Friday, May 8, 2015

And Even More Friday McBrien - The Inconsistencies of Fundamentalism

Fundamentalism is of interest to people today because it has acquired new political power. 'The Moral Majority, for example, exercises considerable influence on elections to the U.S. Congress. Its leader, the Reverend Jerry Falwell, appears on television and in the print media as a significant national figure.

In the Moslem world -- Iran is a dramatic case in point -- Islamic fundamentalism is changing the face of governments and the shape of social life and customs.

To an extent, fundamentalism has made some inroads even in Roman Catholicism. It is ironic that Protestant fundamentalists, once so bitterly anti-Catholic, now find common cause with Catholics on various social issues, e.g, abortion.

Protestant fundamentalism has always been of a biblical kind, based on the premise that all Scripture is inspired (Second Timothy 3:16) and, therefore, also infallible. Scripture alone, as interpreted by fundamentalist authorities, are the measure of truth and moral life.

The Catholic version of fundamentalism is of a doctrinal, not biblical, kind. Catholic fundamentalism is based on the premise that all official Church teachings are, supremely authoritative (if not "inspired"). As such, these official teachings alone, as interpreted by certain Catholic authorities, are the final measure of truth and moral life.

Both kinds of fundamentalism are really based on rational principles, not on the Word of God or divine authority, as they often claim.

Biblical fundamentalism rests its case on Second Timothy 3:16. "All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness. . . ."

By a process of rational deduction, not by appeal to Scripture itself, the Protestant fundamentalist concludes that Scripture is infallible (inerrant) and is the exclusive source of divine revelation.

I say "by a process of rational deduction" because the Bible itself nowhere says that it is infallible or inerrant. One has to deduce the principle of inerrancy rationally from the principle of inspiration.

One also has to determines by process of reasoning, not by appeal to Scripture itself, which books are inspired and which are not, which are canonical (ik.e., part of the official "list") and which are uncanonical.

There is no place in the entire Bible where it tells -us how 'we know. which books belong in the Bible and which do not.

Neither is there any place in the entire Bible where it says that everything written in the Bible is unfailingly accurate, in every historical detail.

Nor does it say anywhere in the Bible that the bible is central, or exclusively authoritative, for Christian faith and life. Second Timothy 3:16 says only that Scripture is "profitable" for teaching, etc.

Nor is there any evidence in the bible itself that Jesus ever sanctioned the New Testament, although his reverence for the Old Testament is clear.

Indeed, there was no New Testament in the early church, and yet there existed Christian faith and Christian life. The New Testament came after the Church, not before. The Church produced the bible, not vice-versa.

For Protestant fundamentalism principles ("fundamentals") are primary; people are secondary. And yet the parable of the sheep and the goats (Matthew 25) suggests that we are to be judged not by our adherence to principles but by our behavior toward one another.

Catholic fundamentalism, of a doctrinal rather than of a biblical kind, labors under similar inconsistencies. Catholic fundamentalism, too, is rationalistic in the sense that its main principles, or fundamentals, are derived through reason, not through direct appeal to doctrine itself.

Nowhere is there any official list of doctrines which the Church officially and infallibly requires every Catholic to accept.

The Church doesn't even provide us with a list of dogmas, i.e., with a list of infallible teachings. We know a few, but not all. We have to deduce them rationally, i.e., by a process of theological reflection.

Nowhere does the Church officially, much less infallibly, teach that Church doctrine alone is the source of truth for our faith and life.

Nowhere does the Church officially and infallibly teach that doctrines are always the last word in any disputed matter.

Nowhere does Jesus himself refer to a set of doctrines as the core of the Gospel or as the final test of fidelity to his call to accept and practice the Gospel.

Indeed, the early Church got along for centuries with no, or very few, doctrinal pronouncements.

The point of this essay is not to suggest that the Bible is unimportant to Christian faith and life, or that doctrine is similarly insignificant. On the contrary.

Our concern, rather, has been to underline the radical inconsistency: of the fundamentalist positions, Protestant and Catholic alike. Both claim divine authority for their social, political, and ecclesiastical views. But, in fact, both rely on rationally deduced principles to support those views.

Fundamentalism is, indeed, a form of rationalism. Its appeal to divine authority is superficially compelling, but ultimately without warrant.

Fr. Richard C. McBrien,  5 / 15 / 1981

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