How can I be sure that fundamentalists are wrong?

Sometimes people ask me: “What was the most important thing you learned when you studied theology?” My answer to this question is: “I learned not to settle with easy answers.” Some people are surprised when they hear this, because they think church ministers or theologians should be very convinced of everything in the bible and of all the complicated dogmatic believes theology constructed in the last 2.000 years. That’s not the case (at least in the way I understand being a theologian). If someone tells me true believers must do/believe “x” I ask why “x” and not “y” and how can you be sure “z” is wrong? This attitude works very well in a post-enlightenment liberal surrounding where most dialogue partners share the same attitude (and scepticism) towards easy answers. But this attitude can be very challenging in dialogue with more conservative/traditional (in a general meaning) believers or people who just don’t share my sceptical attitude. In my opinion this is not only a personal problem for me but a general problem for people involved in interfaith dialogue how I experience it.

One of the first things representatives of different faith backgrounds do, when they come together for dialogue is to condemn fundamentalism (and its violent outbursts against other faith communities). I can completely understand this attitude because I don’t share a lot of opinions and values of the fundamentalists and to condemn fundamentalism can be the basis for a very fruitful dialogue. But how can we sure that the fundamentalists of the different faith traditions – be they Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Baha’i, Sikhs or another faith – aren’t the ones who are right? How can we be sure that religious plurality and diversity are better than a world with only one religion (which would be in this case the only true one)? Sometimes I have the feeling people involved in interfaith dialogue are take it too easy when they ignore this question.

I definitely like the results of the ongoing dialogue and there are great things happening, when people of different traditions share their thoughts and feelings in local interfaith groups or during events at Scottish Interfaith Week and these things can’t be appreciated enough. They are really wonderful and very important!

Anyway I’m not sure, if we can ignore the question after religious truth, because I don’t want to make the same mistake the religious fundamentalists of all the faith traditions make (from my point of view). They give answers, that are “too easy”, in a way that they are completely convinced to know what gods will is. They know how god and humankind are and how they should be and they have clear rules what believers are allowed to do and what not. In a way I can be jealous of them, because they seem to have much more certainty in their believe, than me.

I personally am convinced that faith and believe can’t be understood by humans in totality. From my point of view only god can understand god – if we could understand god, we humans would be greater than god, and I’m sure that we are not. Because of that I believe that the “easy answers” of the fundamentalists are wrong and that religious violence is wrong. But I’m also convinced that I won’t never be completely certain, that my way is the true one and the more conservative/traditional or the fundamentalists are wrong. Because of that – I believe – we should be very careful in condemning people. It’s a very narrow way but I think it is important that we don’t condemn the fundamentalist people as individual human beings and say “they are no Christians/Jews/Muslims/Buddhists/Hindus/Baha’i/Sikhs/…”, because we can’t be sure that we understand god and the world better than them. But it must be possible to condemn their actions towards people who don’t share their believe/faith, when it results in any form of violence – be it in Syria, Myanmar, Nigeria, the United States, Sri Lanka, Germany, Scotland or any other place in the world. But as long as they stay peaceful, we should not exclude fundamentalist Christians/Muslims/Jews/Bah’i/Sikh/Hindus/Buddhists/… from our dialogue, because there might be as much truth in their faith and believe as in our own.

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Author: Simon Interfaith Scotland

I'm an intern at Interfaith Scotland and Interfaith Scotland from July 2017 to June 2018. I'm from Germany and I've been training to become a minister in the protestant church of Germany. In Summer 2018 I'm getting ordained and starting to work as a minister in a parish in Germany.

One thought on “How can I be sure that fundamentalists are wrong?”

  1. Wonderful thoughtful piece. I might even say I fundamentally agree with it. The starting point is so important. All theology is our inadequate attempt to describe the indescribable so it needs to be done with due humility and respect to all others

    Liked by 1 person

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