I'm currently reading Andrew Sullivan's The Conservative Soul. In it Sullivan criticizes a faux conservatism that has led to reckless government action, spending and growth. The contemporary movement masquerading as conservatism lacks what in Sullivan's mind is essentially conservative: a chastened rationality marked by a healthy dose of skepticism. At the root of this decidedly unconservative movement is fundamentalism, something that Sullivan sees as essentially antithetical to all that is truly "conservative". Anyone with moderate political sensibilities will find at least some of Sullivan's thought attractive, and much of it at least palpitable. I know I'm finding his book to be a decent read, except where he waxes on about "fundamentalism".
Sullivan's varied characeterizations of fundamentalism aren't so problematic. Fundamentalists "know" the truth in a manner that precludes guessing, arguing, wondering or questioning. For the fundamentalist truth is not something to be "held provisionally, to be tested by further evidence." Fundamentalists don't separate facts from values. 'The values of the fundamentalist are facts...God has revealed them in a book that is inerrant, whether that book is the Bible or the Koran; or he has entrusted them to a hierarchy whose interpretation of scripture and tradition and history and nature is authoritative and even, in some cases, literally infallible."
One might want to quibble at certain points with Sullivan's definition of a fundamentalist (see Newbigin's critique of the fact/value dichotomy in The Gospel In A Pluralist Society, for instance). But more troubling are some of the specific examples he gives of fundamentalists. Case in point, he cites the current pope who in a Christmas sermon remarked: "Without the light of Christ, the light of reason is not sufficient to enlighten humanity and the world." The larger context of the quote is as follows:
At Christmas, the Almighty becomes a child and asks for our help and protection. His way of showing that he is God challenges our way of being human. By knocking at our door, he challenges us and our freedom; he calls us to examine how we understand and live our lives. The modern age is often seen as an awakening of reason from its slumbers, humanity’s enlightenment after an age of darkness. Yet without the light of Christ, the light of reason is not sufficient to enlighten humanity and the world. For this reason, the words of the Christmas Gospel: "the true Light that enlightens every man was coming into this world" (Jn 1:9) resound now more than ever as a proclamation of salvation. "It is only in the mystery of the Word made flesh that the mystery of humanity truly becomes clear" (Gaudium et Spes, 22). The Church does not tire of repeating this message of hope reaffirmed by the Second Vatican Council, which concluded forty years ago.
Benedict is not claiming that secular human reason is bankrupt. He is not asserting that science is some spurious discipline to be eschewed by the Church. He is not decrying philosophy or the benefits that Athens can bring to all the world, including Jerusalem. He is simply saying that if the Gospel is true, then human reason is limited, both in its capacity to understand our own condition and our world. The creature's capacity to reason, grand as it is, will always fall short of the the goal it seeks. Knowledge is certainly possible for autonomous human reason, but the truest and deepest understanding we seek can only be received as a gift of divine grace. If convictions like this make one a fundamentalist, then so be it. Count me among the tribe.