Monday, July 25, 2011

What is a fundamentalist?

With the disaster of events in Norway, I have heard this question being asked in two different ways, and thought that it is an important question to address. When you think of a fundamentalist, who is it that you see in your minds eye? Do you regard yourself as a fundamentalist? Why? I believe like many words in the English language, this word has metamorphosed over recent years.

As young Christian, being a fundamentalist was not necessarily a bad thing, but since September 11th 2001, being a fundamentalist was definitely not a good thing and people who would have happily admitted to being a fundamentalist, would deny it vociferously now.

From the perspective of Christians, after the 9/11 attacks in the USA and the 7/7 attacks in London, and the attacks in Spain and in Mumbai, it was easy to differentiate our enthusiasm for Christianity from the "extremism" of Islam or any other religion for that matter. We even allow ourselves to think that people who perpetrate these evil acts claim to act in the name of their religion, that they truly represent the religion and the god they claim to follow. 

However, the moment someone who claims to be a Christian, carries out an atrocity like the one in Norway, we immediately want to disown the individual and claim that this person could not possibly be a true Christian. We conveniently forget that there were many Muslim people with more moderate beliefs who protested that the suicide bombers were not true Muslims and that Islam is a religion of peace, and the very word Islam means peace. At the time we poo-pooed the notion. However, we would be rightly offended if someone suggested Bleivik was representative of what you as a Christian. 

It is easy, when a bad thing is done to jump to the conclusion that the person or people who perpetrated the acts are "others" - i.e. different in one or many ways. It is a natural Human urge to want to disown people who do bad things. We do this in many ways. He is not of our religion. he is not of our country - he's a FOREIGNER. He's not of our racial or cultural group. When enquiries into the 7/7 bombings, it came as something of a shock in the UK that many of the bombers were born in the UK and attended UK schools. How was it that these young British-born Muslims would go to the extent of murdering other British people iin the name of their religion. 

However, with the terrorist acts in Norway the people had to accept that the accused is as Norwegian as they are. 

However what we are discussing is "What is a FUNDAMENTALIST?"

The original connotation of fundamentalism was the notion of getting back to the "fundamentals" of our faith. (I am speaking specifically about Christians here) and so, a fundamentalist Christian subscribes to what they believe are the "definitive beliefs" of Christianity. They would say, that unless you subscribe to all off these specific beliefs, without exception, you are not a genuine Christian. Here are some of the "definitive beliefs" :

  1. Belief in the Trinity - belief that there is One god existing in Three Persons - The Father, The Son, and the Holy Spirit.
  2. The full and literal belief in the virgin birth of Jesus, the Death, Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus, and the eventual return of Jesus Christ.
  3. The belief that Salvation is obtained ONLY by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.
  4. The inspiration and inerrancy of the Scriptures in the form of the Bible - consisting of 66 'books' - 39 in the Old Testament, 27 in the New Testament. With this is the belief in the literal reality of the miracles described therein - e.g. Creation, Parting of the Red Sea at the time of the Exodus, Universality of the flood (Noah), Jesus' miracles, etc. 
I probably have missed things out, but you get the idea. I personally subscribe to points 1, 2 and 3. Point 4 would be a matter of discussion for me, but by and large I believe that the Bible is true. However, if a person subscribes to all of these and more (which they regard are "deal breakers" as far as Christianity is concerned), is not a problem. However, holding to a set of beliefs and values and living accordingly is not a problem. It is when the individual feels that it is not enough - but that EVERYONE should subscribe to these beliefs, when we have a problem.

If we get down to what the root of the meaning is - now reverting to generalities in terms of religion - the notion is that a fundamentalist is getting back to the "fundamentals". What are fundamentals? They are those basic principles of the religion that define its adherents. I've listed some of those fundamentals of the Christian belief.

The problem is, like most things in life religion adapts and changes over time, but people do not change at the same rate. There are those who believe we need to adapt and change with the times and will embrace these changes enthusiastically. These people say that those who don't want to change are wrong and conversely, those who see these changes as compromises and are naturally resistant to any such change (fundamentalists), and will label the modernist (or those keen to embrace change) as liberals - with the implication that the person is NOT a true adherent of their religion.

Many of the internal conflicts and discrepancies within a religion comes down to this "old versus new" argument. Sometimes though, I think that people who THINK they are fundamentalists would more accurately be described as a TRADITIONALIST. Growing up in the 70's when "Christian choruses" were all the rage, and gainin g in popularity, there were those, who insisted that nothing but HYMNS shoulod be sung in Church and that these "happy clappy" choruses were bringing down the tone. The solution in many churches was to have services dedicated to traditional service - in which it would be quite acceptable to sing:

Now thank we all our God, with heart and soul and voices...
but not
Clap your hand, all ye people, shout unto God with a voice of triumph...

What is the difference - the first was written a long time ago, and is sung to organ music, while the latter (the chorus of it - as it is directly out of Scripture) was written more recently, and people actually raise their hands, clap their hands and SHOUT. Sadly these differences have caused Christians to leave fellowship, and fight.

Again, there is nothing wrong with being a traditionalist, but when it comes to a point where people decide that everybody has to ascribe to the same traditions, and to want to do things differently is somehow a rejection or a walking away from one's faith.

Tradition is a good thing, We can learn so much from old ways, but there are traditions that are not good and are better assigned to history where it belongs. Let us look at the tradition of a man owning his wife as chattel. There are many traditions which are linked to this - like in the marriage vows where a bride would vow to obey her husband. There will be those among you who read this blog who feel that that should still be the case. Some of you will be ready to quote verses of Scripture to defend this mentality. However, by and large society has moved on, and the notion of equality of the sexes is widely accepted and considered the NORM.

However, on reflection, as I've listened to discussions on radio to radio we should perhaps avoid describing the terrorists as "fundamentalist". They are not defending the fundamentals of faith, but they are defending their tradition. They may fight under the banner of "Islam" or under the banner of "Christianity" but what they are "defending" is not the fundamentals of their religion, but their own lifestyles. The 9/11 bombers, the 7/7 bombers, Bali, Spain, claimed to be Muslim. But They do not represent true Islam. Breivik claims to be a fundamentalist Christian, but his violent act is exactly the opposite of what we stand for a Christians.

I think that the Church must be willing to either stop referring to people as Muslim terrorists as if their terrorism is truly represented the Islamic faith, or be willing to refer to Breivik as a Christian terrorist. It should be cut both ways. I've heard people phoning up the radio station and assert that the Quran taught that such violence was right. However these people are not Islamic Scholars interpreting their own Scripture, but non-Islamic people who have heard these ideas talked about and taken them without question. It's easy to believe that what other people do is evil.

Well, I think in conclusion, I would say that it is not FUNDAMENTALISM that is the issue, but being an EXTREMIST.


Suem said...

I agree that we should use the term "extremist" more. You can believe all those things and be very gentle and respecting of other's perspectives.
I guess I am not a fundamentalist, I am OK with points one and two but not point four. As for point three - I can't imagine God is going to send everyone of a different faith to hell, so depends what you mean by salvation.

Anonymous said...

John, the scripture says:
Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord.
not obey.
Anyway, one either takes the Bible as the whole Bible and believes in all the scriptures and lives by them, or not.
The point you make about religion adapting and people slower, it should surely be the other way around? People are trying to adapt the Scriptures to their lifestyles today, but unfortunately what applied then still applies today.

John Blog said...

Thank you Anonymous for your contribution.

I am not sure if the distinction between obedience and submission is anything more than a semantic one. Does not submission imply obedience?

Your comment is illustrative of "fundamentalist" thinking that we must harp back to the origin - as defined by the Scriptures. I am not suggesting that is necessarily wrong. However, if one takes it further and says that the origin is the only way to understand it - and that anyone who holds a different idea cannot be regarded as a true Christian - that is extremist. This "It's my way or the highway [to hell]" mentality that sticks in the craw. Of course the fundamentalist believes that their interpretation of Scripture is infallible. Humility says, I believe, I believe that this Scripture means such and such, but remains open to the possibility that there may be a different valid interpretation. The thing is when our long held notions are challenged many people get aggressive and angry rather than take a few moments to think the matter through. Just my thinking.

Suem said...

Well, does Anonymous have a mortgage or a bank account that pays interest? Does Anonymous support slavery? Does Anonymous believe that women who marry, but then their husbands find they are not virgins should be stoned to death? Scripture firmly forbids usury, insists slaves obey masters and prescribes stoning for pre marital sex (only in women though) and "if it held true then, it holds true today?"

Suem said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

T agree that you have defined what is commonly called "fundamentalism", the four points. I disagree that these points are actually the fundamentals of the Christian religion. I would suggest that all the following are more fundamental.
1. That God offers people a sacred covenant with Himself, namely, that He will be our God and we shall be his people.
2. Keeping our side of this covenant involves us in loving God with all our heart, soul and mind, and our neighbor as ourselves.
3. We use the sacred writings and ideas (such as the psalms) to share hope, joy, sadness and mourning with others. We use the prophetic writings to learn humility and our proper relationship with our Creator. If we learn humility, we may also use the writings to gain wisdom.
4. We regard all those who believe Jesus fulfilled the messianic prophecy of Jeremiah and sent the teachings of the covenant down from the hill of Zion out to the non-Jewish nations as fellow Christians.

Of course there are many more Christian teachings as well, but I mention these so you can see why I do not agree that your 4 points are very fundamental.

John Blog said...

Sorry for the VERY long response to this but I really feel it brought to mind some very important things.

Thank you anonymous for your input. I do not know if you are the same anonymous as the previous anonymous contributor, but that doesn't matter.

Your understanding of the four "fundamentals" of the Christian faith make interesting reading. I have to say it is a very unique formulation, and that in itself is interesting. You see, it would seem that in "Christendom" there are very many variations of what is regarded as fundamental. It strikes me that fundamentalists cannot always agree on what is fundamental.

It seems that you make no reference to the holy Trinity whatsoever. This however has been a cornerstone of orthodox Christianity, and as such was the skeleton around which the "flesh" of the Nicene and Apostles' creeds were written.

You seem to make no mention of GRACE - a recurrent theme in the Pauline epistles, to mention one example: eph 2:8-10 - That we are saved by grace, through faith, and that in no way can we be regarded as deserving salvation. Salvation through grace, means that it comes entirely lovingkindness of our Lord God, and though loving Him with all our hearts souls and minds and loving our neighbours as we love ourselves is something to which we can aspire and may achieve occasionally, the truth is (if I'm understanding Scripture correctly (1 John 1:9) that we cannot permanently do this. It has always been my understanding that Salvation is not some kind of contractual agreement in which God will fulfill His side of the agreement PROVIDED we stick to our side, and that if we fail, which we inevitably do, (Rom 3:23) that He will tear up the Covenant and no longer be bound by it. Rather, God abides by Covenant with us, even though we have fallen short and so often do. This is a true saying, says the Scriptures, and worthy of full acceptance, that WHILE WE WERE YET SINNERS, CHRIST DIED FOR US.

I may be misunderstanding you, but it seems you suggest that the Psalms are somehow separate from the "sacred writings".

In your 4th point you refer to THE MESSIANIC PROPHESY - which particular Messianic prophesy would this be? I do believe that a fundamental belief of Christianity is that one believes that Jesus is the Messiah, and I myself subscribe to this belief.

I suspect that your fourth point is firmly rooted in a very specific eschatological teaching, though, to be honest I cannot quite pin down which of them it would be.

It is this very fact that people cannot seem to agree on what is our fundamental to our faith, is what results in schisms and disunity. While I suggest that it is unlikely that we will ever find this place of agreement until The Lord Himself appears, it would help if, in the very least agree that though others may differ on the details, even very important details, we can see in our fellow believer, a genuine love for their Saviour, and a genuine trust of Him, We can recognise though our faith remain unshaken, that it is possible that we ay have got some of these details wrong, but PRAISE THE LORD, He will not disqualify us from salvation because our belief is not perfect and we cannot tick every box. You refer to Humility in your 3rd point and i think Humility is a very positive quality for the Christian.