This would be the best of all possible worlds if there were no religion in it (John Adams)
The Merriam Webster Online Dictionary defines fundamentalism as “a movement in 20th century Protestantism emphasizing the literally translated Bible as fundamental to Christian life and teaching ”
Contrary to what many fundamentalists may believe, their movement is a relatively new development born in the United States in revival tents on the tongues of charismatic preachers in California and New England around the turn of the 20th century and was a reaction to the newly emergent age of reason that attempted to apply scientific scrutiny to all avenues of earthly affairs including a new critical interpretation of the bible. In Germany in the 19th century, scientific and empirical evidence began to support the theory that long held beliefs about the authorship of the bible were in fact, incorrect. Rather than being the work of one inerrant author (Moses), biblical scholars deciphered strong evidence that the first five books of the Bible were in fact written by several people.
While the new scrutiny offered new and exciting interpretations of biblical scriptures, the practice inflamed Protestant conservatives who maintained that the Bible is the inerrant word of God. The newly proclaimed fundamentalists also introduced a new concept. They reserved the right to view their own interpretation of scripture as the only ‘truth’ with all other understandings being falsehoods in their estimation.
Some of the main doctrines embraced by modern fundamentalists include an unquestioning adherence to the model of creation outlined in the book of Genesis and a strong belief that the ‘end times’ as outlined in the book of Revelation are upon us and that only the faithful followers of Christian fundamentalism will be lifted to heaven in a ‘rapture,’ while the rest of us will be forced to wallow in a hell-like, war-torn quagmire on earth. Other widely held views among fundamentalists include the belief that homosexuality is an abhorrent sin and that human consciousness begins at conception of sperm and egg.
Among fundamentalists, actions take a backseat to beliefs. Once one professes his acceptance of Jesus Christ as savior, he is forgiven all sins forevermore. In this context, doing good deeds is irrelevant. Mahatma Gandhi rots in Hell while Jim and Tammy Fae Baker enjoy paradise.
In recent times, fundamentalism has spilled out of revival tents and backwoods churches onto national television stations and into the political arena. The fundamentalist political agenda includes the following targets among others:
• Introduction of the biblical version of creation into school science programs to rival all currently held scientific evidence to the contrary and defying the Constitutionally-mandated separation of church and state.
• Appointment of conservative Supreme Court justices with the expressed ambition of overturning Roe vs. Wade making all abortion illegal including cases of incest and rape.
• An aggressive Middle Eastern policy, which seeks to restore the state of Israel to its biblically-held land areas including Palestine’s Gaza and West Bank areas in order to facilitate the biblically-prophesized Armageddon and thus precipitating end times.
Christian fundamentalism like all fundamentalist dogma, is a movement of exclusionary forces. How can those who profess to believe in a benevolent and loving creator believe that same creator would subject the vast majority of His children and other living creations to a hell-like purgatory on earth while raising a minority to paradise simply based on their beliefs?
Recent polls suggest that over half of the people in the United States regard the Christian Bible as literal truth , although a mere 30% would consider themselves evangelical fundamentalists. These figures contrast starkly with our European counterparts that for the most part have a secular appreciation for the bible and its contents. Perhaps this discrepancy arises from the fact that the European world has already experienced the dominance of a faith-based hegemony during the Catholic Church’s legacy in the Middle Ages.
When asked specific questions such as “Will the end of the world result from an Armageddon-like battle as described in the Bible?” A large majority of Americans answer in the affirmative.
Unfortunately, even in the face of irrefutable scientific evidence, almost half of the population of the United States still believes that the two-thousand plus year old scientific theories found in the bible are literal truth. The earth is not flat, a dome does not encase the sky, the earth and all her wonders was not created six-thousand years ago in six days and women are not ‘born of man.’ That some still maintain these beliefs in modern society should be viewed as a sad failure of our national education system; however, the people who subscribe to these beliefs for the most part are not to blame for their own lack of knowledge. Indoctrinated into religion from birth and forced into compliance with the fear of hellfire and brimstone, many fundamentalist children do not even have the benefit of a well-rounded education that emphasizes critical thought and independent thinking. These children grow into adults that raise their children similarly, so the vicious cycle of lack of knowledge continues.
The Pat Robertsons and Jerry Falwells of the world thrive both in terms of power and fortune from this mass-ignorance and therefore pull out all the stops to maintain their ideological empires including dabbling in the political landscape of our precious democracy.
Nothing short of the future of the earth herself is at risk. We must actually care to save the planet. Those looking forward to the rapture tend not to care what happens to the planet, but we cannot take the risk that the rapture will most likely never come. The earth is the only home we have or will ever have. She is the precious only planet of life in the universe that we know of. Ideologies that welcome wars in the Middle East toy with the reality that in today’s world, any war presents the threat of global annihilation, and given the emotional instability of many of the Middle Eastern players, any war in that region is particularly threatening. Armageddon is a bible story. The reality will not be so delightful. Preserving the earth’s resources and using them wisely should be viewed as essential for maintaining the many more generations of human beings on planet earth who should be able to enjoy the reasonable quality of life that Americans have come to expect. We should not be hoping for end times. We should be praying with all our hearts and souls that life on earth will continue knowing the full measure of earth’s abundant life until our own sun burns out and releases its elements onto the stellar winds to begin new possibilities in other corners of the universe.
The universe is not static. Its form is forever reaching outward, expanding and changing. Everything we are was once something else and soon will be again. Stability and permanence are constructs of a human psyche desperate to instill brief existence with meaning and durability. Our religious scriptures allegorically express this most profound of our human fears through mythologies designed to order the unorderable and instill significance to that which we are incapable of understanding. In the same vein, fundamentalist thought clings to the same dogma rather than honestly looking at the dark truth that is clearly spelled out in every myth. Truth is not static or solid only revealing itself through literal words on a page. Truth exists within the metaphorical spaces between the words where our common humanity, fear and brief lives reveal themselves in all their frailty.