Robert Meyer
In defense of "fundamentalism"
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By Robert Meyer
January 7, 2014

In the world of cultural semantics, there is probably not a phrase that rings with more pejorative innuendo than the term "fundamentalism." It should be noted that the term comes with a lot of improper implications, misunderstand and underserved baggage.

Fundamentalism is a movement within Christianity that started over a century ago, and in the beginning became closely aligned with Presbyterian and Baptist denominations, and later with evangelical Christianity in general. The movement resisted the influence of liberalism and secular humanism in seminary education, watering down orthodox and historically normative doctrinal positions. Fundamentalism holds that "biblical Christianity" entails belief in the following doctrines., biblical inerrancy, the Virgin birth of Jesus, substitutionary atonement, the literal resurrection of Christ, and the Second Coming of Christ, among other doctrines.

For me, the term "fundamentalist" reminds me of legendary coaches of football and basketball respectively, such as, Vince Lombardi and John Wooden, who believed that excellence comes from mastering the essential skills of their particular disciplines. In principle, the term "fundamentalist" is merely the person who claims that it is necessary to believe in the most essential doctrines of faith, to actually be a practitioner of that belief.

In truth, fundamentalism is not a cult-like following that separated from mainline Christianity, but a movement to preserve historical Christianity from the mainline churches that began moving away because of the influence of modernism and philosophical naturalism on professions of faith. In effect, fundamentalism is nothing more than believing what the majority of people who called themselves Christians used to believe.

One characteristic that is often associated with fundamentalism is anti-intellectualism.. No doubt there have been many incidents of anti-intellectualism at the level of the layman, though this is not the case among more astute apologists of the Christian faith. The anti-intellectualism charge goes hand-in-hand with the assertion that fundamentalism impedes the progress of science. Interestingly enough, I had a discussion a while back with a sociology professor from San Diego State University. The discussion was based on a column he wrote for the L.A. Times that downplayed the supposed historical conflict between religious belief and science. What I told him is that evangelical Christians generally have a reverence for science, but that many secularists have blurred the lines between science and philosophy, not to mention, failure to tether science to ethics. The later being a lesson that I believe was latent in the old Frankenstein movies.

Some of the anti-science accusations come from the doctrines of fundamentalism itself, which obviously support supernaturalism and embrace creationism. One question I frequently ask nominal Christians who eschew orthodoxy, is whether they believe in heaven. Most tell me they do. I then question how they can magically believe in a dead human being resuscitated and living forever, but also write off divine intervention into human affairs as the stuff of fairy tales? It shows their worldview in conflict. No?

We should realize that in terms of analysis, evidence never exists in a vacuum. All evidential approaches require interpretation, and all too often the interpretation of evidence is influenced by pre-existing ideology, not ruthless objectivity.

Another observation is what I call "the fallacy of appealing to expertise." Let's develop this point. It goes something like this: A consensus of credentialed experts nearly all believe a certain theory, therefore it is true. This reasoning assumes that someone must be objective in the same proportion that they are an expert, or said another way, an expert can never be biased or affected by groupthink.

Suppose you go in for a dental examination with a new dentist, and while examining your mouth, your dentist says "have you considered taking out a loan?" Now, are you dealing with a oral hygiene expert speaking objectively, or a businessperson speaking out of self-interest? You have to use your own judgment to discern the difference. In that case you have no difficulty seeing how bias can work contrary to knowledge. The appeal to expertise is not as strong an argument as it would appear to be, because specialized knowledge is not necessarily tantamount to pure objectivity.

Or take an example from our legal system. In a court case both the defense and prosecution may provide testimony from expert witnesses. But the opinions of equally qualified people are often in diametric opposition.

Many people revere Jesus Christ, some calling themselves Christians, others do not. Yet these same people have varying views on the reliability of scripture. I find these positions to be in conflict and therefore problematic. Since much of what we know about Jesus Christ is revealed in the scriptures, it becomes virtually impossible to hold to the authority of Jesus' teachings and conduct while having little regard for the written accounts that reveal them.

Fundamentalism has become falsely related to bigotry, militancy and intolerance. The allegations of bigotry were once a serious accusation that required some justification. Today the label is a knee-jerk bludgeon, wielded whenever anyone lacks the will or ability to make a counter argument. Many terrorists have been alternatively described as fundamentalists, and of course these aspersions have been recklessly attached to Christianity, much to the delight anti-religious zealots.

I concur with a deceased editorial columnist who articulated his view on fundamentalism. To paraphrase him...I would rather belong to a church that is 500 years behind the times and knows why and where it stands, than one just 15 minutes behind the times that is huffing and puffing to catch up with secular culture.

© Robert Meyer

 

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Robert Meyer

Robert Meyer is a hardy soul who hails from the Cheesehead country of the upper midwest... (more)

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