The biggest religious divide: fundamentalists versus everyone else

March 30, 2008 | By | 2 Replies More

In 2006, Andrew Sullivan wrote that there are many forms of belief and that fundamentalism is only one of many forms of religious belief:

The alternative to the secular-fundamentalist death spiral is something called spiritual humility and sincere religious doubt. Fundamentalism is not the only valid form of faith, and to say it is, is the great lie of our time.

There is also the faith that is once born and never experiences a catharsis or “born-again” conversion. There is the faith that treats the Bible as a moral fable as well as history and tries to live its truths in the light of contemporary knowledge, history, science and insight. There is a faith that draws important distinctions between core beliefs and less vital ones–that picks and chooses between doctrines under the guidance of individual conscience.

There is the faith that sees the message of Jesus or Muhammad as a broad indicator of how we should treat others, of what profound holiness requires, and not as an account literally true in all respects that includes an elaborate theology that explains everything. There is the dry Deism of many of America’s Founding Fathers. There is the cafeteria Christianity of, say, Thomas Jefferson, who composed a new, shortened gospel that contained only the sayings of Jesus that Jefferson inferred were the real words of the real rabbi. There is the open-minded treatment of Scripture of today’s Episcopalianism and the socially liberal but doctrinally wayward faith of most lay Catholics. There is the sacramental faith that regards God as present but ultimately unknowable, that looks into the abyss and hopes rather than sees. And there are many, many more varieties.

Though I don’t agree with Sullivan’s insinuation that secularists are part of the problem, this excerpt from his article does illustrate an important point to me.   Many people would, if required to divide people into basic religious types, choose these two:  Believers in “God” and Skeptics (or Non-Believers in “God”).    Sullivan’s writing reminds me that there are many types of believers, many of them hard to distinguish from certain types of Skeptics.  

I am convinced that our culture war is not primarily between Believers and Skeptics, but between Fundamentalists and everyone else (that group of “everyone else” is a stew of believers and skeptics).   Two previous posts here at DI touch on the need to carefully define what one means when it comes to designating who is religiously distinct from whom.   Consider this post regarding Einstein’s God and this post, Yana Kanarski’s urging that we categorize types of Believers with utmost care.  It’s much more nuanced than the mass media proposes.   Also, keep in mind Jimmy Carter’s definition of fundamentalism.


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Category: American Culture, Religion

About the Author ()

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.

Comments (2)

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  1. Pat Whalen says:

    For me the dividing line is secularism. If you believe that the government should stay out of the religion business then I have no problem with whatever your religious beliefs may be. Of course I might still disagree with you and we may enjoy a fine discussion about that.

    But if you believe that we should make your religion the law then that is a problem. If you think my taxes should support your religion in any way then that is a problem. If you believe that government policy should be directed by your prophesy then that is a problem whatever you call it.

  2. Erich Vieth says:

    Pat: I should have made it clear that I was talking only about the culture wars. When it comes time to draw a line between government and religion, I would ascribe to principles like those espoused by Americans United for Separation of Church and State and Freedom From Religion Foundation

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