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Monday, September 19, 2011

Not crazy about theocracy

Well I define fundamentalism as the attempt to impose a single 'truth' on a plural world. And what really lies behind it is fear, a profound insecurity that makes you feel when you meet someone who is not like you, or doesn't agree with you, that that challenge is a threat against your very being. Aggression is always a sign of insecurity. And insecurity is always, at bottom, a lack of faith, not a presence of faith
While I shall endeavor not to dishearten Mr. Sacks, he is not Humpty Dumpty and therefore not granted the liberty to define a word however he likes (although if this does upset him, I suppose we could call this a "sad Sacks' definition"), especially since he is no better at defining "fundamentalism" than most of the dictionaries I mentioned a couple of posts back.  While it may be true that his statement does reflect the attitude of many fundamentalists (or at least those who claim they are), it is hardly a universal trait among them.  On the contrary, there has always been a remnant within the movement who have opposed not only theocracy, but involvement in politics by the church as an institution.  Case in point: John Gresham Machen, who, according to Roger E. Olson (p. 78), was fundamentalism's "leading theologian" in the 1920s, yet would appear to be the last person one would accuse of "attempt[ing] to impose a single 'truth'" on others.  In addition to his well-known libertarianism (to the point that "[h]e even appeared before the Philadelphia City Council to argue against traffic signals" [Nichols, p. 304]), he viewed "the type of politicizing of the church that was going on in the 1910s and 1920s [as] dangerous....  His overriding fear was that the church would lose its message in the wake of political engagement."  Even Jerry Falwell initially "preached against such involvement" in "the political arena" by the church ([Blinded], p. 19; all references, unless otherwise noted, are from this source) until he changed his stance. When he did help found the Moral Majority, he "was... criticiized by 'true fundamentalists'  such as Bob Jones Jr. and his son, Bob Jones III, for getting too close to politics (p. 18; see also the "Challenges to the Moral Majority" section in the Wikipedia entry for "Moral Majority").   And while I don't remember either Thomas or Dobson identifying themselves as "fundamentalists" in their book, they write about it in very favorable terms, e.g., the latter's overview of the movement on pages 35-37.  Nor do I recall them mentioning Machen, but there are clear parallels, such as Dobson's "When pastors become entangled too deeply with politics, they harm the gospel of Jesus" as one of the "important lessons about the blending of politics and religion to be learned from the troubles in Ireland" (p. 84) and Thomas' "A sound argument can be made that the church does poorly when it seeks or receives the blessing of government and does better and exhibits real power when it is out of favor with government or being persecuted" (p. 96).


Nichols, Stephen J.  Jesus Made in America: A Cultural History from the Puritans to the Passion of the Christ..  Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity (2008).
Olson, Roger E.  The Westminster Handbook to Evangelical Theology,.  Louisville, KY: Westminister John Knox (2004).

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