Christian Fundamentalism Part 1: What is It?

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I graduated from an evangelical, fundamentalist high school where I was taught about an evil dragon named “Atheistic Humanism.”  It breathed in the oxygen of scientific evolution and breathed out the fires of progressive culture.  It flew on the wings of mainstream media and public universities, all while burninating God’s timeless truths contained in Scripture.  He had even infiltrated our Christian universities where evil professors who pretended to love Jesus actually taught old earth evolution.

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I owe my dragon metaphor to this wonderful book by Alister McGrath.

I rushed into college ready to slay the evil dragon only to realize that secular humanism was not a dragon at all but a feeble, old man who had fallen on his own sword.  After realizing the dragon was dead, I threw off my fundamentalism and embraced traditional Christianity, a faith founded by Jesus, articulated in the ancient creeds, testified to in the lives of the saints and preserved in the sacraments of the church.  After digging deep into historic Christianity, I naturally came to reject the actual dragon who had raised me, Christian Fundamentalism.

What I thought Fundamentalism Was. . .

I learned why the fundamentalists were wrong, why they were harmful and why my denomination firmly rejected their teachings for 100 years and counting.  I left seminary ready to rush out in the world and slay this evil dragon only to dash into the cave and find another feeble old man who had fallen on his own sword.

Yet, like the famous Black Knight from Monty Python and the Holy Grail fundamentalism was claiming it only had a flesh wound.  Even with all their limbs cut off they still tend to be rather obnoxious.

What it actually is.

In my small town we only have a few fundamentalist families left but every time I talk to them or they insist I promote one of their creation seminars or attend one of their propaganda movie nights, I walk away feeling anything but edified.  Instead I am filled with an odd mix of frustration, panic, anger and even a little hatred.  I pray about those experiences often and these prayers have led to deep questions.

How do you define Christian fundamentalists?  Are they really as harmful as I was led to believe?  If not, then why do I catch myself blindly hating them?  Why had the mere mention of a “young earth” seminar and a fundamentalist propaganda movie scared me half to death?  And, of course, are they the problem or am I?

This post is the first in four posts that seek to answer these questions through my real life encounters with fundamentalism.  Somehow in college I began judging an abstract stereotype instead of engaging with the real people who have fundamentalist views.  So I want to revisit my assumptions about this passionate but dying group of evangelical Christians in light of my conversations with them.  Tomorrow’s post will be about the good I have experienced from fundamentalists because they are not an all together evil lot.  The third and fourth will be about why I still am not a fundamentalist either theologically (post 3) or in practice (post 4).

Before I get there, I have put together a working definition of Christian fundamentalists based off the people in my community.  Calling every Christian who votes Republican a fundamentalist is a bit harsh although every fundamentalist I know votes Republican.  Neither is the term to be equated with Pharisaic legalism.  I know plenty of legalistic Christians who are not fundamentalist.

Instead, fundamentalists in the 21st century have two defining characteristics.  The first is that they believe in the absolute inerrancy of the English translations of Scripture.  The second is that they believe that “traditional America,” which they relate to 1950s suburban America was the best expression of the Kingdom of God and any move away from 1950’s gender roles, marriage definitions, United States politics, moral etiquette, church and family structures etc. is a move away from God.

I hope this post and the next few will begin an honest and down to earth discussion about this segment of American Christianity and that it engages further conversation.  Click on back tomorrow!

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5 thoughts on “Christian Fundamentalism Part 1: What is It?

  1. Pleased to have found your thoughtful blog. I’ll explore further. Regards from Thom at the immortal jukebox (you’ll find some joyful gospel there among other things!)

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