Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The Roots of Fundamentalism

This blog-- which I am starting today-- deals with the topic of Christian fundamentalism. It is often confusing to understand exactly what one is speaking of when they use the term "fundamentalist." For example, are all conservative Christians fundamentalists? Are all Baptist fundamentalists? What about evangelicals? Our first task in these early posts is to get a handle on what we mean by the term.

It might be easy for someone to claim that ALL Christians were once fundamentalists and that the departure from an ultra- literalist position is a product of that ever stealthy, creeping demon of liberalism. The problem is that the facts don't bear it out.

Much of early Christianity was committed to an allegorical as opposed to a literal understanding of the Bible. Many of the earliest Christians likely never laid eyes on a Bible. Orthodoxy was fluid and regional in the early days of Christianity.

Throughout the period prior to the Reformation, tradition was given prime place. It fact, it was one of the contentious points of the Reform. Even after the fact, Martin Luther had a distinct dislike for Revelation and was ready to toss out James as an "epistle of straw." All in all, throughout most of the history of Christianity, most "average" believers were rather "Bible illiterate" and took more of a common sense approach as opposed to a particularly literal one.

Of course, this hardly means that they would not claim belief in the Bible. It is just the little things like women not talking in church, banning those who are excommunicated, and a man "not touching a women"-- all topics debated by today's fundamentalists that are absent from the practice of most Christians in the recent (and for some distant) past. No, fundamentalism as we know it is a recent phenomenon, as we will describe in the next few posts. It is a reactionary movement, driven by xenophobia and fear.

For my about fundamentalism and why I turned my back on my fundamentalist roots, see my new book, Stories of a Recovering Fundamentalist: Understanding and Responding to Christian Absolutism. Read excerpts at