The Postmodern Problem of the Fundmentalist

I returned, a few days ago, from keynoting a retreat based on my book, Open Source Church: Making Room for the Wisdom of All. Part of the book centers on a survey of the history and foundational principles of Wikipedia, one of which is that “Wikipedia has a neutral point of view.”

The idea that Wikipedia is after is that our contexts are so diverse that there is no way that we are going to come to an agreement on “the truth” or “the best view.” As a result, Wikipedia often has to present multiple points of view side by side. I submit that the church should also learn to cultivate a space in which multiple points of view can exist. There already are several different ways of understanding the work of Jesus Christ or the Church. This thing we do is all relative – we ought to just acknowledge it and account for it.

Of course, wherever I go, I hear the same basic critique of “postmodern relativity”: If all things are relative, then you have your truth and I have mine and there is no truth. You can’t build a society/community/church on that kind of thinking. Things are not “all relative.” There is one Truth.

My response is usually two-fold: One, while I do believe there is a truth, I don’t believe that I know what it is and I don’t believe you do either. Two, while I do believe that all things are relative, I also believe that some things are relatively better than others.

Wait… Better?… Really?


The dirty little secret that I rarely share is that, at heart, I’m a Developmental Structuralist – I understand the different aspects of creation to evolve over time. I know that in this day and age I’m not supposed to think like that, but I do. I usually disappoint my liberal and progressive friends when they find this out, because we usually hold the same convictions and there is an assumption that we’ve come by them in the same way. I’m supposed to say that all things are equal. But I don’t believe that. I believe that some things are better than others.

Before you start throwing stones, let me explain what prompted me to say something so outrageous. I call it “The Postmodern Problem of the Fundamentalist.”

Embarrassingly, it was not so many years ago that I was deep in the throes of postmodern theories of relativity, claiming that everything is equal and that there is no good or evil because those are the value judgements of the “unenlightened” (I was dabbling in Eastern philosophy at the time). I had seen the tyranny of worldviews that suggested that one way of thinking was right and all others were wrong. I had struggled mightily to leave the highly conformist religious traditions of my youth and had found solace that I could engage in a relationship with God free from coercion and with a measure of autonomy and intellectual honesty.

But I live in Kansas City. Not too far away is Fred Phelps’ Westboro Baptist Church. You know the “Let’s picket funerals and tell the world that God hates ‘fags'” church?

So, as I tried to live into my new found conviction that “All things are equal” I was troubled to find a way to include Westboro Baptist into that equation. I tried and tried and tried. It wasn’t working. I acknowledge that God loves the members of Westboro Baptist Church just as much as God loves me. God chose them, just like God chose me. That said, those people are some of the most unChristlike people I’ve ever seen. How can I live in a world where the vile they spew is on equal footing with the love I and my colleagues strive to preach? The question I began to ask myself was “If I believe that all things are equal, does that mean I believe that a Fundamentalist’s understanding of creation is equal to mine?” For me, the answer was and is a resounding “No,” and so the problem comes into stark focus with the next logical question: “Why?”

I’ll give my answer in a subsequent post, but, first, I’m interested to know what you might say.