Thanks to the people, mostly called Chris, who’ve been contributing to the thread below. We haven’t had nearly enough discussion of the Church Fathers on this blog over the last few years — most blogs, in fact, are deficient in this respect — and that’s something I’d like to encourage.

So, if we look at the tradition of Protestant fundamentalism that took shape in C20th America, then, sure, it doesn’t look much like what we find in the Catholic church. But what if we’re trying — for whatever reason, and it might be a stupid thing to want to do — to develop a workable concept of fundamentalism that can travel across different religious traditions – Christian, Jewish, Islamic, possibly Hindu?

And then the thought that strikes me is that what we associate with fundamentalism isn’t narrow textual literalism per se, partly because — and I really don’t know much about this — while Islamic fundamentalists are keen on their verses from the Qu’ran I’m not sure that they are textual literalists in the manner of Christian Protestant fundies. Here’s a bit of Sayyid Qutb, who people tell me is pretty important in contemporary Islamic fundamentalism(s). It’s taken pretty much at random, but glancing through it, this doesn’t strike me as overly concerned with narrow readings, resisting interpretation, and so on, and I don’t think that American Protestant fundamentalists talk about verses from the Bible in quite this way.

So I wonder whether we’re best off thinking about fundamentalism(s) in terms of a particular kind of claim to religious authority, which often (not always) involves a re-reading of foundational texts, and that this is what makes the idea of Catholic fundamentalism somewhat paradoxical, because Catholicism just is a claim about authority: what it is to be a Catholic (at least as far as the Church is concerned) is to accept the magisterium and so there just isn’t the space within Catholicism to come out and tell the bishops that you’ve got a more authoritative reading of scripture (or whatever) than they have.

And moving away from the idea of textual literalism may also help to think about the idea of Hindu fundamentalisms. I’m inclined to sympathise with the idea that we’re basically talking about “a bunch of political crazies” here (see Chris Y in the comments), and the malleability and whole invented-traditionness of modern Hinduism must be relevant. But it may be that political craziness and the claims to dogmatic authority are more important to a workable concept of fundamentalism than anything else.

(Andrew Vincent from Sheffield was giving a talk in Oxford yesterday about thinking about fundamentalism, and that got me onto thinking about the Catholics. After all, if the Pope’s got the key to heaven, he’s probably got the key to the concept of fundamentalism, too.)

0 thoughts on “Fundies”

  1. Tend to agree about the ‘craziness’ assessment. Fundamentalism is not about fundamentals in actuality but about a deliberate suspension of rational and emotional engagement with a text or aspect of a belief (albeit almost certainly a fundamental one). Suspension of rational and emotional faculties could indeed serve as a good definition of ‘craziness’.
    As such, it (fundamentalism, not craziness) is different from heresy which is more the elevation of one part of the truth (within a given religion or ideology) over the whole truth. Fundamentalists essentially say, ‘If this is true it needs no interpretation or response except to do exactly what is said/required.’
    Thus, any religion or ideology can have fundamentalists but they would always be heretics and should therefore be burnt forthwith or locked up in the asylum, depending on one’s mood.

  2. There is an extreme right wing movement in my Church called the “sedecantalists” which believes that the throne of Saint Peter, as they call it has been “vacant” since John 23rd became Pope.For these nuts every Pope since then has been a Jew or a Freemason..I would define these folks as fundamentalst heretics.

  3. They are called ‘sedevacantists’ – (sado-vacantists is just one of many nicknames). Literally this means ‘vacant throne’. There is a group of them in Norfolk. Pope John XXIII was not the first Pope, of course, to be declared illegitimate. One has also to distinguish between sedevacantists and the Society of St Pius X, founded by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre (1904-91) in 1969, which declares that the Second Vatican Council, and its teaching about ecumenism in particular, was heretical: they do believe that the throne of St Peter is occupied; they have been known to purge sedevacantists from their seminaries in France (Flavigny), Switzerland (Écone) and the US.

  4. My grandmother often received letters from The Latin Mass society, who are I think Lefebvrists. She filed them carefully in the dustbin.

    I think Chris is technically right that “there just isn’t the space within Catholicism to come out and tell the bishops that you’ve got a more authoritative reading of scripture (or whatever) than they have”, hence excommunication and heresy.

    But no-one’s mentioned Opus Dei who must be candidates, no?

  5. No. the Latin Mass Society is not Lefebvrist, but it demands that the Mass as it was celebrated before the Second Vatican Council be available to all Catholics. Pope John Paul II recognized this as legitimate in his motu proprio, Ecclesia Dei, in July 1988, when he excommunicated Archbishop Lefebvre for illicitly consecrating four bishops.

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