Sunday, February 27, 2011

Preserving Words

If you are not familiar with how fundamentalism grew in America, or even if you are, or if you know of a young person who has not lived through the history, an excellent overview is included in “God Laughs and Plays” by David James Duncan. The chapter is titled “What Fundamentalists Need for Their Salvation” in 7 parts. I’ll quote extensively from the part 7. He starts that final section with,

“There is one precious Earth, and she is finite.”

He goes on to discuss wounds that have been put on that Earth; wounds that are visible and those that are given by words. He lists some of the words that have been abused; “soul”, “sacrifice”, “salvation”, “grace”, and notes that many people have sidestepped the damage by rejecting the terminology. He suggests the harm that has been done to words is undone “when we work to reopen each word’s true history, nuance and depth. Holy words need stewardship as surely as do gardens, orchards, or ecosystems.”

David James Duncan is well read, and has written two bestselling novels, “The River Why” and “The Brothers K”. So when he says,

“If Americans of European descent are to understand and honor the legacy of Celtic, European, Middle Eastern, and other Christian traditions and pass our literature, music, art, monasticism, and mysticism on intact, the right-wing hijacking of Christianity must be defined as the reductionist rip-off that it is. To allow televangelists or pulpit neocons to claim exclusive ownership of Jesus is to hand that incomparable lover of enemies, prostitutes, foreigners, children, and fishermen over to those who evince no such love.”

I think it is worthy of consideration. David James Duncan writes beautiful prose about rivers and fly-fishing that honor the Earth. Rather than honor it, some claim that its end is near, and many ignore the danger. The claims of right-wing fundamentalism are based on a few Bible verses, and selectively ignore most others. But if we don’t know what those words are we hand the hen house over to the weasels. So, David James Duncan believes that contemporary fundamentalists need artists, agnostics, organic gardeners, gay restaurateurs, pagan preachers, heartbroken Muslims and peace marchers. Without them, much of Christian culture will be consigned to perdition and will take much of our literature and culture along with it.

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