Are you a fundamentalist?

by Rachel Held Evans Read Distraction Free

Brian McLaren asks that question on his blog today, and frames it like this:


When I am presented with a new idea or proposal, my first question is more likely to be ...

___A. Is it acceptable to my religious/ideological community or belief system?
___B. Is it possibly true, valuable, and worth exploring?

According to McLaren, if your answer is ‘A,’ you are a fundamentalist, and if your answer is ‘B’ then you are curious.

McLaren draws his inspiration from Seth Godin’s definitions for fundamentalism and curiosity. In his excellent book, Tribes, Godin writes:

A fundamentalist is a person who considers whether a fact is acceptable to his religion before he explores it.  As opposed to a curious person who explores first and then considers whether or not he wants to accept the ramifications.  A curious person embraces the tension between his religion and something new, wrestles with it and through it, and then decides whether to embrace the new idea or reject it.

When I first encountered the quiz, my reaction was, Why of course I’m not a fundamentalist! At least not anymore. I approach every new idea with an open mind and a willingness to embrace the truth no matter the consequences. I’ve voluntarily studied the science behind evolution, despite being told my whole life that it’s incompatible with my faith. I’ve read Richard Dawkins, Thich Nhat Hahn, and Friedrich Nietzsche. I’ve re-evaluated my position on politics, on homosexuality, on biblical inerrancy, on religious pluralism, and on church. I may be a person of faith, but I’m no fundamentalist!

But upon further reflection, I realized that if I’m honest with myself, I have to admit that my first question when encountering a new idea is almost always, Does this fit with my faith?  It’s my default—perhaps out of habit, perhaps out of fear, perhaps because it’s part of the human condition to be wary of anything that might upset one’s current paradigm.

In fact, I have the same initial reaction when I am presented with a new perspective on politics or theology. My first question is almost always, Does this fit with what I already believe?  I hate to admit it, but my enthusiasm for exploring a subject is directly proportional to the degree to which I want to change my mind.

The difference, I suppose, is that over the past few years I’ve learned that my faith is strong enough to withstand new ideas and hard questions. I no longer let the question Does this fit with my faith? stop me from exploring. If all truth is God’s truth, then I figure I’ve got nothing to be afraid of.

I love Godin's perspective on fundamentalism and curiosity, and I'd like to think that I’m the kind of person who “embraces the tension between [her] religion and something new, wrestles with it and through it, and then decides whether to embrace the new idea or reject it.”

But this is a learned response for me, not a natural one. I’m afraid that my gut reaction will always be A, not B. I'm afraid that, deep down, I'm a fundamentalist at heart.

What about you? Based on this quiz, are you a fundamentalist?

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