Why does Pope Francis continue to go back to his concern over religious fundamentalism found in all religions? During his press conference on the plane returning from his trip to Africa, he addresses the issue again in response to a reporter's question.
Listen to what he says:
"In the Catholic church we have some -- many -- who believe they possess the absolute truth and they go on sullying others through slander and defamation and this is wrong. Religious fundamentalism must be combated. It is not religious, God is lacking, it is idolatrous."
Strong words indeed. Note that he says fundamentalism is not religious. Of course it is not religious, in that it often condemns others. At its worst it might lead to religious wars. At a more modest level it alienates people and pits groups against each other rather than leading to respect and working together for the good of all.
At a more fundamental level, fundamentalism is not religious because it is not what religion is about. Religion is about our relationship to God. It is about what God does for us: his mercy, his love, his care for us. Religion is not about doctrine. Fundamentalists often become rigid and demand strict orthodoxy, yet even most Catholics often don't know well the details of their own religious doctrine.
One does not have to understand doctrine in a perfect way to be a Catholic or an adherent of any religion. How much does it matter if a practicing Catholic can or cannot explain that the Holy Spirit flows from both the Father and the Son? What effect is there on the practice of your religion if you become confused on the difference between the Assumption and the Ascension?
I think Pope Francis is also making the point that we simply do not know everything. Specifically, we don't know enough to be condemning the elements of faith another may subscribe to. So we are plunging ahead as if we have the corner on truth and we must defend it against the world. We forget how much of what we know is shrouded in mystery. As St. Paul says we only "see through a glass darkly, but then we shall see face to face." (1 Corinthians 13:12)
We might do well to believe and trust in God, and recognize that much will be revealed to us when we do see God face to face. I'm pretty sure we will find a number of surprises when we get there.
In the meantime we should be practicing our religion. We should be reaching out to others with respect, compassion and love, rather than condemning them for what they believe. We should be helping each other as we walk this difficult journey of life. We should all be working to create a better world for everyone here, so that we can walk through those pearly gates together, certain that God is there waiting to welcome all of us.
I'm pretty sure that is what religion is about.