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Sunday, April 30, 2023

The Welcome Demise of American Fundamentalism


Dr. Alice C. Linsley

Yesterday I had a conversation with a young man who told me that he is not religious. When I asked him about that, he said he had been raised by Fundamentalist parents and he had decided that Christianity must be nonsense at best, or at worst a pack of lies. 

I have heard similar stories from other former "Christians", and I wonder if their youthful experiences of religion might serve as an excuse to not examine real Christianity, the oldest known religion.

Fundamentalism began as a movement in the late 19th century within American Protestant circles to defend the "fundamentals of belief" against the liberal theological speculation that had taken hold of the Mainline Protestant denominations. In particular, the movement opposed higher critical scholarship, the dismissal or minimization of the central truths of the Incarnation, the atoning death of Jesus Christ, and his bodily resurrection.

In reacting to Protestant liberalism, the Fundamentalists failed to resource the Tradition of the Church where they would have discovered their most valuable arguments against the growing apostasy of Protestant Liberalism. Rarely did a Fundamentalist leader consider sources earlier than the 16th century. 

Over time American Fundamentalism took on new doctrines such as the Rapture, Progressive Revelation, and Young Earth Creationism. These doctrines are claimed to be "biblical". However, a deep study of Scripture does not lend substance to that claim. The concept of the Rapture is cobbled together from disparate texts. Progressive Revelation ignores that fact that the Messianic Faith we call "Christianity" aligns perfectly with the beliefs of Abraham and his Hebrew ancestors who believed in God Father and God Son. We have evidence of that in the Bible and in extra-biblical sources. The idea that the earth is 6000-10,000 years old is not accepted by Bible-believing Christians in the sciences. 

The literalism of American Fundamentalism has been its undoing. The Fundamentalists insist on six 24-hour days of creation though even the early Church Fathers did not agree on that interpretation. They insist that Noah's flood was universal against the substantial evidence to the contrary in the Bible and in the geological, archaeological, and anthropological record. They perpetuate a false understanding of the early Hebrew, pitting Cain's (evil) line against that of his (righteous) brother Seth. Today we know that both Cain and Seth were early Hebrew rulers whose descendants intermarried (caste endogamy).  Endogamy is common trait of castes, and the early Hebrew were a ruler-priest caste

The role of myth in reading Genesis 1-3 is lost on American Fundamentalist for whom the term "myth" suggests untruth. They lack insight into the lasting nature of myths. Fundamentalists, who favor the ever-approachable C.S. Lewis, overlook the fact that he championed myth as a way for eternal truths to be presented.

American Fundamentalism has taken on the characteristics of a cult. There is no opportunity for reasoned debate with this highly defended community. They have patented replies to every query. They claim that dating methods are flawed. They designate all who reject Fundamentalist interpretations as non-believers. They pit their belief system against the evidence of many sciences: anthropology, genetics, linguistics, archaeology, earth science, etc. They claim Scripture as their only authority but fail to read it apart from their preconceptions. 

Thousands of former Fundamentalists are floundering spiritually because they were indoctrinated in this false religion. They welcome the demise of Fundamentalism. The political alignment of Fundamentalism with Trumpism has further eroded Fundamentalism's clout.

Tragically, American Fundamentalism joins the list of false religions exported from the USA. These include Mormonism, Jehovah's Witness, Christian Science, the Prosperity Gospel, Second-blessing Pentecostalism, and Scientology.


  1. Paul Edward Lafferty Smallwood's response: "What began as a well-intentioned response to liberal heresy (which we painfully see continuing to be played out in the Episcopal Church USA, which is interestingly enough a part of the Anglican tradition) sadly created more problems than it solved. Now the American church (particularly its Evangelical wing) is saddled with dispensationalism, revivalism, easy believism, anti-sacramentalism, pietism, moralism, anti-intellectualism, anti-creedalism and bibliolatry. My own Baptist tradition has been particularly hard hit by these ills to the point where its 17th century founders in England, if they were alive today, wouldn’t recognize much of it in its American setting."

  2. There are two significant flaws in this essay - first, viewing fundamentalism from a great distance as she does, the author confuses two quite distinct things - the fundamentalism which began as a relatively educated/intellectual response to theological liberalism and the fundamentalism which is a product of folk religion and 'every man his own interpreter'-style Pietism. Although the two often intersect and combine, they are quite distinct phenomena, especially at a culturally and personal level, with the latter much more likely to "chase off" intelligent people reared in it, such as the young man mentioned early in the article. The second flaw is in the headline: one hardly sees how the demise can be 'welcome' when it is clearly being succeeded by even more unsavory things. For those who stay in the churches of fundamentalist heritage, a religious life of substance (though informed by erroneous theology and history) is being replaced by religiously-themed entertainment, ever more steeped in pop psychology and marketing culture. For those who leave, fundamentalism is being replaced not by a search for more ancient forms of Christianity, but by extreme hedonism. These things are much more clear when one's experience of fundamentalist church culture is personal rather than merely academic.

  3. This article was reposted at VirtueOnline and the comments are fascinating. One person labeled me "woke" and I had to laugh.

  4. Unknown, I am the author of this article. I have had personal contact with American Fundamentalism for over 50 years. My analytic observations are those of a cultural anthropologist. All those who uphold Scripture's authority should "welcome" the demise of religious movements that do not align with the reasoning, worldview, morality, and universality of the Gospel.

  5. For me the most disturbing aspect of Young Eart Creationism is its racist tone. YEC claims that skin color is the result of God's judgement. At the back of Young Earth Creationist books such as "Coming to Grips with Genesis: Biblical Authority and the Age of the Earth" by Terry Mortenson one finds the 12 Affirmations and Denials. Affirmation XII claims that the diversity of languages and skin color came about as a result of divine judgment at the Tower of Babel.

    XII. We affirm that all people living and dead are descended from Adam and Eve...and that the various people groups (with their various languages, cultures, and distinctive physical characteristics, including skin color) arose as a result of God's supernatural judgment at the Tower of Babel..."