Fundamentalism Defined

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, who even detractors generally believe is a man with integrity, released a book in 2005 entitled “Our Endangered Values.” In this book he has a chapter titled “The Rise of Religious Fundamentalism.” He includes in this short but powerful chapter a definition of what he characterizes as a “more intense fundamentalism” that, according to Carter, is on the rise in America.

Here then are some of Carter’s definitions of a fundamentalist:

Usually lead by authoritarian males.

Believe they are right and anyone who disagrees is evil.

Militant in fighting against any challenge to their beliefs.

Demogogic with emotional issues.

This seems to be a pretty good definition of intense fundamentalism not just in America, but all over the world. When Carter was President, he once gave a speech in the middle east where he pleaded that “the people of Palestine want peace now,” and “the people of Israel want peace now,” with his emphasis on people. Maybe his quest was futile, maybe his methods have been criticized, but he was sincere. And he reflected a good side of American character.

The media coverage of Carter’s Christian testimony when in the Presidential election of 1976 he acknowledged he was a “born again Christian,” was, according to Carter, his contribution to the rise of Christian political activism in the United States, concurrent with the rise of intense fundamentalism. So what is the Christian testimony of those who are not Christian fundamentalists except in the purest, simplest, most ecumenical terms? What would it be? What is our answer to the intense fundamentalists? What might one claim to be the opposite?

One conjecture might go as follows: That God is love, and love is Christ, and if you accept love you accept Christ. You accept love as supreme to all else. And if you accept love as supreme but you call that love Allah, or Buddha, or Jehovah, or Shiva, then you accept Christ. And Christ would agree. That is a most ecumenical version of Christianity to evangelicize, though fundamentalist Christians – and many others – may completely disagree. But returning to Carter’s book, and his definition of fundamentalism, how would you define the characteristics of such a non-fundamentalist?

Some definitions of Non-Fundamentalists (inspired by Carter’s book):

Lead by anyone.

Adhere to doing right and doing good, and open to reason and reasonable ideas.

Negotiate with those of different opinions.

Search for the most important issues, not the most emotional ones.

So there you have it! Thank you Jimmy Carter for such an outspoken book. At the very least, might it encourage American Christians of all political stripes to arise.

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