Rob wrote this thoughtful response to the fundamentalism essay. I think he has some wise things to remember. Thanks Rob.
"Re the fundamentalist essay.
It seems to me that "fundamentalism" has made its way into the mainstream media as a derogatory term; it connotes simplistic views of reality, rigid dogma that fails to deal with complexities and ambiguities of life.
I think you have made a lot of accurate observations about the system; how the surrender to false absolutes can provide an inflexible certainty, accompanied with an anxiety that both precludes genuine and authentic questions, and actually works to undermine and broaden the excessively narrow system being defended; one will tend to grow out of the system so defined.
However, I would observe that "fundamentalism" can also be a mirror on the one using the term. When one wishes to dismiss the uncomfortable fervency of faith of believers who trouble one's own world view, simply label them "fundamentalist" and all that they stand for is thus tainted. I do not say that you have done that; you seem rather to stress that that individuals are likely to be inconsistent in their "fundamentalist" views, to be "muted" or softened by their experience of grace, and intrinsically prone to be "multitrack" rather than "unitrack".
However, in other places - the liberal ("secular") media - I often observe the word is used when a commentator does not wish to acknowledge the reality of living faith, when the claims of Jesus get too close for comfort, and threaten to trouble a secular world view that exists without making faith the central truth. A world which is precariously balanced around other issues may find the fundamentalist charge a useful defence against the upset that Christ would bring.
In this, I argue that one could say it reflects their own reluctance to honestly deal with new truth; there is an instinctive warding off of the issue with the phrase "fundamentalist". Thus the nominally open minded liberal humanist can avoid examination of complex and rich - possibly living and saving - truth by using the label "fundamentalist".
I am simply saying that the word has become laden with a very negative tone; and that it seems to me that it is used too loosely and too quickly in many cases. Doing so can actually be a fundamentalistic act, as it closes down the discussion; projects a certain image and stereotype onto the subject, rather than dealing with the reality that is there. We must beware of unnecessarily polarising a position.
This is perhaps akin to the fundamentalists bogey man - the "secular humanist". Manifestos aside, whether these two categories of people really exist in the form supposed, is another matter; the one person may have aspects in their thinking that reflect both of these positions/currents.
It may be worth noting that the term was first used by "explicit fundamentalists" to earmark basic doctrines as essential to the faith.
I am not a scholar of the matter, but issues as the Virgin Birth, deity of Christ, reality of the resurrection, scriptural inspiration come to mind; perhaps the formulation of the "scriptural inspiration" tenet is the most questionable of these.
In any case these (Princeton) tenets are, in themselves, closer to orthodox Christianity as recognised by most parts of the church, than to a cultish and inflexible deviation from the Gospel.
Another unsettling use of the term in the media is as a "catch all" for all forms of religious extremism. Again I would argue that this is simplistic, it fails to deal with the subtleties involved - between different faiths for example - and is thus a narrowing of the real spectrum of issues; again a fundamentalist act.
I do not disagree with your essay. You have taken the time to work through some of the nuances and complexities involved. I wanted to comment on the "reverse" or "inverse" fundamentalism that is sometimes implied when the word is used.
Posted September 2002
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