|"Grace" Christian School|
I generally disdain fundamentalism, and I must confess this bias openly. It is a framework and a people with whom I feel little kinship, having experienced it firsthand in the realms of education and church in my formative years (and now only when it's unavoidable). I wasn't raised in a fundamentalist (a.k.a. "indy-fundy") home, but we lived down the street, out in the boondocks, from a private school that had a stellar reputation for teaching its kids the good stuff. Academically, this was true; spiritually, not so much. Although grace was in the name, the place hardly exhibited it. Even less so within its ecclesial life (not unlike Hawthorne's seventeenth-century Boston). After a couple of years of attending church there, my folks, thankfully, had had enough (though we stuck around the school for a year or so longer. Not surprisingly, it was the Lutherans that showed us what providing a decidedly Christian education in a healthy way looked like. I think there's some pretty interesting reasons for this, but that's another post.)
On the other hand, Meic Pearse writes in Why the Rest Hates the West: Understanding the Roots of Global Rage that "by their constant, mindlessly inaccurate resort to the 'f-word'—fundamentalism—to describe the upsurge of religious fervor in much of the non-West, Western secularists are employing a boo-word that long ago lost its original meaning and has come to signify 'more-religious-than-I-happen-to-like'—and thus to say more about the speaker than about the persons, things, or phenomena described" (p. 27). For this reason alone, I've pretty much left off using fundamentalism pejoratively, for fear of accusing myself of disdaining others because they're "more-religious-than-I-happen-to-like" and thus hold certain views and act certain ways, so I think, because of that super-religiosity. In other words, giving them such sleight of hand fails to take them seriously (and, incidentally, probably betrays a supercilious pattern in one's life). Recognizing the duty to show others dignity means treating them seriously, at least at first (i.e., giving them the benefit of the doubt).
Okay, so, John Piper called his readers some time ago to give fundamentalism the benefit of the doubt, to "feel a good breeze" from the wasteland (actually, he wrote, somewhat more nicely, "from the fevered landscape of controversy"). I don't remember how I came across this post recently, but I'm just now reading Kevin Bauder's article (warning: .pdf file). Piper pulls out the nuggets from the piece: that the best of the fundamentalism that Bauder knows comes from those who "refused to become giants," who were not trying to create or control empires; who revered the Word of God and delighted in expounding the scriptures; who fought the battles of their day, but did so without losing their gentleness and kindness.
Of course, it goes without saying that being popular has nothing to do with the desire to create one's own kingdom, however small. This is exactly the tendency I've seen and experienced during my tenure among the fundamentalists, and none of them were/are popular, being quite content to play God's unquestioned voicebox among their particular community. Bauder himself notes: "I have been watching this version of fundamentalism [the "hyper" type seen today—his word] for forty years or so. It is filled with demagogues and bullies. I want nothing to do with it" (p. 4). This goes for a good many of those raised in it, and, alas, they've chosen atheism as a higher road—and I don't blame them.
Bauder thinks there's a fundamentalism "worth saving" (p. 2–3). I demur; unless there's a wholesale realignment with the old Princetonians, to my mind, there's little hope of salvaging it. Nevertheless, I totally understand his tenacity. The idea of jumping from the fundamentalist ship and sinking into the vast evangelical sea is probably scarier than being associated with people whose demagoguery is at least easy to spot (yes, I'm biting my lip here).