One of the basic principles of fundamentalist Christianity is the literal interpretation of the Bible. On the first Sunday after my baptism by immersion at the age of twelve, my Sunday school teacher interpreted the role of women in the church to preclude her from teaching a class that included a baptized male member of the class. With permission from everyone involved I began teaching that class. I am grateful for the opportunity it gave me, but I am saddened by her loss inherent in fundamentalism.
I have been reading the history of three major fundamentalist religions—Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. There is a common theme of submission to divine will and a sacred governing document from which we learn God’s will.
During the month of May, I have attended two events associated with high school graduation. The first was a long held tradition dating back the 1400s at Oxford of a religious ceremony that we call a Baccalaureate service. This was a student sanctioned event, in a church, including motivational speeches from faculty members, students, and spiritual mentors of the students. The exercise included three prayers and Bible readings from the Old and New Testament. Attendance by the graduating seniors was optional. The other event was the official graduation exercise with presentation of diplomas, awards, speeches, and recognition of completion of secondary education.
Having begun my religious tradition in a small rural congregation, I was blessed with indoctrination of Christian principles and the fellowship of a church environment. I was also taught a mutual respect for the harmony of faith and reason. The Bible and secular education in a public school were dual foundations that shaped my life. I found no contradictions in the law, logic, and love that came with that community of fellowship.
Occasionally, we learn from unlikely sources. I just read a Peanuts comic strip, or it may have been a parody of the strip. Two of the characters, Linus and Lucy, are in a conversation in which one of them suggests, “America should get back to Christian principles.” Linus then offers suggestions, followed by Lucy’s objections:
“Provide food and shelter for the poor. No, I’m not paying for a lazy person. Visit and comfort people in prison. No, they deserve that. Pay our taxes without complaining. No, that’s my money and I want it. We should show love and mercy freely. No, that has to be earned. We have to avoid violence. No, we have to punish the bad guys. We should be gracious to foreigners and strangers. No, they shouldn’t be here. We should oppose social injustice throughout the world. No, that’s not our problem. Then what Christian principles are you talking about? Opposing gay marriage.”
In the 22nd chapter of Matthew, a lawyer asked Jesus a question about what is the great commandment, looking for either a simple definition of religion, or more likely to trap Jesus. Jesus gave the following answer, “Thou shall love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shall love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
We often refer to the first commandment as vertical Christianity and the second as horizontal Christianity. We often think of the first as our reason for being moral, and the second as our reason for being ethical. The current emphasis on conservative evangelical religion may have over-shadowed our attention to the ethics and compassion in the second commandment.