Learning about Fundamentalism

I finally finished A History of God by Karen Armstrong. In her closing pages she writes briefly about fundamentalism. I had read once that this expression of the Christian faith began when someone wrote a list of “fundamentals” of the faith. I checked this out on line this morning and what I believed seems correct. The following is from Wikipedia.

Fundamentalism as a movement arose in the United States, starting among conservative Presbyterian theologians at Princeton Theological Seminary in the late 19th century. It soon spread to conservatives among the Baptists and other denominations around 1910-1920. The movement’s purpose was to reaffirm key theological tenets and defend them against the challenges of liberal theology and higher criticism.[6]

The term “fundamentalism” has its roots in the Niagara Bible Conference (1878–1897), which defined those tenets it considered fundamental to Christian belief. The term was popularized by the The Fundamentals, a collection of twelve books on five subjects published in 1910 and funded by the brothers Milton and Lyman Stewart. This series of essays came to be representative of the “Fundamentalist-Modernist Controversy“, which appeared late in the 19th century within some Protestant denominations in the United States, and continued in earnest through the 1920s. The first formulation of American fundamentalist beliefs can be traced to the Niagara Bible Conference and, in 1910, to the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, which distilled these into what became known as the “five fundamentals”:[7]

Both Wikipedia and Karen Armstrong expand the spread of fundamentalism to other religions as well.

Armstrong says that fundamentalism is “A highly political spirituality (that) is literal and intolerant in its vision.” While she and Wikipedia nail the 19th century as the roots of fundamentalism, I read in her book that the aspect of taking the writings literally began much earlier during the reformation. Islamist Ibn Taymihah (1328) “wanted to go back to the sources – to the Koran” and advocated “a literalist interpretation of the Koran.” Armstrong had demonstrated repeatedly that this view was not true of any of the religions in their beginnings. Creation stories and other scriptures were intended to be taken metaphorically until the Reformation.

Unfortunately, it seems to me, fundamentalism in any religious form seems to include a condemnation of all other religions, which seeds persecution and righteous violence. I was surprised in my reading of A History of God, that the early days of each of the three religions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, believers were typically tolerant of other faiths. Antagonism came later, which is not exactly what some would believe. It seems that when people want to give credence to their beliefs, they like to say that they are simply going back to what the original founders taught. I am one who believes in the importance of learning the history of our beliefs. We desperately need tolerance between religions. It would be a step toward what the world desperately needs – peace.

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