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Fundamentalism

nube's picture

I have been thinking a lot about fundamentalism and fundamentalists lately and IT SEEMS TO ME that the real problem with Fundamentalism--from a hermeneutical standpoint--is that it asserts a certain definite kind of authority over the scriptures, which insists that the bible must be true in this way (and not THAT way) if it is true at all. To me, who is not an expert, it seems as if fundamentalists are in danger of being like those learned men who know every jot and tittle very well, and believe that the inerrancy (and therefore truth) of scripture is to be found in the preservation and observation of those same tittles and jots.

Are there any practicing fundamentalists out there who are able to clarify for me better the way they understand the bible, and why they are fundamentalist? I know many good fundamentalists, but I have never been able to understand their position on the authority of the Bible, though I sense that they have a deep respect for the book and for the Lord. It is not my desire to attack fundamentalists but to understand them--please help me understand your position, so that we may commune with respect.

nube's picture

simple analogy fails for a complex subject

Thank you for your continued replies. The problem I see with your analogy is that the Bible is not a letter. Truly Paul and others write letters, but most of these epistles are aimed at more than one audience, more than one person, more than one problem. When the writer says to his reader, "Do this, not that," what is revealed is not only the specific instruction, but the mind of the author, what he is aiming at. Many epistles give us specific instructions, but also equip us to answer problems that were not initially in the authors mind. Paul demonstrates this for us this when he "decodes" that "Oxen" passage from the Old Testament to mean that "The laborer is worth his hire." He takes a passage that meant one thing (Literally, "Don't muzzle the oxen") and extracts a principle ("Don't forbid Christian workers to profit from the work.") One (Deuteronomical) passage, two meanings. Even in an epistle.

But this ceases to matter when we back away from epistles, which reveal that layered approach to scripture, and turn to the Gospels, to Revelation, to Acts, to the Old Testament, which are symbolic at several levels. Fundamentalism rests on the empirical paradigm more than it realizes, perhaps, because it insists that the "truth" of the gospel accounts is preserved only when the scriptures are read a certain way--as if absolute truth is to be found in the historicity of events, rather than in the revelation supplied through them. Fundamentalism is a capitulation to empiricism, though a well-intentioned one, an agreement to fight the battle for truth on the "scientific" battlefield. This is not good footing for Christian faith.

Fundamentalism neglects the "implicit" messages of scripture, a type of communication that happens on a regular basis in normal everyday interaction and speech, communication accomplished not by what we say, but by how we say it. Fundamentalism takes no care for the manner of the saying, but for the words only: jots and tittles. If I were to write an amazing novel using historical figures, and this story was intended to get my audience to see a moral or religious or spiritual point (or several points), and instead my audience insisted that the strength of my story was its absolute historicity, I as the story's creator would be greatly irritated and probably disappointed that my work had been misunderstood, even if it was popularly received. Such an audience would assert that its own style of reading, and its priorities in reading, were more important than my intention in writing. That is why I remain concerned that Fundamentalism asserts authority over the Bible, while intending to submit to it. It is reverence rather than respect. This has been the unfortunate impression of Fundamentalism I have after more than a few decades of interaction with fundamentalists, but I do not suppose that all fundamentalists are alike, anymore than all Catholics or Baptists are alike.




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