by Mark Robinson
Good afternoon, First of all I’d like to thank those of you for joining us today, to all the speakers and our Moderator Dr. Sohail. I was honored to accept this opportunity today to talk about a topic that many of us read about but are not familiar with its origin. We are more often than not shaped by media and selected opinions about such topics within society and it is somewhat hard to get a clear understanding of a certain belief. When I began to write I was faced with the dilemma of how to approach this topic. After reading many different articles and chapters I chose to focus on the history of what could be called the dark side of belief.
The dark illusion of fundamentalism hangs over America like dark clouds hanging over the after math of 911. The United States of America continues to look towards the Middle East to define fundamentalism, but to their ignorance all they really need to do is look no further than their own backyard.
When you compare the birth of Christianity to the introduction of the term fundamentalism you discover that the literal relationship is about 100 years old.
The term fundamentalism was introduced back in the late 1900’s and soon became widely accepted as an identity for those how actively defended the traditions of Christianity. Christianity introduced Fundamentalism to protect its faith and doctrines from those who opposed the views and words of the bible. Science and the growth of rational thinking, along with other contradicting religions applied the pressure on Christianity to stand firm to protect its traditional beliefs. The threat on Christianity at this time was mainly from within its own borders and not until the last 30 years that pressure came from Middle Eastern religions.
The Beginning of the Christian fundamentalism movement as we know it today came about in the late 1900’s which at the time people like Dwight Moody, Arthur Pierson and John Darby were leading the way. As the turn of the 20th century approached, the American fundamentalist beliefs were defined as the Five Fundamentals by the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church.
The 5 Fundamentals are:
1) Inerrancy of the Scriptures – This defined that the word of the bible was the true word.
2) The virgin birth and the deity of Jesus – This refers to Mary giving birth through Immaculate Conception to the birth of god’s son.
3) The Doctrine of substitutionary atonement through god’s Grace and Human Faith – the understanding that Jesus died on the cross for their sins. 4) The bodily resurrection of Jesus – The belief that the dead body of Jesus rases 3 days after his death to the heavens.
5) The authenticity of Christ’s miracles (or, alternatively, his pre-millennial second coming – Judgment day or Armageddon, the return to earth by Jesus Christ.
So with the five fundamental principles instated by the start of the 20th century Christian fundamentalism was defined. Before progressing to the present time I would like to take a step backwards to emphasize the seed responsible for the growth of the Christian fundamentalist movement.
When the Americans celebrate thanksgiving, they acknowledge the Pilgrims landing on the east shores of their country. In 1620 Puritans traveled the seas west to take up home in the new land bringing strong Christian beliefs with hopes to define a land based on these principals. It has been wittily observed that, Australia got the convicts, and America got the Puritans. It was more darkly mused Australia must have gotten first choice. Many of their virtues have helped carve a nation with honesty and integrity, though it must also be clearly stated that they are also responsible for laying a foundation on fundamentalist principals by claiming that the true law is gods’ word found within the bible.
From the Entry of the Puritans to America, religious piety began to decline within the next 100 years. The decline brought about Great Awakening; this was a movement that was established in New Jersey to rekindle the following of god’s true law amongst the Colonists. Preachers like Jonathon Edwards worked hard to spread the message that the devil was ready to snatch their souls if they weakened their commitment to God, so with this hellfire approach the support strengthened once again. However as decades pasted, rationalistic views weakened the religious movement and around the 1740’s came the age of Enlightenment, as Philosopher Immanuel Kant among others brought forward the need for people to have courage to speak their minds and think for themselves. Enlightenment became the seed for a movement challenging the ideals of Christian fundamentalism. This movement has survived history and continues to grow stronger with each day. After the American Revolution towards the end of the 18th century, the second Awakening was on its way. The approach this time was creating social stability and community identity. Through a theological emphasis on living a life without sin, the concerns of fortification, profanity, alcohol, Gambling and dishonesty were challenged to regain personal piety. The new awakening once again proved successful in the beginning until 1859 when Britain’s Charles Darwin released the ‘Origin of the Species’, a book which would change history and once again bring more concern as it challenged religious literalism. The idea Darwin presented that life had evolved and had not been created by a god, became a new threat and by the time the twentieth century came the American movement that the puritans once formed had now become Fundamentalism. This is where the introduction of five fundamentals enters the history books. Since this beginning Christian Fundamentalism has grown and adjusted to its new environment in the twentieth century. As Darwin’s theory evolved and science started to progress at a more rapid rate, pressures for fundamentalism to keep defending its position, grew.
Between 1920 and 1940 the Fundamentalists were concentrating on widen the grip on Christian belief with a fundamentalist view; many Christians were becoming mainstream modernists. The fundamentalists in turn decided to remove the mainstream believers from the church. This was not an easy task to do, so in turn the fundamentalists separated themselves from the church and formed their own orthodox denominations. As the new fundamentalist movement attempted to settle, it was not long before another split would come along. This time a division within the fundamentalist movement was about to unfold. Leaders such as Carl Henry, Kenneth Kantzer and later on the more popular Billy Graham would form what we know today as Evangelicals. The new group wanted to bring back many of the clergy and supporters who were among the mainstream modernists. Separating themselves from the Fundamentalists was due to a number of concerns that they had with the movement. Evangelicals felt that Fundamentalism was anti-intelligent, intolerant and lacked concern for social issues. After this split within Fundamentalism many of the Fundamentalists withdrew from society and became politically active. Leaders of Christian conservatives such as Jerry Farwell and Pat Robertson joined with the movement in the 1970’s and went on the offensive to bring other Christian groups onto their side. Today we see the effects of their efforts by the confusion many make between fundamentalists, Evangelicals and all other Christian denominations.
To this point Fundamentalism was an American past time and was only referred to as a Christian term. This all changed with a high media profile of the Iran hostage crisis in 1979. To explain and familiarize the American public to Islamic faith a comparison was made to Christian Fundamentalism by journalists which led to the coining of the phase Islamic Fundamentalism. As we worked our way into the 1990’s terrorism started to show its ugly face as Christian Fundamentalist groups took more violent approaches to getting their point across.
To give an example of the distance fundamentalist Christianity has gone to, you just have to look at the fundamentalist driven group ‘Army of God’. Believing that their activity is lawful and theologically justified, they are a pro life terrorist organization which resolves to use deadly forced in its attempt to end abortion within the United States. Their acts of terrorism included bombings and kidnappings as well being linked to as many as 280 anthrax threats towards abortion clinics since Sept 11 2001. But even before the turn of the century we had experienced the serious crimes of fundamentalism with America, in the summer of 1994 Reverend David C. Trosch wrote to congress warning those politicians who do not strongly oppose abortion, along with those who speak in favor of abortion would be at grave risk. Two weeks later, former minister Paul Hill drove to the ladies centre, an abortion clinic in Pensacola, Florida and shot and killed Dr. John Bayard Britton and James Barrett the doctors Escort. Later that year bullets were mailed along with death threats to other doctors. These events show how acts of terrorism are a part of Christian fundamentalism. Many may argue that not all fundamentalists are terrorists and will not go as far as to commit these sorts of crimes and I agree, but these organizations are built by a larger body of moderates that fuel the front line. Fundamentalists also condone the use of contraceptives which leads the way for a higher pregnancy rate with young Christian teenage girls. Teenage pregnancy is then accompanied in most cases with poverty and lack of education which then shapes our society, all because ones faith is so strongly against the practical use of birth control.
In the last few years more controversy regarding fundamentalists has surfaced with the attempt to bring Creationism back disguised as what they call Intelligent Design. Efforts were made by members of the Dover, Pennsylvania community to bring the teaching of Intelligent Design to the education system. This split the community in half and fortunately for those who supported the teaching of evolution Judge Jones decided the outcome of the case in their favor in a federal court.
Today’s world and tomorrows will be faced with many attempts by fundamentalists trying to hold on to the teaching of what they call the true word of God. They are now up against their strongest challenge yet as a free thinking movement is circling the globe. As people still continue to struggle for political freedom in many countries a new type of freedom is also on the rise. More and more people are acquiring the materials and modern day ways of communicating. The communities of fundamentalism are finding it harder to hide away their loyal followers from scientific facts and logical thought. The true test for fundamentalism as it approaches the next decade will be protecting its followers from discovering science and reason. How the core groups react, time will only tell. Let’s hope people will be free to think for themselves and people that do stand up for what they believe in will not be subject to threats and attacks for doing so. I am not sure we are close to seeing the end of Christian fundamentalism but I would like to see an end to the hate and suffering it causes when the so called true word of god is looked upon as above the law. We the people have voted a government to apply a law to everyone with in the nation and it is important that everyone understands their role in society. We must concern ourselves to what is best for humanity and in order to have peace and harmony logic must prevail.
Note…This essay is prepared for the seminar titled Understanding Fundamentalism held in Toronto Canada Dec 1st, 2007 http://www.familyofheart.com/07/Dec01/