vrijdag 5 juni 2015

Liberation from fundamentalism

On May 5th, Dutch Liberation Day, moralism is never far away: do we actually realize how big is the privilege to be free? Remembering the misery of war and occupation must help us to strengthen our sense of freedom.

Strangely enough, the awareness of another liberation, which was in its own way no less radical, seems to be only poor and confused. I refer to the collective liberation from collective dogmatic thinking.

It might be hard to imagine nowadays, but in 1950 the majority of the Dutch population believed that a hell existed, and that a bad life or destination could bring you there and that unbaptized died children would undoubtedly end there. And that redemption from that threat could proceed through Jesus.

To be freed from such oppressive dogmatism seems to me to a memorable happening. And indeed, some do remember that liberation as groundbreaking, and can link a date to it. For example, the recently deceased philosopher and former priest Samuel IJsseling, who locates the turn in the year 1968. “Suddenly it was allowed to discuss whatever you liked”, he said in an interview with Ger Groot, “which was previously almost unthinkable. That was a joy, belief me.”

If a day could be indicated on which this liberation has taken place, that day would be worthy of an annual celebration. But, of course, there is not such a day, this kind of  liberations proceed in a more fuzzy and gradual way than a physical liberation. Perhaps this fuzziness is precisely the reason why this liberation is also regularly questioned, or why the oppressive character of the then prevailing dogma is neglected. The latter I believe to perceive in recent articles, and I have these in mind when I talk about a poor and confused notion of this ‘other liberation’.

Neglect or even denial of the liberation of Christian dogma I encountered in a recent column by James Kennedy. He believes that the reasons for secularization are often not properly displayed. “It's not a matter of restrictive dogma”, he says, but of changing life styles. “Parents don’t give their children the spiritual support they need to maintain a philosophy of life, perhaps because they themselves no longer believe in it.”

In other words, I think to myself, they were being allowed gradually to say what they thought. And even though it was gradual, and though only in the course of time they discovered that until then others had determined for them what to think – it remains a liberation.

Another author, Paul van Geest, downplays the dogmatic oppression – and therewith the liberation – through a semantic debate about the word fundamentalism. He does so in response to Naema Tahir, who wrote in Trouw that, in terms of fundamentalism, many Muslims are not so different from Luther. Van Geest rejects that suggestion, because it was precisely Luther who let go of the literal reading of the Bible.

But by arguing this way, Van Geest ignores the wider meaning of ‘fundamentalism’, as it exists in common parlance. In it, the meaning of the word is no longer limited to the historical-literal reading of the Bible or Koran, but it stands for: to remain meticulously within once handed down frameworks, or dogmatic thinking. That’s why nowadays for example you also have ‘enlightenment fundamentalists’ or ‘human rights fundamentalists’.

From that perspective, Luther may indeed be regarded a fundamentalist, namely an ‘Augustine fundamentalist’. Because, under the direction of Augustine he relates – as Van Geest himself says – everything he reads in the Bible to (the coming of) Christ, however big the number of artifices he needs for this. That’s what you would call ‘fundamentalist’,  or ‘dogmatic’.

With his portrayal of Luther, Van Geest presents half of the kind of the ‘other liberation’ that I try to focus on. He recalls the liberation from a literal reading of a foundational document. The other half – namely the liberation from a reading of the Bible and creation as prescribed by the tradition; in this case: the Christological way of reading – he does not mention. Probably Van Geest does not need such liberation, because he personally does not experience any oppression. But the point is: in Luther it would not be available, Tahir is just right at that point.

Nevertheless, also the latter liberation somewhere after the war for large groups of Dutch actually occurred.

Also see What happened in the West?