Comments: The Fundamentalists

I wonder if this program will ever make it across the Atlantic? I'll commend it to generally non-religious UK friends for their perspective.

Coincidentally, I've begun reading Karen Armstrong's 2000 book, The Battle for God: A History of Fundamentalism. From the brief descrption above, the program seems to cover some of her points.

Posted by Em Bee at Friday, 8 September 2006 at 12:25am BST

This sounds excellent: I hope we get it here, Stateside (*), too! :-)

(*) Birthplace of at least the *term*, if not the phenomenon, also...

Posted by J. C. Fisher at Friday, 8 September 2006 at 12:58am BST

"As Jonathan Sacks puts it, God’s word without interpretation is like nuclear fuel without insulation."

The Chief Rabbi in the U.K. said it so well. I read all the misrepresentations about TEC and the theological schools that allegedly have departed from Christian "orthodoxy" (as "orthodoxy" has been re-defined by the reasserters and the ACN fundamentalists) and, then, to recover my sanity I read, say, Keith Ward's Religion and Revelation or Religion and Human Nature. What a different world! Keith Ward hasn't embraced the spirit of the secular world. On the contrary, he is biblical, traditional and rational.

An hour ago I re-read what the Oxford Regius Professor of Divinity-emeritus had to say about "The Ultimate End of All Things". To quote him: "God's will, however, is not destruction, but life: 'As in Adam all die, so in Christ shall all be made alive'. This 'all' is not to be dismissed lightly. It sets up a correspondence between the universal estrangement of humanity, from which none are exempt, and the universal reconciliation of humanity, which similarly refers to human nature as such, and therefore includes all individuals who share human nature. Elsewhere, Paul stresses the same theme: 'One man's act of righteousness leads to acquittal and life for all men'" (Religion & Human Nature, pp.320f.).

Does Keith Ward pass the litmus test of the Neo-Puritans? Of course not, because he is a "universalist."

Are the reasserter folks who set the litmus tests Anglican? IMHO, they are rejecting the Anglican theological tradition.

Posted by John Henry at Friday, 8 September 2006 at 5:23am BST

Wow. I doubt that would ever be allowed to play in the US--the fundamentalists are too muchin control. I miss British TV.

Posted by IT at Friday, 8 September 2006 at 6:09am BST

A full TWO hours on fundamentalism! Will there be a break for a rest in the middle?

Posted by Alan Marsh at Friday, 8 September 2006 at 9:16am BST

It's a commercial channel, Alan: lots of advertising breaks...

Posted by Simon Sarmiento at Friday, 8 September 2006 at 11:17am BST

I hope that this extremely important subject is seriously commented on by all the religious and secular press globally- it could not be more topical. What seems to me vital is to see that all forms of religious fundamentalism arise out of existential anxiety as much as ignorance, and therefore intellectual challenge is never enough.

Posted by Graeme Watson at Friday, 8 September 2006 at 12:28pm BST

Coincidentally I was reading Isaiah today and came across Isaiah 45:18 where God comments that the earth was formed "... he did not create it to be empty, but formed it to be inhabited..." One of the bemusements with a local fundamentalist last year was they told me point blank that Jesus was only going to come in a destroy the earth and take only the saved souls to heaven. He would not accept that Jesus would come in any other way (and any other way would mean that they were an impostor).

Thus these people do not care whether or not they look after this planet or the "unworthy" souls, because they are all going to be burnt up at Jesus' return anyway, and too bad if God made the earth to be inhabited and wants to keep it habitable...

Posted by Cheryl Clough at Friday, 8 September 2006 at 12:33pm BST

Definitions are important. Take the Labour party or the Conservative party. Anyone who held particularly strongly to their central tenets would be called a strong member. Not a fringe figure: in fact, the very reverse. Why is it different with Christianity.

It is, in fact, precisely the fundamentals which are non-negotiable (and precisely the non-fundamentals that are negotiable) when one is trying to determine whether or not to classify someone as a Christian (or indeed as anything else). The term 'fundamentalist' contains this contradiction at its core. (Of course, the word's etymology has a primarily historical explanation.)

As to literal/non-literal interpretation: 26 and a half of the 27 books of the NT are written in genres which require (generally speaking) literal interpretation: namely, narrative concerning historical events and people (the historical novel was not yet invented) and letters. In any case, what is the difference (in many cases) between non-literal interpretation and making the text say what one wants it to? It is scientific to seek a literal meaning in texts written in literal genres; the non-literal approach is ill-defined and is a non-scientific ideological free-for-all.
So: out of the kindergarten into the study room.

Posted by Christopher Shell at Friday, 8 September 2006 at 1:05pm BST

Might this eventually be available as a dvd or be archived online? I am teaching an undergraduate class on Milton, and as we discuss the Puritans and Milton's own idiosycratic version of puritanism, I realize that for many of them, the terms 'fundamentalist' and 'Puritan" mean much the same fuzzy thing. Armsrong's book is excellent, but not something I would expect my students to be patient enough to read, although I will recommend it to them. They might, however, watch something...

Posted by Cynthia at Friday, 8 September 2006 at 2:02pm BST

Yawn. I've seen these kinds of hatchet jobs before--I'm not impressed (at least not in view of the initial review). Some initial observations:

(1) "Literal" interpretation is a bad choice of terms (at least for Christian fundamentalists). Some Biblical language is figurative. I don't know of any Christian fundamentalists who chop off their hands in response to Christ's injunction--the injunction is understood figuratively as hyperbole that emphasizes the importance of avoiding sin. It would be more accurate with regard to Christian circles to emphasize the fact that fundamentalists see Scripture as infallible.

(2) A false equivalence is set up in putting all religions in the same basket. I've studied the great religions, particularly those of India and China. There is much truth there. However, Jesus Christ is Truth. Christianity is not equivalent to other religions. Those who adhere closely to Christianity are adhering closely to the Truth. The same is not necessarily true of, for example, a moslem. A liberal moslem may well be closer to the Truth by departing from some of the falsehoods of his religon. The same is not true of a "Christian" who departs from the basic teachings of Christ and Christianity. There is a big difference between striving to pattern your life after Jesus' life and teachings and those of Mohammed.

(3) A false equivalence is set up putting all Christian conservatives in the same basket. I agree that many reformed and fundamentalist denominations dump tradition over the side. However, the same is certainly true of liberals en masse when tradition doesn't agree with liberal tenets. And, this is certainly not an argument that liberals can use with regard to the present issues in dispute--they are the ones departing from tradition, not Anglican conservatives. The same is true of RC and Eastern Orthodox conservatives.

(4) Overall, the whole premise is kooky. Christian liberalism is about dumping tradition when it doesn't correspond to politically correct social/sexual theory. At best, shows of this type show some equivalence between Christian liberals and Fundamentalists in terms of a willingness to dispense with tradition. However, as Scripture and Tradition are generally aligned, most Christian fundamentalists do not end up departing from tradition nearly as far as Christian liberals do.


Posted by Steven at Friday, 8 September 2006 at 3:12pm BST

I wonder why this kind of documentary is so often presented by ex-religious/clergy, etc. (except for programs about art or favourite hymns, etc.).

Posted by Tim Jones at Friday, 8 September 2006 at 4:31pm BST

I am not fundamentally a fundamentalist, though I have been called one in debate; I am a sinner who has found comfort in the promises of the Christian gospel. The only authoritative basis for believing seems to me to be in the ancient accounts of God at work in the world, i.e. the Bible. If these are not trustworthy, there seems to be no reason to accept Christianity at all.

When my understanding will not accomodate what I read, I could relieve the conflict by denying the truth of what was written, but that would be no escape unless my judgement is complete and perfect. As a trained scientist, miracles could be difficult, but would my disbelief alter the truth of what was written?

'Fundamentalists' at least can point to what they agree to be true; what do 'liberals' agree on?

Posted by Tony C. at Friday, 8 September 2006 at 5:26pm BST

I recently read Armstrong's book and highly recommend it. She seems to have correctly analyzed fundamentalists as those who take traditional "mythic" religious statements and treat them as if they were modern "scientific" statements (e.g., reading Genesis as history). Her work is particularly good because it describes the fundamentalist phenomenon in Islam and Judaism as well as Christianity. By showing the historical development of fundamentalism in these three different traditions she is better able to focus on its basic nature and root causes.

It looks to me as if Dowd's work might give us something that is somewhat lacking in Armstrong's book, an approach for supplying the view of the tradition missed by the fundamentalists.

I'm not sure that Cromwell's Puritans can be accurately called fundamentalists. Having a deep passion for one's religious conviction does not make one a fundamentalist. It has much more to do with how one reacts to a post-Enlightnment world, something Cromwell and friends were spared.

As Tim Jones points out, it is interesting that both Armstrong and Dowd are former Roman Catholic religious. I think that they are probably good at explaining a narrow religious worldview in a way that lacks rancor and anger because they lived that worldview deeply and personally but they have since grown beyond it.

Posted by Nick Finke at Friday, 8 September 2006 at 10:25pm BST

Tony C

The difficulty is what happens when people refuse to accept the data, even if it is observable and measurable? The ozone hole over Antartica is a classic, the scientists decided it was an error in the program and corrected it to ignore the "false readings".


Your concerns about the likelihood of going into error are valid. The tragedy is that we think of prophecy as a historical anomaly and therefore have lost the gift of knowing how to reap their rewards. We have forgotten how to screen for what is from God versus what is from them, to recognise that they sometimes move with God and sometimes with their own vision, that they can be in grace and then out of grace (the Saul described in the book of Samuel is a classic example).

The other risk is when the prophet is "above reproach" i.e. Jesus (Revelation 19:10 "For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy"). What can then happen is that followers exclaim the perfection of the prophet and presume that innoculates them from the errors of humanity. One of my key arguments is that being a Christian does not mean we would not make the same mistakes.

Jesus' suffering was profound and unqiue, but I am sorry but few days leading up to the crucifixion was a picnic compared to years of suffering and witnessing for those souls involved in the Cambodian killing fields or Austwitzch. There is no point trying to repeat Jesus' life as he did it last time, because this generation are narcisstic and it would simply pass off as yet another event or death. That is also why I prayed to God at the end of 2005 that we have a relatively normal year in terms of spectacular natural disasters - because if souls keep needing spectacular disasters to be convinced God exists then things would simply become too destructive. Rather, I suggested to God that a normal year after the tumultuous late 2004/2005 would demonstrate more clearly that God could choose to move or not move, as and when He wanted and was thus not the puppet for priests who would intimidate.

In this regard, I love Isaiah 44:24-26.

Posted by Cheryl Clough at Friday, 8 September 2006 at 10:37pm BST

The Channel 4 website says you can watch this programme live over the net, it seems to involve 'simulcast'. This may help those beyond the UK.


Posted by James at Friday, 8 September 2006 at 11:00pm BST

The point, Tony C, is that liberals *KNOW* that we all "see through a glass, darkly": they don't *need* to "agree", in order to grant each other respect, and freedom to search for their own answers.

[Compare to Steven's response, above: "Those who adhere closely to {Steven's definition of} Christianity are adhering closely to the Truth. The same is not necessarily true of, for example, a moslem. A liberal moslem may well be closer to the Truth by departing from some of the falsehoods of his religon." Would Muslims reading this, feel they were being respected? :-(]

Posted by J. C. Fisher at Friday, 8 September 2006 at 11:36pm BST

Oh gee. So our exclusive, absolute choices are only between the extremes of godless nihilism/hedonism, and lining up like eyes wide shut clones along these silly, dubious closed new conservative realignment views?

Pul-eeese. Gimme a common sense break, duh.

In between these forced, false dilemma choice options is the huge, huge, huge middle grounds of all known modern best practices in almost very important domain of knowledge, ethical daily living, and most of the rest.

Every single liberal-progressive person I know inhabits this middle ground, which is quite varied and yet still coherent thanks to the modern lexicons of all our provisional know best practices.

It is almost impossible, then, to respond well to the false dilemma presumed in the typical forced extreme choices the new conservatisms try to tell us exhaust our realities, as well as our possibilities.

The great, classical Anglican witness used to be just about this in-between, laying a characteristic sort of critically informed claim on all religious possibilities, reformed or catholic or progressive. This great, classical Anglican witness was intentionally not either of its competitors at the extremes about which we are once again hearing so much that means so very little: neither finally nihilistic or hedonistic or materialistic, and not religiously or spiritually finalized, absolutized, closed, rigid, and dubiously and prematurely objectified.

The only surprise about our emerging, updated critique of fundamentalism might be: What took the scholars and critical thinkers so long, to take these mean-spirited, narrow minded fundamentalistic cousins seriously enough to study them for all we are worth with all our best practices of inquiry?

Posted by drdanfee at Saturday, 9 September 2006 at 2:44am BST

Looking forward to seeing this in the U.S. as well. I note that the so-called "orthodox" have posted here with well-reasoned rhetoric. I've seen it on many of the other progressive blogs. I suspect that some are part of organized blog attacks by Network/Ahmanson-funded groups - preformulated arguments nicely tied up in a bow for consumption by the rather specialized audience reading Anglican blogs. So be it. But beware. There is little of Jesus' love in those hearts and much to fear.

Posted by Byron at Saturday, 9 September 2006 at 3:47am BST

I will look for this if it comes to the US in a form I can use (haven't even GOT a TV!) and in the meantime I'll look for Karen Armstrong's book on the topic. Yes, her work is fairly densely packed, but I've gotten a lot from her in the past.

Given that the program referred to is about fundamentalism in religion, not just Christian fundamentalists of whatever stripe, I'm surprised no one has responded to Graeme's comment. Seems obvious to me that when a large portion of the world has reason to expect life to be short and miserable due to disease, malnutrition, and violence, and those who have the essentials and even luxuries fear the loss of the way of life and the worldview they were brought up in, both rich and poor are likely to turn to forms of religion which give clear answers. Under such conditions, people tend to want a recipe with ingredients and times, the use of which will guarantee success, not a general statement against which one can measure all one's actions (but on which the final exam and grade isn't given until Judgement Day!).

Thus, the rules and regs in the OT and the epistles of Paul seem much more accessible than the broad statements of, for instance, the Beatitudes or Jesus' expansion of the great commandment with "love your neighbor as yourself". (From the little I know, I'd say there are equivalent splits in Jewish and Muslim scripture and supporting writings as well, but I can't cite them accurately so I won't try to do so here.)

Posted by Robin at Saturday, 9 September 2006 at 3:54am BST

In the NT, figurative language and allegory is very much in the minority. Ask someone for a NT exaggeration/hyperbole and they will probably come up with the camel and the needle's eye, or cutting off hands. Thus showing that there's not a lot of examples. Ask someone for an allegory, and they will probably come up with Hagar and Sarah and the two mountains (Gal. 4), which is just about the only obvious example. Apart from, of course, the parables, which are explicitly described as such in context, and are only narratives-within-narratives anyway.

Steven is correct that the essential question is how far a worldview corresponds to reality/truth.

You will notice that the same people who are throwing up their hands in horror at 'fundamentalists' are showing no concern at all about the destructive belief systems and lifestyles born of 1960s liberalism.

Posted by Christopher Shell at Saturday, 9 September 2006 at 12:32pm BST

Interesting, he mused, that some responses already show that sort of insecurity in the face of challenge which is so precisely delineated in the review....

Posted by David Rowett (= mynsterpreost) at Saturday, 9 September 2006 at 12:56pm BST


I am sure that there would be some posters from those organised groups here - they have a policy of keeping all the "liberals" smeared with a certain amount of mud. Fortunately TA is an honestly run site and their attempts to censor and suppress us only go so far. And when the TA team do move, we probably have become too passionate and bolshie and need to have our enthusiasm cooled.

We are dealing with theology as it is practised in the 21st century, and Christopher S's comments that we have not taken on the issues of hedonism in the 60s either means he has not been reading the postings or has selectively forgotten the appropriate ones. In case it was because he missed the particular threads, he might be interested to know that several times I have been rebuked for being too hard on potential "liberals" - I will not tolerate abuse from either end of the spectrum.

Simlarly, it concerns me not one iota that we are not convincing them on our theology or that they continue to take hyperboles to find mud that should be thrown at us. Moses was unconcerned whether he convinced the Pharoah of the existence of his God nor gathered the Pharoah or his peoples' repentance and conversion. Moses was committed to convincing the Israelites that their God did exist, did want them (and would go to extraordinary lengths to prove that they were wanted), and to get them out of the Pharoah's clutches. Simlarly today, there are theological hard cores that have embraced paradigms from which they will not budge. The issue is not to convince them. The issue is the understanding from the overwhelming majority of humanity that God really does want them, is going to extraordinary lengths to demonstrate His desire to be in a universal covenant of everlasting peace, and to discredit idolatrous wasteful shepherds.

On that front, we are going fine. For those who wonder if we are winning, look at who is bleating against interfaith dialogue and reconciliation (not just within the Anglican communion). We are moving to the phase where it will be easier to judge shepherds' wisdom and faith, because by whom they will co-operate for the sake of the greater good and with what they will refuse to co-operate, irregardless of the greater need, they can be judged.

Posted by Cheryl Clough at Saturday, 9 September 2006 at 5:20pm BST

Tim Jones:

You asked: " wonder why this kind of documentary is so often presented by ex-religious/clergy, etc. (except for programs about art or favourite hymns, etc.)." This made me curious, so I did a brief websearch and turned up the following in an article posted at

"Fr Haggerty raises the issue in a Channel 4 documentary, Queer and Catholic, to be broadcast next Saturday. The presenter, Mark Dowd, a former Dominican friar who is gay, claims that the priesthood is becoming a "gay profession" like hairdressing. . . ."

"Mr Dowd, 41, was a friar at Blackfriars in Oxford from 1981 to 1983 when Fr Timothy Radcliffe, now Master of the Dominicans, was prior. He left after falling in love with an ex-friar who visited the priory for supper. Dowd says: "It was love at first sight across the refectory table." . . ."

I can't vouch for the accuracy of the article (and the site where this article is posted looks pretty unusual). However, if true, this may answer your question (as well as giving some insights into the particular biases you will find in--and which may have led to--the presentation on "fundamentalists").


Posted by Steven at Saturday, 9 September 2006 at 5:28pm BST


You ask: "Would Muslims reading this, feel they were being respected?"

To which I can only say--I don't see why not. It wasn't said disrespectfully or sneeringly. Any honest moslem will tell you (generally without hesitation) that Christianity errs. He believes he has the "Truth" and must, therefore, say this if he is to be honest. I believe the same thing about Christianity. Thus, I have no hesitation in saying the same thing to Moslems, Hindus, etc. If I belied hinduism or islam was the "Truth"--I would be a hindu or a moslem. I will not pretend to believe that I think otherwise.


Posted by Steven at Saturday, 9 September 2006 at 5:36pm BST


You have said "I note that the so-called "orthodox" have posted here with well-reasoned rhetoric. I've seen it on many of the other progressive blogs. I suspect that some are part of organized blog attacks by Network/Ahmanson-funded groups - preformulated arguments nicely tied up in a bow for consumption by the rather specialized audience reading Anglican blogs. So be it. But beware. There is little of Jesus' love in those hearts and much to fear."

To which I respond: I certainly hope you are talking about me in terms of the "well reasoned rhetoric" etc. I don't often get such lavish compliments. However, as to the rest--sorry, no cigar! I'm a middle aged patent attorney in West New York with no connection to any of the "dark" forces you mention. However, I wouldn't mind getting "discovered" by the "vast right wing conspiracy"--I could use the funding. Maybe if I keep posting . . .

Anyhow, in terms of "little of Jesus' love", and "much to fear" in my heart--hmmm. I wish I could say that the process of sanctification had reached some sort of saintly conclusion--it hasn't. But, as a father of 5 and a husband of 26+ years I can honestly say that the ones who know me best do seem to love me and don't seem to fear me, even though they are very aware of some of my failings. That's the best I can do.


Good points.


Posted by Steven at Saturday, 9 September 2006 at 5:54pm BST

Nothing personal Steven and glad to hear about your happy family life. Also good to hear that the "forces of darkness" (your term) have yet to snare you in their thrall. The Word, the Lamb, the reason for our sanctification, puts all-embracing love first and foremost. The Network (et al.) leadership (not necessarily those in the pews) put the Law first (as they interpret it - fundamentalism is quite modern after all). That way lies wickedness.

Thanks Cheryl, wonderful.


Posted by Byron at Saturday, 9 September 2006 at 7:23pm BST

Jesus said, "If you love me, keep my commandments." "All-embracing love" also includes adherence to the Law. Love of one's fellow neighbor also means shepherding those who are astray, not blessing their sins. Love is more than a feeling. It's an act of union with God and his plan.

Posted by James at Saturday, 9 September 2006 at 8:44pm BST


You bring up an interesting point that pertains to the subject matter under discussion with your remark that "fundamentalism is quite modern". This is incorrect. Only the application of the word to particular groups is modern.

There have always been those who strove to faithfully live in accordance with the fundamental tenets of their religious beliefs -- i.e., fundamentalists. They were found in the old testament period, they were found in the middle ages, and they are found today. It is only the attachment of this word to particular groups of religious believers (first in America and then elsewhere) that is modern.

And, as a corollary, I do not believe the word should be restricted in its application only to conservative religious people. As far as I am concerned, this board is filled with "fundamentalists" on the left, including probably yourself. I.e., people who strive to faithfully live in accordance with the fundamental tenets of their particular religious beliefs. What differs is the list of "fundamentals" that people believe to be essential to their faith.

I make this point with full knowledge that it could call forth a purely gratuitous listing of all of the "horrible/unloving/homophobic" fundamentals that conservatives believe in, and of the "wonderful/loving/gracious" fundamentals that liberals believe in. (Cheryl et al. -- please spare me if possible -- I've heard it all before). However, I thought the point was worth making nonetheless.

People who are passionate about the fundamentals of their beliefs are, by nature, fundamentalists (whether liberal or conservative). It is only the uninvolved, uncaring and dispassionate who are not.


Posted by Steven at Saturday, 9 September 2006 at 9:05pm BST

Steven, this is disingenuous. The phenomenon of fundamentalism within Christianity is post-enlightenment, and probably exists as a reaction to same. 'The Fundamentals' as published out of Princeton, admittedly marks a step on the road which generates the neologism 'fundamentalism' but the hallmarks of fundamentalist behaviour (which, by the way, contantly reinterprets its hermeneutic so as to be unfalsifiable, rather like the hypothesis that all cats are Martian spies) — that is to say, an inability to deal with the modern, is inevitably related to the arrival of the modern in the first place.

Posted by David Rowett (= mynsterpreost) at Saturday, 9 September 2006 at 9:27pm BST


Thankyou. You make some good point.


Posted by Steven at Saturday, 9 September 2006 at 9:39pm BST

"Love of one's fellow neighbor also means shepherding those who are astray, not blessing their sins."

Yes, James, but it DOESN'T mean "lording it over" your neighbors, who --- with as much Christian knowledge and faith as you (thank you very much!) --- don't believe that their intimate relationship is "astray".

Jesus also said "Judge not, that you be judged" did he not?

Posted by J. C. Fisher at Saturday, 9 September 2006 at 11:32pm BST


You are approaching the matter from a different direction--i.e., I don't think you are saying anything that conflicts with my remarks.

I was pointing out the fact that "fundamentalism" taken as a bare term indicates a willingness and determination to adhere to certain believed "fundamentals". As such, it is without doctrinal distinctives and can indicate an ardent Marxist as easily as it indicates an ardent Methodist, an ardent Medieval Catholic saint as easily as an ardent Medieval jihadi. (Or, perhaps more disturbingly given the site, an ardent religious liberal as easily as an ardent religious conservative).

You are taking a more typical historical approach, looking at the term "fundamentalism" as designating a modern reactionary movement. (And yes, I do agree that taken in this sense "fundamentalism" is a reaction to certain aspects of the modern era). As such, I don't disagree with your characterization of "fundamentalism" as a neologism designating a post-enlightenment phenomena and reactionary movement. I do disagree with your stated criticisms of modern fundamentalism as a reactionary movement (although I have my own criticisms), but I'm not really interested in discussing either of these at the moment.

What is more important to me is pointing out the fact that being a "reactionary movement" is not bad per se. The formulation of most important Christian doctrines was a result of and a reaction to (the then modern) heresies of the day. Some of the greatest creeds of Christendom were developed as a reaction to the then prevailing (and then modern) climate of Arianism. And, in all of these cases it was the reactionaries who were proved to be right in their rejection of the modernist innovations of the day. So, being a reactionary ain't necessarily bad!


Posted by Steven at Saturday, 9 September 2006 at 11:40pm BST

In response to several requests, I have removed a sequence of comments that did not focus on the subject matter of the article.

Posted by Simon Sarmiento at Sunday, 10 September 2006 at 6:16pm BST

Extremely well-stated, Steven.

It is a very common fallacy that change by its nature means progress, that Western history is an uninterrupted arc of advancement from the Renaissance to today.

It is amazing how many people still associate absolutism and the union of church and state with the Middle Ages. Actually, both ideas were new and modern in the 16th and 17th centuries. They were all the rage then, though now discredited --- being reactionary isn't always bad.

Posted by James at Sunday, 10 September 2006 at 6:50pm BST

Christopher, you made a posting several days ago that "In the NT, figurative language and allegory is very much in the minority"

It snuck up on me, and I did reply on the weekend with some internet links that you and others might find interesting. But Simon S quite rightly bounced it as being too long. So enter plan B - here is the posting with the hyperlinks for those who are interested

Posted by Cheryl Clough at Sunday, 10 September 2006 at 10:32pm BST

Steven's postings remind us we should treat everyone with respect and not presume to know their history. Fundamentalism can be gentle and taking a fundamental belief to justify control over the "State" is not new and is not always bad.

The modern concerns are the misuse of theology to justify outright abuse of human rights e.g. "dirty weapons" like cluster or phosphorus bombs; or justifying systemised poverty and repression - either of outcastes within a nation, or the vast majority of souls of a nation or even a continent.

My fears are that when theology and "the state" marry, the timeline and controls to restrain the excessive tendencies become unstable. The system becomes less resilient and more extreme in its reaction to perceived threats. Thus I advocate a resilient model that brings in accountability and "watching each other's back", as it can cool the flames of passion and reduce the consequences of bad decisions. This is consistent with Isaiah 49, Proverbs 25:15, and Ecclesiastes 10:4 "If a ruler’s anger rises against you, do not leave your post; calmness can lay great errors to rest."

Posted by Cheryl Clough at Sunday, 10 September 2006 at 10:52pm BST

Hi Cheryl-

Your link is essentially about the parables. As I mentioned above, the parables are sub-narratives within the main narrative. Therefore if people are saying that the main narrative should not be taken literally they remain incorrect.

On the other hand, if they are saying that the parables should not be taken literally, then this is a non-issue since no-one *was* taking them literally, in the sense of believing in a real good samaritan or prodigal son.

Posted by Christopher Shell at Monday, 11 September 2006 at 1:51pm BST

Steven said
'Some of the greatest creeds of Christendom were developed as a reaction to the then prevailing (and then modern) climate of Arianism. And, in all of these cases it was the reactionaries who were proved to be right in their rejection of the modernist innovations of the day.'

I'm not sure that the two halves of this quite add up.

Arianism (if I remember my patristics correctly) saw itself as the faithful conservative movement rather than as a modernist innovation - deep unease was expressed by those on the Arian wing about the unscriptural word 'homoousios', for example, and the Cappadocian Fathers had to be convinced that (what we would see as) orthodox Nicene Christianity wasn't a dangerous departure from tradition.

I'm unconvinced that the Arian example helps illuminate this discussion — though I do agree with some of the other points, for example fundamentalism, except insofar as it expects dissidents to be consigned to hell or some secular version thereof (eg the wall and firing squad), is capable of containing gentle people - and as we know from our church history, orthodoxy contains Cyril of Alexandria, Wilfrid of Ripon and sundry other folk who were, in the words of Sellar & Yeatman, Right but Repulsive.

Posted by David Rowett (= mynsterpreost) at Monday, 11 September 2006 at 6:00pm BST

Whether the term "fundamentalist" is appropriate or not is immaterial. There is a stream within Christianity that we call, rightly or wrongly, fundamentalist.

It is not true to state, as Steven does that:
"as Scripture and Tradition are generally aligned, most Christian fundamentalists do not end up departing from tradition nearly as far as Christian liberals do."

They may seem to agree with traditional Christianity about Scriptural authority, but they disagree about how that authority is expressed, and about Sacraments, the Incarnation, Christian initiation, Church governance, and on and on. They actually bear little resemblance to traditional Christianity. Call them what you like, but they aren't traditional.

Posted by Ford Elms at Monday, 11 September 2006 at 8:05pm BST


If what you are saying is an "and", then we have no issue. The "and" being to understand the main narrative and also recognise the allusion to other stories.

Some of my frustrations have been with souls who think there is only one story, and do not go off to check out the subplots. Some of my joys have been going off to check out the sub-plots and having whole new stories open up. Word searching for key words e.g. shepherd, vine and then looking at the "themes" that come from that.

It has meant when I go back and read the New Testament that there is a much more intricate tapestry of understanding Jesus' symbolism in his parables. For example Jesus requesting “Say to the Daughter of Zion, ‘See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’ ” (Matthew 21:5) doesn't make much sense unless you understand the Daughter of Zion and donkey symbolism from the Old Testament, as these were not covered in the gospel parables.

Posted by Cheryl Clough at Monday, 11 September 2006 at 10:18pm BST


Re: Arians seeing themselves as traditionalists. There is nothing new under the sun. I'm continually hearing the same thing around here--that liberals represent the true "traditional" broad-minded spirit of Anglicanism, and that conservatives (especially in TEC and Africa) are a bizarre and noxious aberration. You won't have to go back through very many threads to find out that what I am saying is true. This only goes to show that everyone likes to think well of themselves as well as to claim the high ground as much as they can.


I know what you're talking about, and agree in many cases (as I've hinted before). However, the subject matter under discussion is sexual ethics, etc. This is the area I'm primarily referring to, and I don't think you can honestly gainsay my comment as to this area.


Posted by Steven at Tuesday, 12 September 2006 at 1:08am BST


I like your comment that "fundamentalism can be gentle". Christian fundamentalists are demonized far more than homosexuals in the media and by the intelligentsia. Somehow, listening to the folks around here you would think fundamentalists were redneck zombies wandering the streets with glazed eyes, torches and pitchforks looking for gays to burn.

It ain't so. Most of the fundamentalists I've known were good-hearted wonderful people -- grannies, and young-folks, and across-the-board. I won't accuse them of always being right on everything, but they -- at least the sincere ones -- are certainly trying the best they can.


Posted by Steven at Tuesday, 12 September 2006 at 1:24am BST

Steven observed that "Scripture and Tradition are generally aligned."

Given that Scripture is a particular product of the tradition, that's hardly surprising is it — unless the Bible actually DID drop from the skies in 1611 (some with apocrypha and some without).

Posted by David Rowett (= mynsterpreost) at Tuesday, 12 September 2006 at 10:28am BST

Sorry, Steven, I thought the topic was Fundamentalists in general. Sexual ethics do not define traditional Christianity. I come from a place where there a lot of fundamentalists, many of my own family included. I have encountered some who are far better Christians than I can hope to be. In my experience, however, most have no respect for anyone who isn't a fundamentalist, and will not even refer to us as Christians. They have declined ecumenical (interChristian, since in my hometown there were no non-Christians) activities because they "don't associate with the unGodly". Children coming home crying Hallowe'en night because they had gone to a fundamentalist home to be told they were Satan worshippers and all their family were going to Hell. My experience growing up next to them is far more involved than this small selection of examples. Sorry, Steven, but I have spent my adult life trying and praying to get over the deep seated, and I acknowledge sinful, prejudices this experience has given me. I remain very suspicious of them however.

Posted by Ford Elms at Tuesday, 12 September 2006 at 1:02pm BST


As noted, I have my own problems with fundamentalists (of the Christian stripe). However, they take such a thorough bashing in places like this and are presented in such grotesque caricatures that I can't help but try to stick up for them.

Their greatest problem tends to be a lack of in-depth knowledge about the history of Christianity. What they do have is grossly distorted--i.e., the real Church (theirs) ended when Constantine came to power, etc., and popped back into existence sometime well after the rise of Protestantism.

However, they are usually nice people, very sincere, and trying their best to be Godly. As you point out, some of them try more than a bit tooooo hard, moving into the distort zone.

However, I think overall they are pretty nice folks and I, like you, lived with and near them most of my life. Interestingly, I find their harshest critics to be the people who have the least personal exposure and experience. So it goes.


Posted by Steven at Tuesday, 12 September 2006 at 5:56pm BST


The relationship between scripture and tradition is a touchy subject to some folks. To me its a bit like asking which came first, the chicken or the egg.


Posted by Steven at Tuesday, 12 September 2006 at 7:37pm BST


I think the problem with any label is "bundling". People try to find a label to explain a worst-case scenario, but it inevitably captures other people. You try to find a new word but are told it isn't in the dictionary, or adopt it becomes adopted by a broader spectrum. Or you have people who justify their distortions by elevating others' errors as if their own don't matter. For example sticking to legalistic conventions e.g. diet means you are "holy" and can turn therefore turn a blind eye to cluster or phosphorous bombs. Relying on established law and precedents means you have interpreted the holy texts in a valid manner.

Precedent doesn't allow for the "and also" where God can reveal things through visions and dreams in order to "make old things new again" (e.g. my dream of "Eve" being raped by a guy in a caravan and then the only guy to die from Australia's Cat 5 Cyclone Larry was a guy in a caravan a few days later).

Sometimes a soul is annointed to act as an advocate for the underdog or to bring fresh perspectives and hopefully solutions to existing roadblocks. A risk for fundamentalists is over reliance on precedent, which is safer, but a profound risk when the old paradigms have painted humanity into a deadend and new highways need to be formed.

Sometimes after a major accident there is a discussion of why an exceptional few people survived and others didn't. The WTC is a good example, the people who survived are those who fled on instinct, against the advice of their peers and bosses. They didn't know where they were going but they sure knew that it wasn't safe to be complacent.

Posted by Cheryl Clough at Tuesday, 12 September 2006 at 9:39pm BST

Well, Steven, your experience is radically different from mine, and my exposure has been anything but limited.

As to your statement on Scripture, I'd imagine the traditions of Israel were orally passed on before God inspired people to write them down, and the Christian Gospels were certainly orally transmitted before they were written down. The Epistles were written to clarify the Tradition which their intended audiences had already received, so Tradition comes before Scripture. Indeed, Scripture is a part, perhaps the most important part, of Tradition and does not stand outside of it.

Posted by Ford Elms at Wednesday, 13 September 2006 at 5:03pm BST

Also, God warns of the danger of using scripture but forgetting its intent e.g. Isaiah 28: especially "So then, the word of the LORD to them will become: Do and do, do and do, rule on rule, rule on rule; a little here, a little there—so that they will go and fall backward, be injured and snared and captured. Therefore hear the word of the LORD, you scoffers who rule this people in Jerusalem. You boast, “We have entered into a covenant with death... for we have made a lie our refuge and falsehood our hiding place.” So this is what the Sovereign LORD says: “See, I lay a stone in Zion, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation; the one who trusts will never be dismayed. I will make justice the measuring line and righteousness the plumb line; hail will sweep away your refuge, the lie, and water will overflow your hiding place. Your covenant with death will be annulled; your agreement with the grave will not stand..."

The Apostle Paul exhorts us to faith above all else e.g. Hebrews 11, for those who live by the Law will die by the Law.

Posted by Cheryl Clough at Wednesday, 13 September 2006 at 10:00pm BST
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