French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo

This sermon was given by Revd. Mark Bailey in the aftermath of the events at the offices in Paris of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.


The Difference Between the Fundamentals of Faith and Fundamentalism.

One of the consequences of the terrible atrocities committed in Paris this week will be the number of accusations against religion. Many will point fingers and say that religion breeds violence, that religion leads to intolerance – that religion itself is evil and that the practice of it should be avoided. Within religious communities themselves’ there will be an emphasis on certain divides. ‘I am not that kind of Muslim.’ ‘I am not that kind of Christian.’ There will be some who will want to suggest that Islam is intrinsically violent and degrading and others will want to suggest that Christianity is peaceful – that is to fall into the same trap of the terrorist who stormed into the Jewish supermarket believing that all Jews are the same.

Where does this leave us? I think it is important that all religious people, Muslim and Christian, draw a very sharp distinction between what is fundamental to their faith and what becomes fundamentalism as a world-view. What is fundamental to my faith is that I believe in God and as a Christian I believe that God has revealed himself more fully to the world that he has created in the person of Jesus Christ. It is through this revelation that I catch glimpses of the maturity of person that God calls and wants me to be. I see in the life of Christ a model for living that affirms certain values of love and service not just to those who love and care for me but to try my best to love and care for others too. And it is through God’s grace that I understand by my faith conviction that when I fail to live up to those values that my faith teaches -  then I am encouraged not to give up but to try again. And I believe that in the fullness of time, after my death and in a way that I do not fully understand, that God will grant me the gift of new life where the struggles and conflicts that I have wrestled with in this life will be resolved and my soul will rest in peace. These are the fundamentals of my faith.

I do not believe that my understanding of my faith should dictate the faith of others. I do not subscribe to a view of the world or the church that states that what I understand is the only way of faith to be expressed or organized. I cannot claim to fully understand the mind of God – God is ultimately mystery – I see this most clearly expressed in the mystery that is the nature of other people around me. To be a fundamentalist would be for me to claim to know what is ultimate truth. It would be to claim that I know what God wants in very specific, black and white terms. The fundamentalist world-view is a very defended world-view that dictates that God loves me and that unless you practice your faith in accordance with mine then I can categorically say that God does not love you. Fundamentalism is to say that unless you are human like I am human then your humanity is of less worth than mine. God is on my side. He is not on your side. You must now be expelled from the wider family of God’s chosen humanity, as I understand it. God has no mystery.

It is very important that we understand that as a worshipping community here in this Church that we understand that we are not fundamentalists. There are people – some of them may even be our neighbours who live next door to us who will think that because we are religious people we are fundamentalists – we are not. And we need to be able to help them to understand why we are not fundamentalists. We do not share the world-view of the fundamentalists. I have to say that some Christian people do and that some churches promote a religious fundamentalism – but we do not.

We are helped this morning by the reading in Mark’s Gospel – the story of John the Baptist and the baptism of Jesus. Baptism symbolizes the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. Our own baptism symbolizes for us the beginning of our own faith journey. The beginning of a journey in which the values and morals of our faith are used to help nurture and inform our journey through our human development from birth, through childhood into adulthood. Baptism symbolizes that journey, which is a constant journey of learning and exploration – a journey we make with other people – some like us, some more different to us – but nevertheless a journey we make together. We do not travel an exclusive road – the long and narrow road that Jesus points us to is equally one travelled by other people who are different from who we are.

Within Anglicanism there has always been a very clear understanding that balance in understanding of what faith means needs checks and balances and that it is vital and necessary that an interpretation of the meaning of life should be viewed from more than one perspective. The Bible offers one perspective, the tradition of the church - the sacraments and rituals of worship, offer another, life experience and how we manage our day-to-day living offers yet another. Anglicans have always understood that each needs the other to create a broad understanding of life and of faith. To become too dependent upon one particular view is to fall into a fundamentalist way of thinking – and that, as we have seen this week – tragically results in death.


Revd. Mark Bailey

11th January 2015