Am I a Fundamentalist?

August 6, 2007

Sunday night’s Compass program on Fundamentalism (1st of 2) was quite balanced and illuminating. It showed that religious militancy is not restricted to Muslims and Christians by showing examples of Indian Hindus and Sri Lankan Buddhist monks getting very intolerant and violent. In contrast the US Christians interviewed were only violent by proxy, i.e. supporting the Iraq war.

The presenter, an English Catholic,  correctly explained the roots of the word “fundamentalism”: it came out of the publication (early twentieth century) of a series of booklets outlining the “fundamentals” of Christianity that are non-negotiable, in response to higher criticism and liberal theology: doctrines such as the bodily resurrection of Jesus and the virgin birth.  This was an honest and forthright attempt to concentrate the argument on the key areas that really matter, rather than getting lost on arguments between Christians about (say) predestination or baptism. In terms of the original debate, I would be a fundamentalist (just).

Unfortunately the term has been repeatedly hi-jacked. First, by the more extreme “fundamentalists” who insisted on narrowing the definition so that, for instance, you had to support  a “seven day young earth creation” position on Genesis and a dispensationalist view of eschatology to be accepted as a true fundamentalist.  Then, by the media, who found “fundamentalism” to be a useful “catch all” phrase to cover all kinds of militant religion, especially the so-called “Christian right” who were emerging as a political force to be reckoned with. Now it has even worse connotations, as Islamist violent militants become seen as the paradigmatic “fundamentalists”.

Certainly in all these terms, I am not a fundamentalist.

The issue raises again the question of boundaries, which I discussed in an earlier blog. This is an important question. How “black and white” should we be about issues? My answer to that would be, as black-and-white as the issue demands but no more.

So, for example, I believe the second coming is a non-negotiable belief. Jesus is coming again literally and we will all see it. But the details that surround this are very ambiguous and grey! People get all shook up about a pre-trib rapture, for example, or the mark of the beast. These are issues we should not be dogmatic about.

So let’s not be Fundamentalist but by all means hold to the fundamentals!


2 Responses to “Am I a Fundamentalist?”

  1. davidforyou said

    So let’s not be Fundamentalist but by all means hold to the fundamentals…

    mm yeh, thats good. Good post ps Jon.

  2. Pete Aldin said

    I’m with you here. I’ve been trying to be a smartalec with that word and at the right time it can work. (Though once it backfired on me!)

    But the other day, I was chatting with a “post-Christian” (a lady with a Baptist minister Dad who now has her own personal god called “Hughie”)

    She said “Dad is such an old fundamentalist.” And I said “So am I.”

    “What?? How could you??” she exclaimed in a screech.

    I replied along your lines here and said something like “But you have to understand what the fundamentals of my faith are: grace, not judging others…” and similar things that are related to her own values. It made an interesting entry point for discussing the jesus message…

    Doesn’t always work that neatly tho!!

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