At Public Orthodoxy, American University of Rome’s Davor Džalto reflects on what he calls the positive and negative modes of fundamentalism. There’s a lot to like in the essay. I was especially pleased to see the author argue that fundamentalism is not simply a phenomenon of the cultural/political/theological Right. Instead, he offers a broader definition that can is descriptive of some on the Left as well.
For Džalto, the key characteristic of what he calls a negative fundamentalism “the hypertrophy of individuality—alienation from others, perception of the other as an existential threat, conviction that only ‘we’ or ‘I’ are on the right track to salvation, etc.” He goes on to say that this, negative form of fundamentalism is rooted in “the fearful rejection of the other.” It represents an “isolationalist extremism and a Manichean division between ‘us’ (who are the saved ones, the good ones, and the righteous ones) and evil, wicked, poisonous ‘them.'”
What is most helpful, however, is his affirmation of a positive fundamentalism which can be “tradition-oriented” and “radical” in the sense that it insists upon the necessity of a life of “self-discipline” and “ascetic practices.” Fundamentalism in this second sense is the radically of Jesus.
I would suggest that many–even most–Orthodox parishes in America are suffering from a palpable absence of a wholesome, well-balanced but radical commitment to Christ. This commitment is lacking both among the laity and the clergy. And it is this absence that makes the negative modes of fundamentalism so attractive.
Džalto concludes by arguing that
…Christians should indeed be radicals and even fanatics. But they should be fanatic lovers of love and freedom. Not as impersonal ideas but as existential realities. And this is unthinkable without other persons. This is, in my view, the foundation of the “right kind” of fundamentalism or radicalism. A true Christian radical knows that the enemy is primarily (in) him/herself. The major obstacle we are facing in this world is the very mode of our existence, not someone out there who threatens us.