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Is Fundamentalism a Sound System of Belief?

An essay donated by Corey Harvard

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The popularity of a fallacy does not make it acceptable - only accepted. Since the early 1900ís, fundamentalism has been one of the most successful religious movements in the United States. The premise of fundamentalism is that Christians need to return to the "fundamentals" of Christianity, such as the virgin birth and resurrection of Christ, scriptural inerrancy, and the acceptance of all canonized scripture as being divinely inspired. Despite its loyalist appeal, it is a harmful system of protestant belief.

First, fundamentalists impose guilt traps on new believers. A believer is taught the core doctrines (theological statements of opinion) of a fundamentalist. Then he is told that if those doctrines are doubted or contemplated, he is committing a sin. Therefore, the believer is expected to settle for a collection of opinions that he is not permitted to challenge with any clearness of conscience. This cuts him off from the only reliable tool of understanding that he has Ė his reasoning.

Accordingly, the foundation by which fundamentalists support this narrow attitude is faith. This, however, does not accurately represent the role of faith in the New Testament. For example, In Christís time, rabbis went about practicing a process they called "loosing and binding." In this process, rabbis formed interpretations of what certain passages meant in the Torah (the first five books of the Old Testament). In other words, they would thoroughly contemplate the meaning of scriptures and make scholarly opinions based upon their studies.

According to the book of Matthew, Christ extends this practice of "loosing and binding" to Christianity when He states, "I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven." 2  By insisting that faith is an unchallenged acceptance of particular doctrines, fundamentalists misrepresent Christís very teaching.

Another relevant point is that most theologians who have had an overwhelming influence on Christianity were speculative. Without a willingness to explore the possibility that the popular Christianity of their day was errant, reformists like Martin Luther and John Calvin would have never produced the ideas that they did. Hence, contrary to popular fundamentalist values, faith does not justify ignorance and questioning does not constitute a lack of belief.

Finally, the most tragic quality of fundamentalists is their unwillingness to be wrong. As C.S. Lewis states in one of his allegorical works, "They pretend that their researches lead to that doctrine: but in fact they assume that doctrine first and interpret their researches by it." 3 Instead of seeking the truth, fundamentalists spend most of their time protecting their accepted doctrine. The problem is not that they are confident; there is nothing wrong with being confident in something that someone has truly contemplated and developed an opinion about. The problem is that they are unwilling to look at different possibilities of truth. In the circumstance that they stumble across a conflict with one of their doctrines, they immediately go looking for a satisfying solution for that conflict, rather than considering another truth. G.K. Chesterton summarizes it well, "It is not bigotry to be certain we are right; but it is bigotry to be unable to imagine how we might possibly have gone wrong." 4  This attitude is easily the most poisonous in any pursuit of truth.

In conclusion, all of these perspectives influence each other. A distorted understanding of faith leads most fundamentalists away from sound reason; those who desire to use their reason fold under pressure; and all efforts that are put into study are dictated by a drive to affirm beliefs rather than test them. Fundamentalism is convenient for those who desire a comfortable perception of truth. It allows people to have a blind certainty, it forces them not to doubt, and it takes away an individualís responsibility to think for himself. Although fundamentalism is widely accepted, beneath its puritan garb it remains a fallacy and a fallacy is never acceptable.

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References used:

  1. Rob Bell, "Velvet Elvis: Repainting the Christian Faith," Zondervan, (2006). Read reviews or order this book safely from the Amazon.com online book store  Bell writes:
    "For many people the word 'Christian' conjures up all sorts of images that have nothing to do with who Jesus is and how he taught us to live. This must change. For others, the painting works for their parents, or it provided meaning when they were growing up, but it is no longer relevant. It doesn't fit. It's outdated. It doesn't have anything to say to the world they live in every day. It's not that there isn't any truth in it or that all the people before them were misguided or missed the point. It's just that every generation has to ask the difficult questions of what it means to be a Christian here and now, in this place, at this time."
  2. Bible Gateway, (1995) at: http://biblegateway.com
  3. Clives Lewis, "The Timeless Writings of C.S. Lewis," Family Christian Press, (2003), Page 49. Read reviews or order this book safely from the Amazon.com online book store
  4. Martin Ward, "The Catholic Church and Conversion by G.K. Chesterton,"  (1995), at: http://www.dur.ac.uk/

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First posted: 2006-DEC-02
Latest update: 2013-APR-01
Author: Corey Harvard

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