Tuesday, July 29, 2008

a few items...

  • Ipsum Esse offers two charming anecdotes about Henri de Lubac.
  • The authorship of the Serenity Prayer is being questioned, ironically in a spirit quite contrary to the sentiments of the prayer itself.
  • Brian Howell has a piece up on The Immanent Frame about "The Global Evangelical", where he offers an interesting discussion of short-term missions and the increased global experiences of evangelicals. There's a bit about political affiliation and Obama at the beginning and end, but these topical bookends make odd transitions and don't seem as related to the bulk of his commentary. I'd advise reading the piece as one about Evangelicals themselves rather than the ubiquitous (but rather boring) topic of "Evangelicals and American politics."
  • Martin Marty has a new post up on Sightings about "Fundamentalism in Europe". Among his comments on fundamentalism is the following:
    "...more and more commentators are stretching the meaning of the word. They apply it wherever staunch conservatism links with political power and threatens liberal polities and policies. So one will read that causes and governments which oppose feminism and women's or homosexuals' rights in the name of God and citing sacred texts, get labeled "fundamentalist." ...confusion results... if the term is always used pejoratively and polemically to cluster everyone, especially the religious, whom one does not like. There are real threats out there, without question, but we do societies no service if we lump all movements to the Right together, homogenize them, and mis-label some of them."


  1. I read the Marty post - it was interesting. Here's a thought, though: it seems you can be a "fundamentalist" by virtue of opposing same-sex marriage and citing text to support it, for example, but you would simply be fundamentalist with respect to that doctrine. It is an adjective attached to the rationlization process applied to that issue only, and not necessary everything the person believes. It's very accurate in that sense.

    In the same way, I think you can hold "orthodox" views without being orthodox, and "conservative" views without really being a conservative. What's interesting about "fundamentalism" that you do have to be careful with is that the adjective has more to do with how you came to your conclusion than it does with what your conclusions are. "Women's rights" is a better issue to illustrate this with. A proponent and opponent of women's rights probably has equal room to claim the "fundamentalist" label as the other - IF they both find justification for their beliefs in some purportedly immutable underlying text. Unfortunately, I agree with Marty - the term isn't applied this carefully in most situations.

    I'm intrigued by his argument that acceptence of the "development of doctrine" is somehow antithetical to fundamentalism. That seems unncessarily restrictive. If a fundamental, underlying, revealed truth to you is that truth changes than you can be a fundamentalist and accept doctrinal development, right? It seems like these silly "constructionist" arguments that go around in the American legal system. The underlying issue isn't that one side reveres the text and the other doesn't - its that the two sides see the construction of the text differently.

  2. Good thoughts... I'm not familiar enough with Mary's work on fundamentalism over the years (and he's done a lot) to be able to comment very well. I began reading the piece and was frustrated at how negatively he spoke of fundamentalism, but as I went on realized that his use of the term might allow for such critique. I think the point he makes is fair enough with regard to doctrinal development, but you present an interesting alternative- kind of the same idea as talking about strict positivists as "fundamentalists". The term "fundamentalist", however, came from The Fundamentals that were published by conservative American Protestants, and I think this is where his opposition of fundies to doctrinal development is pretty fair- when a movement (and later a sociological category) that is based on confessional norms rather than a more evolutionary understanding of doctrine, then I think fundamentalism can be defined in terms of its static nature. Of course the argument about nothing being consistent except change could always be brought up, but that seems to limit what we can usefully say about these categories more than it helps.

  3. I really think he downplays the extent to which islam has globalized our understanding of "fundamentalism". When fundamentalism was simply defined as adherence to confessional norms in American Protestantism it was easier, but when you expand it to confessional norms in Islam it starts to get a little more confusing - and then once it is generalized beyond a single confessional norm you begin asking questions like "well what if doctrinal development is a confessional norm".

    I think people worry too much about terminology elasticity. All you need is qualifying statements about what it is you mean exactly, and that should fix everything with at least your moderately intelligent readers - and then you have something to reference and say "but I was never talking about those people" if some dumbass does challenge you.

    I also think that's why our Anglo-Saxon forbearers gave us upper and lower case letters. If I talk about the influence of Fundamentalists on American politics and the fundamentalist perspective on church state relations it is quite clear what I'm talking about in each instance - and if its not clear, all I need is a qualifying statement thrown in.

  4. On fundamentalism, Meic Pearse has some good things to say (Why the Rest Hates the West: Understanding the Roots of Global Rage IVP, 2004):

    "[Fundamentalism] has come to signify 'more religious-than-I-happen-to-like' — and thus to say more about the speaker than abut the persons, things or phenomena described" (27).

    "Most people mindlessly refer to fundamentalism, by which they mean religious believers who fundamentally believe in their religion as an alternative worldview to Western secularity" (91).

  5. Great quotes, Chris. That gets right at the heart of what's so twisted about the conversation, and I think it's much the same point that Marty is trying to make (although in discussing preconceptions of supposed "fundmaentalists" he focuses more on conservatism than religiosity or orthodoxy, probably because he himself falls more into the category of "liberal").