Saturday, September 22, 2007


DETOUR FROM REASON? I know most reasonable people and forward-thinking Christians could care less about this topic and see the time I am making on bikehiker for this discussion may be rolling their eyes...but for the few of us who take faith seriously and have been beaten up by Fundamentalists and legalism in the past, this discussion is not so much a detour as a beckon toward a way through--and out--of Fundamentalism's oppressive spell.

AM I A FUNDAMENTALIST? The following information comes from the Religious Movements project at the University of Virginia. I share it here because a few responders have had a reaction to the term "Fundamentalist" as I have used it in reference to the ONU debacle. Apparently, folks don't like being labeled Fundamentalist. I know many folks within the Wesleyan-holiness tradition bristle at the association of their beliefs and practice with Fundamentalism. I know I don't consider myself to be a Fundamentalist--for reasons I will enumerate in a later post. Evangelicals and progressives may not like being associated with or as Fundamentalists, but if it walks like a duck and acts like a duck...

AGGRESSIVELY INTOLERANT OF OTHER PERSPECTIVES. I have asserted on the blog that holding a literal six-days view of creation to the exclusion of other theistic and biblical understandings and what is reasonably verifiable through the best scientific observations, and to act aggressively intolerant of other perspectives reflects the thought and behavior of a Fundamentalist. One reason for this is a Fundamentalist's view of the Bible as verbally inspired and, as such, completely inerrant. Those of us who understand Biblical inspiration from a plenary perspective and who embrace the Bible as authoritative and inerrant in all things necessary for salvation aren't threatened by truth seeking and scientific discovery that at first glance may appear to be odds with a Fundamentalist-limited view of all things Christian.

MORE THAN THE FIVE FUNDAMENTALS. So, maybe a little clarification is in order. What is Fundamentalism? Fundamentalism in the Christian context is not just holding certain litmus-test beliefs in an exclusive way, Fundamentalism is multi-dimensional--a broader system of belief and action in the world. It would be a mistake to think of Fundamentalism as monolithic or contained within certain Protestant denominations. The work of Martin Marty and Scott Appleby in The Fundamentalism Project yields the following insights:

The American Academy of Arts and Sciences funded a multiyear project that brought scholars from around the world together to study Fundamentalism. Ultimately they produced 5 volumes containing almost 8,000 pages of material.
Admitting some difficulty with the term, the project opts to use it anyway for a variety of reasons. Essentially, they argue that it is commonly accepted, here to stay, and the best term anyone can come up with for this phenomena. The last chapter of volume 1, Fundamentalisms Observed, discusses the "family resemblances" found in the various chapters. These family resemblances include:

1. religious idealism as basis for personal and communal identity;
2. fundamentalists understand truth to be revealed and unified;
3. it is intentionally scandalous, (similar to Lawrence's point about language -- outsiders cannot understand it);
4. fundamentalists envision themselves as part of a cosmic struggle;
5. they seize on historical moments and reinterpret them in light of this cosmic
6. they demonize their opposition and are reactionary;
7. fundamentalists are selective in what parts of their tradition and heritage they
8. they are led by males;
9. they envy modernist cultural hegemony
10. and try to overturn the distribution of power.

The Fundamentalism Project enumerates several more of these "family resemblances" but most are represented in this abbreviated list. The last several chapters of the final volume, Fundamentalisms Comprehended, attempts to delineate several properties of Fundamentalism with the research of the previous 7,500 pages in mind. Appleby, Emmanuel Sivan, and Gabriel Almond list 5 ideological characteristics and 4 organizational characteristics of fundamentalism.

The Five ideological characteristics are:
1. fundamentalists are concerned "first" with the erosion of religion and its proper role in society;
2. fundamentalism is selective of their tradition and what part of modernity they accept or choose to react against;
3. they embrace some form of Manicheanism (dualism);
4. fundamentalists stress absolutism and inerrancy in their sources of revelation; and
5. they opt for some form of Millennialism or Messianism.

The organizational characteristics include:
1. an elect or chosen membership;
2. sharp group boundaries;
3. charismatic authoritarian leaders; and
4. mandated behavioral requirements.

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