“No, you’re right, Able. An awful lot of people naively criticize without knowing what they’re really talking about, but…” Jim Blue Poorman interrupted himself to take another bite of egg foo young while Able nibbled on the last of his spring roll. “I think using words like ‘conservative,’ or ‘militant,’ or ‘rigid’ in any definition of fundamentalism is really not helpful. In fact, it may actually say more about the people using those words than it does about the term itself.”
“Well, yeah, that’s what I mean,” Able agreed. “Not that I even consider myself ‘fundamentalist’ anymore – and maybe I never really was, but anyway – I know I was never militant or rigid. At least, I don’t think I was… O.k. maybe rigid, but not militant.” Able chortled at this. “Moxie’s always telling me I’m not assertive enough, let alone militant.” He laughed again as he took a spoonful of won-ton soup.
Able had met Blue Poorman that morning at St. Gianna Church, where he attended service with Moxie, who was disappointed to find out that Joy Brighterday had gone “AWOL,” as she put it. Even still, it was a new and somewhat gratifying experience for Able Dilettante, who’d never seen the inside of any church other than the Ebenezer Independent Fundamentalist Bible Church. And he immediately liked the “substitute preacher,” Jim Blue Poorman, which is why he’d spent a good half-hour talking to him after church, which is why they were now eating dinner together at a local Chinese restaurant.
“No, you certainly don’t strike me as the militant type,” Jim chuckled. “Anyway, fundamentalism in any form can be militant, and often is, but I think a better and more applicable description would be ‘defensive.’ In fundamentalist groups you often find a kind of ‘fortress mentality,’ but even this really doesn’t get at the heart of fundamentalism. I mean, my grandmother, God rest her soul, was not militant and I don’t think she was even particularly defensive, certainly not in a mean and nasty way. In fact, she was one of the kindest, sweetest, most generous people I’ve ever know… ‘salt of the earth,’ as some would say; a real saint.”
“Well, o.k. then, how do you define ‘fundamentalism,’ and why aren’t you one?” Able smiled and continued, “I know you’re not a fundamentalist, of course … but why? I’d like to hear your … take on it all. What’s the real heart of the problem with fundamentalism and the church I’ve left? Too narrow-minded and restrictive, I know, but…”
“Oh, well, wait a sec,” Blue Poorman cut in. “There’s nothing wrong with restrictions, generally speaking. I mean, my God! One of the most restrictive books in the world is not the Bible, but the dictionary, and we would hardly call the dictionary ‘evil.’ No … there are plenty of restrictions in life, necessary restrictions. We couldn’t live without them, at least not very well, so I don’t think it’s restrictiveness, per se, that’s really the problem.” Blue lifted his tea cup and took a sip of steaming chai.
“So … what words come to mind, then? What’s the ‘Poorman definition’ of fundamentalism, and why’s it so bad?” Able lifted his own cup then and waited.
“Well, really the one word that’s always come to my mind – and I think it’s a good place to at least begin some kind of definition – would be ‘oversimplification.’”
“Yes, oversimplification,” Jim Blue answered before taking another drink. “Religious fundamentalism really comes down to … to an aversion, or even loathing the idea that an infinite God cannot be fully understood by a finite mind, that … things divine are really rather mysterious and to some extent, at least, beyond the grasp of earthly creatures, you might say. It’s … well, an attempt to fit all of reality into nice, neat little boxes, so to speak. So – and I know you’ve seen this, you’ve experienced it – the mistake of fundamentalism is, at heart, really an intractable kind of oversimplification.”
“You know,” Jim leaned back then, clearly enjoying conversation with his newfound friend. “The fundamentalist gets some ideas in his head … usually just a few.” They both laughed. Able could scarcely disagree. “And, of course, he just knows these ideas are very obviously true, and he interprets all of reality according to this narrowly defined ‘truth.’ For the Christian fundamentalist, this usually involves only a select number of scriptures or, more importantly, the interpretation of those scriptures, even when other scriptures seem to teach something different.”
“You see, even though she may not consciously realize it – and most fundamentalists probably don’t – she, or he, has been … well, indoctrinated to believe that … hmmmm, that specific interpretations of only a portion of Scripture is definitive for all of life and the whole world. It’s the fixed idea, or ideology, that becomes an inalterable lens through which he looks at everything, literally everything. And this is the downfall of fundamentalism – again, in whatever form or fashion, wherever you find it. It’s not only an oversimplification; it also rests on a very, very shaky foundation. And from what you’ve told me, I take it you’re finding this out … or, I guess, you already have!”
“Yeah,” Able looked down at the table now, pondering. “Yeah… It seems like my whole world, or the life I’ve always known, has just been blown away. I mean, I haven’t really liked church, the preaching, fundamentalism or whatever for a long time now, but … when I finally decided to leave it all behind, you know, for Moxie and her life and her world… I don’t know. I just feel so lost, crazy as that may sound.” Able grunted out a low harrumph. “I mean, it was my world … my family, my friends, church… Sometimes I wonder how my folks ever got sucked into it.”
“So you weren’t always in that church?”
“No, actually we didn’t go anywhere when I was really young. Then suddenly we started going … but come to think of it, I don’t remember my mom or dad ever saying why.”
“Maybe it was security,” Blue offered. “It’s not unheard of … people attracted to fundamentalism, or cults, because it feels safe and secure, and it feels this way precisely because it is simple and seems so solid, even though it’s really a house of cards just waiting to crumble. For awhile, though, some people enjoy feeling … protected, and they enjoy the usually tight-knit community, which makes them feel even more secure. Could be something like that was going on with your parents, I don’t know.”
“Me either.” Able looked back up at Jim Blue. “But I know I’m glad I decided to go to college, because I’m glad I met Moxie. God! She’s like an angel … little rough around the edges, mind you, but…” They both laughed. “Well, o.k. Maybe she’s not ready for the wings, but I think she’s saved my life. And I’m really thankful for that, even if it is kind of uncomfortable and scary and confusing.”
“Well one thing’s for sure,” Blue widened his eyes and smiled. “You didn’t just leave one world for another. You left for love, too … hers and yours. From what I’ve seen and heard, which is admittedly not a lot, it’s genuine love and genuinely shared in really healthy companionship – or, some would say, communion – and that’s pretty damn important.” And something for which Jim Poorman had longed his entire adult life. “So it may be scary, I don’t doubt it, but probably worth every damn bit of it! Just hang in there… Oh, by the way, you never told me why she couldn’t make it this evening.”
2 thoughts on “Able, Blue Talk Fundamentalism Over Chinese”
Very well done.