead formed the church into which the matriarchs of my family were later born. These strong women gave their offspring no choice but to attend the same churches and share their faith, so attend and share we did. My father and grandfather, however, did not attend church, and none of my friends at public school were SDAs either. I, in other words, was "saved" -- no plagues of boils and frogs or eternal hellfire for me -- whereas my father, grandfather, and school friends were, according to our preachers, impending toast. Sound suspicious to you? It sure did to me.

My earliest memory of Adventist faith-training is of being four-years-old in Sabbath School and having to sing "Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam" while making our fingers extend out around our faces like 'sunbeams.' I felt nothing for Jesus as we did this -- and I loved Jesus; found him heroic from earliest memory. All I can recall feeling during the sunbeam song was bafflement that our teachers would make us do such silly things.

Similar confusion invaded my attempts to recite "Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep" at bedtime. Not only did this prayer not give me courage to face the night, it felt unfair to say it. To expect God to listen to a rote ditty, then protect us in response, seemed like offering Him almost nothing but asking Him for a lot. As for the time I asked Jesus for a base hit at a ball game, when I stepped to the plate and struck out on three pitches I was relieved: if every kid in America could get a hit just by asking Jesus, we'd all bat a thousand and ruin baseball in a day.

Intense spiritual feelings were frequent visitors during my boyhood, but they did not come from churchgoing or from bargaining with God through prayer. The connection I felt to the Creator came, unmediated, from Creation itself. The spontaneous gratitude I felt for birds and birdsong, tree-covered and snowcapped mountains, rivers and their trout, moon- and starlight, summer winds on wilderness lakes, the same lakes silenced by winter snows, spring resurrections after autumn's mass deaths -- the intimacy, intricacy, and interwovenness of these things -- became the spiritual instructors of my boyhood. In even the smallest suburban wilds I felt linked to powers and mysteries I could imagine calling "the Presence of God."

In fifteen years of churchgoing I did not once feel this same sense of Presence. What I felt instead was a lot of heavily agendaed fear-based information being shoved at me by men on the church payroll. Though these men claimed to speak for God, I was never convinced.

On the day I was granted the option of what our preachers called "leaving the faith," I did, and increased my faith by so doing. Following intuition and love with all the sincerity and attentiveness I could muster, I chose to spend my life in the company of rivers, wilderness, wisdom literature, like-minded friends, and quiet contemplation. And as it's turned out, this life, though dirt-poor in church pews, has enriched me with a sense of the holy, and left me far more grateful than I'll ever be able to say.

Three decades of intimacy with some of the world's greatest wisdom texts and some of the West's most beautiful rivers led me to assume I'd escaped the orbit of organized religion entirely. Then came a night in Medford, Oregon. After giving a literary reading to a warm, sometimes raucous, not-at-all-churchlike crowd, I was walking to the car when one of the most astute men I know -- my good friend Sam Alvord -- clapped me on the back and amiably remarked, "I enjoy your evangelism."

The last word in Sam's sentence flabbergasted me. Evangelism? I was a storyteller, not one of those dang proselytizers! The evangelists I'd known since childhood thought the supposed "inerrancy" of the Bible magically neutralized their own flaming errancy and gave them an apostolic right to judge humanity and bilk it at the same time. The evangelists I'd known proclaimed themselves saved, the rest of us damned, and swore that only by shouting "John 3:16! John 3:16!" at others, as if selling Redemption Peanuts at a ballgame, could we avoid an Eternal State of Ouch. Evangelists, as I saw 'em, were a self-enlisted army of Cousin Sidneys from Mark Twain's Tom Sawyer, preaching a tattletale religiosity that boiled down to the cry: If you don't believe what the Bible and me say, and pay me for saying it, I'm gonna tell God on you and you're gonna get in Big Trouble!

Then clear-eyed, honest Sam says, "I enjoy your evangelism"?

Shit O. Deer.

My first response to Sam's remark was to repress the living bejeezus out of it. Ten years passed before I dared look up the "e-word" in the Oxford English Dictionary. What I finally found there was, well...I guess the word pretty much has to be, damning. Though the range of meanings surrounding the root-word "evangel" is broad, a whole raft of definitions tied my public readings, literary writings, and me to Sam's characterization. Insofar as I believe Jesus is the bee's knees, and insofar as I speak words that could be seen as spreading the spiritual intent of the gospels, I must admit, with "fear and trembling," that I am (gulp!) evangelical.

Now, having damned myself in what we might call "anti-evangelical circles," I'd like to qualify my confession by stating what the word "evangelical" suggests to me.

Religious laws, in all the major traditions, have both a letter and a spirit. As I understand the words and example of Jesus, the spirit of a law is all-important, whereas the letter, while useful in conjunction with spirit, becomes lifeless and deadly without it. In accord with this distinction, a yearning to worship on wilderness ridges or beside rivers, rather than in churches, could legitimately be called evangelical. Jesus himself began his mission after forty days and nights in wilderness. According to the same letter-versus-spirit distinction, the law-heavy literalism of many so-called evangelicals is not evangelical at all: "evangel" means "the gospels", the essence of the gospels is Jesus, and literalism is not something that Jesus personified or taught.

I would also propose that one needn't be a Christian for the word to apply; if your words or deeds harmonize with the example of Jesus, you are evangelical in spirit whether you claim to be or not. When the non-Christian Ambrose Bierce, for instance, wrote, "War is the means by which Americans learn geography," there was acid dripping almost visibly from his pen. His words, however, are aimed at the same antiwar end as the gospel statements "Love thine enemies" and "Love thy neighbor as thyself." And "Blessed are the peacemakers." Bierce's wit is in this sense evangelical whether he likes it or not.

Evangelism was never intended to mean the missionary zeal of self-righteous proselytizers claiming that their narrow interpretation of scripture will prevent eternal punishments and pay eternal rewards. Evangelism implies, on the contrary, the kind of all-embracing universality evident in Mother Teresa's prayer, "May God break my heart so completely that the whole world falls in." Not just fellow nuns, Catholics, Calcuttans, Indians. The whole world. It gives me pause to realize that, were such a prayer said by me and answered by God, I would afterward possess a heart so open that even hate-driven zealots would fall inside. There is a self-righteous knot in me that finds zealotry so repugnant it wants to sit on the sidelines with the like-minded, plaster our cars with bumper stickers that say MEAN PEOPLE SUCK and NO BILLIONAIRE LEFT BEHIND and WHO WOULD JESUS BOMB?, and leave it at that. But I can't. My sense of the world as a gift, my sense of a grace operative in this world despite its terrors, propels me to allow the world to open my heart still wider, even if the openness comes by breaking, for I have seen the whole world fall into a few hearts, and nothing has ever struck me as more beautiful.

The whole world, for example, seemed to fall into the heart of Mahatma Gandhi, not only on the day he said, "I am a Christian, I am a Hindu, I am a Muslim, I am a Jew," but on the day he proved the depth of his declaration when, after receiving two fatal bullets from a fundamentalist zealot, he blessed that zealot with a namaste before dying. For the fundamentalists of each tradition he names, Gandhi's fourfold profession of faith is three-fourths heresy. It is also a statement I can imagine Jesus making and, for me personally, a description of spiritual terrain in which I yearn to take up permanent residence.

The world's great religions, though far from identical, are close enough in ultimate aim that huge-hearted individuals within each faith have shown themselves able to love and serve their neighbors regardless of their neighbor's various faiths. I consider it evangelical, in the Jesus-loving sense of the word, to serve followers of Abraham, Mohammed, Shakyamuni, Rama, and Jesus, or nonfollowers of the same, without discrimination or distinction.

The gulf between this open-hearted evangelism and the aims of modern fundamentalism is vast. Most of the famed leaders of the new "Bible-based" American political alliances share a conviction that their causes and agendas are approved of and directly inspired by no less a being than God. This enviable conviction is less enviably arrived at by accepting on faith, hence as fact, that the Christian Bible pared down to American TV English is God's "word" to humankind, that this same Bible is His only word to humankind, and that the politicized apocalyptic fundamentalists' unprecedentedly selective slant on this Bible is the one true slant.

The position is remarkably self-insulating. Possessing little knowledge of or regard for the world's wealth of religious, literary, spiritual, and cultural traditions, fundamentalist leaders accept no concept of love or compassion but their own. They can therefore honestly, and even cheerfully, say that it is out of Christian compassion and a sort of tough love for others that they seek to impose on all others their tendentiously literalized God, Bible, and slant. But how "tough" can love be before it ceases to be love at all? Well-known variations on the theme include the various Inquisitions' murderously tough love for "heretics" who for centuries were defined as merely defiant of the Inquisition itself; the European Catholic and American Puritan tough love for "witches," who for centuries were defined as virtually any sexually active or humanitarian or unusually skilled single woman whose healing herbs or independence from men defied a male church hierarchy's claim to be the source of all healing; the Conquistador's genocidally tough love for the Incas, Aztecs, and Mayans whose gold they stole for the glory of a church meant to honor the perfect poverty of a life begun in a manger and ended on a cross; the missionaries' and U.S. Cavalry's genocidally tough love for land-rich indigenous peoples whose crime was merely to exist; and, today, the Bush team's murderously tough love for an oil-rich Muslim world as likely to convert to Texas neocon values as Bush himself is likely to convert to Islam.

Each of these crusader groups has seen itself as fighting to make its own or some other culture more Christian even as it tramples the teachings of Christ into a blood-soaked earth. The result, among millions of non-fundamentalists, has been revulsion toward anything that chooses to call itself Christian. But I see no more crucial tool for defusing fundamentalist aggression than the four books of the gospels, and can think of no more crucial question to keep asking our crusaders than whether there is anything truly imitative of Jesus -- that is, anything compassionate, self-abnegating, empathetic, forgiving, and enemy-loving -- in their assaults on those they have determined to be "evil."

The appropriation of Christian terminology by the American political movement known as neoconservative has resulted in a breed of believer I'm tempted to call "avengelical," but in the interests of diplomacy will simply call right-wing. The fusion of right-wing politics and religiosity has changed America's leadership, altered our identity in the eyes of the world, and created a mood of close-minded vehemence in millions. Critics of the right-wing/fundamentalist conflation are now often demonized not just as traitors to America, but as enemies of a new kind of Americanized God. A growing number of people of faith, however, believe that Americans are being asked to worship a bogus image of God. Though examples of the deception are numerous, I'll describe two which came to my attention through the writings of the evangelical Christian Jim Wallis.

On the first anniversary of the destruction of the World Trade Center, President Bush gave a speech in New York in which he said that the "ideal of America is the hope of all mankind." Six billion people on Earth are not Americans; to call America their hope is, to put it mildly, hubristic. What's more, all those who places their hope not in nations but in God are obligated by their faith to find Bush's statement untrue. But Bush's speechwriters ratchet the rhetoric up even further. After calling America the world's hope, Bush added, "That hope still lights our way. And the light shines in the darkness. And the darkness has not overcome it." As Wallis points out in "Dangerous Religion" (Mississippi Review, Vol. 10 No. 1), these last sentences are lifted straight out of the Gospel of John, where they refer not to America or any nation, but to the word of God and the light of Christ.

Second example: in his 2003 State of the Union address, the president said that there is "power, wonder-working power in the goodness and idealism and faith of the American people" -- words stolen from a hymn that in fact says there is "power, wonder-working power in the blood of the Lamb." This thievery is breathtaking, and leaves me wondering what Bush's speechwriters might steal next. John 1:1 perhaps? In the beginning was America, and America was with God, and America was God....

"The real theological problem in America today," writes Wallis, is "the nationalist religion...that confuses the identity of the nation with the church, and God's purposes with the mission of American empire. America's foreign policy is more than preemptive, it is theologically presumptuous; not only unilateral, but dangerously messianic; not just arrogant, but...blasphemous."

I would add the Bush administration's notion of stewardship to Wallis's list of blasphemies. To describe the current war on nature as stewardship is to forsake the very teachings of the Bible. In Genesis, men and women are made in the image of the God who just created and blessed all creatures and their ability to multiply, and Adam is placed in Eden merely "to dress it and keep it." In Exodus, the Sabbath rest is given to animals as well as humans. In Leviticus, humans are told by God to tend the land carefully and not treat it as a possession, because, "the land is mine, and you are but aliens who have become my tenants." And again in the psalms: "The Earth is the Lord's, and the fullness thereof." Then in the gospels we meet, in Jesus, a leader who refuses political power and defines dominion as "Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven," a king of kings whose life is characterized throughout by sensitivity to the meek, the weak, the poor, the voiceless, field lilies, the fowls of the air, and all other forms of life.

American fundamentalists, despite avowed love for this same Jesus, predominately support an administration that has worked to weaken the Clear Air and Clean Water acts and gut the Endangered Species and Environmental Policy acts; this administration has stopped fining air and water polluters, dropped all suits against coal-fired power, weakened limits on pollutants that destroy ozone, increased the amount of mercury in the air and water, vowed to drill in the Arctic wildlife sanctuary, stopped citizen review of logging proposals in the people's own forests -- the list goes on and on. I wish that none of it were true. I wish that devastation, extinctions, ever-more-powerful hurricanes, epidemic diseases, and cancers were not raining down upon us as I write. But since they are, I must ask: how righteous, how truthful, how Christian is the cunning of speechwriters who place words meant to praise God, or even Christ's spilled blood, in the mouth of a man who instead uses them to exalt an empire born of the destruction of America's own ecosystems, civility, diplomacy, and honesty?

The manipulators who convert the very "blood of the Lamb" into the phrase "the American people" force those of faith to make a call. To treat the Earth as disposable and the Bible as God, turn that God into a political action committee, equate arrogance and effrontery with evangelism, right-wing politics with worship, aggression with compassion, devastation with stewardship, disingenuous televised prattle with prayer, and call the result Christianity, is, according to the teachings of Jesus, not an enviable position, but a fatal one.

Those of us struggling to defend ravaged landscapes, demonized Muslims, ecologically disinherited children, vanished compassion, and every other casualty of neocon-fundamentalist rhetoric are dealing with end results, not the primary cause. We might do better to shift our attention to the fundamentalist machinery itself.

Contemporary American fundamentalism is more a manufactured product, or even an industrial byproduct, than a result of careful reflection. The "Christian" Right's fully-automated evangelical machinery runs twenty-four hours a day -- like McDonald's, Coca-Cola's, and ExxonMobil's -- making converts globally. But to what? The conversion industry's notion of the word "Christian" has substituted a "Rapture Index" and Armageddon fantasy for Christ's interior kingdom of heaven and love of neighbor; it is funded by donors lured by a televangelical "guarantee" of "a hundredfold increase on all financial donations," as if Mark 10:30 were an ad for a financial pyramid scheme and Jesus never said, "Sell all thou hast and distribute it unto the poor"; it has replaced once-personal relationships between parishioners and priests or preachers with radio and TV bombast, sham healings, and congregation-fleecing scams performed by televangelical rock stars; it has trumped worship characterized by contemplative music, reflective thought, and silent prayer with three-ring media-circuses and "victory campaigns"; it inserts lobbyists in its pulpits and political brochures in its pews, claims that both speak for Jesus, and raises millions for this Jesus though its version of him preaches neocon policies straight out of Washington think tanks and spends most of "His" money on war; it quotes Mark 10:15 and Matthew 5:44 and Matthew 6:6 and Luke 18:9-14 a grand total of never; it revels in its election of a violent, historically ignorant, science-flaunting, carcinogenic-policied president who goads us toward theocracy at home even as he decries theocracies overseas; it defies cooperation and reason in governance, exults in division, and hastens the degeneration of a democracy built upon cooperation and reason; it claims an exclusive monopoly on truth ("America is the hope of all mankind...") yet trivializes truth globally by evincing ignorance of Christianity's historic essence and disrespect toward the world's ethnic and religious diversity and astonishingly rich cultural present and past.

To refer to peregrinating Celtic monks and fundamentalist lobbyists, Origen and Oral Roberts, the Desert Fathers and Jerry Falwell, Dante and Pat Robertson, St. Francis and the TV "prosperity gospel" hucksters, Lady Julian of Norwich and Tim La Haye, or John of the Cross and George W. Bush all as Christian stretches the word so thin its meaning vanishes. The term "carbon-based life-form" is as informative.

Though it may shock those who equate fundamentalism and Christianity, ninety years ago the term "fundamentalist" did not exist. The term was coined by an American Protestant splinter-group, which in 1920 proclaimed that adhering to "the literal inerrancy of the Bible" was the true Christian faith. The current size of this group does not change the aberrance of its stance: deification of the mere words of the Bible, in light of every scripture-based wisdom tradition including Christianity's two-thousand-year-old own, is not just naivete, it is idolatry.

This, in all sincerity, is why fundamentalists need to honor, respect, even love those who are no such thing. How can those lost in literalism save one another? As Max Weber once put it: "We [Christians] are building an iron cage, and we're inside of it, and we're closing the door. And the handle is on the outside."

The protagonist of my first novel, The River Why, was a fly fisher and spiritual seeker named Gus. In that book Gus voices serious reservations about the Being some believers so possessively refer to as God. But a problem that Gus and I ran into in telling his story was that, after a climactic all-night adventure with a river and a huge chinook salmon, he had a sudden, transrational (or, in the old Christian lexicon, mystical) experience that left him too overwhelmed to speak with accuracy, yet too grateful to remain mute. This paradox is autobiographical. As the recipient of several such detonations, I felt bound by gratitude to let my protagonist speak. But as a lifelong witness of the fundamentalist assault on the Christian lexicon, I felt compelled to speak in non-Christian terms. Though Gus spoke of a presence so God-like that in the end he dubbed it "the Ancient One," his account of his experience did not once invoke the word "God."

Reader reactions to this climax have been neatly divided. Those who have experienced similar detonations have sometimes been so moved by the scene that their eyes filled as they thanked me for writing it -- and those who've experience no such detonation have asked me why I ruined a dang good fishin' yarn with woo-woo. I admire both reactions. Both are constitutionally correct. Both are perfectly honest. What more should a writer want from his reader? What more, for that matter, can a mortal, be they skeptic or mystic, offer the Absolute?

The French novelist and philosopher Rene Daumal describes the paradox I faced perfectly. He wrote: "I swear to you that I have to force myself to write or to pronounce this word: God. It is a noise I make with my mouth or a movement of the fingers that hold my pen. To pronounce or to write this word makes me ashamed. What is real here is that shame. ...Must I never speak of the Unknowable because it would be a lie? Must I speak of the Unknowable because I know that I proceed from it and am bound to bear witness to it? This contradiction is the prime mover of my best thoughts."

Another word for this shame, in my view, is reverence. And fundamentalism, speaking of the Unknowable, too often lacks this essential quality. The kind of fundamentalism that now more or less governs our country does not just proudly pronounce the word "God," it defines and Americanizes God, worships its own definition, and aims to impose that definition on all. What an abyss between this effrontery and the Christ-inspired self-giving of a St. Francis, Mother Teresa, or Martin Luther King! What a contrast, too, between this kind of Christianity and that of the Amish, who practice no evangelism, who tease those who quote the Bible too often (calling them "scripture smart"), and who consider it laughable to pronounce oneself "saved," since God alone is capable of such almighty judgments.

God is unlimited. Thought and language are unlimited. God is the fathomless but beautiful Mystery Who creates the universe and you and me, and sustains it and us every instant, and always shall. The instant we define fathomless Mystery It is no longer fathomless. To define is to limit. The greater a person's confidence in their definition of God, the more sure I feel that their worship of Him has become the worship of their own definition.

The word "God," looked at not as a Being but as a word, is very simple. Three letters. "Dog" backwards. And the word is English, mind you. Three letters of a language invented just a thousand years ago, by Norman conquerors trying to work out a way to command their Anglo-Saxon chattel. To kill or condemn others in the name of a three-letter mongrel Norman/Anglo-Saxon word is tragically absurd. A mortal being who presumes, via the study of Holy Writ, to know the will of Absolute Being and kill in accord with that "knowledge" is, I think you could say, Absolutely mistaken.

If America's literature has arrived at any theological consensus concerning what humans owe the Divine, it might be this: better to be honest to God, even if that means stating one's complete lack of belief in any such Being, than to allow one's mind and imagination to be processed by an ideology factory. In literature as in life, there are ways in disbelieving in God that are more loving, and in this sense more imitative of Jesus, than some forms of orthodox belief. There are agnostic and atheistic humanitarians, for example, who believe as they do, and love their neighbors as they do, because the cruelty of humanity makes it impossible to conceive of a God who is anything but remiss or cruel. Rather than consider God cruel, they choose doubt or disbelief, and serve others anyway. This is a backhanded form of reverence, a beautiful kind of shame.

It seems to upset some fundamentalists that literature's answer to "the God question" is as open-ended as the Constitution's. There is also no doubt that the openness our literature and Constitution encourage results in a theological cacophony and mood of irritable interdependence that bear little or no resemblance to the self-righteousness now reigning in the average conservative church. But America remains a country that stakes its life and literature on the belief that this cacophony and interdependence are not only legal, but essential to our health.

Edward Abbey remains welcome to say, "God is love? Not bloody likely!" Goethe remains welcome to reply, "As a man is, so is his God; therefore God is often an object of mockery." And readers of both remain free to draw their own intelligent conclusions.

If my tone here has been sharp, it's because I don't see a way to engage in peaceable exchange on faith matters with those so full of certainties that they only preach, never listen. Every fundamentalist who believes there is just one Holy Book is ignoring the fact that the Christian Bible, Koran, Torah, and Vedas are each considered to be that one book, and the God of each faith has become the empowerer of millions of potentially violent literalists. The proponents of all four faiths consider themselves chosen, they are all now armed with nuclear weapons, and the zealots of each faith are prepared to kill in defense of their chosenness. This is why each faith stands in need not of a turning away from tradition, but of a compassion rebellion against the presumptuous "certainties" of the zealots within each tradition, and a universal recognition of the sigh within the prayer is the same in the heart of the Christian, the Muslim, the Hindu, and the Jew.

Far from feeling dismayed by the differences between these faiths, I am haunted and heartened that Christians sigh for the One called Jesus; Muslims for the One named Allah; Jews for YHWH, "He who causes to be"; Hindus for Brahmin, "the Big," who speaks the beginning-middle-end word, AUM -- and all four traditions hold that these Names cannot be properly said lest we first garb ourselves in utmost humility and surround our naming with silence.

All faiths call humanity so love, service, and stewardship, and all acts of love, service, and stewardship are holy. To put the call in Christian terms: it is this world, not the next, that God loved so much that He bequeathed it His Son. In response to the Armageddon fantasies of his day, the Son himself said, "The kingdom of God cometh not with observation...for behold, the kingdom of God is within you."

There is one irreplaceable Earth, and she is finite. She can absorb just so many wounds or poisons before she ceases to support life. Millions of us have recognized that in wounding the Earth for centuries we have been wounding ourselves.

There is likewise, for most humans born on Earth, just one mother tongue, and it is less widely recognized that a given tongue at a given time consists of only so many words, and that these words can absorb only so many abuses before they cease to mean. America's spiritual vocabulary -- with its huge defining terms such as "God," "soul," "sacrifice," "mysticism," "faith," "salvation," "grace," "redemption" -- has been enduring a series of abuses so constricting that the damage may last for centuries. Too many of us (myself included) have tried to sidestep this damage by simply rejecting the terminology. But the defamation of a religious vocabulary cannot be undone by turning away; the harm is undone when we work to reopen each word's true history, nuance, and depth. Holy words need stewardship as surely as do gardens, orchards, or ecosystems. When lovingly tended, such words surround us with spaciousness and mystery the way a sacred grove surrounds us with peace and oxygenated air. But when we abandon our holy words and fail to replace them, we end up living in a spiritual clearcut.

If Americans of European descent are to understand and honor the legacy of Celtic, European, Middle Eastern, and other Christian traditions and pass our literature, music, art, monasticism, and mysticism on intact, the right-wing hijacking of Christianity must be defined as the reductionist rip-off that it is. To allow televangelists or pulpit neocons to claim exclusive ownership of Jesus is to hand that incomparable lover of enemies, prostitutes, foreigners, children, and fishermen over to those who evince no such love. And to cede the word "Christian" to Earth-trashing literalists who say "the end is nigh" feels rather like ceding my backyard henhouse to weasels. For my hens (and morning omelettes) such a concession would sure enough bring on "the end of the world." But neither my chickens nor I consider the end of our world something to yearn for or work toward.

The God of politically organized fundamentalism, as advertised daily by a vast array of media, is a Supramundane Caucasian Male as furious with humanity's failure to live by the prohibitions of Leviticus as He is oblivious to the "Christian" Right's failure to live the compassion of the gospels and stewardship of both testaments. As surely as I feel love and need for food and water, I feel love and need for God. But these feelings have nothing to do with Supramundane Males planning torments for those who don't abide by neocon "moral values." If the "Christian" Right's God is indeed God, then all my spiritual heroes from Valmiki and Laotze, Bodhidharma and Socrates, Kabir and Mira Bai, Rumi and Hafiz, Dogen and Dante, Teresa of Avila and Julian of Norwich, Eckhart and the Beguines, Aquinas and Sankaracharya, Black Elk and Chief Joseph, Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky, Thoreau and Muir, Shuntyu and D.T. Suzuki, Gandhi and the Dalai Lama, to Merton and Snyder, will be consigned to perdition with me -- for the One we all worship is an infinitely more loving, infinitely less fathomable being.

Based on the lives and words of the preceding heroes and on the Person and gospels of Jesus himself, I believe humanity's situation to be rather different. I hold the evangelical truth of the matter to be that contemporary fundamentalists, especially those aimed at empire and Armageddon, need us nonfundamentalists, mystics, ecosystem activists, unprogrammable artists, agnostic humanitarians, incorrigible writers, truth-telling musicians, incorruptible scientists, organic gardeners, slow-food farmers, gay restaurateurs, wilderness visionaries, pagan preachers of sustainability, compassion-driven entrepreneurs, heartbroken Muslims, grief-stricken children, loving believers, loving disbelievers, peace-marching millions, and the One who loves us all in such a huge way that it is not going too far to say they need us for their salvation.

As Mark Twain pointed out more than a century ago, the only truly prominent community that fundamentalists have so far established in any world, real or imaginary, is hell.

David James Duncan, author of The River Why, The Brothers K, and others, and is writing a novel about reincarnation and human folly titled Nijinsky Hosts Saturday Night Live (a.k.a. The Reincarnatio). He lives in Montana.
© 1999 by MonkeyPants Press, an imprint of Bonobo Books, a division of Consolidated Trout, Ltd.
Last update: 03-July-2015
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