Saturday, September 13, 2008

Ten Signs that You Might be a Fundamentalist

Presently, fundamentalism is a hot topic. Many folks have been astonished at the level of evil perpetrated by Islamic fundamentalists, the most notable example being the events of 9/11. Those events are indelibly etched on the American psyche. Recently, news stories of the fall of Ted Haggard, a prominent evangelical, have attracted attention. After years of railing against homosexuality and assorted other sins, Haggard, president of the National Association of Evangelicals, was "caught" committing the very "sins" he so railed against. More recently, Americans have been shocked at revelations of events happening at the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Later Day Saints compound in Texas.

All of these groups and individuals involved would likely be viewed as fundamentalist. Is there some common denominator they all share? I have recently noted that some fundamentalists, who once proudly claimed the title, are presently reticent to make use of the label. Some American Christian fundamentalists have been opting for the title "Bible-believing," although their belief system hasn't changed. Once again the question is raised, is there any common denominator(s) among the variety of fundamentalists?

Two come to mind. First, there is the idea of absolute certitude. This is certitude that is unequivocal. On the points of doctrine on which fundamentalists groups claim certitude, they are highly unlikely to think they may be in possible error or that these points should ever be examined. The second characteristic is the importance of the fundamentalist culture from which their fundamentalism emerges. This culture supports adherents and discourages asking questions or incubating doubt. These two characteristics they have in common.

From these two commonalities, some signs that one might be a fundamentalist come to mind. I thought it might be instructive to construct a list of "Ten Signs that You Might be a Fundamentalist." Bearing my all too apparent fallibility in mind, here is an attempt at such a list (note that I speak here of Christian fundamentalism, although the signs apply, with a little tweaking, to all varieties):

1. You tend to see the world in terms of dualities. Everything is black and white with little in the way of shades of gray. If someone is not right about the essence of your faith, he is wrong. Period!

2. Going along with that idea, the other's "wrongness" doesn't only extend to matters of faith. You begin to think that the other person is at her core a "wrong person." She is flawed in some way.

3. This leads to the notion that there is a basic "them and us." There exists two basic groups of people, the subgroup with which you identify and the rest of the world.

4. The "rest of the world" is under the control of the Dominion of Darkness. The world is not only different and wrong in what it believes; it is basically evil. You are part of the righteous ones. Those unlike you are most certainly not.

5. The basic character of "the world" is everywhere. It is in the public schools. It is in the libraries. It is on the television (Well, there might be something to that one!). It is in the government. It takes in the folks on your street.

6. Your task is to get out of the world. Find alternative books, music, schools, friends, associates, etc.

7. If you can't escape it completely (Who can?), it is your task to launch a mission to make the world match the fundamentalist subculture. You must work to make the schools more Christian, for example. You must work to make government godlier. It is your task to change society in the direction of your religious beliefs.

8. Generally, you associate with conservative causes. You may not agree with the policies of all conservative politicians, but there are always issues that take on major importance. In the US, these usually amount to abortion and gay marriage/rights. The view is myopic and only the "hot button" issues matter.

9. You will usually "follow the leader." There are several well-known fundamentalist Christian leaders in the US. The fundamentalist faithful take their cue from them. They set the agenda. It is difficult for you to do much other than walk in lock step to the beat of their drummer.

10. Finally, if anyone should ask, these are not your ideas. You must follow them because they mark out God's agenda. To be a fundamentalist is simply another term for being a follower of God. Those in churches that disagree with the basic tenets of fundamentalism are lost. They don't know God. In short, they aren't really Christians at all.

Do all ten of the characteristics apply to all fundamentalists? In reality, folks are probably fundamentalist by degrees. However, the two elements of certitude and a supporting, indoctrinating subculture are universal characteristics. I want to end with an assignment. Go back over the list and write the inverse of each point. What would such person or society acting on reverse characteristics look like?

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