In a recent article over at the National Review, Samuel James makes an interesting comparison that I think is worthy of note, with some qualifiers of course.
Let me preface this by saying that this post talks about “Fundamentalists”. If you don’t know if I am one or not, read the entire post to the end. It’s not that long. If you don’t care, well, read it anyway. I hear it’s good.
In the article, James makes a comparison between what he calls religious “Fundamentalism” and the present day “SJWism” for which the “SJW” part stands for “Social Justice Warriors”. For an idea of what that means there’s an interesting opinion piece about it here. In short, SJW’s find certain things morally reprehensible and then take action, at times in a big way, to shield themselves and others from them. They’re often known for their radical identity politics and protests on college campuses.
James likens this SJW pattern to “Fundamentalism” using a story from his childhood in which he had to return a video game with his parents because his parents found it objectionable. His dad even told the store clerk so upon returning it. He asserts that basically both SJW’s and religious Fundamentalists are doing the same things only with totally different sets of values. I think there are threads of truth in the comparison, though from what I can tell it’s much more rare for Fundamentalists to make attempts to censor things they find objectionable from the national or public debate. That appears more common among SJW’s. But it is true those he calls “Fundamentalists” do often avoid and separate from certain things as individual, families, and churches in order to prevent a slippery slope descent into worse things. Some Fundamentalists do also teach and encourage others outside their immediate context to do the same. Some Fundamentalist are even quite forceful in that way.
James continues the comparison:
“The rising generation of students is coming to this same realization but without the help of religion’s spiritual insight. The modern campus culture is a religious culture, but it’s a religion without God, and consequently it is a religion without grace. Many students would probably hear my story about growing up in conservative Evangelicalism and conclude that I have been violently oppressed. What if, though, we have more in common than they think?”
James concludes the article in a thought provoking way suggesting that “politics [is] America’s ‘new’ religion”… and “The heart of the matter is that we are incurably religious. ‘Everyone worships,’ David Foster Wallace remarked. ‘The only choice we get is what to worship.’” To which, I agree.
Here’s my “beef” with the whole article (if you can even call it a “beef”). And it is somewhat tangential to the point of James’ article. Whenever I read things like that, I just want it to be known that not everyone means the same thing by “Fundamentalism”. When someone asks me if I am “Fundamental”, I never quite know how to answer that without first asking them “What do you mean by that?” In a certain sense, of course I am. But depending on what you think a “Fundamentalist” is, I might not be one.
Let me explain. Some people see Fundamentalism as having only a small set of fundamental beliefs and all the rest are ancillary and non-essential. Well, I’m definitely not that. I, nor anyone I know, is qualified to proclaim a doctrine of the Bible to be “non-essential”. Secondly, essential to what? Someone who throws around those terms regarding doctrines of the Bible might do well to consider if the Author would want them calling His words “non-essential" for something- any of them.
Others see Fundamentalists as flamboyant, totalitarian, strict for no explicable reason, and partial to censoring others. Well, I’m not that either. Well, many people think I’m strict, however I have explicable reasons. So, am I a “Fundamentalist”? Well, it depends on what you think that is. I’ve met some who take the title that are great! Their doctrine is as straight as a gun barrel. They’re humble in spirit. Their attitude and the way they treat others is Christ-like. They reject flamboyance and instead focus on the content of their character and teaching. On the other hand, I’ve met some Fundamentalists that’ll make you lose the joy of your salvation before they’re done shaking your hand. These kind of Fundamentalists, no matter how clear I try to be with this post, will likely still conclude that I’m the devil. They seem like they’d be really good at either a coup d'état of a small, impoverished country or selling used cars. Maybe both.
Personally, if the title of “Fundamentalism” disappeared into oblivion, I’m not sure I’d miss it. Why? Because the word is not sufficient. I believe the whole Bible is the basis for close fellowship with other believers, not just five or six parts of it. I can get along just fine with someone who believes less of the Bible than I do, or even none of it. However, the closest relationships possible are between Christians who believe all of the Bible the same and revere all of it the same (see Amos 3:3). And our cooperation with others in ministry must be based on the likemindedness of that relationship. Fundamentalism however boils down the basis for Christian fellowship to several of the least common denominators. That is not a great recipe for true, likeminded fellowship but rather for a forced, manufactured fellowship that isn’t real.
So, the comparison James makes between SJW’s and Fundamentalists is not quite a fair comparison but instead is maybe a loose comparison. Perhaps that’s all he intended it to be. He does’t seem to understand that the word “Fundamentalism” is not a “one-size-fits-all” description for every Christian that finds certain things objectionable enough to separate from those things. Not all Fundamentalists who separate from things attempt to force it on others, like some SJW’s do. I think it would be better if the blanket generalizations that come from the slinging around of such titles didn’t happen so frequently. Though, I suppose we all do that at times. It may just be a necessary part of using language. If it is, then perhaps we should all just be a little more equitable.