“You sound like a fundamentalist!”

Recently a fellow Course teacher had someone tell her that she sounded like a fundamentalist. Sparked by our discussion about that, I thought I’d bring the issue to this forum, so that we could both look at it in relation to ourselves and help one another deal with this kind of comment. I imagine that my fellow teacher is not unique, in that there are others of us who have had to deal with some people seeing us as too fundamentalist in our approach to the Course. I hope you will share your reflections and experiences with this issue.

I used to think that being a fundamentalist simply meant that you stuck to and stood up for “the fundamentals,” i.e., the principles that were the foundation of your faith. There is nothing inherently wrong with that, but fundamentalism goes way beyond. I did a little online research and discovered that the word “fundamentalism” was first used in the early 1920’s to refer to a movement of Protestant Christians who were afraid that modern thinking was going to pervert or even destroy Christianity–. Over the years, the term evolved to include ultra-conservatives of any faith, who rigidly adhere to “the letter of the word”–especially the Word of their God–and will do anything to defend and preserve it. Wickipedia says that, in The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins “used the term to characterize religious advocates as clinging to a stubborn, entrenched position that defies reasoned argument or contradictory evidence.” Fundamentalists are described as reactionary (sometimes to the point of violence), hostile to change, rigidly dogmatic, intolerant, and harshly judgmental of anyone who believes differently. These characteristics are totally opposite to the kind of qualities the Course is teaching us to develop. Just one look at the “What Are the Characteristics of God’s Teachers?” proves that.

Robert has written a great article on, “Why I am a Course Purist” (A Better Way #64), in which he talks about the difference between being a fundamentalist and a purist. I’d like to look more at how we see ourselves personally in relation to this. Before we talk about how to deal with comments like, “You sound like a fundamentalist,” I think we have to ask ourselves: “Do I sound like a fundamentalist?”

Even if we know we’re not fundamentalists, do we sometimes sound as if we are? Even if we don’t exhibit those extreme characteristics I mentioned above, are there times when we do come across too strongly and unyielding about the Course? Do we make it sound as if it is the only way? Do we sometimes sound arrogant and opinionated as we assert our views about the Course? Do we insist on one way of going through the Course? Are we judgmental toward teachers who see and interpret the Course differently? Do we sometimes come across as “holier than thou”?

I grew up “knowing” that there was a right way and a wrong way to do things, and the right way was obviously my way; that is, the way my mother had taught me! That carried over into my adult life and that, coupled with “high standards,” led–as you can imagine–to difficulties in some of my personal relationships. I have made a lot of progress in letting go of all that, but it’s still there to some extent.

In relation to the Course, I am a purist and do take what Jesus says literally. I do believe that he has set out the right way to do his Course, and I do have high standards in teaching the “fundamentals” of the Course, but I have learned– to hold that lightly in relation to others. I think I have become gentle in my way of teaching, but clear in conveying what the Course says and doesn’t say. Years ago when I was part of the non-violent peace and social justice movement, I went overboard in my enthusiasm and devotion and almost came across like a zealot. I am full of enthusiasm and passion for the Course and I love sharing that, but it’s tempered now, and I share it with those who are interested. When I talk about the Course with new or non-Course students, I am clear about it being my spiritual path and that I teach it in as faithful a way possible, but I also let them know that this is A Course in Miracles, not The Course. I also tell them that the Course itself says that it’s one form of the “universal curriculum,” one path leading back to God. I used to believe that there was one right way to go through the Course, that is, in the order in which it was presented, but I’ve let go of that as I’ve seen the benefits of people going through the Workbook or Manual first.

Does rigidity creep into my teaching? I don’t think so. In classes, when people present opinions that are not substantiated in the Course, I bring them back to what the Course says, explaining that, to the best of my understanding, this is what it means. I try to be accepting of where people are and yet try to move them along to where the Course is taking us. I’m also much more flexible and, rather than making a meeting go in the direction I want it to go, I sometimes actually enjoy letting it go where the group seems to need or where the Holy Spirit wants to take it.

Writing about this topic has made me stop and reflect on myself. I’m sure that I’ll have more thoughts in relation to it, but I’ll stop for now and open this up to your comments about fundamentalism and you. For starters, how do you see yourself in relation to the issue? Where do you fall on the fundamentalist-purist-“whatever-ist” continuum? How do you walk the line between being a Course purist and sounding like a fundamentalist? How do you deal with comments such as, “You sound like a fundamentalist”? I’m looking forward to our discussion!


Mary Anne