Fundamentalist Christianity

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“Well, you assume Belos's goal comes from a genuine place. But that man doesn't care about anything but his need to be the hero in his own delusion. And because of that, he fears what he can't control.”
— Papa Titan describing fundamentalist Christians in a nutshell through the main villain of The Owl House

Fundamentalist Christianity represents a reaction within the evangelical community in the late 19th and early 20th centuries against the Christianity-internal pressures of theological modernity (often equated with theological liberalism[1]) and against emerging external pressures of the "theory of evolution", of rapidly advancing science and industry, and of the growth of cultural secularism. Fundamentalists believed that trends of higher criticismWikipedia and modernism had started to dilute the "true" Christian message. They fought for a return to what they understood to be the "fundamentals" of the Christian faith, with an emphasis on a literal interpretation of the Bible, personal holiness, and rejection of secular culture and science. The name "fundamentalist" derives from The Fundamentals, a 1910 publication of the Bible Institute of Los Angeles, which contained essays denouncing Biblical criticism, secularism, anarchism, communism, socialism, liberalism, Catholicism, and evolution.[2][3]

Fundamentalist movements existed in most major American Christian denominations during the early 20th century. While fundamentalism as a formal movement retreated into the background after the embarrassment of the 1925 Scopes Trial, many churches and organizations continue to self-identify as fundamentalists. "Fundamentalist Christian" has become a generalized term for anyone who is a Biblical literalist, a creationist (especially a young-earth creationist), or a Christian politician who emphasizes their religion. Fundamentalism comprises a subset of evangelicalism, although not all evangelicals are fundamentalists. Fundamentalism is predominantly an American phenomenon that has been exported elsewhere, rather than an attempt to restore the views of the early church.


Before 1880, most Americans viewed the Bible, if not as divinely inspired, at least as a convenient foundation for morals and decency. President Grover Cleveland (in office in the 1880s and 1890s) proclaimed the Bible as good enough for him without "notes or criticism, or explanations about authorship or origin or even cross-references."[4]:204 Anglo-American Protestants held most positions of importance, so Christianity and U.S. culture were largely homogeneous.

However, in the 1880s, sin entered America in the form of changes in assumptions regarding the divinity of the Bible. The 1859 publication of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species had rapidly accelerated the secularization of intellectualism, especially the natural sciences.[citation needed] Around this time, assumptions regarding the interpretation of the Bible started to change. As ministers like Horace BushnellWikipedia (1802-1876) sought to synthesize the Scriptures with new understandings of science, focus shifted away from the idea of personal conversion. Instead, many sought to apply general Christian morality to the culture as a whole. German higher criticism further threatened the traditional understanding of the Bible's divinity.

As mainline Protestant denominations began to accept more liberal methods of Biblical interpretation, a conservative reaction occurred within evangelical Protestantism. Conservative "fundamentalists" insisted on retaining the traditional focus on Biblical primacy and simple, down-to-earth interpretation. In 1919 William Bell RileyWikipedia founded the World Christians Fundamentals Association.Wikipedia Fundamentalists unified around a plain reading of the Bible, adherence to the traditional orthodox teachings of 19th-century Protestantism, and a new method of Biblical interpretation called "dispensationalism" and associated with John Nelson Darby (1801-1882). Between 1880 and 1920 conservative Christians began starting their own "Bible colleges" as alternatives to mainstream, usually secular, institutes of higher learning.

The Fundamentalist-Modernist controversyWikipedia was a full-blown culture war waged in America in the 1920s and 1930s. As mainline Protestants abandoned traditional interpretations of the Bible, it seemed that conservative Christianity was being put on trial. After the embarrassing Scopes Trial of 1925, fundamentalist evangelicals experienced increasing cultural anxiety. Not only did they face a seemingly hostile culture, but even most Protestants were abandoning what Fundamentalists saw as the "core principles" of Christianity. In fact, H. Richard NiebuhrWikipedia wrote an encyclopedia entry on Protestantism in 1937 in which, "with a measure of confidence", he wrote off evangelicalism as a thing of the past.[4]:56

In the face of such hostility, fundamentalist evangelicals from the 1920s to the 1960s increasingly withdrew into their own subculture. Bible colleges served to provide education within this "evangelical ghetto".[5] Most important, however, was the emphasis on the family unit. Fundamentalists viewed the family as a safe haven, separate from the "corrupting influence" of the world. By the 1960s, evangelicals perceived that America was becoming a godless society, as extra-marital sex, feminisms, and abortion all seemed to threaten the very existence of the traditional family. At the same time, outspoken evangelicals were beginning to find success in the public sphere. Billy Graham's evangelistic crusades (1947 onwards) brought fundamentalist Christianity to the front pages of newspapers around the United States. Leaders of a newly-political fundamentalism include Jerry Falwell and Rob Grant.

In the 1940s, there was a split between evangelicals who wanted to engage with wider society and culture, and fundamentalists who believed in separating themselves from the wider modern culture.[6]

The five fundamentals of Christian fundamentalism[edit]

  1. Inerrency of the Bible. The fundamentalist views the Bible as a divinely-inspired work authored by men acting under the direction of God, and as such is entirely error-free, even when it contradicts itself, which it doesn't really, because… we said so, ok?
  2. Biblical literalism. Biblical literalism is an approach to Biblical interpretation; literalists hold that the meaning of the text is given by the plain meaning of the author(s). Only those passages which are clearly allegorical or symbolic ought to be understood as allegory or symbolism. That said, discerning which passages are clearly allegorical is exceedingly difficult, and, tellingly, differs from one congregation to another. Also, it is hard to treat a text as the literal word of God when that text is a translation from a dead language.
  3. The virgin birth of Jesus Christ. Fundamentalists hold this against encroaching materialism which denies the supernatural.
  4. The doctrine of substitutionary atonement. Christ inserts his own perfect record, in place of ours, into the divine retributive mechanism. The ethical implications of substituting guilt, like the questionable ethics of original sin, are studiously ignored.
  5. The bodily resurrection of Jesus, the imminent personal return of Jesus Christ, and after (optionally) True Believers™ being whisked away to Heaven suffering for unbelievers first and later after Judgement Day Hell for the latter. This fundamental is held in opposition to those who say Jesus appeared to Peter as a spirit, or that he will return only in a symbolic sense.

Fundamentalism in United States politics[edit]

The trend in modern United States politics and modern "fundamentalism" is increasingly toward blending politics and religion, as the Republican Party and general conservatives are being pulled into an ever-increasingly fundamentalist point of view (see Religious Right). There is a worrying tendency among some Christian fundamentalists to oppose democracy.

One of many fallacies that Christian fundamentalists perpetuate is that the Founding Fathers were Christian fundamentalists, when in reality George Washington, Thomas Paine, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and others were actually deists (y'know, people who aren't necessarily religious, but still believe in an invisible supreme being).

In the US, Christian Fundamentalists tend to favor a "pro-life" view, often to an extreme that would not allow exceptions for rape, incest, or general (non-fatal) health of the mother. They are also generally opposed to comprehensive sex education, single parenthood, and of course gay rights.

Amateur Hour[edit]

The Christian Fundamentalist sphere, especially in the United States, is politicized and propagandistic. Add to that a general disregard for scholarly study of theology (such as the study of traditional interpretations held by historical Christian thinkers and reformers), and what we get is theological amateur hour.

The American Christian Fundamentalist sphere frequently bursts into controversies over theological issues that should have been settled 2000 years ago. Beginning in the 1980s and continuing today, fundamentalists have been blowing up over the issue of "Lordship Salvation" (whether the exact nature of saving faith includes a commitment to obedience), with fundies accusing each other of being unsaved false teachers from teh Debil.

Fundies are also prone to believing in teachings that have little to do with how Christianity, Protestant or Catholic, has been up to 1900, including the prosperity gospel, word of faith, and pentecostalism.

In other words, they completely fail at even following their own religion. And then they wonder why we don't take them seriously (except as a potential threat to humanity).

Examples of Christian fundamentalist individuals and institutions[edit]

See also[edit]

Icon fun.svg For those of you in the mood, RationalWiki has a fun article about Fundamentalist Christianity.


  1. "Understanding Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism", George Marsden, Eerdmans Publishing, 1991, p. 32.
  2. The Fundamentals,
  3. The Fundamentals, Volumes 1-17.
  4. 4.0 4.1 D.G. Hart, That Old-Time Religion in Modern America, (Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2002)
  5. Heather Chapman, Evangelical Christians should balance their faith in God with faith in science, evangelical pastor writes. Kentucky Health News, 13 December 2021.
  6. The fundamentalist-evangelical split. Beliefnet, June 2005.