Kenton Sparks on FundamentalismOctober 23, 2011
“At its heart, each of these [fundamentalist] movements views modernism as a threat to the stability of culture and to the predictability of life. Fundamentalists yearn for a world in which all is fixed and certain. For this reason they militantly eschew anything and anyone that introduces doubt, uncertainty, or ambiguity into their worldview. This ideology puts fundamentalism into direct conflict with modernism because modernity is the product of a world gone international and intercultural. But modernity is not the creator of pluralism, as fundamentalists often suppose. Modernity’s pluralism is instead the inevitable consequence of human diversity — and it is contact with this diversity, and its ‘pollution,’ that fundamentalism fears.
“Fundamentalism’s response to modernism is a kind of ideological paranoia that features two interrelated defensive strategies. First, every fundamentalism secures the uniqueness of its worldview by claiming access to an inerrant text or authority that provides perfect knowledge. This assertion not only secures the validity of the community’s beliefs but also ensures that the beliefs of outsiders are in error. Nothing is more important to a fundamentalist than being right and being sure of it. Fundamentalism’s second defensive strategy erects a thick cultural wall between the community and those outside it. The primary purpose of this wall is to prevent contact with opposing views that might challenge or raise too much doubt about the community’s worldview. As a rule, this barrier is constructed by forbidding or greatly discouraging the study of materials that come from those outside the fundamentalist guild. For instance, while Christian fundamentalists are quite likely to read descriptions of modern evolutionary theory that have been written by other fundamentalists, they would rarely study a book that was written by an evolutionist, or study evolutionary biology in a university setting. For most fundamentalists, such pursuits would be a waste of time at best, and downright dangerous at worst.
“… [T]he difficulty in circular reasoning is that it includes far fewer pieces of reality than it should. It juggles a few balls successfully when there are many other balls that should be juggled. Fundamentalists attempt to perpetuate this illusion of hermeneutical success by denying the existence of the extra balls. But so long as Christian fundamentalists live in the real world, they will face an almost constant barrage of evidence that does not fit their view of things — evidence that the universe is very old, that evolution is true, that languages were not created at the tower of Babel, that there was no worldwide flood, and so forth. This is a list that could be easily extended. It is pitiful and even painful to watch as naive fundamentalist students nervously and fearfully traverse their first year university Bible classes, flailing desperately to keep their heads above the water in a sea of evidence that neither they, nor their parents and pastors, suspected could exist. At the same time, it is truly exciting to see thoughtful and healthy Christian students, fully committed to the theological orthodoxies of the Christian tradition, who are able to traverse those same seas with a spirit of enthusiasm for discovery. Fundamentalism fears the evidence that challenges its views; healthy Christian orthodoxy revels in the evidence, since it believes that all evidence, properly understood, will lead to a healthier view of life and faith.”
-Kenton L. Sparks, God’s Word in Human Words, pp. 307-08