This morning, I was accused of being a fundamentalist for arguing in favor of what my Catholic faith actually teaches, instead of some vague, nuanced version that makes Catholicism indistinct from any other religion.

Not unlike being called a “rigorist“, being called a fundamentalist is euphemistic for someone who cares more about what a thing means than how people think it should be applied. Usually in direct opposition to whatever the thing in question was created to accomplish.

Or, as one of my friends put it:

“Fundamentalist” is a slippery label, but it boils down to the speaker’s incredulity at people who “believe that shit.” 

In other words, it says more about the labeler than the labelee.

I have to admit, I don’t get the problem with fundamentalism. The free dictionary defines it thusly:

A usually religious movement or point of view characterized by a return to fundamental principles, by rigid adherence to those principles, and often by intolerance of other views and opposition to secularism.

“Fundamental principles”. These are evidently problematic for a lot of people. Mostly for those who find themselves a part of something that they no longer, for whatever reason, really believe in. There’s a certain comfort in being a part of something, especially if it’s something you’ve been a part of for a very long time. Lots of people would rather try to change the thing they are a part of than to admit that they themselves have grown apart from the thing and don’t really believe in it anymore.

But really, that’s just lazy.

I’ve had tons of problems with my Catholic Faith over the years. And those problems have caused distance between myself and the Church. They’ve made it easier for me to doubt, easier for  me to sin, easier for me to wonder if any of it really means anything.

But I have enough respect for the people who don’t have those problems to not treat them as though they’re the crazy ones. If I don’t like being Catholic, I can pull up my big boy pants and leave. I can do the same thing if I’m an American, or if I’m an advocate of analog instead of digital recording, or if I believe Greedo shot first. It doesn’t matter what the canon is. If I think it’s crap, I don’t have to stick around for it. I don’t have to subscribe to it or defend it or wear a t-shirt saying I heart it.

The one thing I don’t have a right to do is to pretend that it’s something other than it is. I’m sorry everyone, but solipsism is bullshit. Stop thinking that the world is what you decide it is. Give others the respect of letting them have their own beliefs, even if you think they’re wrong. I have no problem with trying to convert someone to your way of thinking, but don’t try to tell them that what they believe in should change because it’s no longer relevant.

If you ever say that, you’re the one with the relevancy problem.

The strange thing about this tendency to eschew fundamentalism is that it only seems to apply to esoteric things. Could you imagine if some baker came out — say, the grandson of Betty Crocker — and decided that following recipes for things like chocolate chip cookies was disgusting fundamentalism?

“I refuse to use vanilla,” the young Mr. Crocker might write in his manifesto, “so I shall instead use a teaspoon of Sriracha. I do not subscribe to the theory that only baking soda or baking powder will act to leaven my dough, so I instead choose to make use of Borax! And chocolate chips are barbaric. I will only use cockroach larvae in my recipe!”

It wouldn’t be a long or illustrious career in baking for Mr. Crocker.

The same would apply to the average chemist, engineer, or nuclear physicist. Historians who decide to make up their own version of past events often get a pass, but that doesn’t make the drivel they produce any more true. Just because the Emperor wants to believe in the exquisite nature of his raiment does not mean that he is wearing a stitch of clothing.

Fundamentalism means understanding what a thing is and having enough respect for it to be a purist.

Whether that’s a Catholic who adheres to the teaching of the Church, or a Muslim who follows the path of jihad, fundamentalism isn’t just some pejorative term. It’s something pure. It may not be good. It might even be evil. But it is slavishly accurate. It hews to source material, eschewing deconstructionism and zeitgeist and clinging instead to the source. We do a disservice to truth to pretend that those who have taken the time to understand what a thing means really don’t understand it, and are instead serving some selfish principle.

If we’re telling them that, maybe we need to examine whether it’s really us, not them, who doesn’t care for or understand the thing in question. And if that turns out to be true, do a favor to the people who get it: go find something you respect enough to to be a fundamentalist about. Leave us alone.

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