Is religious fundamentalism really about religion?Is religious fundamentalism really about religion?

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larrygates eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Absolutely, fundamentalism is about religion. The movement in the United States began after World War I during the time when values and beliefs were often challenged and modernism developed in literature, science, and dress. Fundamentalism was a reaction to this movement. Many people saw the "old-time religion" threatened by modernism in the Churches, the idea that the Bible should be studied in the light of modern scholarship. This was called the "higher criticism" of the Bible; the idea that it could be reconciled with evolution, and the like.

In 1910, a series of pamphlets called The Fundamentals was published. The people who supported this return to the "old-time" religion were distinguished not so much by their firm belief as by their intolerance for the beliefs of others. Their greatest leader was William Jennings Bryan by this time a former three term candidate for President and aging, but still a pious, sanctimonious, self-righteous, silver-tongued preacher. His main attack was on the teaching of Darwinism in the schools, and attacked it as vociferously as he had once attacked William McKinley. As a result of Bryan’s efforts, anti-evolution bills appeared in several state legislatures; but only passed in the South.

Typical of the attitude was a comment by then Texas governor Miriam "Ma" Ferguson about Darwinism in school textbooks:

I am a Christian mother, and I am not going to let that kind of rot go into Texas schoolbooks.

They believed Darwin's teachings to be inconsistent with scripture; and also erroneously believed Darwin wrote that humans were descended from Apes, which further fueled the debate. The famous Scopes Monkey Trial was a direct result of the fundamentalist movement.

M.P. Ossa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I lean more toward #3 because it is true that the problem with religious fundamentalism is that it seems to forget that it is about religion and shifts over to everything else, especially politics. What has caused the bloodiest wars in the name of God? The literal interpretation of the Bible, especially when whatever the Bible says is not convenient for one group, or another. What has caused the massive suicide pacts made in sects? Their LITERAL interpretation of whatever "book of truth" they chose to make their canon.

Moreover, what is causing the most ignorant debate ever celebrated in the Alabama School Boards? The literal following of the Genesis which means now that half the fundamentalists (a.k.a Southern Baptists) who have been brainwashed by their churches are giving the school districts a hard time for teaching the evolution.

So, in not so many words, I wish your question had been "Is fundamentalism strictly a religious philosophy?" For that, my answer would have been: I wish- It is meant to be that, but a fundamentalist is a person who is not flexible enough to understand alternatives, for which they carry on their semi radical behavior and let them intertwine with their everyday lives- and that of others.


pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Given your question, I assume that you are supposed to give some arguments as to why fundamentalism might not be about religion.  If that is the case, you could also argue that fundamentalism is simply about a desire to avoid change and uncertainty.

One of the beauties of fundamentalism is that it allows people to avoid having to be unsure about things.  It also gives a very good reason (because God says so) to avoid having things change.  If you believe that people (or at least some people) like to avoid change and uncertainty, you can see where fundamentalism is attractive.

So, you can argue that fundamentalism is really about wanting certainty and stability and that the religious aspect is simply a way to justify that desire.

bigdreams1 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Well thought out points in all the posts above, however what is interesting to me is that fundamentalists are not just found in the Christian religion. There are fundamentalists (defined by as:)

strict adherence to any set of basic ideas or principles


in most world religions...including many of the radical Muslims who rage against the West because of the Jihad that is commanded by some in their movement.

So, you ask if fundamentalism is about religion, I would say that, yes, it is the conservative end of many world religions that starts as a spiritual belief, but ventures out of the holy into the secular to judge others and find converts.

brettd eNotes educator| Certified Educator

All good points above, although I think #4 states it most concisely.  If we look at religion as a means for humans to understand and explain life their existence on Earth as well as their purpose within that life, then fundamentalism is a means to preserve those explanations as we now know them.

From this viewpoint, any reformation of those explanations is a challenge to the understandings they've built a life around.  How silly does the Catholic Church look if they admit, after all that time, that the Sun does not actually revolve around the Earth?  In the same way, fundamentalism resists change and challenges.  Let's say fundamentalism is about religion, but is also somewhat about human nature.

accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Picking up on other comments made above, in a sense, it is possible to argue that fundamentalism isn't actually about religion at all, but it is about being right and a state of arrogance, that, as #9 points out, is very closely linked to control. Religious fundamentalism is all about an unshakeable view of the world that people can have absolute faith in. Anything that doesn't "fit" this mould or view of the world can be conveniently rejected, attacked or ignored. Thus, arguably, religious fundamentalism is a very limiting approach to adopt as it allows adherents to ignore bits of reality they do not like or disagree with.

Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The philosophers may realize that there is more to religious fundamentalism than religion, but those involved in fundamentalism at the grass roots level, shall we say, would adamantly defend the idea that fundamentalism is purely and wholly about religion. Those who are religious enough to embrace fundamentalism believe that is the beginning and the ending of things important, worthwhile and true.

litteacher8 eNotes educator| Certified Educator
No, not really. Fundamentalism is about control. Religion gives zealots a way to draw their converts in and lend legitimacy to to their ideas. Most of the people who join fundamentalist groups are attracted to some part of the dogma though, or just full of hatred and looking for a way to use it.
frizzyperm | Student

In its most simplistic definition, Fundamentalism is merely the belief that every single word of a religious text is perfect, divine revelation and that there can be no picking and choosing. The whole text is true, without metaphors or omissions. A fundamentalist believes every word of the bible is literally true.

Unfortunately, The Bible is full of some very unpleasant and bigoted and contradictory statements about women, minorities and people from other religions and races. So, during times when fundamentalism is fashionable, it attracts politically-minded bigots and hateful people who use religion to justify their bigotry. I think this is happening at the moment in America. The right-wing christian movement is becoming more and more political and attractive to some deeply unpleasant people. 

Fundamentalism is ultimately about religion. But it always shifts to become political. Fundamentalists don't respect the separation of church and state and want to force their 'values' on everyone . The big irony of this is that Jesus expressly states several times in The Bible to “Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s” and that "My kingdom is not of this world." Which is almost universally accepted to be a flat rejection of the idea of Christian political ambition. So, of course, as well as being about textual literalism and unpleasant politics; fundamentalism is nearly always about rampant hypocrisy too.