The short answer is: I am. Very.
Of course, there are lots of perfectly rational reasons to be frightened of fundamentalism, as all we good moderates and liberals know. Fundamentalism as we (or as I) like to perceive it is only one step away from fanaticism, from blind brain-washed bigotry leading to bloodthirsty brutality. It’s anti-rational, anti-science, anti-liberal, anti-progress, anti-modern. It seems to have no sense of perspective or of common humanity; it recognises no authority or constraint outside its own infallible, unquestionable and often shockingly primitive Holy Text. It is dangerous and deadly, and in addition it brings reasonable moderate believers like ourselves into disrepute, putting swathes of normal decent people off religion entirely.
However, this is not actually the kind of fundamentalism that most worries me nor the real reason why I’m scared of fundamentalists.
The ones I’m scared of are generally quite pleasant, decent, thoughtful people. They may see homosexual practice as an abomination, but they aren’t going to bomb, mutilate or imprison anyone for it. They may see other religions as false, even demonically-inspired, but they aren’t about to start any Holy Wars. They may reject the theory of evolution or the idea of female ordination but they aren’t going to lynch you for disagreeing; they just may refuse to fellowship with you. For it is the super-reformed Calvinists, neo-puritans and ultra-conservative evangelicals who I confess frighten me most.
And the reason they frighten me is not because of what they do or the threat they pose to the church or the barrier they present to potential believers. The reason they frighten me is because, very very deep down, I worry that they might actually be right.
This terrifies me because I find their version of Christianity and of God so utterly repellant, yet in some ways so apparently biblical. Their God seems harsh, cold, judgemental, authoritarian; so glorious and righteous as to be unapproachable. He is the divine Judge and score-keeper, punishing all transgressions from a strict list of moral rules; and if he is a Father at all it is the stern and disciplinarian kind not the sort who plays delightedly with their kids. Before birth he predestines some to heaven and some to hell based on nothing but his own divine right to choose, and it’s a hell that makes a Nazi concentration camp look like Centerparcs. He sends earthquakes and floods to wipe out the wicked and stops his ears to the miserable cries of lost and sinful humanity.
I may be overstating the case here but it’s this kind of vision that secretly terrifies me. For what if it they were right and it were true? And sometimes when I read the Bible (even some of the words of Jesus), I can see where they get these ideas from and the worry increases; parts of the Bible which I prefer to avoid – which is quite a few – do seem to lend them credence.
Yet everything I have (however dimly) experienced of God, everything my reason tells me, rebels against this conclusion. I find that I cannot help having faith in the reality, goodness, kindness, mercy and love of God, though sometimes this is despite the Bible itself and despite a host of good, sound Christian teachers and books.
So for good or ill I’m embarked on this journey out of the chrysalis, however much safer and more correct it sometimes seems back inside. I just pray that it turns out to be a journey of redemption and liberation not a highway to the Calvinists’ hell.