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#85 - Fundamentalism as "a kind of intellectual suicide"
by Robert Nguyen Cramer
This BibleTexts website administrator has very much enjoyed questions and insights that have been emailed to him ever since this site was launched in September of 1996. On this page I share with BibleTexts browsers a few of the questions, insights, and responses, so that we all can further learn from and with each other.
Fundamentalism actually invites people to a kind of intellectual suicide.
You pointed to quite a few examples of fundamentalism. There is an excellent book on this subject, which is part of "The Fundamentalism Project." The book is Fundamentalisms Observed, edited by Martin E. Marty and R. Scott Appleby and based on a study done by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (published by the University of Chicago Press, 1991). That 872-page book has the following chapter titles:
Of course there are many other forms of fundamentalism beyond what is traditionally considered part of the religious realm, whose followers unquestioningly adopt opinion-based dogma with religious-like zeal, and their leaders are treated as if they were gods. Hitler's nazism is an extreme example of such fundamentalisms, but elements of fundamentalism can be found in many groups.
Fundamentalism is defined in one modern dictionary as,
a movement in American Protestantism that arose in the early part of the 20th century in reaction to Modernism and that stresses the infallibility of the Bible not only in matters of faith and morals but also as a literal historical record. (Random House Webster's College Dictionary, NY: Random House, 1997, page 526)
In A Dictionary of Christian Theology (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1969, page 132), the editor, Alan Richardson, notes:
In general fundamentalism is akin to pre-enlightenment evangelical theology, but it differs significantly from that theology by its deliberate rejection of the methods and conclusions of post-Enlightenment biblical-historical criticism, which the earlier theologians had not rejected because they knew nothing of them. In this sense fundamentalism may be said to be a radically different theology from that of the older evangelical position.
Fundamentalism is less than pure literalism, which biblically is a virtual impossibility, due to inconsistencies. It often includes selective literalism and is falsely sheltered by a practice of intellectual reclusiveness and/or stultification, as well as a disinclination to genuine dialog. It adopts a dogma based upon formulated opinions, whereby the developers and adherents of the dogma selectively use and promote only those facts that support the dictated and/or agreed-upon opinions. Believers are expected to disregard any facts that disagree with those formulated opinions and condemn any individual or group who does not adopt such opinions. Fundamentalism is really a form of mental slavery, much like the slavery from which Christ sets us free. (Both Jesus' rejection of Pharisaism and Paul's rejection of Judaizing legalism were rejections of elements of fundamentalism.)"
On the other hand those engaged in honest dialog do not seek to prop up opinions, their own or others. They seek the truth, not a formula. They allow themselves to be led by the facts, and they allow and encourage others to freely explore and carefully analyze the facts. They conscientiously strive for honest conclusions that are consistent with all available facts. They respect all who honestly arrive at genuine conclusions, even if those conclusions differ from their own conclusions.
As Christians we should strive to develop faith-inspiring, honest conclusions that lead to being "filled with the knowledge of God's will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding." (Col 1:9, NRSV) We should seek inspiration and guidance from the Holy Spirit, and follow the Holy Spirit's leadings. And we should respect others in their seeking of inspiration and guidance from the Holy Spirit, and in their following of the Holy Spirit's leadings -- even if such footsteps differ from our own.
The following account from Mark illustrates the attitude that Jesus wants us to have towards one another.
John said to him, "Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us." But Jesus said, "Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us. For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward. (Mark 9:38-41)
Reader Response to BibleTexts.com response #85:
Hey, wait a minute. Isn't this too harsh? Sounds exactly like what some of those in the scientific community say about all believers in religion. Everyone starts out with presuppositions that are imprinted on us by our cultures. Sometimes their presuppositions and paradigms do not include scientific method, and they get along quite satisfactorily without them. Narrowminded, yes. But dishonest? Certainly not all of the ones I have known.
BibleTexts.com follow-up response #85
Thank you. Your constructive criticism was appropriate. My choice of words was too harsh, and I apologize. I actually did not intend the word "dishonest" to cast moral aspersions at fundamentalists. That to which I was referring as "dishonesty" reflects a mental state of fear and of hiding rather than of immorality, regardless of how willful such a state may appear. With that in consideration, I amend my statement to now read,
Being less than pure literalism (which biblically is a virtual impossibility, due to inconsistencies), fundamentalism is selective literalism. It includes a practice of intellectual reclusiveness and/or stultification, as well as a disinclination to genuine dialog. It adopts a dogma based upon formulated opinions, whereby the developers and adherents of the dogma selectively use and promote only those facts that support the dictated and/or agreed-upon opinions. Believers are expected to disregard any facts that disagree with those formulated opinions and condemn any individual or group who does not adopt such opinions. Fundamentalism is really a form of mental slavery, much like the slavery from which Christ sets us free. (Both Jesus' rejection of Pharisaism and Paul's rejection of Judaizing legalism were rejections of elements of fundamentalism.)"
Your and my dialog on this illustrates what Marty and Appleby stated in their Fundamentalisms Observed. Referring to the phrase "modern religious fundamentalism," they wrote in their Introduction:
Fundamentalism is at least as controversial an issue for definers as are the other two terms ["modern" and "religious"]...
You also wrote,
Everyone starts out with presuppositions that are imprinted on us by our cultures. Sometimes their presuppositions and paradigms do not include scientific method, and they get along quite satisfactorily without them.
That is absolutely true; however, an openness to inquire and to learn is not dependent upon the scientific method. Such openness is found in what many moderns would describe as even the most primitive societies. Unquestionably we all carry preconceptions and educated biases -- even scientific biases. Thinking, living, and talking in a way by which we humble ourselves consistently and completely to represent the Holy Spirit is our ultimate means for eliminating such preconceptions and biases. Echoing Paul's words in his letter to the Christian community in Philippi (Phi 3:12-16), I admittedly must have such ungodly traits that I myself want revealed and eliminated. It is for that reason that I always take comfort in something Paul wrote earlier in his letter to the Phillipians (Phi 2:13, TEV):
God is always at work in you to make you willing and able to obey his own purpose.
And to the Christian community in Rome Paul wrote (Rom 8:26,27):
The Spirit also comes to help us, weak as we are. For we do not know how we ought to pray; the Spirit himself pleads with God for us in groans that words cannot express. And God, who sees into our hearts, knows what the thought of the Spirit is; because the Spirit pleads with God on behalf of his people and in accordance with his will.
Copyright 1996-2004 Robert Nguyen Cramer