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Monday, September 19, 2005

The Twin Traps of "Fundamentalism"

First, I should address what is meant by Christian fundamentalism, since there are two prevailing definitions. 1) A group, who call themselves Christians, who emphasize everything but the fundamentals of the faith (clothing, music, Bible version, etc). 2) True Christians, who are united in their belief that the only way to the Kingdom of God is through Jesus Christ.

Defintion #2 is the one used by the mainstream press. Definiton #1 is what I am discussing today.

The first trap of fundamentalism is the obvious one - arrogance in its superior legalistic structure. As fundamentalists have many more rules than a non-fundamentalist church, it is easy to feel that one is better because they are obeying these rules, whereas others who do not have them, and hence, do not obey them, are lesser than ourselves. Indeed, part of the appeal of fundamentalism to some personalities is that the extra rules make it easier to make decisions. For example, what Bible should we use? Instead of doing the work and prayer necessary to discern it, one can simply adopt the version (even down to the specific commentary in the book) that is 'approved'. Easy! Now, once we have our Bible, we can look at others who do not use it as wrong, and somehow less mature than us. However, did we learn that this was the Bible to use through maturity, or did someone tell us to use it? Bingo.

Thus, the legalism of fundamentalism leads to arrogance toward others, believers and non-believers alike. The rules themselves are not the flaw - after all, if a group of people agree that they should give up alcohol, then they should! It is the natural progression of having the extra rules that makes legalism dangerous, especially when it leads to an attitude beyond simply "I am better" to "I am saved, and you are not, because you don't follow these rules."

The second trap of fundamentalism is perhaps worse. The first trap is apparent to those who are without - but it is fundamentalism's impact upon those without that conceals this trap. For this trap is one which catches those who elude the first trap. Confident in our ability to evade fundamentalism's snare, we smile as we walk into the next one.

The second trap is arrogance. It is an arrogance born of a "freedom" from fundamentalism. While any non-fundamentalist can fall into it, it is especially prevalent in those who wereonce snared by fundamentalism, and have decisively left it. It is the arrogance of feeling that we are better than our fundamentalist peers because we don't follow their rules and are not bound by them. Thus, we not only look down our noses at them in arrogance, we reject all of their ideas out of arrogance. We consider that because some have used poor arguments to present a position, that the position is therefore invalid. Beyond that, we tend to assume that not only are the specific positions invalid, but any position held by them must be similarly so.

Consider Christ's words:

The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector
9 He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and looked down on everyone else: 10 “Two men went up to the temple complex to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee took his stand and was praying like this: ‘God, I thank You that I’m not like other people —greedy, unrighteous, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of everything I get.’ 13 “But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even raise his eyes to heaven, but kept striking his chest and saying, ‘O God, turn Your wrath from me —a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this one went down to his house justified rather than the other; because everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
Luke 18:9-14 (HCSB)

The traps of fundamentalism are the same - arrogance. One says, "Thank God I am not like those watered-down Bible, rock-music listening, skirt-wearing people over there." The other is little different. "Thank God I am not like those backward, tradition-bound, legalistic fundamentalists over there/in my old church."

The first trap keeps many souls away. The second leads our souls to corruption through abuse of our 'freedom'. In both cases, we go down to our house unjustified, because exalt we ourselves when we should exalt Christ.


  • I think that at many times in our Christian lives we all get to a point where we feel as if we have "arrived" and it is called PRIDE--the root of ALL sin. Fundamentalist or otherwise.

    However, I disagree with your "definitions" of Fundamentalism. I don't think there is anything GOOD to say about the WORD itself. For that matter, I don't think that catagorizing ANYONE works well for me. Everyone has different beliefs or convictions about this or that which are stronger in one area or another. We can be reformists, fundamentalists...but I would hope that we are Christians and All of them, including the "fundies", deserve that assumption. There are "certain" people who are in the limelight and others who follow them who are totally "missing" the point of Christianity, but see if I'm pointing the finger at THEM, then I fall into the same trap.

    I personally "try" to not lable or bag on any one person, but only "ways" of "doing" things which I feel are wrong. There are certain WORDS which I hate and one of them is fundamentalism (think that you know some of the other ones). Attacking WORDs and not people is probably more Christlike.

    By Blogger Teresa, at 9/19/2005 11:04:00 PM  

  • Good thoughts there, Hammer.

    I've a couple of thoughts, though. First, laws. You seem to be rather ambivalent about them - on the one hand, you say that they're OK provided that they're agreed, but on the other say that they naturally lead to exclusion and disapproval of "outsiders". Personally, I'd say that laws are foreign to Christianity - Jesus was very firm about those who put the word of the law before the spirit of the law! Setting rules for ourselves (such as the drinking of alcohol, perhaps) is fine. The problem comes when these rules of guidance become laws, and regarded as absolute.

    Second (actually, first in the article, but hey!) is your use of the term "True Christians". Just a thought for you, but does that not mean that "true Christian" equates to "fundamentalist"? Which means that anyone who doesn't self-identify as a "fundamentalist" cannot be a "true Christian"?

    pax et bonum

    By Blogger John, at 9/20/2005 04:39:00 AM  

  • Hi Hammer,

    I appreciate the points that you’ve made and I personally think that ‘factionalism’ within the Body is unfortunate. That said, I don’t see the much-needed ebb on the horizon.

    There’s something that I’ve struggled with for some time now, which is what—if any—standard ought one to use in order to determine whether or not fellowship is possible with a certain congregation or denomination. In other words: is “naming the name of Christ” sufficient for legitimacy; or are there deeper doctrinal concerns (beyond music, translation, tradition, etc.) that ought to be taken into account? Likewise, when—if ever—ought one to disassociate from ones flock?

    The reason that I bring this up is because I’ve been ‘churchless’ for several years, due to what I consider erroneous theology (at an elementary level) on the part of the major sects. Any thoughts?

    By Blogger Robert, at 9/24/2005 07:53:00 PM  

  • Teresa,
    Thanks for your comment. I'm not sure where I said the word was good, and the word is seldom, if ever, used in a positive context. Which part of my defintions do you disagree with?

    The laws I was implying are those understood to be laws because they are agreed upon - such as laws of government. The specific example I was thinking of was a forum on alcohol and ministry chaired by the President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. The SBC churches have in their covenants a proscription against alcohol. He explained the justification behind it very well.

    His first line was, "There are two very bad arguments in this discussion. The first is that the Bible says that Christians cannot drink alcohol. That is wrong. The second is that I can do whatever I wish because I have liberty in Christ. That is also wrong." The SBC position is that they take a stand against it because of the social negatives associated with it in light of the global economy and marketing efforts. That said, I know Southern Baptists who drink. I do not know any SBC pastors who do. The "law" is clearly set forth as an agreement by people, not a law from God. However, the fightin' fundies claim their abstention is Biblical - and thus promote falsehood and division.

    I did word the first paragraph poorly (it was an afterthought). I just meant that what the media calls fundamentalists (Christians in spirit and truth) is not what I, or you, or Teresa, would think of. The media seeks to smear the followers of Christ as 'fundamentalists'. I probably should have left it for another post, really.

    You have a great question - one I intend to address in the next 24 hours or so, in a post called "Heresy".

    By Blogger Hammertime, at 9/26/2005 12:59:00 PM  

  • The media seeks to smear the followers of Christ as 'fundamentalists'.

    I disagree. The media doesn't understand Christianity; that isn't the same thing. It simultaneously scoffs at Christianity and bends over backwards to show reverence.

    Think about it, even the word "Christian" has a completely different meaning outside the Christian community. If you claimed someone who went to church wasn't really a Christian, I'd know what you mean. To an outsider, they'd think your crazy.

    Never assume malevolence when ignorance will work just as well.

    By Blogger Mark, at 9/27/2005 11:06:00 PM  

  • Great comment, Mark. I hope you don't mind if I borrow the idea in the future. I will, of course, give cedit where credit is due!

    By Blogger Hammertime, at 9/30/2005 10:03:00 AM  

  • I like to think of a "fundie" as the kind of religious person who instead of taking his faith as his own and using it as tool to see where he fits in the universe and how god plays a part in his life, uses his faith as hammer to shove his beleifs down people's throats, using all means including our secular government. Now if you want to go ahead and believe in fairy tales, that's fine with me and every other American (unless you're a fundie), but for god's sake, please allow me to live my horribly sinful life with all my friends.... In other words, let me the hell alone and I won't consider you a fundie, but if you insist on teaching ID in biology, and stopping stem-cell research because YOU KNOW what is right for everyone, you don't deserve to be called an American. If god gave me free will, for his sake, will you please let me practice it.

    By Blogger LiberPaul, at 9/30/2005 02:59:00 PM  

  • Liberpaul,
    Nice to see you back. However, your hypocrisy knows no bounds.

    "but if you insist on teaching ID in biology, and stopping stem-cell research because YOU KNOW what is right for everyone, you don't deserve to be called an American. If god gave me free will, for his sake, will you please let me practice it."

    How about this: "If you insist on teaching evolution in biology, and killing unborn babies because YOU KNOW what is right for everyone, you don't deserve to be called an American."

    If Gog gave us free will, for His sake let us practice it - just like we are, through the Constitutional, electoral process bestowed upon us by our Creator - and quit calling us names.

    By Blogger Hammertime, at 10/04/2005 02:34:00 PM  

  • No one forces anyone to have an abortion, if you don't like your children being taught evolution then homeschool them. Our governement is supposed to be secular and neutral towards religion. The first amendment says nothing about this being a chrisitan nation. FREEWILL, let me have it please!

    The agnostic prayer - God, please protect me from your followers.

    By Blogger LiberPaul, at 10/05/2005 02:54:00 PM  

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