N.T. Wright, in his recent work The Last Word, has what to me is a keen insight regarding the appeal for many of Fundamentalism. Wright contends that the reason Fundamentalism has such appeal for many is due to the (understandable) amount of fear and uncertainty that the “postmodern” world has produced. As Wright puts it:
“Thus understanding the world, understanding reality, and understanding myself all threaten to collapse into a morass, a smog of unknowing, of not even knowing what ‘knowing’ itself might mean (9).”
Wright contends that this “uncertainty in turn, of course, begets a new and anxious eagerness for certainty: hence the appeal of Fundamentalism . . . (9).” What i find interesting about this observation is tht Wright thus argues that Fundamentalism isn’t a “return” to an archaic way of thinking as much as it is an offspring of the modern mind (eg “reading the Bible within the grid of a quasi- or pseudoscientific quest for ‘objective truth ).'”
What i appreciate about Wright’s analysis is that it situates the rise of Fundamentalism within the context of Modern/Postmodern developments. I think that many believe that Fundamentalists are those who simply never “got with the times (eg embracing the modern world).” I think the strength of Wright’s analysis is that he shows how the very climate we live in today is what generated such an approach to the world, Scripture, God, etc etc.
I think such an understanding should help us be more sympathetic towards our Fundamentalist brethren. Beneath the (apparent or perceived) inflexibility and arrogance stands people frightened and intimidated by the prospects of living in the times that we do, wrestling with uncertainty and fear. For them they take comfort in their “objective knowledge” of the Scripture, and hence also God’s mind.
Now i know that my initial reaction to this line of thinking is to attack it and denounce it, but when looking at what lies beneath the surface of their views i can see that i’m guilty of doing the same thing, although it isn’t with a literal interpretation of the Bible. I think that we all want to believe in something (or someone). It is how we are wired. I think that we must always bear this in mind when dealing with our Fundamentalist brethren. They are on the same journey we’re on, trying to deal with the same issues we are. They may be handling it poorly, but are we not hypocritical when we denounce their methodology and views in a triumphant manner, talking as if we are certain of their ignorance and hypocrisy?
This is not to say that we can’t disagree with them. However, all i’m saying is that we need to practice the same humility and sense of the difficulty of living in the modern world as we wish that they would. May not by “thinking ourselves wise, we become fools.” My prayer is that somehow we could learn to be empathic when interacting with them, and who knows they may actually teach us (me) a thing or two.