What Is Fundamentalism?

There are a number of posts fermenting in my brain dealing with religious and political issues that are constantly in the news these days. These include the so-called war in Iraq, the situation in occupied Palestine and the 2008 Presidential electiom here in the United States. But before we can get to these meaty topics I need to disucss one concept that, to me, is at the core of all these issues. That concept is fundamentalism.

Fundamentalism started out referring to a strict branch of Protestantism, but its use has spread to other religions as well. The media often talks about Islamic fundamentalists. Osama bin Lad’n is often characteristized as a fundamentalist. The question I want to address today is exactly what is fundamentalism?

According to Wikipedia, the free online encyclopedia and one of my favorite research tools on the Internet, fundamentalism is:

Movement or attitude stressing strict and literal adherence to a set of basic principles. 1. (sometimes initial capital letter) a movement in American Protestantism that arose in the early part of the 20th century in reaction to modernism and that stresses the infallibility of the Bible not only in matters of faith and morals but also as a literal historical record, holding as essential to Christian faith belief in such doctrines as the creation of the world, the virgin birth, physical resurrection, atonement by the sacrificial death of Christ, and the Second Coming. 2. the beliefs held by those in this movement. 3. strict adherence to any set of basic ideas or principles: the fundamentalism of the extreme conservatives.

The American Heritage Dictionary defines fundamentalism as a usually religious movement or point of view characterized by a return to fundamental principles, by rigid adherence to those principles, and often by intolerance of other views and opposition to secularism.

The main point I want to stress from this definition is that fundamentalism of any ilk is opposed to change, to progress, to anything that contradicts their so-called literal interpretation of their rules and traditions, which are usually laid out in their sacred scriptures.

The next two articles in this series will look at Christian fundamentalism in general and on then we will look at the influence of fundamentalism in American politics in general. Then week we will look at fundamentalism in the two cousins of Christianity – Judaism and Islam. Once we have completed these background discussions, then we will look at current events and see how they have been shaped by the rise of fundamentalism.


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