Wednesday, December 16, 2015

The Man in the Box

An essay on Fundamentalism

Just who is the man in the box?  Erik Erikson, a Harvard psychologist used the term “totalism” to describe a worldview that is marked by certain characteristics.  A totalism is a self-enclosed system.  Whatever fits in the box is acceptable, whatever doesn’t fit in the box is unacceptable, unless of course you can lop off the arms and legs and conform it to the box.  The box is a safe self-contained system that allows for no ambiguity and tolerates no differences.  In popular terminology we often refer to the man in the box as a fundamentalist.  In the New Testament both the Pharisees and the Sadducees were fundamentalists.  There are Christian fundamentalists and Muslim fundamentalists.  There are Republican fundamentalists and Democratic fundamentalists.  There are Liberal fundamentalists and there are Conservative fundamentalists.  Fundamentalisms, or totalisms, have nothing do with content but refer to an essential life stance. 

Fundamentalism as an American Religious movement proposed twelve fundamentals that most self-styled Christian fundamentalists don’t even know exist.  Fundamentalism, or to use the other term, totalism, doesn’t have anything to do with content.  Just because one believes in the authority of Scripture doesn’t mean one is a fundamentalist or totalist.  Fundamentalism has to do with a narrow and rigid way of looking at life.  Bible believing Episcopalians are often viewed with suspicion by totalists who belong a variety of fundamentalist groups.

There is a set of signals projected by these ardent totalists that are easily identifiable.  First and foremost they are absolutely right and you are obviously wrong.  This can be very painful when it is your Christian faith that is being attacked.  It can be equally painful when you run into the same type of person in a business setting, particularly if they are in a position of authority.  Totalists project an attitude of assured righteousness with some hooks that catch the unwary.  Their chosen victims are flat wrong and somehow deficient.  It is not a mere matter of being in simple disagreement.  It is much deeper than that.  One is untaught, or even stupid, at the very least inexperienced, and the righteous one looms over you accusingly.  Another double barbed hook is the projection of guilt or shame.  Somehow you are to blame because you don’t know or accept their viewpoint.  There are signal words that tell when this is going on, words like, “should,” “ought,” and “must” and all their emotional cousins. 

The totalist takes refuge in community whether visible or invisible, whether real or imaginary.  No matter how small or large their community is, they globalize it.  Everybody knows, everybody thinks.  This is the way it is done.  The man in the box with his source of knowledge, has all the answers.  Totalists use the Bible this way, or the traditions of the Church, or the teachings of some charismatic leader, or the Koran, or some political philosophy, or child rearing books, or business methods, or when they are really weak minded, something they read on the internet. 

The underlying threat is that you are unacceptable.  You may be ostracized, or shunned and expelled.  Sometimes this only implicit, sometimes explicit.  Their voice tones, body language, facial expressions are well practiced to coerce by negative manipulation in order to gain the desired result, your obedience to their viewpoint.   Perhaps most of all, one signal stands out above all others.  The totalist doesn’t love you as an individual with your flaws and deficiencies.  The totalist loves you as you ought to be when you agree with them.  They wear converts to their positions like scalps on a belt.  Jesus said of the Pharisees, “Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!  For you travel land and sea to win one proselyte, and when he is won, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves” (Matthew 23:15).

Jesus says to his disciples, “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free” (John 8:32).  It was never His intention that we be imprisoned by totalisms as rigid as those of the scribes and Pharisees.  The Bible says, “This only I want to learn from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh?  (Galatians 3:2-3).  Totalists are hard to deal with and often impossible to argue with, in part because they are frightened by freedom and thrown into consternation by ambiguity.  In love and constancy, in patience and humility we are called to obey the clear word of Holy Scripture, “Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage” (Galatians 5:1).   

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