My friend and fellow MAGL cohorter Margaret Yu suggested I check out Peter Palmer’s Let Your Life Speak. Palmer is a Quaker, which is really the closest thing that Protestantism has to a mystically tradition. Mystic’s are concerned about the inner journey, and are often having a much different conversation than fundamentalists are.
The previous owner of the book marked almost every page in pencil with a clear and effeminate script. For the statements she agreed with there were little checkmarks. For those she disagreed with, she cross them out and write a diatribe, including scripture references to prove the author wrong. Time and again, she would argue with a word, phrase, or her misrepresentation of Palmer’s point.
My definition of a fundamentalist, whether it be Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Marxist, Atheist or Anarchist, is a person who is so rigidly committed to a set of beliefs and practices, that they are unable to accept, converse with or perhaps even live near someone who doesn’t agree with them. For a fundamentalist, life is a constant witch hunt.
Reading a book is really no different than having a conversation. You engage the other person by listening to what they have to say. The goal of reading a book should be to gain some sort of insight in to how another person sees the world, which may at some point help you navigate it yourself.
The previous owner of my book was incapable of listening to what Palmer has to say. For her, you can only listen to a person who agrees with how you see the world. Because of this, she’ll never see beyond herself, will understand very little of how the world works, and will never grow into a better person.
A fundamentalist can’t read a book because they don’t want to learn. They just want to be affirmed in how they already see the world. Learning doesn’t meant that one cannot hold to a lifestyle or worldview. It means that one values another’s ability to think, their life experiences and imago dei enough to put their desires on hold and listen.
This is too bad. Because there’s a lot you can learn from a book. Or a person.