I haven’t really been writing about or responding to a lot of things in awhile. But, maybe I’m back in the mood to do so again. Here’s my first attempt…
In a blog on the Freethoughtblogs network, Chris Hallquist recently posted the following:
Today, “Christian fundamentalist” is still most often used to refer to people who accept Biblical inerrancy, and have fairly conservative notions about what the Bible says. Parallel beliefs can be found in other religions, particularly in Muslim beliefs about the Quran. Because of that, I think that in a modern context the word “fundamentalism” is most helpfully defined as the belief in the inerrancy of a holy book, along with fairly conservative notions about what that holy book says.
From my perspective, though, the only people who refer to everyone who believes in “inerrancy” as fundamentalists are a certain kind of atheist. I just don’t think this definition is accurate of the past or present. Maybe the word fundamentalism was initially used as a positive term by the people themselves, but more recently it has definitely come to mean an attitude. It is a way of approaching ideas, a lack of nuance. An allergy to uncertainty, ambiguity. A refusal to question, doubt, reconsider. Even further, a lack of empathy toward those with whom one disagrees. A kind of dogmatism about ones beliefs, with no possibility that one might be wrong.
Biblical inerrancy has been advocated by the most influential theologians in the history of Christianity.
I also think this a stretch. Many of the supporters of inerrancy try to make this same argument, but many other Christians have countered this argument with a lot of examples of just how different the views of Christian thinkers throughout history have understood the Bible. I typically favor any historical approach to a topic that allows room for a diversity of explanations, rather than an oversimplification. I think the same could be said for the history of how Christians have understood the Bible.
All these men had ideas about what the Bible says that were closer to those of modern fundamentalists than to those of modern religious liberals.
This may be true, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that most Christian thinkers throughout history would sign on to the most recent statements describing inerrancy. It’s not one or the other.
Some Christian fundamentalists are in the habit of responding to criticism of the doctrines I just mentioned by saying something like, “I’m sorry if other Christians have hurt you.” This misunderstands the problem. The problem is not that Christians have offended me by telling me I’m going to Hell. The problem is that the idea that I and countless other non-Christians (a category which includes a great many friends of mine) deserve to go to Hell for eternity is the height of moral insanity.
I personally don’t agree with many of the “traditional” understandings of “hell,” but as I get older I’m really not seeing every single person who does believe in those ideas as morally insane. I think there are many different explanations for why people think this, some of them perfectly justified from the Bible, some of them not. Many of those ideas are not found in the Bible at all, but have been imported into our understanding of the Bible. But, I think a blanket statement about anyone believing in those ideas being morally insane is unfair and untrue. If this is an accurate statement, then I would guess that the majority of people who have lived in a Christian-influenced culture for 2000 years have been morally insane. Seriously?
This is why talk of “atheist fundamentalism” is ridiculous. Atheists do not have any holy book we consider infallible. We have no traditional dogmas to defend.
Maybe the term isn’t helpful, but in my understanding it is not used for all atheists, only certain kinds. Those who fit into the same description from above. I’ve learned to spot this attitude best from working in churches (up until a few years ago). It’s arrogance, pride, egotism, self-centeredness – people who are just plain mean. That’s what I mean by fundamentalist (whatever someone’s beliefs happen to be). And I think a lot of people share this usage of the word.
But, I might be wrong…