Christian Fundamentalism is both a movement and a code of rules, referring to the adherence to the religion and Biblical teachings (http://www.sullivan-county.com/news/index.htm, 2003). Nowadays, the term is often corrupted to describe extremists and terrorists, who attack multiculturalism, democracy and the basic concepts of family planning. The present paper is designed to discuss the movement and the underlying doctrine in details and compare it to the similar Islamic and Judaist religious movements and trends.
The Modern Christian Movement emerged in the beginning of the 20th century in response to modernism, industrialization and the following reformations of social life towards democracy (Appleby et al, 2003). “The five “fundamentals” of Christian belief that were enumerated in a series of 12 paperback volumes containing scholarly essays on the Bible that appeared between 1910 and 1915. Those included: 1) Biblical inerrancy; 2) The divinity of Jesus; 3)The Virgin Birth; 4) The belief that Jesus died to redeem humankind; 5)An expectation of the Second Coming, or physical return, of Jesus Christ” (www.sullivan-county.com, 2003).
Furthermore, the tracts contained the criticism of technological progress and modern theology and insisted upon the return to the initials, i.e. to the first century, when original Christianity was spreading. The whole Bible was declared inerrant, in contrast to the other Christian movements, which refuted certain parts of the Gospel. Furthermore, fundamentalists had true hostility to those who didn’t share their beliefs up to the last point, as they alleged there was nothing redundant or useless in the Bible (Appleby et al, 2003), as the scriptures should have been viewed as instructions rather than edifying stories and narratives.
The followers of the movement also believed in the sixth-day Creationism and therefore rejected the whole evolutionary science. More importantly, they asserted that Bible should not have been interpreted, as it had to be understood literally, without searching any mystic contexts, as the scriptures were written specifically for ordinary people’s understanding (Appleby et al, 2003; Armstrong, 2001).
Furthermore, fundamentalists prioritized faith over virtuous lifestyle, whereas the latter was nevertheless to correspond with the exact fundamentalist teachings. It also needs to be noted that fundamentalists viewed human being as basically sinful and violent: “Because Calvin, Luther, and Augustine all see humans as “depraved” and “born into sin” produced a very negative outlook on humanity. Also their idea of the “elect” creates an attitude that they are somehow “chosen” above all others. This puts them at odds with “mainline” or liberal Protestant churches that reject the Augustinian notions of human depravity” (www.sullivan-county.com, 2003).
The history of the movement itself is also interesting and controversial. In the early 20th century, the disciples of the fundamentals began to establish churches and denominations in the United States and United Kingdom (Appleby et al, 2003). In 1910, the northern Presbyterian Church proclaimed the five aforementioned principal pillars. In 1919, the World’s Christian Association was found, and W.Riley agreed to head it. In 1920, the term “fundamentalist” was first used by Curtis Lee Laws, but the contemporary fundamentalists perceived the term ambivalently, as it sounded like a conceptually new religious movement (http://mb-soft.com/believe/text/fundamen.htm, 1997).
Due to the penetration of liberalism into a number of American churches, fundamentalists began to criticize widely the transformation and peculiar ‘democratization’ of Baptist and Protestant churches. Furthermore, they rejected and even attempted to curb the contemporary efforts to re-interpret and reformulate the biblical teachings, and were themselves most consistent with the content of the King James Bible, published in 1611(Armstrong, 2001; Appleby et al, 2003).
“Church struggles occurred in the Methodist Episcopal Church, the Protestant Episcopal Church, and even in the southern Presbyterian Church, but the grand battles were fought in the northern Presbyterian and northern Baptist denominations. Machen was the undisputed leader among Presbyterians, joined by Clarence E.Macartney” (mb-soft.com, 1997).
Consequently, a number of organizations were created on the basis of the reformed Baptist and Presbyterian churches, which began to utilize the five fundamentals: the Fundamentalist Fellowship (1921), the National Federation of the Fundamentalists of the Northern Baptists (1921) and the Baptist Bible Union (1923).
The unions developed their own policies in such issues as ordination of clergy ad education, and a number of particularly enthusiastic preachers denied the importance of literacy and declared Bible as their only ‘reader’ in the course of training (Armstrong, 2001; mb-soft.com, 1997). Approximately at the same time the fundamentalists began to interfere with the policies of public schools, specifically, with their curricula which included Darwinian evolution as a mandatory subject (Appleby et al, 2003).
Since the 1940s, the fundamentalists split into two groups, the first one accepted the term “fundamentalism” and began to run to some extent separatist policies, whereas the second camp regarded the term as humiliating and positioning the followers of the movement as narrow-minded fanatics. The latter group, as one can understand, wished to expand the influence over Protestant churches and therefore declared their teaching as “evangelical”. This group soon ‘softened’ their hard-line Christian belief and gradually accepted the contemporary liberal ideas, expressed by a number of Protestant Church executives.
Towards the late 1970s, there was a peak of the fundamentalists’ popularity, as during Ronald Reagan campaign (Appleby et al , 2003), they were able to find answers to the most troublemaking issues like economic and social crises (in fact associated with the Vietnam War, but the adepts of the movement manipulated with the fall of the population’s moral and optimism and stated the contemporary mentality was erroneous). “They identified a new and more pervasive enemy, secular humanism, which they believed was responsible for eroding churches, schools, universities, the government, and above all families.
They fought all enemies which they considered to be offspring of secular humanism, evolutionism, political and theological liberalism, loose personal morality, socialism and communism” (mb-soft.com, 1997). Thus, they employed the most powerful PR tools to influence public consciousness and arranged a number of protest actions, including the picketing family planning centers, certain education institutions and scientific laboratories in attempt to undermine the reputation of the mentioned organizations (Armstrong, 2001).
Such religious activists as Jerry Falwell, pat Robertson and Hal Lindsey appeared on TV-screens as often as very popular politicians or the president and continued to encourage citizens to refuse from technological advancements, democratic ideology; the most radical fundamentalists even tried to curb immigration and force foreigners of different faith to leave the United States.
The Fundamentalist Movement of the 1990s and the new millennium is still strong, but the organization has become much more ‘secluded’. Nowadays, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences has launched a new project that encourages scholars in the United States and around the world to study fundamentalism (http://religiousmovements.lib.virginia.edu/nrms/fund.html, 1998). They also theorized the religious doctrine and outlined the its basic characteristics, which include the manifestation of religious truth which must not be secreted, religious idealism as the major aspect of fundamentalist identity and demonization of any movements which diverge from the doctrine.
Furthermore, “fundamentalists envision themselves as part of a cosmic struggle; they seize on historical moments and reinterpret them in the light of this cosmic struggle; they envy modernist cultural hegemony and try to overturn the distribution of power” (religiousmovements.lib.virginia.edu, 1998). Appleby also discusses the major characteristics of the organized movement and stated and its primary course is the increase of the popularity of Christian religion.
Furthermore, the members of the movement are selective and reject specific aspects of technological progress rather then modernity in general; the organization itself has “an elect or chosen membership; sharp group boundaries; charismatic authoritarian leaders and mandated behavioral requirement” (ibid, 1998). As one can understand, Christian fundamentalism has a lot in common with Islam and Judaism, especially in terms of the structure of the movement.
For instance, both Orthodox Judaist and Islamic fundamentalist movements have the same organizational characteristics and regard themselves as the participants of a cosmic struggle. This trend, however, is not very notable in Judaism, whereas the most hard-line Muslim leaders (of radical organizations like al-Qaeda) wage true war against otherwise-minded, and, similarly to Christian fundamentalists, demonize anyone who dares challenge the teachings from the Holy Scriptures perceived as central. Judaism has always been less radical and its fundamentals are more related to the controversy over the origin of the Torah, which, as most Orthodox Judaists hold, derives actually from God rather than from humankind (Armstrong, 2001).
Judaist Fundamentalism also includes “Laws of Rabbinic decree to better enforce Torah law (e.g. the prohibition of eating/cooking mixtures of milk and poultry); these laws are held to be created by the rabbis and are divinely inspired” (Armstrong, 2001, p. 385) and observes Rabbeinu Gershom’s prescriptions concerning the ban on reading letters, addressed to another person, the possibility of divorcing a female without her compliance and the regulation of eating habits.
Islamic Fundamentalism refers to Sunni Islam, which recognized the Koran, Haddith and Sunnah and accordingly rejects the Shi’a laws. Similarly to the Christian Fundamentalism, the corresponding Islamic teaching includes the notion that “the problems of the world stem from secular influences. Further, the path to peace and justice lies in a return to the original message of Islam, combined with a scrupulous rejection of innovations” (Armstrong, 2001, p. 396).
Technological progress is also partially rejected in the Judaist Fundamentalism – for instance, the Torah teaches that human face should not touch blade, that’s why Orthodox Jews avoid using razors and wear long beards. On the other hand, the Christian Fundamentalism has one unique feature, Messianism, which is not emphasized in the other two doctrines, as most Judaists do not view Christ as an influential religious person, whereas the concept of God’s son is absent is Islam.
As one can understand, fundamentalism is to great extent synonymous to conservatism. Nevertheless, it is important to remember that the contemporary fundamentalist movement are based not purely upon the religious doctrines, but also on the aspects of PR, promotion and, if necessary, violence and compulsion. Furthermore, all of them enclose considerable restrictions upon human daily activities, – in Islam, for instance, practically all daily routines have certain algorithms; moreover, all of them challenge humanism and the principles of individual freedom, imposing personal responsibility and accountability to society or community (especially in Judaism) instead.
Sullivan Country Resources. (2003). Christian Fundamentalism exposed. Available online at: http://www.sullivan-county.com/news/index.htm
Religious Movements Homepage. (1998). Fundamentalism. Available online at: http://religiousmovements.lib.virginia.edu/nrms/fund.html
Believe Web-Resources. (1997). (Christian) Fundamentalism. Available online at: http://mb-soft.com/believe/text/fundamen.htm
Appleby, R., Almond, G. and Sivan, E. (2003). Strong Religion. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Armstrong, K. (2001). The Battle of God: A History of Fundamentalism. New York: Ballantine Books.