I’m not really a fundamentalist christian. It’s just interesting the stigma that has been further attached to the word since it was first used. People are now ok with ‘religious people’ but it is fundamentalists and extremists that now cause all the wars around the world. I remember one lecturer arguing against Richard Dawkin’s the God delusion by suggesting that most religious people were not fundamentalists but people who just wanted to get on with their lives and let others do the same. Fundamentalism is associated with 6-day creation, bombing abortion clinics and anti-homosexuality then of course Islam, chauvinism, suicide bombing and the twin towers.
Between 1910-1915 a short pamphlet was published called ‘The Fundamentals’. These people outlined and argued what they believed were the fundamentals of the christian faith in this pamphlet which was then sent to many churches across America. This was particularly in response to the relativism that was becoming accepted into the church during the post-war era (Further reading here and here). They believed that there were fundamentals to the christian faith that other aspects were derived from. This was opposed to the idea that Christians could believe pretty much whatever they liked and the only thing that made you a christian was that you called yourself one. Since then the word and ideology has become distorted and attacked (sometimes it was their own fault) turning the movement into an anti-reason, anti-intellectual movement that requires a literalistic interpretation of the bible and a radical application from its followers.
Dawkins believes that fundamentalism implies belief in the face of evidence. To me that seems like a pretty simplistic definition. It assumes scientific statements are the only statements that can be made but if I were to say “Killing is wrong” what kind of evidence could be provided to support that? So lets suggest it’s belief without argument, evidence, reason. Well that’s not really true, the movement started as an argument for these fundamentals. In fact because fundamentalists believe their fundamentals to be true, arguments and reason are encouraged. It can only illuminate the truth of those fundamental beliefs (Admittedly there are anti-intellectuals who do think it best not to discuss their beliefs or ever change their opinion but this is a seperate issue to what is inherent in fundamentlism. There are Christians who are like this, Dawkins actually does do a good job attacking these kinds of people).
But I think people are more fundamentalist then they would like to think. Lets take an fundamentalist organisation that every left-wing, liberal, activist, secular humanist would probably love – amnesty international. It is a truly fantastic organisation that theist and atheist alike can get behind as it campaigns for human rights across the globe. I remember someone telling me that the reason why they would like to boycott the olympics in china is simply because of china’s support of the death penalty. This person believed all countries that support the death penalty should be equally boycotted, such as America. During this conversation a clearly right-wing American who disagreed on this point. They put forward many arguments and stories about incredibly evil people doing evil things and being paid to live in luxury in a prison. None of these arguments mattered. To the original person and amnesty international it is a basic human right to live. There is no human who has the right to take away this right or any other human right. Arguments about the inhumanity of the criminal do not make it more humane for the government to act like the criminal. In fact they merely support their view, that killing is wrong and we shouldn’t do it.
Now I’m pretty sure that many student members of amnesty international would not like to compare their organisation to organisations like the Taliban. But in this manner they are both fundamentalists. It is a fundamental belief that the death penalty is wrong. From this fundamental belief many of the practises and doctrines of the organisation follow. This fundamental belief then continues to influences the way of life of the members. They protest, they campaign and they help those who have had their rights violated. This organisation is even evangelistic and clearly against relativism. The human rights are universal, they apply to everyone even if they disagree. It is as wrong to kill someone in Scandinavia (where anti-death penalty is part of the culture) as it is in china (where it is not). They will do everything they can to make this fundamental belief influence the practises and life of literally everyone.
But this organisation is clearly not evil! Nor is it anti-intellectual. These people will usually have very clear and thought-out reasons why the death penalty is wrong. They will defend their fundamental beliefs and usually they will allow their beliefs to be challenged. They will accept arguments for the death penalty, but with faith that it will be demonstrated incorrect (because the death penalty actually IS wrong). This is not fundamentalism, as in, the exact views of a particular group of people who wrote a book in around 1915 but this is the kind of fundamentalism I would subscribe to as a Christian. I believe that Jesus is God. I believe he died and rose again and that this is not just a fundamental belief of mine. But it is both true and essential to my daily living. It is a fundamental belief from which the day-to-day practises of my life are derived. But it is not against evidence or reason, I’ll welcome challenges and discussion with full belief that eventually it will be universally shown to everyone that these fundamental beliefs are fundamental facts. Not through my personality, not through shere force of argument or manipulation. But simply because it is the truth (relative to everyone).
Fundamentalism and extremism are inherently against the worldview of some people. Some people are relativist and hate the idea of absolute truth, some people hate extremism, they want conformity. They hate it when anyone deviates from the norm and extremists will always do that by definition. However, they are not inherently evil. Amnesty international are a good organisation, even if they sometimes have faults. Extremism for a Good, Just and Right cause is not evil, even if it is not conformist. In the same way that fire can be used to provide warmth or death, the same way that football provides both entertainment and hooliganism, the same way that religions and idealogies have been behind movements for good and evil, fundamentalism and extremism can be used by good and evil people.
I think maybe the title of this post should have been, “Why you are a fundamentlist” 😛