How do fundamentalists differ from evangelicals?

November 11, 2006 | By | 13 Replies More

This article in Slate.com was helpful to me.  Here’s an excerpt:

Modern evangelicalism emerged from an early-20th-century conflict between Protestant liberals and fundamentalists. The fundamentalists felt that the liberals had strayed too far from the teachings of the Bible and urged a return to the most orthodox teachings. The evangelicals staked out a middle ground—more conservative than the liberals but not quite as old-fashioned as the fundamentalists. The evangelicals and fundamentalists remain two distinct groups, though they share a belief in the importance of a personal relationship with God and the Bible. In general, the fundamentalists tend to be stricter and more isolated from mainstream culture. An evangelical parent might encourage his kids to listen to Christian rock, for example, while a fundamentalist parent would object to all music of that kind.

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Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

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  1. Ben says:

    Here is an article titled "Fundamentalist Atheism is Idiocy". However, don't get too excited about this being an attack on unreasonable atheists, the author is actually saying that anyone who uses the term must be motivated by something other than intelligence.

    http://scienceblogs.com/bushwells/2007/02/fundame

    So maybe you could call me a "believer" in atheism. However, as far as moderation goes… in my opinion, the moderation of zero belief is still sum-zero. Anything less than zero belief for an atheist would enter the realm (surreal) of agnosticism, in my basic understanding of the terms.

  2. gatomjp says:

    Ben, how is a believer in atheism any different from a religious fundamentalist who claims that s/he KNOWS that god exists? You are claiming that you KNOW that god doesn't exist. Where's the difference? Both viewpoints seem absurd to me.

    Also, please explain the "surreal" in parens when you refer to agnosticism.

  3. Ben says:

    That's the whole point of atheism, atheists/scientists don't "believe" just for the sake of believing or to make peace (as you suggest). What is the difference between believing in a Creator and an Elf, or a Werewolf or a Cow Jumping Over the Moon? When you show me something (don't worry, I'm not holding my breath) which points toward a Creator, I will show you a reformed atheist. Agnostics entertain the idea that something else (possibly surreal) may be behind the unknown. As an atheist, I see the unknown as the unknown. I do not even attempt to place anything (like a greater force, all knowing being) into the realm of the known (knowledge) without an obvious reason (such as scientific proof). I do not mind theories, in fact I welcome them, however, at this point, the theory of Judeo-Christian-Muslims is not passing the litmus test.

  4. grumpypilgrim says:

    To answer gatomjp's question, what is the difference between a fundie claiming to *know* god exists and an athiest claiming to know the opposite? I can think of three differences, provided both people are talking about the same supernatural god.

    One difference is that the description of virtually every god contains self-contradictions, making the athiest's argument stronger than the believer's. Sure, the believer could say that his supernatural god is not restricted by human-level contradictions, but that would merely beg the question; it would not make the believer's argument any stronger.

    Another difference is that there is no scientific evidence to support the believer's position. The absence of such evidence does not hurt the athiest argument, because we cannot expect science to prove a negative, but we can expect science to prove a positive, and the fact that science cannot prove any god exists hurts the fundie's argument.

    A third difference is that the believer must prove that the god he worships is the true god, and that the gods which all other believers worship are false gods. There are many, many god-based religions, all claiming to be the One True Religion, but there is only one athiesm.

    Indeed, this is perhaps a fourth difference between an athiest and a believer: an athiest disbelieves in all gods; a believer disbelieves in all gods but their own.

    Admittedly, these are weak examples. At some level, the fundie's "I know" and the athiest's "I know" both rest on insufficient and unknowable facts, so they are equivalent in that respect. Nevertheless, if we must declare one argument stronger than the other, based on available facts, then the athiest's argument would be the stronger one. Believers are burdened by the absurdities in their holy books and by the inability to prove extraordinary claims, neither of which burden the athiest.

  5. grumpypilgrim says:

    Further to gatomjp's question and to my third point immediately above, let's reconsider the question. Gatomjp asks, "how is a believer in atheism any different from a religious fundamentalist who claims that s/he KNOWS that god exists?" To some extent, this is an unfair question.

    Do fundies merely say, "I *know* god exists?" No, what makes them fundies is that they say, "I know *my* god exists." Indeed, most fundies go even farther and declare, "I know my god exists and *all other gods do not*."

    Gatomjp's question was thus being generous to the fundie. If we accept that question, then my previous response would be how I would answer. However, I don't think we should accept that question, because it does not accurately portray most fundies. The question should be, "how is a believer in atheism any different from a religious fundamentalist who claims that he KNOWS that HIS god exists and that ALL OTHER GODS AND RELIGIONS ARE BLASPHEMIES?" To some extent, this is the same question that gatomjp asked (with the same answer), and to some extent it isn't.

  6. Ben says:

    Question: Is an Islamic Fundamentalist any different than a Christian fundamentalist?

    Answer: No, they share the same types of irrational thinking. They both promote violence toward those who oppose their holy book. Religion is a cancer upon modern society. Moderate followers of Islam and Christianity need to realize that their moderate views are a result of advancements in cultural understanding and science pulling them away from the imperfect ancient scribbling. By failing to see that their respective holy books are the main factors inciting violence in the world today. Along with overpopulation and scarcity of resources, it is VITAL (for my glowing vision of the future) that the word of science (contraceptives, carbon footprints, nuclear power/weapons, internet highways) be seen as the new gospel of the 21st century.

  7. Jason Rayl says:

    Extremism in any direction leads to cul-de-sac positions from which one may find it impossible to back away. The problem of fundamentalism is not religion–it is the deep-rooted neurotic need to make the world conform to ones own limitations. For the fundamentalist extremist it is no longer about seeking truth but about being right, which are incompatible pursuits. Being right is an occasional consequence of truth-seeking and ought never be a goal in itself.

    Being right is different from Doing Right, which is a whole other pursuit which must be based on truth seeking.

    Categorical rejection of religion is another species of fundamentalism, perversely based on the opposite of being right–which is proving something wrong, again separated from truth seeking.

    You will find that religion has offered as many paths to doing right as any other philosophy, and has gone through a variety of paradigm shifts on its own. Condemning religion as an a priori false road fails to take into account the uses to which individuals may constructively put it. This is a fundamentalist position, odd as that may sound.

    Science cannot substitute for religion, since it is about something other than spiritual perfectibility. It can only comment on it.

    I am an atheist. I do not believe what religions prescribe. However, I have often perceived that religion has led good people to be better people, by paths I would not walk myself, but which nevertheless serve the same purpose in the cause of truth seeking.

    When finally we get over this battle between fact (science) and truth and its misperceptions, we'll find that religion will survive and will have found a way to accommodate all the things you suggest ought to supplant it. In the meantime, we've got this problem of psychosis to deal with.

    In short, a fundamentalist is all about himself/herself. Dig down deep enough you'll find someone incapable of accepting that anything else matters. That is not what religion is about.

  8. Vicki Baker says:

    Jason writes: "Being right is different from Doing Right, which is a whole other pursuit which must be based on truth seeking."

    Amen to that brother!

    To summarize the results of my experiments on this blog, similarities I see between Christian fundamentalist and atheist zealots(?) are:

    1. Intense interest in others' self-reports of certain internal mental states

    2. Use of these self-reports of internal mental states to divide those they encounter into "us" or "them"

    3. Negative judgments directed at those whose self-reports of internal mental states differ from the preferred one, and especially at those who try to resist categorization or place themselves somewhere between the polar opposites.

    4. In assigning an individual to the "us" or "them" category, self-reports of internal mental states are given more weight than actions (or statements of intention to act) that conform to stated goals/values of the subject.

    Though I have to say most religious fundamentalists would never have ignored the "donation," which I mentioned several times in the other thread.

  9. Ben says:

    I guess what bothers me, is the fact that EVERY DAY I find myself having to pretend that I'm a believer in God around certain people, in order to avoid conflict. Hard to picture that? I'm shy and quiet in person (when meeting people), and I look like a christian of good upbringing (on the outside), I blend right in if I choose to, like a gecko. I prefer to be honest whenever I can, however, not being honest to others by hiding my disdain of their unsupported beliefs is bothering me more than it did when I was a child. (I have always told people I am Half-Jewish half-Christian, when they ask).

    Why can't we have a moderate acceptance of atheism instead of moderate acceptance of religion? Of course moderate atheism would imply teaching religion as myth only. And religion would not be foisted upon us quite so much in our day to day lives, nor on the children, who are ALL born atheist. We all seem to agree that the danger is ignorance, however, I also believe that Christianity is a sub-set of ignorance. (insert Venn Diagram)

    It seems that the moderation did not work out so well in South Carolina where they have banned homosexuality. Moderate Christians, when looking for guidance on "difficult" issues such as whether homosexuality is a naturally occuring phenomena and whether they should be allowed to marry, still look to the bible. The following link essentially proves that homosexuality is normal behavior among animals, (although I am too studly to click the link myself).

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homosexuality_in_ani

    Vicky loses a point here (if we are keeping score). The message of moderation has once again gotten TRAMPLED by the IGNORANCE of CHRISTIANITY. This tends to happen, although we had been improving until Bush and O'Reilly and Fox grabbed the reins.

    http://www.thestate.com/mld/thestate/news/politic

    We gotta stop this festering, even if it mean amputating a few toes. We already had one civil war about human rights, didn't really impress many folks though, I guess. How many times do we need to fight the war for human rights? Our history shows us that we need to embrace racial and ethnic minorities, and women, and immigrants, and handicapped, and gays, and downtrodden, and oppressed, and hungry, and ignorant. We can start by replacing the DEFAULT hotel room copies of "Bible Guilt 100" with something a bit more contemporary, like Anthropology 100.

  10. Jason Rayl says:

    "Why can’t we have a moderate acceptance of atheism instead of moderate acceptance of religion?"

    Ever noticed that when someone in conversation, especially someone you just met or know only slightly, insists on pointing out that they're a CHRISTIAN, everyone gets defensive? Even the moderate christians. That's because the speaker is using it like a challenge. It's a throwing down of the glove, an attempt to aggressively sort out who is who in the group.

    The same thing happens when people declare political doctrine–"I am a Right Wing Republican!"

    It's not a value-free statement of identity, it's like hoisting a banner that implicitly says "Go ahead an argue with me!"

    The same thing happens with Atheism.

    Moderate christians, in my experience, go to church, live their lives, and pretty much keep their religion to themselves in most interactions, even with fellow christians. It's the firebrands (or wannabe firebrands) who insist on declaring.

    You've already decided, apparently, what you see as The Truth, and anything that doesn't conform to that you implicitly, unconsciously (or not) tag as Ignorance. You're loaded for bear and wearing on your shoulder (under your flak jacket, though, so people can't tell that you're armed, so to speak). What's so hard about just avoiding the topic unless pressed? That's how I do it. It's not anybody's business until they push it. And once pushed, it's on them, not me. Instead, you're waiting for and looking for opportunities to be confronted.

    I think perhaps–and this is merely a suggestion–another look at what Moderation is would be in order.

  11. grumpypilgrim says:

    Further to Ben's comment, it will be interesting to see if the South Carolina law stands up to constitutional review, the reason being that ultrasound imaging, despite having a wonderful safety record, is still considered an invasive medical procedure that cannot legally be performed unless it is medically indicated. It is, for example, technically illegal to give them merely so parents can have a "home movie" of the fetus, even though, of course, this prohibition is widely ignored. For a doctor to give one not because it is medically indicated, but merely because some state law requires women to have one before they can have an abortion, would technically be a violation of the Hyppocratic Oath.

  12. Ben says:

    I see the point that when declaring myself an atheist, it is not just me talking about me, it is a Challenge to those who have faith. That's kind of why I like doing it on the internet rather than sitting next to a 6'5" drunk Catholic at a bar. I can get my jabs in, if I feel they are necessary, and not get a bloody nose. Here on the internet, I get criticism, whether constructive or not, and I occasionally teach somebody a thing or two. (It should be noted that most folks I encounter on the internet take offense to me "claiming" things like the earth is 4.5 Billion years old or that we are related to Chimpanzees)

    The message of peace and love and tolerance, is a good one. So is my message, that "Religion is harmful, even your precious Christianity". I have alluded to this before… The large-scale message we send OVERSEAS needs to be a message which does not contain religious undertones. However, on a smaller scale, such as in rural America, or when interacting with certain individuals, I concede that we needn't make a complete mockery of Christianity. But, when the holy rollers come a begging for the Truth on thissey here internet, they should certainly be exposed to the conflicting viewpoints, and the vast stores of knowledge/information/media that we now have access. Even if they are inclined by their faith to interpret certain scientific facts as insults or even attacks, the internet is nonetheless a good forum.

  13. jim shepard says:

    I was raised in an evangelical church and have extended family who are still dedicated evangelicals. One of the major differences I have observed between the evangelicals and the conservatives is that the evangelicals seem to be more driven to spread the gospel (as they perceive it) and to postalizing. The conservatives, e.a. Southern Baptists whom I know are more content to maintain their version of the truth for themselves, but have less concern re making converts. Both groups will react strongly when they perceive a threat to their view of the universe such as the teaching of evolution in public schools.

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