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Fundamentalism in America


Fundamentalism, especially Christian Fundamentalism, has become a major force in social and political

America. Originally introduced as a response to the apparent growth of secularism and liberalism in concern to faith, it quickly grew into political arenas. Christian Fundamentalism has come to associate itself with the Religious Right, conservatives with strong religious beliefs. Along with political power, Fundamentalists have spread their beliefs through the media using methods like television, radio, and the internet. Furthermore, Fundamentalists seek to change the education system of America to teach more Christian-based curriculum. While they had large amounts of power in the mid- to late 20th century, recently Christian Fundamentalism has lost influence due to a combination of scandals and loss of interest.

What is Fundamentalism?

What does "fundamentalism" mean? Well, in the past few years, the term "fundamentalist" has come to refer to a religious group with radical views. In terms of a Christian fundamentalist, the term refers to a Christian who takes the bible literally, believes that it is the "Word of God". Additionally, while it may seem to non-Christians that these fundamentalists all have similar political views (i.e. anti-gay, anti-abortion, etc...), what really defines a Christian fundamentalist is their belief in the experience of being faithful towards Jesus Christ, otherwise referred to as the "new birth" by Christians.

The term fundamentalist is generally used in context of orthodox Protestants, one of the two sectors of Protestantism (The other being Modernism). Christian Fundamentalism originated because of the increase in evolutionary theories and Modernist criticism of the Bible. Fundamentalism draws from five principal "fundamentals", all of which were created during a Bible conference of Conservative Protestants in Niagara in 1985. These five points are the complete accuracy of the Bible, the Virgin Birth and holiness of Jesus Christ, the fact that Jesus died for our sins, the physical resurrection of Jesus, and the belief that Jesus will come again.
However, while Christian Fundamentalism is probably the most well known form of fundamentalism, other religions or religious cults have also emerged as fundamentalist groups, many taken the definition of "radical views" to a new level. Three such groups include the Church of Scientology, the Church of Euthanasia, and Nuwaubianism.

1) L. Ron Hubbarrd is the founder of the fundamentalist religion, the Church of Scientology. Scientologists are enticed to join his religion through a variety of ways.
Photo Credit - www.scrapetv.com
Photo Credit - www.scrapetv.com
Through Scientology's scripture, the Modern Science of Mental Health, or Dianetics, Hubbard maintained that people could raise their IQ, improve their eyesight andperson is having trouble crying, Hubbard would claim that it is because in a previous life they were a clam whose water ducts had been clogged with sand. However, this counseling comes at a price: 12 ½ hours of "Life Repair", using lie detectors, costs $625, and the price skyrockets to over $5,000 to reach the "clear" stage, and even more to reach the stage of "operating thetan". The reason Scientology appeals to many people is because of its ease. New members don't have to leave their other church to join. Many of the young, pretty well-educated members of the religion seek not only religious answers, but psychological answers as well.

2) The Reverend Chris Korda founded the Church of Euthanasia outside of Boston. The Church is a political organization, which, on its website, states that it is a "non-profit educational foundation devoted to restoring balance between Humans and the remaining species on Earth.” Along with its four fundamental pillars, cannibalism of the already dead, abortion, sodomy, and suicide, the Church also preaches slogans such as "Thou shalt not procreate," "Six Billion Humans can't be wrong," or "Save the Planet, Kill Yourself".
Supporters of the Church of Euthanasia - Photo Credit: http://15.media.tumblr.com
Supporters of the Church of Euthanasia - Photo Credit: http://15.media.tumblr.com

3) Nuwaubianism, one fundamentalist cult, originated as a New York-based Black Muslim group over 30 years ago. Now headquartered in Putnam County, Georgia, Nuwaubianism is still a black supremacist group. Their leader, Dwight York, merged the Nuwaubian "religion" from New Age movements and Freemasonry,the Moorish Science Temple of America, the revisionist Christianity & Islam and the Qadiani cult of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, and the ancient astronaut theories of Zecharia Sitchin.
These ideologies have led to Nuwaubianism today, an ideology with a variety of bizarre beliefs, one of which is that men very created many generations after women, and only then because the women invented men through genetic manipulation. According to York, each of us has seven clones living in different parts of the world, and Homo Sapiens were cloned from Homo Erectus through experiments on Mars. As if that weren't wacky enough, he claims that everyone used to be completely symmetrical as well as ambidextrous, but after a meteorite struck Earth, tilting its axis, and moving people's hearts off-center while causing right- or left-handedness. Furthermore, he maintains that burying the afterbirth prevents Satan from duplicating the newborn child. Perhaps the most heinous of all the beliefs, however, is the belief that some aborted fetuses do not die during the abortion, rather continue their life in the sewers, where they are being gathered and organized to eventually take over the world.
Putnam County Headquarters - Photo Credit: http://farm4.static.flickr.com
Putnam County Headquarters - Photo Credit: http://farm4.static.flickr.com

The Rise of Christian Fundamentalism in America: Driving Forces

Christian Fundamentalism found itself first in the late 1800s. There was a rising secularist and modernist trend in America, including the widespread belief in Darwin's evolution and the loose interpretation of the Bible. Some Bible scholars had started analyzing the Bible and began to wonder if perhaps it had been written by a collective group as opposed to having been directly inspired by a greater being. In response to this rise in blasphemy, a conference was held in 1897 to redefine the core beliefs, the "fundamentals" of Christianity. At the Niagara Bible Conference, five fundamentals were settled upon. These were the complete accuracy of the Bible, the Virgin Birth and holiness of Jesus Christ, the fact that Jesus died for our sins, the physical resurrection of Jesus, and the belief that Jesus will come again. From 1910 to 1915, twelve pamphlets were published, titled The Fundamentals. These defended the core beliefs and argued against things such as evolution and modernism. Further reason was found to support fundamentalist ideals with the rise of supposedly anti-Christian communism.

Fundamentalists felt that they needed to both protect their own beliefs and help spread them to the rest of the country and the world. They wanted to protect​ their eternal life in heaven and that of their children. It was because of their children that Fundamentalists began their work on changing the educational system. For more information on this, see educational tactics.

Christian fundamentalists felt that they needed to protect their country as well as themselves from the evil called secularism. In order to accomplish this, they entered the political arena. Beginning around the mid-1970s, Christian fundamentalists began to ally themselves with the right wing, forming a new group, loosely titled the Religious Right. Through their political strength, the Religious Right hoped to protect their country from falling prey to liberal interpretations of Christianity. This is further expanded below, in political tactics.

However, some fundamentalists preferred a more grassroots approach to saving their country. They hoped to use the social media to change the way people saw the world, forming groups such as the Christian Coalition (See Image). More on this subject is in the social tactics section.
Photo Credit - www.cc.org
Photo Credit - www.cc.org
Photo Credit - Time Magazine
Photo Credit - Time Magazine

One of the reasons so many people in America have turned to Christian fundamentalism is that they are told that following those fundamentalist ideas will lead them to prosperity.
According to a recent TIME Magazine poll, 61% of Christians think that God wants them to be prosperous. However, approximately 31% of Christians surveyed seem to believe that "giving" your money to God, like putting your money in the bank, will earn you "interest," or get you into Heaven. Mega-church minister Joel Osteen has been using this philosophy to get members for his church, and it has worked on many.
However, some pastors, including those of the Mega-churches, do not agree with this ideology. Mega-pastor Rick Warren remarked that all this thought process amounts to is "creating a false idol". He added that there are millions of Christians who live in poverty, saying that if this were true, "Why isn't everyone in the church a millionaire?"

While most of Christianity has focused on topics such civil rights and peace movements, the Evangelical branch sort of took a detour, and in the words of Evangelical pastor Rick Warren, "We took on personal salvation--we need our sins redeemed, and we need our Saviour," but the problem with that, he says, is that "some people tended to go too individualistic, and justice and righteousness issues were overlooked."
It is easy to appeal to the general public, especially the lower class, with promises of wealth or prosperity - A chance at a better life. States Stephen Prothero, chairman of the religion department at Boston University "Poor people like Prosperity. They hear it as aspirant. They hear, 'You can make it too--buy a car, get a job, get wealthy.' It can function as a form of liberation." It can also be exploitative."
Christianity, for many, is stepping over the line the God wants you to prosper to "full-blown American materialism". After Calvinist Puritanism, a religion "whose respect for money was counterbalanced by a horror of worldliness," evaporated, many people of protestant faith bequeathed the thought process that "you don't have to give up the American Dream. You just see it as a sign of God's blessing," according to Edith Blumhofer, director of Wheaton College's Center for the Study of American Evangelicals

The Goals of Christian Fundamentalism

At a core level, Christian Fundamentalists seek, as stated above, to protect their religious beliefs from Christian liberalism. However, they seek political and social power as well, to spread their beliefs.

The Christian Coalition, one major fundamentalist group founded by Pat Robertson in 1989, works to "[ensure] that government serves to strengthen and preserve, rather than threaten, our families and our values." The assumption here is, of course, that family values are primarily Christian ones.

Further information on the Christian Coalition website provides examples for these values. Among other beliefs, the Christian Coalition is pro-life, anti-gay marriage, anti-Fairness Doctrine, anti-Embryonic Stem Cell Research, and anti-nationalized health care. This hodgepodge of stereotypical Christian and conservative beliefs came from the somewhat disjointed combination of fundamentalists and republicans.

Methods Used by Christian Fundamentalists to reach their goals

Educational Tactics

Fundamentalists have seeked to change the educational system for a long time, in an attempt to make it more supportive of Christian beliefs and values. One of the main educational goals of the fundamentalists has been the removal of the teaching evolution from the educational process. This aim has been worked towards through the attempted passing of "monkey laws," and the conflict reached a climax during the famous Scopes Trial of 1925.

Texas was one of the earlier active states in this conflict. In 1923, a few years before the Scopes Trial, S. J. Howeth and J. T. Stroder of Texas attempted to pass an anti-evolution bill that would prevent teachers from teaching evolution. This didn't pass, but they were able to remove any references to evolution from the school textbooks. In fact, this anti-evolution environment lasted for many years. In 1988, the Texan Republican party spoke out, saying that schools should teach a balance between evolution and creation, as opposed to a purely evolution-based curriculum, which many other states had adopted.

An even stronger approach was brought forward in Texas by many church groups, which would mean that it would be illegal for public schools to employ atheists or agnostics, even if those teachers agreed not to teach evolution. This was never passed.

Fundamentalists have also had a history of founding their own schools within Baptist communities which would teach a purely Christian fundamentalist curriculum. In 1971, the Criswell Center for Biblical Studies was founded in Texas, a school that would provide complete primary education for all who attended. This, combined with a high number of fundamentalist colleges, meant that a student could spend their entire education within the boundaries of fundamentalism.

Political Tactics

Once again it is easy to see many aspects of fundamentalism presented in a case study of Texas. Much of the political focus of the fundamentalists concerned communists around the time of the Cold War. Communism was seen as an opposite for Christianity as well as being an opposite for democracy. Christian fundamentalists saw communism as a direct attack on their core beliefs and politically fought it as hard as they could. Some Texan fundamentalists saw communists as the causes for other great "evils", such as desegregation and the civil-rights movement.

Within Texas, many powerful political positions were held by fundamental Baptists. During the mid-1990s, Baptists held huge amounts of political power in the south, vying with more moderate politicians for major offices.

Social Tactics

These tactics are used to spread the fundamentalist beliefs among people without the interference of the government or educational system. These are often used by organizations such as the Billy Graham Evangelist Association (BGEA).

The radio has been a long standing method of spreading the fundamentalist faith. It often is used to make sermons public, along with being able to reach to many remote locations where sometimes television and other sources of media are not available.

Television and film are related to radio, but can provide a much more immersive experience. Television is where many evangelists took hold, which led to the common use of the term televangelist. Films, in particular, have been used by the BGEA to reach out to many smaller, remote countries, which dealed with stories from Christianity and the Bible. Between radio, television, and film, the BGEA has spent over $10 million in 2009.

Forms of print media, such as books and magazines are also used. Jimmy Swaggart's Evangelist and Billy Graham's Decision are two major magazines which have helped to find converts. The BGEA has used these forms of media more widely, having spent around $15 million in 2009.

The BGEA has recently started using Christian concert series and festivals in an effort to reach out to the youth. This "Rock the River Tour" of 2009 brought in 112,000 participants.

This is a sample from Billy Graham's radio station Decision Minute. It gives some insight into the exact techniques used to gain converts. Included is a fear for Hell, which is describes with frightening terms, such as "a horrible tempest," "a terrible nightmare," and explains that "There's no return route out of Hell." This frightening vocabulary is followed by hope, in the form of Jesus Christ and the Billy Graham Evangelist Association. This quick tension-and-release provides a strong hook for those in fear for their eternal souls.

Leading Figures of Christian Fundamentalism

Billy Graham

external image graham.jpg
Perhaps the first and certainly one of the most important figures in Christian fundamentalism, William Graham was one of the first to spread fundamentalism across the world. Early in his career, he spoke in a series of lectures across the United States and Europe about Christian fundamentalism. His first international lecture, in 1954, helped bring fundamentalism to Great Britain.

Billy Graham is largely famous because of his connections to many famous political figures. Having been a religious adviser to many presidents, Graham found it much easier to add Christianity into the American political system. Graham was friends with Presidents Truman and Nixon, among others.

Graham is seen as one of the more respectable of fundamentalists, having not been involved in any major scandals.

Graham has created a legacy in his founding of the Billy Graham Evangelist Society, which works with many media sources to spread the fundamentalist word.

Jerry Falwell
Photo Credit - http://chipcurrin.files.wordpress.com
Photo Credit - http://chipcurrin.files.wordpress.com


Jerry Falwell, another fundamentalist figure, was important as he was one of the first "televangelists," or people who would sell the fundamental beliefs over the television. Falwell tried to "sell" his religion, stating once that "Jesus must be sold as effectively as Coca-Cola." He tried to appeal to younger, more urban audiences as opposed to the stereotypical southern farmer.

Falwell saw the potential of his followers as a voting bloc, and supported their influence in politics. In order to better support the political views of the fundamentalists, Falwell formed the Moral Majority in 1979. This organization used the slogan "Get them saved, baptized, and registered" in an effort to get rural fundamentalists who perhaps had never been involved in politics before to vote.

Perhaps unfortunately, Falwell and others' credibility began to slip later in their careers due to a high amount of scandals associated with the televangelist groups.

Jimmy Swaggart
Photo Credit - www.payer.de/fundamentalismus
Photo Credit - www.payer.de/fundamentalismus


Although infamous as a fallen fundamentalist, Jimmy Swaggart began his career as a singer in 1959, producing gospel recordings. From singing Swaggart began to branch out into both radio performances and preaching. He quickly made a place for himself in the fundamentalist society.

Jimmy Swaggart was intolerant, as fundamentalists go. He often attacked other religious groups that he found offensive, such as Roman Catholics and Jews, saying that they were going to burn in hell, often on public television. Despite, or perhaps because of his radical views, he quickly gained a large following, although many television stations refused to display his show. In an effort to better spread his views, Swaggart founded a monthly magazine titled the Evangelist, in which his often offensive remarks were regularly displayed.

However, Swaggart's empire would not last. Although he preached about non-materialism, his companies made millions of dollars. Most importantly was his infamous sex scandal. In 1988, it was leaked that he had met with a prostitute in a hotel room. Feeling his grip on fame slipping, Swaggart made a tearful confession on public television, asking for God's forgiveness. However, this was not enough to stop many from leaving his church. His second scandal three years later was the final nail in the coffin. He stepped down, representing the slow fall of fundamentalism in recent years.

The Effects and Fate of Christian Fundamentalism

Often, fundamentalist groups will use their religious influence to gain them political prominence as well. One fundamentalist Christian organization has taken their influence as a religious organization and turned that into traditionally backing presidential candidates and educating voters with pamphlets in churches.

It seems as though Christian Fundamentalism, though once prominent, is on something of a fall in popularity. The following passages will show evidence to support this statement.

The Christian Coalition, an organization with a large prominence in the Republican Party, was unsuccessful in their attempted exemption from taxes due to their political activity.
Up until this point, the Christian Coalition's main pathway to voters had been the distribution of voter guides in churches, but because the Coalition is no longer tax exempt, churches are less willing to allow their influence in churches (A section of the tax law states that any organization paying taxes cannot participate in political activity inside the walls of the church). Therefore, the Coalition is hoping to split into two separate groups, the Christian Coalition International and the Christian Coalition of America. The former will engage in political activities, while the latter will become tax exempt and concentrate on "voter education".

The Christian Coalition, an organization now more than $2 million in debt, used to be very politically prominent. Formerly employing a handful of lobbyists in Washington, the Coalition is loosing ground steadily, and now employs only one such lobbyist who works at home. Many argue that since the Coalition's founding 17 years ago, its peak has already passed. The organization relied heavily on founders Pat Robertson and Ralph Reed, who both garnered a large following. After those founders left, the Coalition's prominence went with it.

Google Trends, a feature of Google.com, displays a bar graph showing the popularity or amount of news sources for a certain search term. By analyzing the number of times a subject has had news reports focused on it, it is posssible to see the rise and fall of its popularity.

Searching the term "Christian Coalition" showed that the organization's prominence peaked in September of 1996, the point in time, as the news sources underneath the graph show, when the Coalition backed Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole in his campaign. The graph also shows that now, in 2010, the Christian Coalition's influence has dropped dramatically, as the graph is as low as it has been since the organization was started a little bit over 20 years ago.

(Google Trends: Christian Coalition)

Searching the term "Christian Fundamentalism" shows something of a different story. It shows more a timeline of the entire history of fundamentalism. Obviously, Google has fewer news articles in the past, so the earlier numbers may be underrepresented, but more recent years show some interesting numbers. While the spikes in hits after 1993 do not directly correlate with those of the Christian Coalition, the late 2004 spike is clearly visible in both, possibly related to the Bush reelection. While it is certainly possible that the past five years have been a small lull in a rising trend, it is more likely that Christian fundamentalism is losing ground.
(Google Trends: Christian Fundamentalism)