"Bairstow’s bulky frame, clad in rumpled linen pants and white cotton business shirt, appeared in the doorway. He reached over and took a mug from Sadie without looking up.
“Thanks, doll. I say, old boy, I rather like this bit about ‘spooky parallels’ between Christian right-wingers and Islamic fundamentalists.”
He was reading the first draft of an opinion piece Alex was toying with submitting to a European magazine. He quoted:
“‘ They both divvy up the world between the saved and the damned. Both have declared a holy war on secular culture and liberal democracy. They reject the separation of religion and state and seek to establish a new order based on their own interpretation of divine laws…’”
Alex sighed, and, catching a worried glance from Sadie, rolled his eyes. Aubrey’s limited social graces did not extend to a respect for privacy, and he had a frustrating habit of picking up and examining anything within reach.
“He was waiting at the door when I arrived,” Sadie mouthed silently with a theatrical shrug. Oblivious to their exchange, Bairstow plowed on.
“‘ But perhaps the spookiest parallels come in their views of the end of the world. A common scenario is a colossal confrontation in the desert in which the armies of God destroy the armies of Satan. Radical Muslims, of course, identify Israel and the United States as the forces of evil. Christian fundamentalists see Islam as the ultimate enemy…’ Hang on, that’s crap, that is.”
Bairstow paused and looked up. “A bit simplistic, to say the least.”"
The above excerpt is taken from an enjoyable novel I have just read, The Secret Gospel by Dan Eaton. It seems apt to quote that particular piece because last week some comments on this post suggested some parallels between Christian (if not Anglican) fundamentalism and Islamic fundamentalism. (Incidentally, the scenario envisaged in the excerpt, of a humanly provoked apocalyptic, eschatological conflagration, has had a recent focus in some op-eds I have been reading recently re Daesh's ultimate aims).
The great mistake when talking about 'fundamentalism' is to talk as though there is only plurality of fundamentalisms when we include all faiths. So, Christian fundamentalism is one phenomenon, Islamic fundamentalism another, Hindu fundamentalism yet a further manifestation. Of course there are similarities and there are differences, and, potentially, there are more similarities between Christian and Islamic fundamentalism - being fundamentalisms driven by 'the book' - than between, say, Islamic fundamentalism and Hindu fundamentalism. But right now, the differences more than the similarities are manifest: I can think of no public 'fundamentalist' Christian group advocating offensive violence through terror in order to advance the kingdom of God. I can imagine there are some groups currently operating secretively who may be stockpiling weapons (though I am inclined to think they would be doing that defensively, in some isolated hideout). But the world today is confronting public Islamic groups who are advocating and enacting terror. That is a point of difference.
On Christian fundamentalism, my point is that there are fundamentalisms within Christianity and I assume the same plurality exists within Islam, Hinduism, Judaism, etc. There are, for instance, fundamentalist Muslims who are no more likely to use a gun or a bomb in the furtherance of their religious aims than I am. Daesh is one form of Islamic fundamentalism, not the only form.
In the Christian world it is easy to use 'fundamentalism'/'fundamentalist' as a dismissive description, consigning fellow believers we have little time for to a bleak outhouse on the landscape of Christian diversity. But it is not exactly rocket science to recognise that there is a difference between (say) Westboro Baptists and various conservative Anglicans who get routinely described as 'fundamentalist.' Further, though a bit more thought is called for, there are differences among conservative Anglicans; and differences between conservative Anglicans and various conservative Christians.
Some Anglicans commenting here seem concerned about how 'extreme' certain conservative Anglicans are (possibly including moi!). But my general experience of conservative Anglicans versus other conservative Christians is that we are quite a kind-hearted, thoughtful group of caring Christians, more than liberal enough to remain part of the diverse Anglican church rather than leave it! Non-Anglican conservative Christians, in my experience, often look questioningly at conservative Anglicans: "How can you stay???"
So, perhaps some nuancing in the use of the word 'fundamentalist' could assist clearer communication?
Back to Dan Eaton's novel. The Secret Gospel of its title is a controversial version of Mark's Gospel, attested in a letter discovered at the back of a (non-ancient) book in the Mar Saba Monastery in 1958 by Morton Smith (one of the central characters in the mostly fictional novel Dan has written). The letter, if a copy of a genuine ancient letter, is by Clement of Alexandria, and refers to a version of Mark's Gospel much longer than the version we know well. The letter cites some passages from this longer form of the gospel, passages which portray Jesus in a different light to what we read in the canonical gospels, including sexual overtones which would be discomforting to many Christians if it were proved that the longer version of Mark was the original version (and thus that we have lived for most of the past two thousand years with a shorter, expurgated version). Much debate has occurred over this discovery, published to the world by Morton Smith in 1974, with some convinced that the Clementine letter is a forgery, possibly made by Morton Smith himself, but if not, then by some earlier forger (e.g. the person who wrote down the letter in the back of the book). Any which way, there is also scholarly debate over whether, even if there is a longer version of Mark lost in the sands of the Middle East, it preceded or succeeded canonical Mark.
You may or may not want to read Dan Eaton's book but if you are one of several kinds of Christian or Islamic fundamentalist, it might make your blood temperature rise.
My own interest in the novel is divided between my curiosity as a student of the New Testament and my happy memories of living with Dan and his family in Cairo many years ago, the city where much of the action of the novel is based.