A little disclaimer before I start: This is not an academic paper, this is a bit more of my reflections on what I have experienced in Modernism and Fundamentalism.
I firmly believe that every human movement in history has its source in a negative reaction to specific, previous, human understandings. This certainly includes the two movements which seem to hold sway in the West, which also seem to be in a constant reactionary death spiral. Contributing to that spiral are three elements that arose from the Enlightenment that both Fundamentalism and Modernism use, albeit in different directions.
The first Enlightenment idea these movements have in common is reductionism. Both Modernism and Fundamentalism have used this in an attempt to both analyze every little piece and nuance of the culture and setting of the biblical text, and break the text into pieces small enough to categorize for use in proof-texting. The poison here is that there is no acknowledgement of the subjectivity of the person doing the studying. Every person brings a bias to their studies and this will always have an effect on the outcomes. It is thus highly important to find dissenting voices to challenge our bias, whichever direction it lays.
The second Enlightenment impulse that seems contradictory in application is that of questioning orthodoxy. Both Modernism and Fundamentalism question and set new boundaries on orthodoxy. In Modernism, there is no orthodoxy, doctrine, or text that is not questionable or improvable upon, while in Fundamentalism we see orthodoxy changed through the expansion of what cannot be questioned. The true aim of both is that of categorization. If you intellectually assent to a specific statement, then you are welcomed into fellowship with the specific group that came up with the statement, if not you are obviously part of “them”. Modernists and Fundamentalists equally apply their doctrine or lack thereof as categorization tests to determine belonging. The more Quakers from various streams I encounter, the harder it is for me to say that a group is either Modernist or Fundamentalist. There is just too much internal diversity for those categories to have real meaning in any of our Yearly Meetings.
The third Enlightenment idea shared by Modernism and Fundamentalism is the idea that History is on a linear course in which cause and effect are obvious. The early Modernists felt that humanity was constantly improving and that God was at work making everything better and better. What ultimately called the Fundamentalists into existence was the disillusionment that World War I cast over the Modernist movement. This backlash led the Fundamentalists to the opposite extreme of the linear progression scale, giving us the idea that the world is degenerating and eventually led to the pre-millennial dispensationalist view that the world is going to keep getting worse until things get so bad that God will have to step in, destroy everything, and start over with the few faithful that remain. I can’t help but think both linear courses are misguided in the desire to impose a sense of direction on things that are beyond our control.
What is most troubling to me is the categorization and separation of people into smaller and more homogeneous groups. We are segmented into target demographics that are then used to sell us products, services, politics and religions. We are encouraged to identify ourselves then by categories that are externally applied as ways to define ourselves and others. Instead of listening for the voice of others, snap judgments get made and we pigeonhole people into categories that we can then dismiss from our minds. I find this behavior to not only be lazy, but deeply unloving as well. As Quakers, I think we can do better than to let external s get in the way of striving to see the divine light within others.
One Quaker’s Perspective on Modernism vs. Fundamentalism (part 2 of 4) by Gilbert George is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at extrovertedquaker.wordpress.com.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at https://extrovertedquaker.wordpress.com/.