Saturday, December 11, 2004

Fundamental fundamentalism; and stuff like that 

I just want to write this quickly because I think it's relevant to the post below. The one titled "Dayton Tennessee...," which includes a newspaper article written by HL Mencken following the Scopes Trial in 1925.

I get the impression some readers believe that this kind of criticism represents a larger criticism of religion in general; or Christianity in general; or the role of religion within society in general. I get this same impression whenever the term "fundamentalism" arrives in the conversation and the battle between Christian "fundamentalism" and "liberalism" is waged.

So I think it might be a good idea to clarify where I'm coming from with respect to this argument and to clarify what "fundamentalism" means to me in this context.

First of all, "fundamentalism" was a term dervived from a series of essays written from between 1910 and 1915 by a group of Protestant religious clerics and scholars and so titled "The Fundamentals." (Type "the fundamentals" and "1910" into a Google search and see for yourself.)

In 1919 "The World's Christian Fundamentals Association" was founded to advance among other doctrines premillenarianism (which is a different animal from postmillenarianism). Thus, Christian "fundamentalism" was for all practical official purposes stamped with approval by certain factions of the Protestant church. But not all. And that's is where the battle between "fundamentalism" and "liberalism" or "modernism" enters the equation.

Today, when people speak of the Christian fundamentalism vs. liberalism argument, they go at it in terms of Christians vs. secular political interests; or in the context of a church vs. state battle. Or religion vs. no religion. Or any number of other similar combinations all pitting Christianity or fundamentalist Christianity against lefties or liberals or secular society and so on.

But that is not what the original battle between fundamentalism and liberalism was about, despite how it has evolved to this day.

The original "fundamentalism" vs. "liberalism" (or modernism) smackdown was an inter-ecclesiastical debate waged within the Protestant church and its denominations. The "liberalism" which conservative fundamentalist factions reacted against in the early 1900s was the mainstream Protestant church's own "liberal" attitudes and policies and willingness to reconcile itself with, and adapt itself to, advances in science and medicine and Darwinian theory and the German "higher criticism." Or any theories which the fundamentalist mob believed undermined Biblical inerrancy or authority.

The original collection of essays titled "The Fundamentals" written in 1910 also cited "Romanism" (The Catholic Papal Beast scare), socialism (the Red Scare), modern philosophy (Enlightenment principles and the higher criticism), atheism (read: Bolshevism), Eddyism (fear of multiple designer ice cream flavors), Mormonism, and spiritualism among the grave dangers awaiting the flock. (I made that one about the ice cream flavors up myself. Just for the record.)

The anti-liberalism crusade amounted ultimately to a defence of what the The General Assembly of the northern Presbyterian Church cited, in 1910, as the five essentials: [1] the innerancy of scripture, [2] the innerancy of the virgin birth, [3] the physical resurrection of Christ, [4] the historical authenticity of the miracles, [5] the Atonement. "The World's Christian Fundamentals Association" noted above would also seek to replace the miracles with the second coming of Christ.

In any case, each of these five (or six) essentials was deemed to be under attack from liberal/modernist quarters within the church. In 1923 Presbyterian J. Gresham Machen published "Christianity and Liberalism" in which he essentially concluded that "liberalism", and all those within the church who advanced the acceptance of such horrors, as they applied to fundamentalist church doctrine, was an outsider trojan horse riding bastard breaching the walls of the true historic Christianity and the big stinkin' shining city on the big stinkin' hill. But not exactly in those exact words. But you get the idea.

And so on and so on evermore this battle raged during the early years of the 20th century, eventually spilling over into politics and into the greater secular society as well. The Scopes trial in Tennessee in 1925 ultimately would become a kind of Waterloo for the noisier and more aggressive elements of the early Christian fundamentalist movement. And the wave rolled back off the beach. At least for a while. Until, as we see today, fundamentalism (especially as it has re-emerged in certain sectors of the evangelical community) has come roaring back with a vengeance. And it's replaced its traditional "liberal/modernist" enemies within its own ranks with "liberal" political ememies and secular enemies as they exist in the current left vs. right - "liberal" vs "conservative" political arena.

So, that said, despite my simplification of a whole lot of historical complexities and such, I'd just like some folks like THB to know that any critical references made here with respect to Christianity as it is advanced by Christian fundamentalist or the Christian Right or Christian Dominionists or any similar fauna has nothing to do with Christianity as such, or even the rules and regulations one denomination or another sics upon its own clubhouse; or religion, in general. I don't much like poison ivy but that doesn't mean I don't like ivy, or plants. Know what I mean?

Anyway, liberal, moderate, and mainstream Christians, (Catholic and Protestant and all others) just remember, the Christian fundamentalist fired across your bow first. Then they began sniping from the belltowers at everyone else. This battle here ain't about religion vs. secular or Christians vs. atheists etc... It's about modern democracy and religious freedom and the rights of secular civil society to all co-exist together on a neutral ground under the umbrella of constitutional government without being hijacked by a narrow agenda of crazies branding their own theocratic clubhouse rules and regulations and so-called pious holier than thou moral fetishes and limitations on everyone else's backsides. That's about it, I think.

Oh yeah. Please, this Christmas, won't you all, in the spirit of the holidays, send a basket of fresh loofah sponges and a box of falafel mix and a bottle of hand lotion, on my behalf, to Bill O'Reilly. Do it for the fundamentalist hell of it.

Update: Uh oh! The cross lighters at CNN (the Cakewalk News Network) are announcing the heroic return of Judge Roy Moore to the public square. So to speak. Just in time to join the Christmas torchlight cable media parade.


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