Fundamentalism

A Review by Alan Goss

Fundamentalism: The Challenge to the Secular World
Lloyd Geering 2003, St Andrew’s Trust
$10 + $3 p&p

In 1925 the famous New Testament scholar Kirsopp Lake, in a book The Religion of Yesterday and Tomorrow, expressed the view that the real divisions in the church cut across denominational lines and consisted of three groups. They were the Fundamentalists, the Experimentalists (or Radicals) and thirdly the instinitionalists (or Liberals). Lake then made a striking prophecy: "The Fundamentalists will eventually triumph. They will drive the Experimentalists (Radicals) out of the Church and then reabsorb the Institutionalists (Liberals) who, under pressure, will become more orthodox... The church will shrink from left to right." This is a quote from Lloyd Geering's booklet on Fundamentalism based on his St. Andrew's Trust lectures 2003. As the author says, "This is a remarkable prediction, for it generally describes the state of affairs in the mainline churches today.”

Geering sketches the rise, nature and extent of the modern phenomenon of fundamentalism, he shows how it is not confined to any one religion or movement but to a number of them — Christian, Jewish, Muslim and so on. It is noticeably militant and battling for unquestioned obedience to a monarchical deity as revealed in the scriptures (Bible or Koran) and also for a Jewish or Christian or Islamic State. i.e. a theocracy.

At the same time fundamentalism locks itself in combat with secular humanism and those aspects of the modem world which threaten the flowering and growth of the spiritual life. It distorts religion to the extent that Christianity, as well as Islam, are given a negative image — the label "Christian" is often regarded as a synonym for "fundamentalist". As it infiltrates and even captures the mainline churches, who are reluctant to criticize it, fundamentalism hinders and prevents the church from making a creative contribution to the emerging modern global world.

The author points out how the term 'fundamentalist", which came into use in America in the 1920's, was not then regarded as at all dangerous, the liberals considered it a passing phase. The events of September 11, 2001, the Bali massacre and similar acts of terrorism elsewhere changed all that. Geering devotes a chapter to how this change came about, including the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians which is being fueled on both sides by Christian and Muslim fundamentalism. "The western world encounters the face of Islamic fundamentalism in the terrorist acts of suicide bombers .... The Islamic world encounters the face of Christian fundamentalism in the trigger-happy fundamentalist cowboy from Texas", President George Bush.

Geering acknowledges that some of the criticisms leveled by the fundamentalists against the modern secular world cannot he ignored. Drugs and alcohol, the junk culture, the cult of the celebrity, the mass media, a lowering of moral standards ... are all signs that our spiritual capital is wasting away. The fears and protests of fundamentalists therefore need to be listened to, there is no place for war or coercion. This presents a challenge to the mainline churches which are now threatened by what may be called "the fundamentalist captivity of Christianity". The effects of a fundamentalist coup pose a danger not only to the churches but to society at large. A stronger, more vocal liberal voice is needed in the Christian, Muslim and Jewish worlds to counter the fundamentalist threat. This booklet, which is a mine of information, the fruit of wise reflection, and a model of precision, is a step along the way.