Church Times Editorial: ‘Fundamentalism’.


Paul Handley

by Paul Handley – Church times – Posted: 09 Jan 2015 @ 12:05

Another term is used for those deemed to be too religious. This newspaper has long been wary of the term “fundamentalist”. Although used loosely as a synonym for “extremist”, it is a relatively precise term, referring to a believer who wishes to assert the historic core of his or her faith in opposition to modernising or liberalising interpretations. A commonly accepted definition comes from “Authoritarianism, religious fundamentalism, quest and prejudice”, a 1992 article by Altemeyer and Hunsberger, describing it as “the belief that there is one set of religious teachings that clearly contains the fundamental, basic, intrinsic, essential, inerrant truth about humanity and deity; that this essential truth is fundamentally opposed by the forces of evil which must be vigorously fought; that this truth must be followed today according to the fundamental, unchangeable practices of the past; and that those who believe and follow these fundamental teachings have a special relationship with the deity.” Elements of this definition are familiar to most religious adherents, even enviable. Those who have this strength of hold on their faith reap the benefits of hours spent in prayer, and often display self-sacrifice in their service.

The test is their attitude to those outside the fold. Piety is often measured in relation to the failings of others. Those who claim a “special relationship with the deity” are not good at recognising that the deity may have catholic tastes when it comes to those whom he/she loves. Professor Ruud Koopmans bears this out in his work with Islamic migrants in “Religious Fundamentalism and Hostility against Out-groups: A comparison of Muslims and Christians in Western Europe” (Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies; Routledge, Taylor & Francis). He found depressingly high levels of homophobia, anti-Semitism, and general paranoia among respondents who match the fundamentalist criteria – so much so that hatred of non-believers might be part of the definition of fundamentalism. It was for this reason that Christ asked the devout believers of his time: “Who is my neighbour?” The one who had the greatest claim to a special relationship with the deity chose to consort with outcasts and those judged to be unclean by the religious authorities.


“The one who had the greatest claim to a special relationship with the deity chose to consort with outcasts and those judged to be unclean by the religious authorities.” – Paul Handley

Considering the arguments put forward here by ‘Church Times’ writer, Paul Handley, on the difference between ‘fundamentalism’ as now seen in the activities, say, of ISIS and Al Qaeda, and ‘special relationship with God’; this sentence – above-quoted from the text – shows pretty plainly where Jesus himself stood in relation to God The Father.

The sanctified impulse of Jesus (after his Baptism by John, which we celebrate today), through the empowerment of God’s Spirit, was to embrace the lepers and the outcast of society in the process of redeeming them by love. Jesus was also identified by his opposition to the self-righteousness and judgmentalism of the scribes and Pharisees, and for this he was put to death on the Cross.

Where fundamentalist faith adherents might be tempted to avenge the perceived wrongs committed by other people – by force if necessary – the Son of God himself offered radical companionship, love and forgiveness to known sinners – thus encouraging their desire to measure up to their calling to be children of God. This is why the use of brute force by zealous believers to ‘avenge’ perceived sins against a righteous and holy God might just be a miscalculated attempt to justify one’s own imagined ‘righteousness’.

Even the Apostle Paul (whose life was turned around by the risen Christ) was later constrained to offer this declaration about himself: “My righteousness is as filthy rags” – when compared with the righteousness of Christ, who died for the sins of the world.

On this important matter of righteousness, it is well to remember that even Jesus, Son of God, when addressed as ‘Good Master’, had this to say: “Who are you calling good? There is One alone who is Good” – indicating the unique righteousness of his Father.

If our faith is such that it impels us to violence ‘in the Name of God’, then this may not be the God and Father of our Lord, Jesus Christ, whose love for all creation is eternal.

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

Feast of The Baptism of Christ

About kiwianglo

Retired Anglican priest, living in Christchurch, New Zealand. Ardent supporter of LGBT Community, and blogger on 'Thinking Anglicans UK' site. Theology: liberal, Anglo-Catholic & traditional. regarding each person as a unique expression of Christ, and therefore lovable.
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