A question for Stoa-readers

Insofar as you can give content to the idea of religious fundamentalism, do you think there are or can be Roman Catholic fundamentalists or not? If you think there are, who are they, or who might they be? If you think there aren’t, or that there can’t be, is this because you think fundamentalists are textual literalists, and Catholicism isn’t especially bothered about the Bible, or for a different reason? Sort of relatedly, do you think there are Hindu fundamentalists or not? If you do, what is it about them that makes them fundamentalists? Answers in comments, please. Please don’t be inhibited by any lack of specialist knowledge about any of these subjects.

16 thoughts on “A question for Stoa-readers”

  1. My first inclination is to say Catholic fundamentalism is a contradiction in terms, for roughly the reason you mention. The impulse behind Christian fundamentalism, as best I can figure, is to return to the basic and primitive foundations of the Christianity (as the Bible presents them), and to be rid of historical accretions — what non-fundamentalists might call “tradition” — as sources of distortion, decadence and the like. All this seems consonant with what we usually mean by Christian fundamentalism (though I welcome correction from those with some specialist knowledge), but I don’t, upon reflection, think it impossible to use fundamentalism to describe certain elements of or factions within Roman Catholicism. Those elements that are disturbed by some post-Vatican II tendencies toward ecumenicism &c. (to say nothing of those who militate against Vatican II itself), for instance, might be understood to be making appeals to the fundamentals of Catholic dogmata, which fundamentals have been abandoned by innovators, etc., etc. I would only add that the positive role accorded to tradition in Catholicism places a limit on the appeal to fundaments, which limit seems to me more or less absent in any form of sole scriptura Christianity.

  2. I think it depends on how strictly we are to define ‘fundamentalist’. If, as has been written above, it is necessary that there be a demand for a return to a ‘pure’ conception of the doctrine, largelly based on a literal interpretation of ‘sacred’ texts, then probably not.

    But the emotive connotations of ‘fundamentalist’ could pull in the other direction. Here i speak from personal experience. My religious education teacher when taking my GCSEs insisted to a class of impressionable 15 year olds that, amongst other things, abortion was a definite sin and would result in one’s going to hell*. But that shouldn’t be a problem, because the rhythm method is a proven, safe and reliable form of birth control. When pressed on the issue of condom use, i was informed that condoms shouldn’t be necessary because a) nobody should have sex outside of wedlock, and consequently b) there would be no sexually transmitted diseases if people stuck to this. When i pointed out that peole in, say, Africa, who are not Christian and might wish to protect themselves from AIDs even in wedlock (if concerned regarding their partner’s sexual history), i was informed that it was their problem, wasn’t it? When i pressed a little, and asked if this amounted to saying AIDs was sent by God to wipe out sinners, i was promptly sent to all day isolation for my pains.

    Oh, and this was a state school, but as a Catholic state school, she was – i later found out – completely backed by the school to teach such deplorable nonesense to said impressionable 15 year olds. So that’s where your taxes are going.

    To return to the question, while this teacher might be better described as a stupid close-minded bigot than a fundamentalist, i do suspect that the emotive conotations of ‘fundamentalism’ pull towards including such people under the title.

    * Also, it is not OK to abort children who will be born with severe handicaps unless the mother’s life is threatened. The sole argument for this? “Have you seen children with Down Syndrome? Well they’re always smiling, aren’t they? So they must be happy”.

  3. Christian Fundamentalism actually has a fairly clear definition and, in reply to (Mr) Sagar, a zealot is not a fundamentalist necessarily. Christian Fundamentalism is not to be confused with the ‘sola scriptura’ principle of the Reformation which still sees the need for interpretation of the Bible, albeit using the rest of scripture as the most important reference point for interpretation. Christian Fundamentalism would say that scripture should be taken at face value and a minimum of interpretation applied to it. Hence, creationism belongs to fundamentalists whereas God as creator would apply to all Christians, including Catholics, although views would differ on exactly what the first part of Genesis describes.

    However, would not Ultramontanism be a kind of Catholic fundamentalism ultimatley resting on a very restrictive reading of Christ’s words to Peter (Matt. 16:18) and insisting in the infallibility of the Pope as the sole interpreter of scripture and tradition?

  4. Pedantically, I’m sure you and Chris M are right: the term “fundamentalism” derives from a series of essays published by a group of Presbyterian theologians at the beginning of the last century as “The Fundamentals”, which placed great emphasis on the rejection of biblical criticism in favour of belief in textual inerrancy. This is certainly incompatible with Catholic practice as I understand it. But I’m fairly unclear about the prevailing views in fundamentalist circles on whether Nicene orthodoxy is a required position, since this clearly goes beyond anything in the Book. If I combined a commitment to biblical literalism with a Monophysite theology (which is perfectly consistent), would Jerry Falwell denounce me as a heretic, or would he (as I suspect) not have a clue what I was on about?

    If I am theologically orthodox (for the sake of argument – IRL I’m an atheist), then I have already departed from the position that the “bible” – the canon adopted at Nicea – is the sole authority, because I resolve the inconsistencies therein by reference to Augustine, Clement, etc. I suspect that in practice most fundamentalists do too, but without realising it. I don’t know what the authors of “The Fundamentals” said about this, but I bet they addressed it.

    If I can be orthodox in this sense and still be fundamentalist, then I can probably be a Catholic fundamentalist, since most of the unique Catholic dogma that protestants object to isn’t AFAIK regarded as essential to salvation. Anyway, the bible takes no position on things like transsubstantiation and the assumption of the Virgin, so I suppose I can believe them if I want to. But I doubt if I would make many friends either in the Vatican or in Bob Jones U. So the answer is probably, in theory yes, in practice no.

    I don’t think you can be a Hindu fundamentalist (based on conversation with the only Hindu I’ve ever discussed such things with, 40 years ago as a teenager). I gather that Hinduism is almost infinitely malleable theologically. I do believe that a bunch of political crazies can adopt an interpretation of Hinduism that is intolerant of any other in order to defend their political agenda. Which is also what the majority of the (theologically illiterate) Christian right are doing.

  5. I think you can be a fundamentalist catholic in the sense that your belief in the teachings and heirarchy of the church directs your personal life and that you believe also that it should direct everybody else’s – you can be fundamentalist about an institution as well as a dogma.

    It’s probably the same with Hinduism, with people like Shiv Sena and so on promoting the idea that India has a, well, fundamentally Hindu identity.

  6. According to a wise man i spoke to recently, who is often right about these things, “Hinduism” was essentially invented in the late 19th Century by the British administration in India in an attempt to prevent sectarian violence and disorder.

    If that is true, it would offer at least a prima facie reason for thinking Hindus can’t be fundamentalists, though if that works all the way down, i am not qualified or well read enough to say…

    Chirstopher Cradock: that all seems fair enough, i was interested to see what people thought, thanks for that.

  7. I think it is perhaps more useful in the case of Catholics to speak of ‘Traditionalist’, by which we would mean opposition to Vatican II (or, for the more conciliatory traditionalists, the ‘abuse’ of Vatican II) and a strict adherence to the traditional devotions and doctrines of the faith.

    But it certainly is possible to be a Catholic fundamentalist, I think. I’ve met many trads who constantly quote papal bulls, encyclicals, ecumenical council decrees, etc. So they may not be that interested in a literal reading of the Bible (although I believe First Things, a conservative Catholic journal in the US, has been supportive of intelligent design) but they are certainly keen of a literal reading of certain other religious texts. Indeed, for these Catholic fundamentalists, Catholicism IS Catholic fundamentalism, since not to give absolute obedience to infallibly pronounced doctrines, and not to give general obedience to the teaching authority of the Church, is to fall away from Catholicism.

  8. Chris y

    I’m not sure I follow your distinction between Nicene orthodoxy and ‘the Book’. I don’t know of any of the ‘Theologically Orthodox’ who would say Nicene orthodoxy goes beyond scripture. I also don’t understand how reference to Augustine etc. means one has departed from what the Bible says. If you refer to one source to resolve ‘inconsistencies’ somewhere else, the latter becomes consistent and there is no addition or reduction. Of course, I am referring to apparent ‘inconsistencies’ but if you think these are ultimate inconsistencies, neither Augustine, Clement not Jerry Falwell will be much use to you.

  9. Since Iam one of the few, if not only, people here who actually subscribes to and readsFirst Things,Id say that while intelligent design has been debated in its pages, its never actually been advocated by Neuhaus or by any member of the magazines editorial board.
    Hers another issue entirelyy..asa Catholic who is conservative on some theological and political issues,and quite liberal, if not radical liberal on others,Id like to say that one does not need to be a religious believer, or evena theist, to be a fundamentalist, of sorts. There are after all, fundamentalist Freudians,Fundamentalists Marxists,and even, mirabile dictu, fundamentalist Darwinists(witness messrs Dennett and Dawkins).
    Fundamentalism, in any of its religious or irreligious forms, is usually strident, humorless,and convinced of its own righteousness.Ratzinger, while clearly a conservative catholic, is hardly a fundamentalist. ive met Fundamentalist Catholics, and some of them are (literally) insane.

  10. Indeed, for these Catholic fundamentalists, Catholicism IS Catholic fundamentalism, since not to give absolute obedience to infallibly pronounced doctrines, and not to give general obedience to the teaching authority of the Church, is to fall away from Catholicism.

    My understanding is that there are in fact only two doctrines that have been proclaimed to be infallible: that of papal infallibility itself, and that of the sinlessness of the Virgin Mary and of her assumption into heaven.

    As an aside: Dennett can be described as many things, but certainly not humourlessness.

  11. I think that’s right: Papal infallibility is when the Pope speaks ex cathedra on a point of disputed Catholic doctrine, and — I think the right phrase is — lays the smack down, and that happens very infrequently, though the 1950 proclamation of the bodily assumption into heaven of Mary was certainly one occasion.

  12. *Papal* infallibility is rarely evoked certainly, but of course Ecumenical Councils can pronounce infallibly as well, and I think the official line is that the decrees of a doctrinal council like the Council of Trent are understood to be infallible. Papal infallibility was considered a theological novelty only in the sense that it established that the Pope can make infallible pronouncements without the bishops, but that isn’t to say that previous dogmas, e.g. the nature of the Trinity, which were decrees of ecumenical councils, were not infallible.

  13. Ok..ill grant Dennett does have sense a of humor..i just describing the common run of fundamentalists…
    One of my dearest friends is a pentecostal Christian whom most people would describe as a “fundie”and he (usually) has a n impish sense of humor.
    Yours, the beer drinkin/ pappist(which is what Ill call MY blog), if iever get one together.

  14. Wasn’t there some Catholic split off group that rejected Vatican 2, went back to the Latin mass, and denounced the liberalism of the popes? I seem to remember that they were led by a semi-senile French prelate.

    Now, going back to the Latin mass seems like a fundamentalist thing to do. On the other hand, it also seems much prettiers, especially to an outsider who likes the idea that God is an ancients buff.

    A-and there was also the ultramontanists from the 19th century…

  15. That would be the Society of St Pius X of which Mel Gibson is a well-known supporter.

    A recent book by Garry Wills has an amusing chapter on a tiny American groupuscule which found even the Society of Pius X too liberal, seceded and elected its own anti-Pope.

    As for the Latin mass, Vatican II plausibly claimed to be returning to the more primitive (or if you like fundamentalist, although I never heard that term used in a Catholic context) tradition of saying the liturgy in a language comprehensible to the congregation.

    However the Latin mass was never actually banned and when I was still an occasional ‘taster of churches’ you could still find good sung Latin Masses at central London RC churches like Brompton Oratory, Farm St and St Etheldreda – although finding one in the suburbs and provinces was usually a challenge.

    As for the Ultramontanists this was originally a term of abuse used in France asnd Germany for the papalist party in the Church who took their orders from over the Alps.

    I suspect you’re really thinking of their ‘Old Catholic’ opponents who seceded from the Church rather than accept Vatican I and which still have a few congregations.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.