The New Fundamentalists?

“New” might be imprecise. Fundamentalism is a heresy with a rich history (you can get a little bit of background here–though it is an older paper and I have more to say now), and the fundamentalist Christians that support gay marriage are not that different from their right wing fundamentalist parents.There really is nothing “new” here.

However, I use the term because many if not most young progressive Christians–those bloggers on sites like “Former Fundamentalists” and followers of bloggers such as RHE–think that in rejecting their parents’ political and social far right opinions and ways that they have rejected their parents fundamentalism. They haven’t. They have simply succeeded in forging a new political home for their same old fundamentalist tendencies.

I do not intend this label as an insult, but a wake-up call. Fundamentalism is possibly one of the worst, most pervasive heresies to plague the modern church. Young Christians are right to reject it…only they haven’t rejected it.

What could I possibly mean by this claim? Well, we should begin with caution. Often, what people mean by “fundamentalist” is “anyone who takes religion more seriously than I do.” This is simply labeling and name calling–and it doesn’t fit here because I take religion more seriously than most of those I am calling fundamentalists. No, I am referring to something far more technical, but for the sake of time I will mention some basic tendencies and then show how they are still present in the young progressive children of right-wing fundamentalists.

(1) Fundamentalism, some have said, is essentially about texts. More accurately it is about the interpretation of texts. Fundamentalists have key textual portions of the scriptures by which they interpret everything else in the whole of scripture (and by virtue of which they frequently ignore whole passages of scripture). So, right-wing fundamentalist will use a passage in Timothy to denounce any woman ever speaking up in church while failing to see that elsewhere Paul instructs that women should cover their heads when they prophesy. Why instruct on how they should comport themselves when speaking in church if they are never to do so? Likewise, their progressive children will offer comfort to all and sundry based on the phrase “judge not” and the fact that Jesus was a friend of sinners without every recognizing that the sinner friends of Jesus were transformed…they repented and responded with all seriousness to His admonition to “go and sin no more.”

(2) Fundamentalists reject tradition. Ever read the Chic tract about Catholicism? It is morbidly humorous. It would be hard to imagine a parody of right-wing fundamentalism more ridiculous than this actual serious attempt at an attack on Catholicism. Fundamentalists assume that the church went wrong at about 200-300 AD and didn’t get back on track until at least the reformation. Meanwhile, their progressive fundamentalist children reject tradition as well (only perhaps they think the church started to lose its way with the writings of Paul). The gay marriage debate is the perfect example of this reality.

(3) Fundamentalists shy away from the miraculous–this is a very modern tendency…a fear of looking superstitious firmly rooted in the Enlightenment. Right wing fundamentalists are typically cessationists–they deny any presence of the miraculous after the apostles and often try to mollify their very modern sensibilities by even explaining Biblical miracle in more naturalist forms. Indeed, the Bible itself would seem to be the only really significant miracle. Progressive fundamentalists manifests their embarrassment over miracles more subtly. Consider Rob Bell’s questioning the importance of the virgin birth in Velvet Elvis; it isn’t a die-hard denunciation of the idea. Rather, he engages in a sort of embarrassed side shuffle–a “well God could do that, but is it really all that important if he did or not (after all some people might think it silly and refuse to like Jesus if we insist on it)” sort of way.

(4) Fundamentalists tend to have a passionately narrow perspective. Take for instance the question of seven day creationism. Many (though there are some notable exceptions) of those who hold to a young earth ideal cannot grasp any other interpretation of creation. They even go so far as to question the faith of old earth creationists because they cannot imagine an interpretation of the creation outside their own literalism as anything other than compromise–in spite of the fact that many devout Christians hold a strong old earth creationist stance and/or intelligent design position that accepts the scriptures as completely true and God breathed. Similarly, many “former” fundamentalists raised in a rather misogynistic setting that they experienced as (and very well may have been) an oppressive, overly protective homeschool environment cannot seem to fathom a homeschool household as anything other than what they experienced…in spite of the fact that there are hundreds of thousands of people from all walks of life that now homeschool. They cannot escape their narrow framework for understanding.

(5) Finally (for the present), related to the narrowness, fundamentalists see their political enemies as evil, ignorant, hateful, etc. Political decent from that deemed acceptable is always seen in the worst light.  A right-wing fundamentalist will frequently see the less than solidly conservative politics of a child as betrayal and potentially backsliding. Meanwhile, their progressive children cannot see anything other than hypocrisy in the political positions of their parents. They buy into the many lies about the church such as the idea that politically conservative Christians don’t care about the poor or extreme pro-life people don’t care about babies after they are born. Never mind positive realities about churches, conservatives, charitable giving, and adoption, an offended liberal activist said bad things about the church, so they must be true.

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