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What is Christian Fundamentalism? Quoting Grolier Electronic Publishing:

Fundamentalism is a term popularly used to describe strict adherence to Christian doctrines based on a literal interpretation of the Bible. This usage derives from a late-19th- and early-20th-century transdenominational Protestant movement that opposed the accommodation of Christian doctrine to modern scientific theory and philosophy.

Are Christian fundamentalists just raving, Bible-thumping fanatics? The answer for many is no. In fact, they are a very diverse and often divided group. Here I will try to dispel myths and take up where the above dictionary definition leaves off. Let's look at some of the many issues surrounding "fundamentalism" as it is today.

I will strongly note here that "fundamentalism" as used here is a political and social movement. This is not to question Jesus or the Bible. Two-thirds of born again Christians reject the intolerance, bigotry, and social politics of groups often affiliated with the Religious Right. Liberals, often hostile to all Christian beliefs, also distort the issue by an over emphasis on the small number of extremists and fanatics.

Other examples include some Orthodox and Hassidic Jews, most Shiite Muslims in Iran, and most Sunni Muslims elsewhere. Christian but not Protestant examples would be ultra-conservatives within both Roman and Eastern Orthodox Catholicism, as well as some Mormons (though non-Mormons often consider all members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints "non-Christian"). Nontheistic examples would include many Marxists and Secular Humanists, as well as other fervent atheists. This website defines "religious fundamentalism" of all kinds as political and social, not religious.

Don't think for one minute Christian fundamentalists are a bunch dumb rednecks, they aren't. Their main activists are rich, white, most are "baby-boomers, and their agenda is power and money. Their leadership is college educated and not a bunch of country bumpkins. See chart below.

In the 18th century the Enlightenment and Evangelical revivals would moderate each other. By the 1870's until today, fundamentalist Protestantism would be at war with both modern science and personal liberty. (Modernism) Today fundamentalists make up about 20 percent of the American population. Most are law-abiding citizens but about one-fourth (5% of the population) belong to assorted fringe churches and operate a kind of low-level terrorism such as attacks on abortion clinics, racism and anti-Semitism, the militia movements, etc. They are obsessed with conspiracy theories claiming Jews, Freemasons, Satan, etc. control America and an apocalypse due any day.

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, entitled The Fundamentals. 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 to initiate his thousand-year rule of the Earth, which came to be known as the Millennium.

1) A strong emphasis on the inerrancy of the Bible;
2) a strong hostility to modern theology and to the methods, results and implications of modern critical study of the Bible, and
3) an assurance that those who do not share their religious viewpoint are not really "true Christians"

They also believe in "six-day" Creationism, the doctrine that the universe was created only a few thousand years ago, rather than the billions claimed by modern science, and that God created man and woman and all the species outright, rather than by a process of evolution. Also included is the belief that only King James Version Bible of 1611 is the only correct text.

Christians who clung to the old belief that every word of the Bible was literally true -- called biblical inerrancy, claim only the belief, they do not follow or live by the rules or teachings of Jesus. The Protestant belief of "faith alone" which Calvin and Luther took from Saint Augustine, makes all of that at best optional or morality of any kind, irrelevant. The only things they really see as "sin" is, matters of sex, not following their religious teaching teachings, and questioning authority.

Because Calvin, Luther, and Augustine all see humans as "depraved" and "born into sin" produces 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.

Fundamentalists trace their roots back to the N.T., but fundamentalism really arises at the end of the 19th century. They see themselves as "keepers of both the Christian heritage of the first century and the American heritage of the Puritans and the Founding Fathers," though; the sense of religious mission associated with the Puritans disappeared even before the American Revolution. They will quote Puritans this and that as the foundation of America, but the Puritans founded some backwater English colonies, not the United States of America.

In fact Protestantism had been undergoing massive changes prior to the American Revolution and continues to change to this day. The majority of Americans in 1776 (if we exclude Indians and Catholics) were Protestant, forming a "Protestant empire." The first and second "Great Awakenings" seemed to insure the role of Evangelism in America. Those days are what fundamentalists long for. Yet even before the American Revolution, the European Enlightenment had made inroads into Protestantism.

Fundamentalists have a loathing of democracy when it applies equally to others. One bitter fundamentalist had this to say, "democracy is the cause of all world problems...humans are under the law of God, and thus they CANNOT do anything they want or speak anything they wish to speak...democracy ultimately started with Satan...we can't rule ourselves. God must rule us...those who actually set up America, and drew up the laws were people who did not favor Christianity. Christians living during that time disagreed with those in power or rather the founding fathers. They saw them as ultra liberals, and of course, they were.

The American Revolution was a conservative revolution unlike the violent French Revolution that set the stage for fascism and communism. The American founders sought liberty and freedom of conscience within the framework of the established society. They knew issues such as slavery and the status of women couldn't be resolved in their time, so they left a way open for later changes. They emphasized individualism, which already existed within Protestant culture to begin with.

The French Revolution sought immediate change by the use of force to destroy the entire culture and society of France. (Communism would borrow from this model.) In Catholic France there was no real sense of individualism as in Protestantism nor did they have the earlier, far less bloody English Revolution to build on.

But it was a belief in God that did guide the Founding Fathers, but not the raving bible-god of Augustine and Calvin. To quote: "Jefferson and other founders were Deists, believing in a universal God and a scientific universe. Since their writings constitute the legal foundation of the government, it is worth noting what they wrote and from where they derived their principles: Natural Law. Drawing from Locke, the Declaration of Independence grounds its legitimacy in the people; but why are the people the ultimate authority? Because "they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights" and institute governments to secure these rights.

In some ways the Civil War broke the back of Protestant America. With thousands dead and one-third of the country in ruins, changes began to occur to form a modern industrial state. Quoting Nancy Ammerman:

Science, technology, and business were taking over where tradition, prayer and faith had left off, streams of European immigrants arriving with Catholic and Jewish traditions, and religious pluralism was becoming a fact of American life. "Old assumptions (mostly Protestant) were replaced by new dogmas of industrialism, historicism, and secularism...Religion gradually became compartmentalized in the private, family, and leisure spheres, leaving political, scientific, and economic affairs to the secular experts."

In the human sciences, psychology and sociology began to question the nature of human responsibility, destiny, and free will. In the natural sciences, Charles Darwin's ideas began to change the way scholars viewed the physical universe. While evolution in no way disproves God, it does disprove a particular fundamentalist' view of creation. The claims of Six-Day Creationism are the largest single problem they have because it's so discredited in every major scientific field. In the process they discredit the entire faith.

In theology, scholars began to analyze biblical material as if it were ordinary ancient literature that reported events that might also be explained in natural, human terms. This included a shift in public education from church dominated curriculum to one that prepared students for an industrialized and democratic society.

While fundamentalism is a reaction against modernism, it also adopted all kinds of new beliefs and practices. Most of these churches have been infiltrated by non-Christian modern theology themselves such as Christian Identity and Christian Reconstructionism. Much of this is loaded with the occult, racism and anti-Semitism. Christian Identity in particular is dangerous due to its apocalyptic theology that creates a mindset of paranoia and ease of infiltration into churches.

Also see Home Schooling and Religion.

19th Century Beginnings

The tent revival was the mainstay of many early wondering evangelists and is still with us today. In a way these became sideshows competing for the time (and contributions) of small town and frontier farms all across a growing America. Starting about 1830 a great backlash against education and scholarship in many churches began and continues to this day. Many of America's cult churches began here.

Many of these preachers were at best semi-literate who rejected most mainstream churches and education in general. They tended to rely on the fallacy of the Bible being the only source of inspiration and preached their own opinions. This is how we got so many new cults/churches of today. In this way anything could be "the word of God."

The rise of modern Premillennialism (end-times theology) is common to a variety of religious splinter groups: the Plymouth Brethren (developed Dispensationalism), the Millerites (became the Adventists), Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, and Pentecostals. This nonsense has infiltrated many Baptist/other churches as well.

Most of these churches try to discredit historic Christianity by claiming that all the prominent commentaries, all the church fathers, and even the Reformers (Luther, Calvin, Knox, etc.) were deluded by "man-made doctrines." New revelation" is claimed and their leaders even claimed to have received "new truth" or at other times "rediscovered truth" that had been lost since the apostles. Enthusiasm was whipped up on the false pretense that Christ's coming was imminent. Frequent false predictions did not seem to deter this enthusiasm.

Dispensational Premillennialism was marketed the same way as the cult-like groups. For these groups the only Scriptures addressed specifically to Christians were the gospel of John, Acts, and the Epistles and Book of Revelation. Their moral code is that of the most brutal sections of the Old Testament and the Ten Commandments. One will hear "born again" (John) endlessly but little relevance is paid at all to the other Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke that contain the core of Jesus' most important moral teachings. The moral teachings of Jesus thus become optional thus fundamentalists believe they are saved and their personal conduct, no matter how un-Christian, is forgiven. This "faith alone" nonsense is salvation for nothing. They construct God in their own image.

It should also be noted that these cult/splinter churches all hold Catholics and mainline Protestant churches as "spirits of the Antichrist." (Pat Robertson) Most of their claims are totally non-Biblical such as "secret rapture" and the word "rapture" isn't even in the KJV Bible at all. What they really preach is their own politics and the occult. I do not consider these churches Protestant (they are separate sects) and really question if they are Christian at all. All of their leaders such as Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, Oral Roberts, etc. have no recognized credentials as theologians. Yet the damage they do to the emotional well being of others can't be calculated.

This comes through leaders such men as A. T. Pierson, A. J. Gordon, and C. I. Scofield (Scofield Bible) to A. C. Dixon and Reuben Torrey, William Jennings BRYAN, and J. Gresham Machen.

Make no mistake, their stated purpose is to impose, with force if necessary, a theocracy and eliminate all modern scientific theory and social philosophy. This means entire scientific fields and research would be banned, restricted, or curtailed. All civil law as we know it today would be replaced by Biblical Law based mainly on the most brutal sections of the Old Testament. Even many Christian churches would be banned for their lack of "Christian correctness."

The potentially lethal mix of politics, religious bigotry, and the belief in non-Biblical dispensationalism is a menace to our free society. This was behind the Y2K fiasco that had fundamentalist preachers wiping egg off their faces.

Survey of Christian Right Activists


Table 1: Demography

Gender Male 62%
Race White 97%
Marital
Status
Married 85%
Region Northeast 22%
Midwest 20%
West 22%
South 36%
Age Under 35 yrs 12%
35 to 50 yrs 46%
51 to 65 yrs 26%
Over 65 yrs 16%
Education High school or less 8%
Some college 22%
College graduate 23%
Post-grad degree 47%
Occupation New Class professionals 34%
Technical professionals 12%
Business managers 7%
Small business 18%
Clerical/blue collar 6%
Housewife 9%
Retired 14%
Annual
Income
Under $25,000 10%
$25,000-$50,000 25%
$50,000-$75,000 26%
$75,000-$150,000 24%
Over $150,000 15%
Chart above © 1998 Institute for First Amendment Studies, Inc.

The above chart came from http://www.ifas.org/library/survey/index.html, which went down in 2001. The similar survey for Liberals included with this original article showed similar upper income activists but differed in three important ways. The Liberal activists also tended to be older than Christian activists and also had higher net incomes above the general public. Second, more non-whites, but the vast majority was white. Third, liberals tended to be less owners and more professionals such as doctors and lawyers. This would make sense because so many of these types tend to be socialist (anti-business) and anti-religious. Neither group overall represents your typical working-class American, but many working-class people tend to be more religious then college-educated types. (Don't get the absurd idea these religious types are stupid.)

Most interesting is the 2004 presidential election where "moral values" seemed to carry the day. While it's easy to say a victory for the Religious Right, in my opinion it's more a failure of the Left and Liberalism. Bush got almost half the Hispanic vote and 56% (according to CNN) of the Catholic vote. So is this a victory for white, fundamentalist' Protestants or changes across the board?

Looking at other stats on this website, as of 2000 76.5% of the US population identified themselves as Christians while estimates of the Evangelical (Protestant) part of the population is between 15-20%. Secular/nonreligious/atheist/agnostic is about 15%. Christianity grew by 5% between 1990 and 2000, secular by 110% Evangelicals do a lot of missionary work, but tend to get people to change churches as opposed to reaching non-believers.

Another interesting stat is evolution. Atheistic evolution claims about a 9% following while belief in God claims 91%. But of that 91% for God, It's an almost even split that half of those that believe in God (40%) believe in evolution as the work of God. I guess it depends on the definition of God. The important thing to note is the shift away from evangelicalism (including Six-Day Creationism) seems to be as adults. 45% of scientists believe in God.

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