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Are Fundamentalists Really So Bad?

AN APPEAL FOR UNDERSTANDING

By John Mark Reynolds | October 1992
John Mark Reynolds is Principal of New Covenant Christian (High) School in Penfield, New York, and a Ph.D. candidate in philosophy at the University of Rochester.

I would like to speak in defense of fun­damentalism despite the fact that there is serious doubt whether any fundamentalist or­ganization would be happy to claim me as a member. What are my views? They are in a state of transition: Frankly, the writings of many Catholics have led me very close to the road to Rome.

Fundamentalism comes in for very few kind words in most of the books and maga­zines that a philosophy student such as myself comes across. Even magazines like the NOR, which cut across the grain on so many issues, tend to agree with all the rest in their disdain for the fundamentalist. He is a stereotyped creature: devoid of reason, fearful of modern scholarship and science, a man of emotion. He represents for many Christian thinkers the pathetic branch of the Christian faith. He is the embarrassing relative at the family gather­ing, the one who everyone makes clear is from the other side of the family.

Disowning the fundamentalist prevents many problems. In many ways, he is a nui­sance. Too many fundamentalists have retreat­ed from the findings of modern science, reject­ed the pursuit of “faith in search of under­standing,” and abandoned Church history for a truncated understanding of the Faith. Fun­damentalism is guilty of much.

Having said this, why should I wish to defend it? First, because fundamentalists are rarely praised for what they have done well. Second, because much of the attack on funda­mentalism is logically applicable to the Catholic Church herself. (Attacks on the local televan­gelist are easier than attacks on the pope, but they are often made in ways that strike at the beliefs of both.) Finally, because, if Catholics wish to engage the fundamentalist ecumenical­ly, they must recognize the strengths of the breed and its nobler motivations. Most Protes­tants in the U.S. are somewhat fundamentalist in outlook, and ad hominem dismissals of their position are counterproductive. (Laughing at the “crazy fundamentalist” at the department wine and cheese party makes one’s own posi­tion seem saner — and chances of tenure greater. On the other hand, one may have spat upon millions of separated brethren who call upon the name of Jesus Christ.)

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