Fundamentalist: we’re all at risk of becoming one

It’s easy to take a stand against Christian fundamentalism. Many of us have had previous experiences within the toxicity of such a worldview, and by the grace of God, have found our way out of it. Recently however, I’ve been reflecting on the concept of fundamentalism in general, and feel like we all need to have a hard discussion.

None of us are out of the woods yet.

You see, fundamentalism comes in all shapes and sizes and is an easy position/attitude to gravitate towards. When we focus exclusively on forms of conservative Christian fundamentalism, and don’t take a critical look at our current selves, I think we deceive ourselves into thinking that fundamentalism is either something that is behind us or something that we are immune to.

It’s not.

Gravitating towards a fundamentalist mindset is an easy thing to do; it is a miserable lake you can find yourself swimming in without even knowing you had even put on your bathing suit. It’s something that too easily, “just happens”.

I remember when I was first getting used to my new worldview, and was wrestling with a lot of the anger I had towards conservative Christianity for all the years I felt like I had wasted without ever experiencing the true, counter-cultural Jesus. As part of my journey, I swung far in the other direction– veering quickly towards a new kind of fundamentalism. I could have easily arrived, and stayed there, if it weren’t for a friend who lovingly (and publicly) pointed out that I was in danger of simply becoming a progressive fundamentalist instead of a conservative one. Once he pointed it out, I realized he was right– and quite honestly, it scared the crap out of me to such a degree that I began working hard on developing a bit more self awareness to prevent swimming in that lake again.

It doesn’t matter which side of the lake you’re swimming in– it’s the same damn lake. Just different sides.

I recently saw this danger in my own “tribe” when a fellow progressive blogger sparked a discussion that many seemed to wish he hadn’t sparked. Having a strong radar for fundamentalist tendencies, I had a difficult time watching some of the online discussions in response to the dialogue. While some engaged with his content and ideas, others attributed dishonorable motive to his original post, and still others criticized him for even asking the question– as if the question was somehow “off limits”.

It’s the same stuff we used to do in a different kind of fundamentalism. This example, and other recent examples like it, reminds me that we’re all at risk of becoming fundamentalists of a different kind if we don’t develop and maintain vigilance around the issue of self-awareness as to how we carry our beliefs, and how we treat the “other”.

While this whole blog is dedicated to wrestling with the toxicity of Christian fundamentalism, we’d do well to realize that fundamentalism isn’t about religion, it’s about attitude.

Fundamentalism isn’t about the presence or absence of black and white beliefs (we ALL have some, even if it’s just the belief that nothing is black and white), but is about the attitude with which we hold those black and white beliefs.

If we’re not careful, we’re all at risk– Evangelicals, Progressives, Atheists, Hindus…

All of us.

We all have the potential to hold our beliefs not with confidence, but arrogance.

We all have the potential to attack the person asking a question instead of wrestling with a potential answer.

We all have the potential to see those who find their black-and-whiteness in other areas as being “out” while we are “in” because we have the correct white vs black belief ratio.

Without some self awareness, and some people who love us enough to warn us, we could easily get distracted and unintentionally find ourselves swimming in the same lake we criticize. Whatever your faith tradition, even if it’s no faith at all, the one thing that can make your journey worse and a little more lonely, is finding yourself swimming in that lake.

To avoid it, get some people in your life who love you enough to point it out when they see it. Work on holding your beliefs in confidence, while rejecting the slightest hint of arrogance. When someone asks a question or sparks a dialogue, make the conscious decision to believe what is good and right about them, and nothing more. Most importantly, work on seeing the “other” as someone just like you, but who simply has a different black-to-white ratio.

Because none of us want to become a fundamentalist.

Especially me.


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  • My pastor calls them, “Fundagelicals.

  • Sillama

    That’s so true! I’ve watched my friends and, I must confess, myself get into saying things like “Ted Cruz is insane.” It’s so easy to fall into ‘ad hominum’ attacks on ideas we don’t like and the people who propose them.

  • gimpi1

    “…fundamentalism isn’t about religion, it’s about attitude.”

    Too true. A good reminder. Thanks.

  • Veeeeeery true

  • Mark Hamilton

    I can’t believe you would make such a post! Obviously you only wrote it because you secretly sympathize with conservatives, or to generate hits for you blog so you can buy a nice new mercades. This post makes me sick. I will be praying for your soul.

    (For those whose sarcasm sensors are out of tune, this comment consists of 100% free range satire)

  • Jake Pruitt

    You’ve hit the nail directly on the head once again! I’ll certainly be sharing this one all over the innerwebz!
    FWIW, I’ve been burned by arrogance on both ends of the spectrum myself, and that’s one of things that makes me leery of sharing “religion” with people at all.

  • This is a really important point that few are courageous enough to make. Thank you!

    Progressives often arrogantly think they are immune to the self-righteous posture they despise in conservatives. But I can attest that they are just as susceptible to this despised attitude.


  • Lee

    “fundamentalism isn’t about religion, it’s about attitude.”

    Ooops! I resent, er, resemble that remark!

    I often turn into a lunatic myself trying to convince the other “close-minded lunatics” that I am right!

    The problem is anger. I am angry about all the ways religion is used to hurt others. But by my not acknowledging the good in religion then I am hurting people as well.

    I believe in God, but I do not think he/she has a religion.

    I often think I am fighting the wrong battle. I argue with people trying to get them to see the destuctrive nature of blindly following religion. I also argue with people over creationism.

    What they see is me trying to dismantle their faith so they fight back.

    I am new to your blog but I wonder if you have ideas on how to contructively engage with people from a place of love. Because that is where I fall short.

    The fact is that I do not know whether I should speak up at all because of the anger in my heart. Or whether I have a right to be angry at all.

    “Work on holding your beliefs in confidence, while rejecting the slightest hint of arrogance. When someone asks a question or sparks a dialogue, make the conscious decision to believe what is good and right about them, and nothing more. Most importantly, work on seeing the “other” as someone just like you, but who simply has a different black-to-white ratio.”

    Easier said than done. Maybe it is like what Jesus said, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” At the same time I have to be humble enough to apply that to myself. “Father forgive ME for I know not what I do.”

    I would be interested in any information on how to get past the personal anger of being hurt by fundamentalism.

  • Lawrence Green

    Intellectual precision depends on verbal precision. 

Fundamentalism is “a conservative movement of 20th-century American Protestantism in reaction to modernism, asserting the inerrancy of the Scriptures as a historical record and as a guide to faith and morals, and emphasizing, as matters of faith, belief in the virgin birth, the sacrifice and death of Christ upon the cross, physical resurrection, and the Second Coming”.


If Benjamin Corey wanted to redefine “Fundamentalist” in a
 non-traditional way he should have clearly stated what he meant when he used that word. Sadly he did not!


Stating an opposing viewpoint in a brittle, snarky way is not
    Fundamentalism. Hyperbole and ad hominem attacks also
    are not fundamentalism. 

What is Fundamentalism?

    For the religious, the above definition applies.


The secular equivalent of Fundamentalism is adherence to fundamental principles that are rigidly held, based on fallacious logic, often including magical thinking, contradicted by prevailing evidence, based on dogmatic opinion by a self-appointed authority and made immune from disproof by ad hoc rationalizations including moving the goal posts. We are all entitled to our own opinions; Fundamentalists usually think
 they are entitled to their own facts.


Religious Fundamentalism leads to tribalism with its inherent moral double book keeping (i.e. killing non-tribal humans is not murder, etc.), intolerance with other people, other beliefs and the conviction that the world is a battleground in the war between good and evil, and since they, the fundamentalist, are on God’s side, their opponents are evil and no compromise with them is morally justified, e.g. the Tea Party’s political ideology dressed up as the Gospel. This makes for very unattractive people imposing toxic relationships on non-Fundamentalists. This accounts for their 
pejorative reputations.

  • But, I did define how I was using the word: “it is the attitude with which we hold black and white beliefs”.

    My argument that fundamentalism can become an arrogant attitude shouldn’t detract from historic definitions stemming from the modernist controversies of the 20’s.

  • Kelli Hernandez

    I tend to agree with you up to a point. If we take a ‘moderate’ or a ‘gray area’ approach to people who are out to purposely harm others, are we not being apathetic to evil? There IS evil in the world as well as good, and yes, that IS black and white….in theory but most of us hang out somewhere in the middle…

    But I think there is something very wrong if we are not outraged at the purposeful harm to others that fundamentalists conservative extremists exhibit. As a whole, I think most are NOT that extreme, but I think it’s wrong not to call it out.

    We would call out abuse if someone were to be so. We need to continue to call it out on an entity that is dangerous to all of us, one that has shown that they lack empathy or conscience of any kind.

  • Sillama

    I grasp where you are aiming here, Ben. Sometimes, when people can’t put their finger on why they are upset, they get pedantic, trying to think it through intellectually. I’ll wager that Mr. Green has a “sore spot.” We all have wounds.

  • Grotoff

    In-group vs out-group distinctions are fundamental, natch, to humanity. I don’t think it’s possible to banish them this side of the Singularity. I do agree that we need to monitor them and recognize when they are becoming dangerous. Out-group focused violence is far too common in history.

  • Lawrence Green

    To Ben and Sillama,

 Wake up, you two! Read my words with your intellect rather than your, ahem, attitude. My very first words 
were “Intellectual precision depends on verbal precision”.
 This went right over your heads. Apparently neither of you knows the difference between a 

    def·i·ni·tion (df-nshn) n.
a. A statement conveying fundamental character.

    b. A statement of the meaning of a word, phrase, or term, as in a dictionary entry.

    2. The act or process of stating a precise meaning or significance; formulation of a meaning.

a. The act of making clear and distinct: a definition
of one’s intentions.
 b. The state of being closely outlined or determined: “With
the drizzle, the trees in the
    little clearing had lost definition” (Anthony Hyde).

    c. A determination of outline, extent, or limits: the
definition of a President’s authority.
And a connotation:

    con·no·ta·tion noun ˌkä-nə-ˈtā-shən
: an idea or quality that a word makes you think about in addition to its meaning

a: the suggesting of a meaning by a word apart from the thing it explicitly names or describes
b: something suggested by a word or thing: implication

2: the signification of something 

    3: an essential property or group of properties of a thing named by a term in logic — compare denotation

  • Lawrence Green

    I have no clue why the words in connotation were altered when I hit post.

  • Lawrence Green

    Here is, hopefully, what was missing:

    con·no·ta·tion noun ˌkä-nə-ˈtā-shən

    : an idea or quality that a word makes you think about in addition to its meaning

    Full Definition of CONNOTATION


    a : the suggesting of a meaning by a word apart from the thing it explicitly names or describesb : something suggested by a word or thing : implication


    : the signification of something


    : an essential property or group of properties of a thing named by a term in logic — compare denotation

  • Lawrence Green

    I give up.

  • Hello Ben, I have recently commented on how evolutionary psychologist Jonathan Haidt might have the cue why fundamentalism seem to be pretty present in the mind of ALL sides of the culture war:

    Do you agree with his analysis?

    Moreover, what are your advice for alleviating this terrible loveless tensions?

    I find that conversations between atheists and believers are much more respectful and agreeable in Continental Europe?

  • Lila Wagner

    I’m so reminded of “The True Believer” by that dock worker, Eric Hoffer. His argument is that the true believer will precipitously swing from one end of the pendulum arc to the opposite end. Prime example? Saul of Tarsus vs Paul of Christendom.

  • Casey Everett Westling

    Used to live near you in Litchfield, ME, I have family in Auburn, Brunswick and Greene. Was part of the Church of the Brethren, the headcovered ladies you’ll see at Shaw’s or WalMart. So very thankful for people like you who get the word out about the dangers of fundamentalism. I sure don’t want to fall into that trap again. So grateful to have found the true Jesus of love and acceptance.

  • The Fundamentals are… Love God. Be Kind.
    That’s it. The rest is commentary.

    For atheists, Be Kind suffices.

    If in implementing your beliefs, your ideologies, your dogmas, you violate those principles… you’re doing it wrong.

  • jaynine

    Aren’t you being a bit fundamentalist about your insistence?

    (that was a joke–sort of)

  • Emily Frugalsworth

    I never thought I would become a fundamentalist aka fundie. (Apologize if the word fundie sounds condescending, but it isn’t – it is just a cute way to shorten the word). Never say never, folks. Never say never.

  • As to the “how to” question, at the risk of sounding simplistic, I think the key is “merely” in forgiveness. Not easy: a process as well as a decision. But having forgiven, it can still be legitimate to either avoid or seek to challenge, for their benefit, as one is so persuaded and able.

  • I much appreciate both the spirit and the ideas here.

    I WILL add that I concur with the commenter re. the dictionary (and other scholarly) definition(s) of fundamentalism. It’s important to include as well in an extended discussion. It has been well developed by Karen Armstrong (“The Battle for God” I believe) and others that fundamentalism exists in very similar, parallel forms in many religions (and anti-religions). While I agree that the attitude/thinking style pushes people toward tribalism and the “us vs. them” syndrome, it is also true that it works in the other direction as well… feeling “attacked” or boxed in as a threatened minority group (or possible majority feeling close to losing control). That is, the tribalism leads to a fundamentalist posture as well.

  • Cory N Jamie Gilliam

    I have found any out group/ in group attitudes that fuel any kind of exclusive fundamentalism to be childish and hateful. I think it is a nice way to dress up being an out right snob. Some people take on a gentrified, stuck up attitude that needs to be left in the past. In other words, people should get over themselves and cling to goodness without trampling on others to serve their egotistical drives.