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Friday, October 24, 2014


Gavin Rumney (Otagosh) recommended Malise Ruthven's Fundamentalism: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford) in his most recent post (20 Oct 2014). After reading the work, I agree with him that the author's treatment of the subject is well-written and thought provoking. Indeed, it has caused me to reevaluate my own views about what it means to be a fundamentalist.

I have said on numerous occasions within the last few years that I used to be a fundamentalist; but, after reading this book, I have to say that I'm still a fundamentalist! In fact, I would say that most of us are fundamentalists at heart. I think that one of the comments regarding Gavin's post hit the nail on the head: "We all have a belief profile and we are pretty fundamentalist about it."

In his book, Ruthven discusses the etymology of the term "fundamentalist." The word had its origins in a series of Protestant tracts that outlined The Fundamentals of the Christian Faith. The authors of this work identified those fundamentals as being: Biblical inerrancy, Divine creation of everything (including humans & with no role for evolution), the reality of miracles, the experiences of Jesus Christ (including the virgin birth, crucifixion and resurrection), Christ's sacrifice of himself for the sins of humanity, and the fact of his literal return to this earth at some point in the future. My own "fundamentals" would exclude Biblical inerrancy and would include a role for evolution, but I could probably find some common ground with the authors of The Fundamentals on some of their other points.

Most Atheists would have some list of "fundamentals" underpinning their views about life and the world around them (e.g. "There is no God" might be one of them). Likewise, a scientist would probably cite the Scientific Method as being part of his/her fundamentals. Many Catholics would cite tradition as part of their fundamentals. A Jew might reasonably be expected to include the Ten Commandments on his/her list. A Muslim might place the Quran and Sharia Law on his/her list of fundamentals. Enough said, you get the picture: We all have our list of "fundamentals."

Google defines a "fundamental" as "a central or primary rule or principle on which something is based." We all have these underpinnings for our belief systems/opinions. Think about it, I'm confident that most of my readers could generate their own list of "fundamentals."

Ruthven talks about how Fundamentalists (in the more classical sense of the term) are disposed to be monocultural in nature. He contrasts this with the reality of the pluralism of the modern world. He underscores the dilemma which this presents for Fundamentalists in the following terms: "Since God is reported to have said different things to the numerous individuals claiming to speak on his behalf, belief in the truth held by one tradition necessarily excludes all others. This is especially so in the Abrahamic tradition of Western monotheism, where confessions are deemed to be exclusive: in the mainstream, orthodox versions of these faiths one cannot be a Muslim and a Christian, or a Christian and a Jew. In a globalized culture where religions are in daily contact with their competitors, denial of pluralism is a recipe for conflict." (Fundamentalism, p. 32)

Ruthven goes on to say that the "acceptance of pluralism relativizes truth." Although I admit that this is the way that most of these Fundamentalists see it, is this observation necessarily correct? If we accept that there are different paths to THE TRUTH, are we really saying that truth is relevant? Isn't it possible to acknowledge different paths to THE TRUTH and still maintain that there is only one destination? Isn't it more logical to suppose that everyone has some TRUTH and some ERROR? Isn't it possible that some of The Fundamentals were/are right? Isn't it probable that some of our current scientific understandings will be proven wrong or inadequate in the near future? In short, why do my fundamentals have to exclude yours? RELAX, we don't have to damn or kill each other to hold on to our respective fundamentals!

Is the answer to the proposed dilemma to shed all of our fundamentals? Laying aside the almost impossible prospect of accomplishing such a thing, the answer has to be NO! If God really is working with humanity (and I believe that to be the case), then why on earth would He/She/It punish us for doing what we believe to be right/fundamental? Isn't the real problem someone believing that his/her way is the only way? Shouldn't a reasonable person be able to admit that he/she may be wrong on some point? In fact, shouldn't a reasonable and faithful person be able to acknowledge that he/she probably is wrong about some of his/her fundamentals? For me, the real danger is the insistence of anyone that he/she is in possession of the perfect truth - that he/she is without error. As Ruthven so succinctly points out in his work, when this mindset is shared with others and mixed with nationalism, you have a recipe for disaster on a global scale.


  1. I would say the Nicene Creed would be a succinct summation of Fundamentalist Christianity.
    How mush of this creed are you in harmony with?

  2. The Nicene Creed is like the Bible in the sense that it's subject to how one interprets those fundamentals. I could say that I embrace the Nicene Creed, but my understanding of what that meant would be radically different from my mother's profession of it as a Roman Catholic.
    Do you embrace the Secular Creed? ("Reason, not superstition; Ethics, not dogma; Respect, not worship; Courage, not fear; Fact, not myth; Morality, not religion; Clarity, not delusion; Good, not God; Skeptic, not cynic; Rationality, not ideology) I could also easily embrace these fundamentals - Although, once again, my understanding of what that meant would probably be very different from yours.
    How fundamentalist are you? Do you accept or reject my harmony with these different fundamentals?