Why I want to be an extremist and a fundamentalist

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Extremist = bad

Fundamentalist = bad

Moderate = good

These three things are held true by most people when it comes to religion. The extremist kills, the fundamentalist hates and the moderate is nice and warm and fluffy.

So, why do I want to be an extremist? Why do I want to be a fundamentalist? Why do I want to be anything other than moderate?

Look at the definitions at the top. Look at what extreme and fundamental actually mean. Think about how that would apply to Christianity, based on its central message.

Does rejecting people because of their lifestyle sound like something which forms the central core of Jesus’ teachings? Or does calling them to follow him, dining with them, talking with them and loving them sound more like it?

Does taking the lives of people for their sins sound like Jesus? Or does telling them to “go and sin no more” strike you as more fundamental to his way?

Does the pursuit of wealth for the few come across as an extreme example of Christian teaching? Or does selling everything and giving the money to the poor fit the bill?

Does a love of Queen and country seem like the central tenet for us to hold onto? Or does the seeking of God’s Kingdom over all earthly kingdoms sound like our main aim?

Does a rejection of people based on race, colour or creed sound like a divine calling? Or do you think that welcoming strangers and making disciples of all nations is the thing we are called to do instead?

Extreme love.

Extreme grace.

Extreme forgiveness.

Extreme acceptance.

Extreme devotion to God.

Extreme sacrifice.

Extreme peace.

Extreme generosity.

Extreme service of others.

Extreme life.

These, as the result of Jesus’ teachings and his sacrifice, allowing the Kingdom of God to break into this world, are the fundamentals of Christianity.

This is what true Christian extremism and fundamentalism looks like, not the false gods of the religious right in America or similar noisy factions throughout the world.

They are extreme, but not extremes of Jesus’ way.

They aren’t fundamental, but are quite the opposite as they twist and distort the truth.

And what of the “moderates”? What of the Christians who are “average in amount, intensity or degree”? Who actually wants to be one of those?

Is feeding the poor ‘average’?

Is worshipping a God that most people in the West don’t believe in ‘average’?

Is visiting the prisoner, or the sick, or the grieving, or the lonely, even though you don’t know the person ‘average’?

Is worshipping and praying with and for refugees who nobody seems to want ‘average’?

Is proclaiming your faith in the face of oppression, as many around the world have done, ‘average’?

Is speaking words of forgiveness, then singing songs of worship before being decapitated by masked men on a beach ‘average’ or ‘moderate’?

No. This is extremism and fundamentalism at its purest and most beautiful.

A quote has been posted on social media a lot recently. It says ‘If your fundamentalists are bad, there’s something wrong with your fundamentals’. I believe the fundamentals of Jesus were everything which is good. I believe that when you look at Jesus you see what an extremist, what a fundamentalist should look like.

It’s time we looked like that as well and took back those two terms to show what they can and do really mean.

 

 

A modern interpretation of Luke 6:27-36

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Listen!

Love your enemies. Love those who you disagree strongly with. Love those who hate you. Love those who hurt you. Love those who ignore you. Love those who discount you. Love those who see you as worthless, or worth less. Love those who are hard to love.

Pray for those who treat you badly. Pray for those who speak ill of you. Pray for those who demonise you. Pray for those who take from you without giving. Pray for those who couldn’t care less about you. Pray for those who it is difficult to pray for.

Don’t return pain with pain, insult with insult, violence with violence, hate with hate, ignorance with ignorance. Return all these things with love, patience and grace.

It’s easy for us to love our friends and family, anybody can do that, but it’s Christ-like to love and pray for those who we see as the enemy.

So, love and pray for the political opponent, the racist, the sexist, the homophobe, the islamophobe, the anti-semite, the extremist, the newspaper columnist, the paedophile, the burglar, the murderer, the internet troll, the bitter ex, the greedy, the selfish, the malicious gossip or the control freak.

Do it without expecting any thanks or reward from them for it.

Do it because your reward comes from God.

Do it because it’s right.

Do it because you know, deep down, that you need someone to do it for you, despite all your failings.

Do it to show love and mercy in the way your Father shows love and mercy for you.

Their god is not my God

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The logic is this: God wants us all to obey him, so you can either obey him or face being killed by those who do.

That isn’t the God I worship.

God will shower you with all types of riches and hedonistic delights in the next life if you give all of that kind of thing up in this life and force your choices on everybody else.

That isn’t the God I worship.

God wants you to subjugate half of the population because of their gender. He wants you to make sure they can’t teach, lead, make their own decisions or have any kind of independent thought.

That isn’t the God I worship.

God wants you to be intolerant and hateful towards anybody different to you. He wants you to exclude them, discriminate against them, preach against them and deny them basic human rights.

That isn’t the God I worship.

God has no sense of humour. He wants any ridicule of the more extreme views his followers have to be answered with vitriol, imprisonment, persecution, terror and death.

That isn’t the God I worship.

God doesn’t care if you want to follow him. He doesn’t care if you love him. He doesn’t care if you obey him because you want to or if you obey him because his followers force you to through the law, through fear, through violence… even if they have to behead your friends and family in front of you to make you obey him. He just wants blind obedience.

That isn’t the God I worship. That isn’t the God any Christian, Jew, Muslim, Hindu or Sikh I have met or known worship either.

The God I worship, the God we worship, is love. He is generous. He has given us free will to choose how, or how not, to respond to him. He wants us to obey him, but only if we have freely chosen to do so.

The God I worship does not want his followers to respond to satirical cartoons by killing those responsible like those who shot 12 people at the Paris offices of Charlie Hebdo did. He has been through more suffering and ridicule than we can imagine and grieves for all the suffering we inflict on each other on Earth. He has much bigger things to worry about than cartoons.

The God I worship does not want us to install a worldwide state in his name by force, by fighting and killing our way through the world and bringing it to heel by fear.

The God I worship does not want us to hate people we disagree with due to religion, politics or lifestyle. He doesn’t want us to condemn or persecute anybody, but to disagree in love and always point to him.

If God was like the one that extremists of all kinds claim to follow then I wouldn’t want to follow him. I would resist him and his followers. But he isn’t like that at all.

“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: he sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.” (1 John‬ ‭4‬:‭7-12‬ NIVUK)

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Advent 16: Matthew 2:1-12

Herod is one of those well known, almost pantomime style, villains of our childhood stories. The evil king who tries to trick the wise men into revealing where Jesus has been born so he can… well, the Nativity plays rarely expand on what he intended on doing. He was thwarted by an angelic dream, however, as Mary, Joseph and their newborn son escape his clutches.

What happens next is definitely not mentioned in any school Nativity play,

“When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled:  
“A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.””
(Matthew 2:16-18 NIV)

Wow. That’s far removed from the fluffy, tinsel covered angels and children singing Little Donkey. It shows the kind of danger and evil which was present in those times. Thank heavens we don’t see that kind of thing today…

Tell that to the people of Peshawar. Just when you think you’ve seen every kind of evil a group of hate filled fanatics burst into a school and massacre over 100 innocent children. And they claim to do it in the name of God.

This is not the God worshipped in Mosques around the world by peace loving Muslims.

This is not the God worshipped by wisdom seeking, peaceful Sikhs.

This is not the God worshipped by enlightenment seeking, loving Hindus.

This is not the God worshipped by devout, priestly, chosen Jews.

This is not the God worshipped by me and billions of other Christians.

This is not the God who came down to Earth to teach us, lead us and save us from our own desires, arrogance and hatred.

I don’t know the god the Taliban, Am Qaeda and Islamic State claim to worship, much as I don’t know the god who bigoted extremists who claim to follow Christ claim to worship.

I know the one who inspires his followers to love him each other as his greatest commandments. I know the one who humbled himself and put himself through unimaginable agony for us.

And I know the God who, right now, is weeping tears of sorrow for the victims of the innocent victims of hatred in Peshawar as well as the victims of hated and bigotry around the world.

These acts are carried out by people. Badly flawed, selfish people influenced by evil. The response from each and every one of us can and should be influenced by the God who loves us all.

Advent 8: Matthew 25:31-46

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Just under a year ago I read this passage and thought about how much it clashed with what so many members of our political and media classes cry out for whilst claiming Britain is a “Christian country™”.

As a result, I wrote this post, the words of which were as follows,

Then, the King said,

“I was hungry and you told me that it was my own fault for being lazy and believing that I was entitled to help from hard working families and that I’d probably spent all of my money on alcohol, cigarettes and drugs anyway.

I was thirsty and you assumed that I was desperate for gin or vodka, rather than water.

I was naked and you said that I would have more chance of a job if I took more care of my personal appearance, even though I wore all I could afford.

I was poor and you told me I was a scrounger who just wanted to sponge off the state and put stories about me on the tv and newspapers, despite knowing nothing about my circumstances.

I was sick and you denied me any help, told me to go back to work and assumed I was faking illness in order to scrounge.

I was in prison and you demanded that the key was thrown away and that I was kept away from all respectable, law-abiding members of society because I was a bad person who could never change.

I was a stranger and you ran, scared of me, told me to go home, that your country was full and that I was only there to steal your money, possessions and jobs.

For I tell you, whenever you did this for one of the least of these brothers or sisters of mine, you did it to me””

This struck a chord with a lot of people. My average number of views per post is about 100-150. This post received over 8000 from all over the world. I received a lot of messages telling me that this was exactly how they felt things were going in the whole western world right now, that our God given mandate to help and care for the weakest and most vulnerable in our society is being ignored for self interest and fear.

We have more and more right wing, populist politicians; from the US Tea Party to UKIP in Britain; who are shouting loudly about how migrants are the source of our problems, or poor people relying on handouts, or those who are working hard to help these people make the most of their lives. The sad thing is that these political groups also position themselves as the guardians of Christianity in an increasingly secular world.

Thankfully, we also see groups such as the Trussell Trust, Street Pastors, Crossreach and others who truly do portray the image of Jesus in a modern, broken selfish world. They go out and help, feed, clothe, support those they find in need, whilst, in some cases, railing against the fact that this need is even there in some of the richest societies on the planet.

The time has come to stop blaming, punishing, demonising and marginalising. The time has come to start helping, feeding, encouraging, educating, mentoring, listening, befriending and running our societies in a new way.

A new way which was put forward 2000 years ago, but we have sadly failed to replicate since the plan was made for us.

A way where our responsibility is to look after others, safe in the knowledge that others will look after us.

To welcome strangers, not to run from them.

To feed the hungry, not to tell them it’s their fault because they cant cook.

To lend a hand to the dispossessed.

To care for and listen to the suffering.

To house the homeless.

To love each and every person on this Earth as the unique and amazing creation they all are.
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Lent Day 37: John 15-16

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I have come across a lot of anger towards religion, particularly the Church recently. Anger caused by the actions of people down the ages who claim to be acting in God’s name. To be fair, I can fully understand where these views come from, after all, religion has been used as the justification for much evil; holy wars, witch hunts, persecution, brainwashing, legal control, psychological abuse, sexual abuse, physical abuse, slavery, racism, greed, subjugation of women, terrorism and many other horrendous acts have been perpetuated by the Church or those acting on its behalf for centuries.

It’s shameful, disgusting and evil.

But it isn’t the fault of religion, or of Jesus. It’s the fault of human beings.

These acts were carried out by people whose motivation was not holy, no matter how warped their idea may be. Their motivations were power, money, control and hatred, all of which would have found another outlet had religion not been there. In many cases these acts have been carried out with no use of religion as a tool at all.

So, I can understand the anger towards religion, towards the Church, for the evil done in their name down the years. But it’s misdirected anger.

The church is not a bunch of power crazed people at the top, controlling the masses (although it has looked like that in points in history and in some parts of the world today). The church is simply the people of God. Each of us who follows Jesus.

Jesus is the founder, focus and direction of the Church. He is the leader and commander, and his command is simple,

“This is my command: Love each other.” (John 15:17 NIV)

Love each other. Not abuse, persecute, control, lie to, hate or kill each other. Love each other. Simple as that.

If we love him, as he says, we will obey his commands. We will love each other. If we are in him and him in us we will bear fruit. We will love each other. If we love him then we will love the Father and do his will. We will love each other.

But, if we don’t obey his command, if we don’t love each other and act accordingly, then we don’t love him. Then he isn’t in us. Then we’re not in him. Then we don’t love the Father. And if this is the case, if we don’t love, but are moved by hatred and self interest, then he will say to us that he doesn’t know us. He will tell us to get away from him. We will be like branches which bear no fruit, are pruned, thrown away and burnt. We are not his Church.

Anyone who acts in their own interest, with their greed, lust for power, hatred and prejudice are not the Church. Even those who are “the Church” as people understand it are not his Church. He doesn’t know them. He shuts them out and cuts them off.

Whenever evil has been, or is, carried out in the name of the Church, then Jesus will say that they aren’t his. They aren’t the Church. They are liars and frauds who the rest of us need to call to account for their actions and refuse to follow.

His church is built on one main principle. Love each other. If we don’t do this, if we don’t live, breathe, eat and sleep this command, then we need to stop calling ourselves part of the Church and look at how we can change.

The church is not a lie, an instrument of evil or control. It’s the bride of Christ. It is steeped in love.

So should we be. Love each other.

Lent Day 36: John 13-14

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When I was at school I played football (soccer, for those who think football is an egg-shaped ball game) in the playground nearly every lunch break. Sometimes it was on concrete with a tennis ball, sometimes on the playing fields with a football. We played as closely to the proper rules of football as we could, but with three noticeable differences.

Firstly, we had no pitch markings. I went to a boys’ grammar school which didn’t actually play football as a school sport, we played rugby (no, I’m really not as posh as that makes me sound). We had some rough markings we could use on the concrete tennis courts, but on grass it was impossible. This meant that determining when the ball went over the line for a corner, goal-kick or even a goal was always a matter of argument. Throw ins just didn’t happen, there was seemingly infinite width to the pitches.

Secondly, jumpers for goalposts. I know that there are people who hear that phrase and are instantly transported back to their childhoods. In truth, we usually used schoolboys. This meant that judging if the ball was wide or not was tough. And as for shots over the crossbar, the rule of thumb was that the crossbar was as high as whoever was in goal could jump with their arms outstretched.

Thirdly, no offside. Now, if you don’t know the offside rule in football I am not about to try to explain it. Suffice to say that, without linesman at the sides of the pitch, offside would have been impossible to police.

This last rule led to me taking up my specialist position. The position of all kids for who being in defence or goal was a liability and midfield was pointless due to a lack of running or tackling skills. I wasn’t a marauding full-back, wizard on the wing or a typical English centre-forward. No, I was a goalhanger. My job was to stand close to the opposition goal, hoping for the ball to break outfield to give me a chance to score.

It’s a position you won’t find in the Premier League, or anywhere else who play to the official Laws of the Game, because you are always offside, so it’s pointless.

In fact, goalhanging is a huge reason for the offside rule being there in the first place. Goalhanging spoils the game as a spectacle, is quite inspiring and encourages those with little or no ability (like me) think they’re better than they are. In short, offside is a rule which irritates, confuses and frustrates, but is there for the good of the Game. It makes the Game fairer and more enjoyable.

The same goes for God’s laws, as taught with such clarity through Jesus. The commandments he gives to us are simple, some would say common sense commands which we don’t need to be told. Loving, respecting, helping others are all things which we “instinctively” know, as are most of his other commands.

They’re not so easy, though, when we’re told not to judge, to love our enemy, to put others before ourselves. Even the supposedly common-sense, instinctive ones seem beyond each of us on occasions, and beyond some most of the time.

Why? Because sometimes we don’t want to follow them. Sometimes our immediate reaction to events is selfishness, vengeance, anger or greed. Following Jesus commands feel far from instinctive, more like hugely inconvenient and restrictive.

But they are there for a reason. Like the offside rule stopping useless cloggers like me barely get by flourish on the football field and, instead, helping football be more like the “beautiful game”, so Jesus commandments do that in life. They curb selfish impulses in order to make life on Earth better for all of us.

It’s not about controlling masses or gaining power over them, it’s about really living life. That’s why, if we love him, we will keep his commandments and help others to do so as well.

No matter how hard that may be.