Flinders, looking south to Wilpena Pound November 2014

Courage

I wish to use the notion of 'courage' in this essay.

"Courage is the affirmation of one's essential nature..." [Tillich, P. The Courage To Be pp16 ppiii] In relation to what has been written above this involves the acceptance of our finitude and the acceptance that our grasp of reality is imperfect. Ultimately it is shown by being able to face the threat of the universe, the dread that one day, apparently, we will not be. Courage is necessary to allow change in our reality construct.

Our present situation is a 'fundamentalist climate'. This is a climate of rapid change and great complexity. It is a climate where established reality constructs and conceptions of what life is about begin to crumble because the rate of change in the society is too great to be internalised. There is too much data at variance with the structure of many people's reality constructs, which is pushed upon them too quickly, for them to mould their perceptions of reality into the shape their conceptions say the data should have. Thus the constructs of large numbers of people are put under great stress. There is a loss of meaning.

This climate is characterised by an extra-ordinary testing of people's ability to deal with the world. It is a climate in which people need more courage. It is characterised by (among other things) doubt as to the meaning and worthwhileness of reality and life. To avoid this painful experience of asking and doubting many surrender the right to ask and doubt. They 'surrender' themselves in order to save themselves. They give up their freedom to ask and question the meaning of life, to escape the anxiety of meaninglessness. "Meaning is [thus] saved, but the self is sacrificed." Tillich says this sacrifice "leaves its mark"; a "fanatical self assertiveness." Fanaticism is the correlate of spiritual self-surrender.

Fanaticism shows the anxiety it was supposed to conquer, by attacking with disproportionate violence those who disagree and who demonstrate by their disagreement elements in the spiritual life of the fanatic which he must suppress in himself. Because he must suppress them in himself he must suppress them in others. [Tillich p56-7]

Many in our culture are tending to find courage through this surrender today.

Strictly speaking, today's 'fundamentalist climate' should be called a climate of widespread anxiety which is showing a lack of courage. This is because Fundamentalism (as a system) is one religious response to this 'age of anxiety' (Tillich). The distinction is important because it is not just fundamentalists who affect the church, it is a Fundamentalist system fueled by an age of anxiety- or, as this essay topic puts it, by the 'fundamentalist climate'. The age of anxiety gives rise to Fundamentalism, rather than Fundamentalism giving rise to the climate, although it may exacerbate the climate.

Fundamentalism is one religious response to anxiety. It absolutises a reality construct at some point. Some points in the construct are made unchangeable. The threat of rapid change and increasing complexity is met by sacralising [Alves pp 142] the theological past and carrying this into the future. The hallmark of 'Christian' Fundamentalism is the tying of the authority of scripture to "its infallibility and in particular its historical inerrancy." The authority of scripture is understood to be maintained only "if it is in general without error". [Barr J. "The problem of fundamentalism today" Explorations in Theology 7 pp 65]

It is here that the reality construct has been 'frozen'. There can be no change made from an inerrant scripture. All data must be made to fit this doctrine/concept. This conclusion is inescapable from reading Barr's Fundamentalism, which describes the system in some detail, or apologetics such as Inerrancy. [N. Geisler Ed.(Zondervan 1979)]

I strongly support the above contentions, having been strongly committed to a Fundamentalist theological system. In fact, I would go so far as to say that the ultimate paradigm of Fundamentalism, is not Jesus Christ and the significance of his Person. It is the doctrine of the inerrancy of scripture.

I have been told that this is an overstatement,* but with respect to the system as opposed to any individual person, all theologising and apologetics are moulded around that doctrine. In an explicitly Fundamentalist system the nature of the Person of Christ is derived from the inerrant scripture, rather than the authority of scripture deriving from the person and experience of Christ. As I will stress later, this is not necessarily the explicit belief, or the consistent mode of theologising of a person who is called, by themself or others, 'fundamentalist'.

[*It is not so in everyday piety. There, Jesus guarantees the Scripture. But the final line of defence of the whole system is the inerrancy doctrine.]

Fundamentalism's sacralising of the theological past, [Rogers, J. The Church Doctrine of Biblical Authority pp 215-220 shows this in Warfield's derivation of innerancy from Turretin.] it's freezing of the reality construct, provides courage. This courage is a 'regained certitude'. [Tillich pp57] "The Bible is certain no matter what change and complexity we face." But this has surrendered the right to ask and doubt; inerrancy cannot be questioned or certitude fails. This courage is thus limited. It cannot face certain doubts. A consistent fundamentalist is thus limited in how far he or she can modify their paradigm for understanding the world.

Next: Persons and the Church


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