Opinion: Let’s talk about the F-word

What comes to your mind when you hear the word “fundamentalist?” Perhaps you think of your biology classmate who shifts uncomfortably in her seat when you talk about evolution. Perhaps you picture an angry senior citizen holding a picket sign that says, “GOD HATES FAGS.” Maybe you think of the crazy mother from “Carrie”. Or maybe the word “idiot” flashes across your mind before continuing with your day.

“Fundamentalist” is a word that has been slowly warped by our society so gradually that we’ve barely even noticed. Today, I’d like to take a look at and deconstruct some of the unfair and untrue images that fundamentalists like myself have been stuck with and see why they are actually images of anti-fundamentalism.

Before analyzing the damaging stereotypes that mar fundamentalism, we must first define what exactly it means to call yourself a fundamentalist. Dictionary.com describes fundamentalism as “a religious movement characterized by a strict belief in the literal interpretation of religious texts.” Although that is part of it, I don’t believe that is the whole picture of fundamentalism.

Fundamentalism, at its core, is the belief that the Bible and its teachings are what personal morality and core theological beliefs should be based on. When there is a moral question that needs answering or when we consider human nature, the first source fundamentalists turn to is neither the philosopher nor the sociologist, but the Bible itself. It is the filter of our lives, so to speak, the ruler against which we measure everything in our existence. It is the fundamental truth on which all else is built.

What are the three biggest negative images that we are faced with when thinking about fundamentalism? The first is the one that most readily springs to mind is the racist homophobe. These people are obviously not fundamentalists in the strictest sense of the term. They have clearly never read the verses about speaking the truth in brotherly love (Ephesians 4:15) or about how all tribes and nations will gather before God in worship, which will include people of color (Revelation 7:9). True fundamentalists are kind, forgiving, humble and compassionate because of their adherence to the Word of God, not despite it.

The second most common stereotype is that fundamentalists are anti-science. Because most fundamentalists are young-Earth creationists, a belief which often bumps heads with secular or theological evolution, they are often branded as anti-science altogether. However, it could be argued that fundamentalists are even more scientific than the average man, in that they are much better at adopting and applying the scientific method to discover the truth rather than accepting what they’ve been told. This is because every good fundamentalist, at some point in their life, goes through what I call a “crisis of interpretation” in which they question what they have been raised to believe about the creation story in Genesis. They research scientific studies about the age of the Earth, justifications for different interpretations of Scripture and use their own logical reasoning, all for the sake of finding the truth of what really happened in the beginning. That adherence to the application of the scientific method and want for truth seeps into all other aspects of our lives, helping us form healthy habits of deduction and research.

The third and final smear that stains our reputation is the idea that we take everything in the Bible literally. Obviously, there is symbolism in the Bible, specifically in the Psalms, Proverbs and the final Revelation. However, unless it is made abundantly clear as in these

examples, fundamentalists assume it to be literal. It’s really all about the language and context used in the scriptural passage. It is understood that when Jesus says that we should cut our eyes out and throw them away if they cause us to sin, he’s using hyperbolic language to make a point about how seriously we should take sin. However, when the Bible says that God created the universe from nothing and man from dust we don’t see a lot of room for interpretation.

Fundamentalists are a misunderstood group of people in modern Christianity. About a century ago what we now call fundamentalism was standard Christian doctrine and widely shared belief. Now, we have become a niche that is mocked even by other Christians. Please don’t be deceived by media which paints fundamentalists as some kind of violent, hateful, ungodly cult. They are just men and women of God trying to do what they understand to be right in his eyes.