I freely admit I've not always gotten it right, and I invite others to comment on how I have defined fundamentalism in my writings. I think I was much too vague when I defined fundamentalism in the 2007 book Leaving Fundamentalism.
On my website LeavingFundamentalism.org, I offered the following definition:
[By fundamentalism we refer to] certain conservative Christian churches and religious groups, usually evangelical, charismatic or Pentecostal, who have the following features in common:On revisiting this definition, I think it is actually quite fair. Notice that the theological beliefs alone do not make someone a fundamentalist (I know lots of people who believe in the inerrancy of the Scriptures, for example, but whom I would hesitate to call fundamentalists). Those beliefs may be seen as indicators, but the essence of fundamentalism lies in the other characteristics I first described.
- An insistence that their brand of religion uniquely represents "true Christianity";
- Intolerance of and hostility towards views outside the accepted teachings of their church or group;
- Exclusion, whether actively or verbally, of people whose 'lifestyles' are deemed immoral or sinful, e.g. gays and lesbians, cohabiting couples or divorcees;
- A zeal for evangelism and conversion using methods and techniques that frequently border on psychological, emotional and spiritual manipulation and abuse;
- A radical distrust of the secular world, often manifest in anti-intellectualism, and exalting the 'spiritual' and the 'Word of God' over reason or logic.
Because these fundamentalist groups are largely conservative, Protestant and evangelical, their distinct theological beliefs often centre around the following:
- The Bible is the Word of God, without error, and is the only authoritative guide to morality and belief;
- Their interpretation of the Bible is the 'clear meaning';
- Only by being 'born again' (converted) can one be truly saved and be guaranteed heaven;
- Those not born again will face punishment, e.g. hell.
In sum, fundamentalist Christianity encourages a very black-and-white view of the world, where everyone is 'in' or 'out', 'saved' or 'unsaved', and where belief and behaviour is cut-and-dry -- 'The Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it!'
But to this definition, I would like to add a couple of thoughts.
First, I now perceive fundamentalism as a centre, out from which various Christians form ever increasing circles. Rather than seeing Christians as being strictly in or out of fundamentalism, they are at varying distances from the centre. (I borrow this analogy from my friend John Halton, who once defined evangelicalism similarly).
Second, my recent experience of Christians from Bible college and church days has shown me what lies at the root of fundamentalism, or the difference between fundamentalists and non-fundamentalists. The key lies in the ability to make room for other people's stories. Fundamentalists shut out voices that represent other stories, other agendas. To the extent that a person is not generous enough to make room for others without insisting on conformity to their story and their agenda, that person is a fundamentalist.
I am pleased to say that many of my Christian friends have utterly failed to live up to my definition of fundamentalism - and I am grateful.