Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The Main Points of Fundamentalism

Recently, I was asked to present a lecture on fundamentalism at a local church. This really got me thinking. First, I despise long lectures. Second, I wanted to provide my listeners one or two main points on which to "hang their hats" when it comes to fundamentalism. Could I distill the main points of fundamentalism down to a couple of simple points? Where could I go to find them? I went to my book. The book makes this statement (with a bit of commentary):

None of what I propose in this book aims to detract from the radical nature of the gospel or authentic Christian devotion. As Donald Kraybill (2003) so eloquently points out, the Kingdom of God, which was certainly the burden of Jesus’ message, is quite revolutionary. Throughout this book, I repeatedly attempt to demonstrate that the absolutist subculture is a dangerous and indoctrinating one, demanding conformity. This does not imply there is no radical counter-culture proposed in the gospels. Jesus is a radical figure making a call for disciples to forsake the ways of the status quo and follow his way of radical peacemaking, justice, acceptance, and love. So what, then, is the difference between radical discipleship and absolutism? If the absolutist and the non-absolutist both proclaim a call to fully surrendered discipleship, is there any substantive difference?

A review of the sources Krabill (2003) cites to make his case is instructive in answering this question. Kraybill, while painting Jesus’ call as a call to a radical community of justice and liberation (quite upside-down, as Kraybill describes it) does not shy away from the best in critical research. By not absolutizing the text and by realizing the tentative nature of our understandings, we become committed and yet free to admit our mistakes. We search for a clearer understanding of Jesus and his message—since that is what is normative to authentic Christian community.

Kraybill (2003, 26) discusses the symbolic nature of the gospel texts and points out that the “Kingdom of God” is a general symbol. It is quite elastic in meaning and open to multiple interpretations that are guided by scholarship, reason, and the Spirit. He goes on to state that the gospels do not provide a detailed blueprint for all of our ethics or behavior. Absolutism is about a specific subculture with an attitude, or outlook proclaiming that it is always right. This is the distinguishing mark—fanaticism much more than devotion, fear not faith.

So it is not devotion that is an issue, then. I kept reading. Two main points emerged that define fundamentalism. The first is an absolutely un-entreatable certainty. You know, "God said it! I believe it! That settles it!. It is a court from which there is no appeal. Fundamentalists are certain that they are certain, that they are certain. End of story. So, the first pillar is absolute certainty.

The second "pillar" of fundamentalism is the subculture. There exists an entire subculture involving music, books, clothes, and entertainment in general. There is also a subculture involving code words and phrases and key idea. Commonplace words and ideas are endued with new meanings. It is unique and self contained. Others cannot break in and are only really indoctrinated after the fact.

This, then, are the two main emphases of fundamentalism.

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