I participated in a discussion somewhere else about a discussion somewhere else as follows and thought it would make food for thought, here.
I participated in a discussion on another listserv, recently, that involved the drawing out of distinctions between extremism versus fundamentalism. In short, extremism was characterized mostly benignly and fundamentalism was mostly maligned.
I was in agreement with the overall thrust expressed by the other participants in that thread re: extremism and fundamentalism. But one other dynamic that emerged, I felt, was somewhat dismissive of those who might occupy the "middle". There was some additional nuancing that I tried to tease out re: extremism by way of affirming the roles of passion, activism and even "outliers". At the same time, there were no definitions in the M-W Online Dictionary for fundamentalism that, for me, lacked a pejorative connotation of some sort.
I want to share some thoughts, here, re: fundamentalism and the middle inasmuch as they also pertain to a dynamism we encounter in interreligious dialogue within the Catholic Church, especially re: the more traditional and conservative elements over against the more progressive and liberal elements, and then particularly as it pertains to those who tend to occupy a middle ground, which has been pejoratively described, on occasion, as muddling.
What I find most off-putting about fundamentalism is its inherent lack of critical thinking and where that can lead one, much less the many, especially when fueled by passion. But I want to tease out further is the additional nuancing of what one might mean by middle and muddle. One possible dynamic for the middle and that would, indeed, be muddling. Muddling does conjure images of analysis paralysis, lethargy, apathy, acedia and such, and, those images do, for me, invite disdain. But the descriptor "muddling" is not exhaustive of the concept "middle".
I wrote an essay once regarding the roles of nonpartisans and partisans and it gave more credit for changing history to nonpartisans than many seem willing to concede. The nonpartisan role can serve politics and religion in much the same way that the synthesizers have served to advance the sciences, both natural and social, as well as philosophy.
The wisdom traditions of the West have included the "coincidentia oppositorum" (the coincidence of opposites) and, of course, dialectical process. Still, Thomas Merton felt that the East, overall, did a much better job in reconciling opposites, such as, for example, in the Middle Path of Buddhism. Merton, remember, was dealing with spirituality. In my own life, what I have experienced is that the Western approach to opposites, especially as found in the neoplatonic influences on philosophy and theology, has greatly aided my critical thinking in scientific endeavors, speculatively and theoretically. It is the Eastern approach to opposites, however, that has most advanced my practical living skills, mostly my intrapersonal and interpersonal dynamics and my spirituality.
In summary, then, I wish to point out that there is nothing that inheres in the middle that excludes passion, activism or critical thinking, or that forecloses on the opportunity to largely influence and greatly advance the natural and social sciences, and, importantly, the course of political and military events. There is one aspect of bridge-building that can be distressing, according to Richard Rohr, and that is that bridges tend to get walked over by people coming from both sides. Although Jesus, even, admonished the lukewarm, that is to be distinguished, in my view, from what is involved in taking the Middle Path. He was one to comfort the afflicted but was also one who afflicted the comfortable and that just might involve muddying the philosophical, scientific, political and theological waters that others view as more pristine than they actually are. One needn't add dirt or pollutants when muddling; rather, one need only stir things up a bit to reveal the latent turbidity.
The muddling middle just might be a genuine charism.
Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice -- Barry Goldwater
As a political moderate I attract flak from both sides. I shoot both ways and then duck. Quack! I get more warm fuzzies from my liberal freinds. I get them from my conservative freinds also, but one needs to get past a few cold prickleys at times.
I've been reading Atlantic Monthly, Harpers and The New Yorker and they all seem fairly balanced politically. This may be growth for yours truly.
As far as religion, I lean toward the evangelical, the fundamental and the literal. I see thomas Merton as politically moderate and conservative on religion, and he appeals to me very much. I would seek to emulate him. I tend to agree with the religious right on most issues, but it's a question of degrees. I am cooling somewhat, but the A.C.L.U. are some real stinkers, IMHO
It's been a decade since I was into Robertson and Falwell, but I like D. James Kennedy who is a Presbyterian in the John Knox and Calvinist tradition. He is an educated man with a half a dozen advanced degrees and a leader of the religious right, and I subscribe to many of his views.
The strange thing to me is that I barely know or associate with anyone who shares my views. In fact, when I find these views in others, I am sometimes put off by it. Perhaps I am growing toward the middle or perhaps I am a hypocrite whose views will not work in the real world.
I ran across an interesting phrase I hadnít heard before: Reality will preserve its integrity. It was mentioned in a book review of The Truth Squad over at NRO.
quote:Which proves that reality will preserve its integrity, despite what the New York Times says. And this leads to Bozellís deeper contention: A media establishment so willing to make empirically falsifiable claims is losing touch with its very need for credibility. If you semi-automatically raise the specter of Vietnam over Afghanistan, only to have your fears disproven within weeks, you need to adjust your worldview. If you donít, people will rightly suspect that your intellectual commitments are not rationally based, but rather a form of superstition. This suspicion is indeed mounting, and not just among political conservatives; itís the reason so many Americans are tuning out the biased mainstream media and turning to other news sources.
Reality might preserve its own integrity, but does it always do it fast enough? And doesnít speed count? Does the muddling middle help in preserving this integrity?
Posts: 5365 | From: Washington State | Registered: Sep 2001
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Good questions! I think sometimes the truth emerges only after emotions die down a bit. People with a strong emotional investment in a "position" or ideology frequently have a difficult time being open to truth. When you apply this observation to the media and its ideological biases (left and right), you can see how truth and reality are often the big losers, at least in the short run.
-------------------- "The Light shines on in darkness . . ." - John 1: 3 - Posts: 7539 | From: Wichita, KS | Registered: Aug 2001
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Hi everyone... Good heavens, I drop in after simply ages and what do I find but a discussion on the middle...just the topic addressed in an old theology journal I was wandering through recently. FYI.. the journal is Interpretation and the issue addresses the Church at the Center. Here's something you may want to knock around a bit.
"In Christ and Culture, H.Richard Niebuhr's types are bounded at the left end by "Christ against culture" and on the right by the "Christ above culture". The church of the center is composed of a threesome: "Christ above culture," "Christ and culture in paradox," and "Christ transformer of culture." Gabriel Fackre
While it is true JT that bridges tend to be walked over by people from both sides, they also allow for freedom of movement along a continuim from one side to the other. Rather than culturally/denominationally/doctrinally centered don't bridges give one freedom to be Christologically centered?
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference,Accepting hardship as the pathway to peace, Taking this evil world as it is, not as I would have it, Trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to his will, That I shall be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with Him forever in the next.
I have the Richard Wightman Fox biography in the TBR stack.
Other Neoorthodox theologians would include Karl Barth (his Romans is excellent,) and Deitrich Bonhoeffer (Letters and Papers from Prison, Ethics , The Cost of Discipleship)
I also intend to read more Tillich and Tillehard de Chardin to round out the picture.
How can one be conservative without a comparison
The muddling middle candidate, Pete Coors, beat out the conservative tonight in the Republican contest for the Senate race in November