Having looked at the appeal of fundamentalism last month, this article takes a look at the other side of the issue. This is the fifth posting this year of an article based on my book Fed Up with Fundamentalism, which I am updating and planning to re-publish by the end of the year.
The Problem of Arrogance
In a book written more than 40 years ago, Oxford University professor James Barr wrote that one main characteristic of fundamentalism is “an assurance that those who do not share their religious viewpoint are not really ‘true Christians’ at all.”
For some Christians to be so sure that their beliefs are so certainly true that “Christians” who hold differing views are not Christians at all surely smacks of arrogance.
One of many manifestations of such arrogance is seen in the proclivity of some fundamentalists to insist on homeschooling their children.
The author of a chapter in the book The Fundamentals of Extremism (2003) charges that the textbooks used in some fundamentalist schools “promote sectarianism, religious intolerance, anti-intellectualism, disdain for critical thinking and science, and conservative political extremism.”
The result of that sort of arrogant activity has been called “intellectual abuse.” Indeed, it can be argued that all arrogant efforts of indoctrination are, or at least border on, intellectual abuse.
The Problem of Intolerance
Intolerance has also long been regarded as one of the hallmarks of fundamentalism—although many fundamentalists have looked upon intolerance with favor and have assumed that designation as a mark of honor.
Of course, it can be effectively argued that there are some things that are intolerable and that it is dangerous for a society to tolerate everything rather than to take action against those things that are truly intolerable.
But, in fact, people disagree about what can and cannot be tolerated. For example, gay marriage and abortion are two clear examples and issues around which the culture wars have raged for decades now.
While there are not a lot of examples of Christian fundamentalism leading to violence, it has at times—and we may well see more examples of intolerance resulting in violence in the years ahead.
Back in 2005, Charles Colson wrote about “The New Civil War” (in the Feb. issue of Christianity Today). He wasn’t necessarily talking about a civil war that includes actual physical violence. Neither was Michael Brown when last week he posted “The Coming Civil War Over Abortion.”
I don’t refer to Brown’s article in my book, but it is written from the standpoint of conservative evangelicals (fundamentalists) and claims that if violence erupts over the abortion issue it will be caused by those on the left, those who a part of “the extreme pro-abortion movement.”
Brown’s last paragraph begins, “A civil war is certain. The only thing to be determined is how bloody it will be.”
The Problem of Obscurantism
Although not a widely used word today, obscurantism can be defined as opposition to the spread of knowledge. It is much the same as anti-intellectualism.
During the early years of Christian fundamentalism in this country, the president of The Science League of America wrote in The War on Modern Science (1927), “The forces of obscurantism in the United States are in open revolt!”
The resurgence of fundamentalism after 1980 also shows many of the same anti-intellectualism signs of early fundamentalism. Just one example is the change of the name and focus of “pastoral counseling” courses at my alma mater, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Since the Bible is considered sufficient, those courses are now called “biblical counseling.”The specific problems of fundamentalism, analyzed in the following chapters of my book, all smack of arrogance, intolerance, and/or obscurantism.