Are you a fundamentalist? You’re probably some kind of fundamentalist. Religious, Hyper-literal fundamentalist; athiest, materialist fundamentalist; even people who are cynics are fundamentally cynical. We all want to believe we know. Anyone with a relatively fully developed world-view will be fundamentalist to a degree, because the one thought that scares us more than anything is that we don’t actually have a clue.

People like to think that the image of man as a pathetic, helpless victim of forces beyond his understanding and power is just a painful memory in our collective mind, forever banished by the shining beacon of “Science and reason”. Science, that saving grace of mankind – the only force that keeps us safe from the horrors of the dark ages, when malevolent phantoms stalked our dreams. Now we live in an enlightened age. An age of objective truth. Now we can know.

Lies.

As wonderful as science has been for mankind, and as much as she has done to banish cruel witch-hunts and needless suffering at the hands of nations and nature, she can never give us objective truth. She has it in her hands. She is ever willing to share the secrets of the universe with us. Sadly, the problem lies not with science, but with men.

Biologist Rupert Sheldrake wrote:

“Scientists like to think of themselves as engaged in a bold and fearless search for truth… insofar as the scientific endevour is illuminated by this heroic spirit, there is much to commend it. Nevertheless, in reality, most scientists are now the servants of military and commercial interests. Almost all are persuing carreers within institutions… the fear of career setbacks, rejection of papers by learned journals, loss of funding, and the ultimate sanction of dismissal are powerful disincentives to venture too far from current orthodoxy, at least in public… Scientists are part of larger social, economic, and political systems; they constitute professional groups with their own initiation procedures, peer pressures, power structures and system of rewards. They generally work in the context of established… models of reality… finding what is looked for is an essential feature of everyday human life. We are not surprised by such biases in politicians, nor by the differences in the way that people see things within different cultures… but the ‘scientific method’ is generally supposed to rise above cultural and personal biases, dealing only in the currency of objective facts and universal principles.”

Dr Sheldrake (who is incidentally a former Research Fellow of the Royal Society) then goes on to write more than fifty pages illustrating how helpless science is to give us truly objective truth when wielded by fallible human beings. My favourite example is taken from Stephen Jay Gould’s “The Mismeasure of Man”, in which the author describes how “purportedly objective studies of human intelligence, show how persistently prejudice has been dressed in scientific garb”. 19th century anatomist, Paul Broca, managed to cook the books so effectively that he convinced the scientific community that “in general, the brain is larger in mature adults than in the elderly, in men than in women, in eminent men than in men of mediocre talent, in superior races than in inferior races”. This was then considered to be objective truth. Gould concludes, “Quantitative data are as subject to cultural constraint as any other aspect of science, then they have no special claim on final truth”.

Loud applause and a resounding “We told you so!” from all the “anti-science”, Bible-literalist, “no such thing as dinosaurs” fundamentalists! And they are as bankrupt as any of us.

Religious fundamentalism is at least as subjective as science. Last night I was talking to some teenagers about worship. I was tasked to answer the question “how should we worship?”. I began by assuring them that this is a pointless question. There is no objective truth regarding our customs. Every denomination insists that theirs is the only “true interpretation”, and all are based ultimately on the traditions of men. Tertullian, the respected Church Father admitted candidly that he implemented many man-made rules for worship in his fellowships. These included:
– No kneeling in worship or fasting on Sundays;
– Making “the sign” on your forehead before doing virtually anything (bathing, going outside, eating, sleeping); and
– giving “oblations for the dead ” during the sacramental meal on the anniversary of their passing.
When asked by a rival for clear scriptural support for these practices, the great Church leader simply shrugged his shoulders and said (effectively), “It’s a matter of tradition and faith”.

If only we could all be so honest.

I struggle with this sort of honesty. I believe with all my heart in Jesus. I know Him experientially. My faith in Him as my savior and my decision to follow Him in His way seem reasonable to me. I want to be able to say with a confident smile, “Mine is a reasonable faith”. Sadly, this is just not possible. There is nothing objectively true about my beliefs. It’s all a matter of faith. For me. For you. For everyone.

In 1843, the father of existentialism, Soren Kierkegaard, published “Fear and Trembling” under the pseudonym, “Johannes de silentio”. In it, he was anything but silent in his criticism of Hegel’s attractive idea of putting the irrational faith of scriptural Christianity (initially fine as a “provisional state of mind”) aside and converting to a truer, rational faith “appropriate to rational reality”. Kierkegaard rightly describes “rational faith” as an oxymoron. Pointing to Abraham’s act of obedience in (almost) sacrificing his beloved son at God’s request, he shows how the act can only be seen as one of two things: either it is an act of madness, or it is an irrational act, resting on “his belief… that he is going to get Isaac back after sacrificing him”. Either way there is nothing rational about this faith. And scripture knows no other kind.

So what then? Are we damned to subjective guessing and hoping? Are human beings ultimately “stumbling around in the dark” hoping that we might find something to believe in?

Yes.

God remains ultimately a mystery. Life remains ultimately an adventure. Faith remains our only option. And God smiles.

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