Characteristics of Fundamentalism (Hughes)

Some notes on Fundamentalism from Richard T. Hughes book, Christian America and the Kingdom of God.  The doctrinal points are fairly known and obvious but I was very intrigued by the other characteristics.

What do you think?

Historical context for the development of Fundamentalism: (p. 137f)

  • population shifts:
    • a new wave of immigration that threatened the concept of “Protestant America”; immigrants mainly from Eastern Orthodox and Catholic nations.  eastern Europe, Italy, Ireland
    • Christian America meant Protestant America at the time
  • emergence of industrialization and the American city:
    • Factories in northern cities attracted large numbers, and new problems arose:  crowded tenement buildings, long hours, poverty, hunger, disease, and crime;
    • These urban conditions greatly contradicted the Gospel of Wealth that had been preached during latter part of 1800s
    • Development of labor unions.  Numerous Catholics and immigrants were in unions, and it was considered a threat. you know, kinda like Socialism today.
  • rise of evolutionary theory
    • Darwin’s Origin of Species was published in 1859
  • emergence of Biblical criticism
    • Biblical Criticism began in Germany during same period as Scholars applied Evolutionary Theory to the development of Biblical texts

The 5 Fundamental Doctrines of Fundamentalism: (p. 141f)

  • Inerrancy of the Bible
  • Virgin Birth
  • Substitutionary Atonement
  • Bodily resurrection of Jesus
  • Jesus’ imminent premillenial return to reign on the Earth

Characteristics of Fundamentalism: (p. 158-159)

  • distrust of diversity
  • discomfort with change
  • suspicion of nuance and ambiguity
  • hostility toward enemies
  • fascination with the radical divide they believed separated good from evil

10 thoughts on “Characteristics of Fundamentalism (Hughes)

  1. Brian, I haven’t read this book by Hughes. Others by him, but not this one. I think there’s something to the theory that conservative Protestantism in the U.S. became defensive with the arrival of so very many Catholic European immigrants in the 1800s. The debate between A. Campbell and Bishop Purcell in 1837 can be understood as an expression of that fear. In another book of his, Hughes says that that was the point, 1837, when Campbell went from being the leader of a sect to a defender of Prostestantism in general.

    At any rate, what I don’t understand is, Why so many negative, pejorative descriptions of fundamentalists? (Note the leading words in the “Characteristics of Fundamentalism”). In the booklets called The Fundamentals, the case for the basics of conservative Protestantism was rigorously and honorably made. That is to say, the original “fundamentalists” were people of both conviction and intellect; they were not a bunch knuckle-dragging, paranoid nut jobs. However, because of influences like newspaperman H. L. Mencken and films like “Inherit the Wind” (such effective propaganda would have made Hitler smile) even conservative Christians are prone to think of their roots as being backwards, uneducated, characterized by a Southern (= stupid) drawl, etc. It’s really one of the most effective smears in American cultural and religious history.

  2. I agree with Frank. I thank God for those pioneers who stood for the fundamental truths of Christianity. (I would not include the last point and neither did most fundamentalists) While the “pre” view was the majority view I have never read anyone saying it was an essential of the historic Christian faith.


  3. brian

    i can read that last list and think of intelligent, good people who feel and act that way about current state of affairs: muslims, Obama, etc.

    it does sound pretty harsh, and I am not sure where Hughes is coming from, but for me, it’s not about inteligence

  4. I think you’re correct on the “pre” point, Royce. I’ve never known anyone who sees that as an essential… but outside of CoC the non “pre” view is very looked down upon (in my experiences).

  5. Brian,

    I hear your point. Let me adjust my comment.

    Much of the criticism against conservative protestantism has held that it’s lame-brained. There’s also the accusation (and, yes, this is more significant) that fundamentalism is the result of emotional vertigo. These are the religionists who hear something that is new and different and, because they are poorly-adjusted, they set their jaws, dig in their heels, and announce that they’ll hang on until the bitter end, wearing with pride the scorn of their enlightened opponents. Yes, it’s one of the most common readings of fundamentalism. In fact, it strikes the average American as something that should be taken for granted. And it’s just plain wrong.

  6. brian

    I think it is more personality/mentality than inteligence.

    I took a class that used Motivational Value Systems as a way to learn about self and interpersonal relations, leadership, conflict, etc.

    I see some of this.
    Some people are very convinced of what they believe because they are very passionate.
    Some are very convinced because of they have gone through a long process of study. They might change their mind, but only if new data is introduced.

    Others, like me, are more “flexible” and appear wishy-washy because I have to be totally convinced before I accept something.

    I am not trying to approach this as a Ivy-league, enlightened, liberal.

    I know that Hughes book on reviving the Ancient Faith was attacked by some because he talked about the churches of Christ transitioning from a sect to a denomination, which are both dirty words among us. But I think there he was using sociology terms or something. and maybe that is the case here.
    He may be using a definition that is common in certain circles, and it may be too broad, maybe a generalization.

    I don’t know, but I def see these characteristics at play in American today, whatever you call it, or the people who hold them

  7. Just one more run at this, I promise. My main objection to the traditional characterization of Fundamentalism and its adherents is that it begins by assuming that said adherents are that way because they have certain pscyhological problems or emotional hang-ups. They don’t handle change very well, for example. They can’t stand ambiguity, etc. So, depending on your own level of tolerance, you can either hate them (politically incorrect) or you can pity and feel sorry for them (much more acceptable). Either response amounts to a put-down and dismissal that in my estimation doesn’t really begin to account for Christian Fundamentalism. The movement’s history and culture have hardly been understood in America especially since the debacle called the Scopes Trial in 1925.

    Just one example of the confusion: Fundamentalism in the U.S. is thought of as being a southern, rural thing. Now, if that’s the case, then why is the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago? And why is Westminister Theological Seminary in Philadelphia? Why are major power centers in northern cities?

  8. brian

    I didn’t mean to perpetuate a stereotype or snobbery. I don’t doubt you at all, Frank, I guess I was just defending myself.

    didn’t really disagree and wasn’t trying to be disagreeable

  9. Brian, no doubt or disagreement assumed. My ranting wasn’t related to something I was getting from you. My argument is with that easy side-swiping of fundamentalism that turns it into something much more dreadful than AIDS. I resent it. Can you tell? 🙂

  10. brian

    okay, good.

    you seem to care just a little bout this, which is cool.

    I get worked up about politics, and recently did the same thing on facebook to someone else

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