from Peter Cameron's "Fundamentalism and Freedom" (Doubleday; Sydney: 1995.)

p. 10 ff

To reduce that to convenient headings, the Fundamentalist is uncomfortable with freedom, truth, and dissent.' and very much at home with authority, obedience, and conformity But the most striking feature of the Fundamentalist is that, whether he is conscious of it or not, his approach results in the total contra­diction of what he professes to believe.


They will be fearful in the face of any challenge to their security and brutal in their reaction; they will seek to bolster their security by persuading others of its validity.; and those others will be persuaded because of their own increasing sense of insecurity in the modern world....the key concepts being security and power ...the Fundamentalist is usually both a bully and a coward. ...the potential bully in them responds eagerly to authority and looks forward to the time when they will exercise that authority; while the most bullying of the bosses tend to shelter behind the more cowardly and get them to do their dirty work for for the convert ... The Fundamentalist deals in absolutes. ... "We have the answer. The answer is to ask no questions. Everything is set out in the Holy Book. Simply obey and you will find happiness - in other words, security."... Argument, debate, the possibility that they might be wrong - these are not on the agenda.

In any other walk of life they would be regarded as unhinged. Very few of them have ever been exposed to the simplest form of biblical criticism, yet they feel qualified to tell people who have spent half a lifetime on the subject that they are barking up he wrong tree.

It's rather like witchdoctor medicine confronted with real medicine. The primitive reaction is one of fear, suspicion and hostility - out with the spears and shields. And the witchdoctors themselves, of course, have vested interests to protect: their positions of control and authority. naturally they resist....

Fundamentalists need an enemy; an enemy both gives them their own identity and unites them. ...they stand for nothing positive at all - simply obedience to rules and the condemnation of those who break them....

Fundamentalists are impervious to rational argument. They are convinced that they are God's chosen instrument and that their victims are agents of the devil. They need to be convinced of this, because it is what gives them purpose to their lives. Fundamentalism's real purpose is not to save but to condemn: for the dissenter or for the outsider it is dangerous almost be definition.... the danger is manifested in the methods used. No holds are barred. All is fair in holy war. The end always justifies the means. ...appropriate is the Old Testament norm, according to which the apostate who deviates from true doctrine contaminates the people of God and must be weeded out and burned.

The pattern therefore is one of private hearings, and stacked committees, and kangaroo courts, or - more simply and more devastatingly - a behind-the-scenes verdict and a sentence of ostracism with no possibility of appeal.... a closed system of rules and obedience, and authoritarian control, and rigid conformity. Instead of a religion of love which proceeds by invitation, it is a religion of fear which proceeds by intimidation....

Fundamentalism is wrong, it is a distortion of Christianity, in fact it is a complete contradiction. ... it masquerades as the truth. Christianity is not a matter of obeying commandments, or of obtaining salvation through the acceptance of an authoritative holy book, or of believing in certain propositions like a physical resurrection. the irony is that what Fundamentalist Christianity teaches is exactly the sort of thing which the founder of Christianity came to warn people about....Fundamentalism ... thrives on protective stupidity.... fear in the face of any challenge to the status quo; indoctrination in order to prevent dissent, and brutality in suppressing dissent; the exaltation of authority and rules and control and manipulation; and certainty on the part of those in charge that they possess the truth, hand in hand with an actual perversion of the truth into mere expediency.

pp 36 -42

The word 'Fundamentals' in this context - in the sense of certain doctrines or elements which are foundational to Christianity, and in the absence of which it would cease to exist or at least no longer be recognisable as Christianity-was first used in the early part of this century in the USA and of course gave rise to the term Fundamentalism.
In due course a consensus formed in Fundamentalist circles that there were five such Fundamentals~ the infallibility of scripture, the divinity of Christ, the resurrection, the Virgin Birth, and atonement through the blood of Christ. And it was made clear both to Fundamentalists and to those outside the magic circle that unless you accepted each of these articles of the faith and 'believed' them, then you were not properly speaking a Christian.

The main reason for identifying and setting out these Funda­mentals was the encroachment on traditional belief which had been made by biblical scholarship, or 'modernism' as the Fun­damentalists called it. For example, the suggestion that the Bible should be viewed in principle like any other historical document, was abhorrent to the conservative Christian mind, which rather saw in the divine origin of the Bible the guarantee of salvation: if you attacked the status of the bible you were attacking the Christian faith at its foundation, at its Fundamentals.

Similarly if you suggested that the Virgin birth stories were legendary and arose out of a desire that prophecy should be fulfilled, or if you understood the resurrec­tion of Jesus as a symbolic story intended to convey his enduring presence, or if you claimed that a proposition like 'the Word was made flesh' was unintelligible in the twentieth century and that Jesus was simply a human being (although a human being with a unique insight into the nature of God), or if you ques­tioned an objective connection between the death of Jesus and the reconciliation to God of sinful humanity-in all these cases you were fundamentally undermining Christianity. The time had come, thought the Fundamentalists, for a clear statement to be made of the essentials of the faith, so that the faithful should know just what it was they were expected to believe, and so that Christianity could look 'modernism' squarely in the eye and say 'Thus far and no further'.

Of course there was nothing new in all this. The historic creeds of Christianity in the third and fourth centuries were drawn up for very much the same reasons. Various adventurous minds had explored the implications of the Christian faith in new directions and in the light of different philosophical back­grounds. In some cases 'the Church' decided that their conclu­sions or tentative suggestions were dangerous to the stability of what the majority considered to be common ground-in other words, orthodoxy. The Church thought it necessary therefore to formulate that common ground in a coherent statement, both to lend official weight to orthodoxy and to identify and exclude what it deemed to be heretical. So that the various elements in the creeds-the creation, Jesus as the son of God, the trinity, the Virgin Birth, the resurrection of the body, the forgiveness of sins, and so on-could very well be described as the Fundamentals of early orthodox Christianity.

There are, however, certain problems associated with any such attempt to lay down what is essential to the faith or that by which, in a historic phrase the Church stands or falls.

First of all there is the practical question of who decides. In a period where there is a universal Church, when everyone is a Christian and the only dispute is whether they are orthodox or heretical, it is relatively simple: the Church decides. But what happens when the Church begins to fragment into various denominations, and the 'Fundamentals' of a particular denomination are different from those of another, each claiming to be orthodox? What happens when the Fundamentals of a Christian movement which claims to be impeccably conservative are different from the Fundamentals of early Christian orthodoxy? Is there not, for example, something odd in the fact that Fundamentalism's five Fundamentals do not include everything in the classic Christian creeds?

And that leads to the second problem, a logical problem. What is the status of those elements of Christianity which are not included in the Fundamentals? Take the residue of the Apostles' Creed which is not covered by the five Fundamentals of Funda­mentalism: for example, the creation and the Holy Spirit. Does their absence from the Fundamentalists' creed imply that they are unimportant, optional, mistaken? I suppose the Fundamentalists would argue that their insistence on the infallibility of the Bible takes care of the creation and the Holy Spirit, but in that case why single out the resurrection and the virgin birth for special mention? Is it in fact possible for any movement claiming to stand in the tradition of orthodoxy to make any pronounce­ment at all on the Fundamentals of the faith, which does not simply repeat previous such pronouncements? In other words, can something which has once been stated to be fundamental to Christianity ever cease to be fundamental?The third problem is partly logical and partly psychological. The implication of the Fundamentalists' Fundamentals is that you must believe them before you can claim to be a Christian. But how can you be required to believe anything? Does the formulation 'You must believe' make any sense at all? We do not in fact decide what to believe or if we do we are misusing the word 'believe'. The content of a belief constrains us to believe. To that extent it does make sense to say I must believe it: I must believe it because it's true. But I cannot be compelled to believe anything by external authority, not just because l might wish to resist that authority but because belief cannot be coerced.Now if the Fundamentalists say that they are simply stating in their Fundamentals what is true, and that is why I must believe them, the question naturally arises: what about all the other aspects of Christianity, the non-Fundamentals? Are they less true, or untrue? It seems that any statement of what must be believed can only apply to the whole of Christianity, that is, to the whole truth. Once the Fundamentalists attempt to concentrate on 'Fundamentals' then either they become logically incoherent or they are in fact trying to force us to believe, which is impossible.But the most important objection to Christian Fundamen­tals, or essentials of the faith, is a theological objection: the whole idea of an irreducible minimum of belief is contrary to the­ spirit of Christianity. It is not easy to explain why, except obliquely - by saying, for example, in Kierkegaard's arresting simile, that it is like trying to paint the god Mars in the armour which made him invisible. I was once asked on a radio program to sum up in one sentence the message of Jesus. I racked my brains feverishly for a minute, but then I thought, 'No, why should I play this game?' if Jesus could have said in a single sentence why he had come, then it would havebeen quite unnecessary for him to come at all - except in order to utter that sentence.We live of course in an age of definitions. There are so many rival messages and so much competition for media space and time that we have to be able to convey instantly what it is that is dis­tinctive about us, or else people will have lost the thread or lost interest. But the trouble with definition is that - by defini­tion - it puts limits on things. When you define you exclude: if you define what you stand for, you simultaneously distance yourself from everything else.Now if someone comes with a message about the love of God, a love which is absolute in the sense that it reaches everywhere and covers every situation, which cannot be excluded, which is entirely without condition but which can only be responded to adequately by completely surrendering our­selves to it-how can such a message possibly be defined? Because to define the love of God would be to exclude the situ­ations to which it did not apply, or to lay down the conditions on which it could be won, or to indicate the appropriate ways of responding to it in particular circumstances. Such a message can only be conveyed indirectly, by hints, by deeds, by stories.That is why Jesus spoke so much in parables: not out of condensation to an illiterate audience, or, as the gospels on sometimes suggest, to prevent outsiders from understanding what he meant, but because only the parables with their 'it is like' formula, are adequate to something as elusive and all embracing as the love of God. You cannot for example decode the parable of the prodigal son, and say that Jesus is here teaching us that God's love knows no barriers, or forgives everything, or is always there waiting for us. Such impersonal, generalised abstractions do no justice at all to the parable, which can only be grasped if you have had a prodigal son yourself, or been one your­self, or can imagine what it is like to have or be one-and then there is nothing more to say. All that needs to be done with the parable is to repeat it.And the same argument applies to Christianity as a whole, or to the life and death and teaching of Jesus as a whole. You cannot generalise or abstract certain principles or 'Fundamentals' and attach some saving significance to them, or make of them a test of allegiance and put everything else on the level of non-essential or optional or whatever. Of course it is entirely understandable why people should want to do so. As Dostoevsky's Grand lnquisitor saw so clearly, people don't want freedom, they want to be told what to do. And psychologically there is nothing more satisfying than a rule book, or a party manifesto, which tells you simply and categorically just what you should do and what you should believe. And that psychological need is so great that you remain blind to the fact that a religion which wants to ~ from rules and exclusiveness and seeing God as a possession, and to open you up instead to the absolute love of God is immediately involved in a hopeless contradiction whenever it allows itself to be reduced to certain essentials or 'Fundamentals'.

Undeterred, however, the Fundamentalists might reply that their beloved Paul himself thought in this way when he said, 'If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile'. Isn't this a classic example of identifying a Fundamental of the faith-- the res­urrection?

There are several possible answers. One is that the appeal to the Bible as the rule book which decides the issue simply proves my argument. Another is that Paul himself may be succumbing here to the same psychological need for abstractions and generalities, and that two blacks don't make a white.A third possible answer is that there is a difference between on the one hand a necessary condition, a causa sine qua non or a cause without which the effect would not have taken place, and on the other hand a 'Fundamental', an essential ingredient. For example, your mother-in-law is a causa sine qua non of your marriage: if it weren't for her your wife and therefore your marriage would not exist. But it is not necessarily the case that your mother-in-law is 'fundamental' to your marriage in the sense that your marital bliss is inseparably bound up with her. In the same way it is no doubt a necessary condition of Chris­tianity that Christ should have lived and died, but it would be superfluous to insist on these facts as Fundamentals of the faith, unless of course someone were to deny them-as indeed was the case with the early heresy called Docetism (from the Greek 'to seem'), according to which Christ was entirely divine and only 'seemed' to be human.But there is a fourth answer, and that is that when Paul speaks about the resurrection of Christ he is not laying down something which you must believe before you can call yourself a Christian; what he is doing is describing his own experience of Christ, and therefore what Christianity means to him. He is in fact taking up a position which is diametrically opposite to that of Fundamentalism, and saying that Christianity has nothing to do with propositions or formulations of essential ingredients: it is the lived experience of the living Christ.

And in that sense Christianity is incommunicable, in any direct sense. It doesn't proceed on the analogy base camp in mountaineering, and 'teach' certain minimum beliefs which you can then build upon for the purposes of your individual attempts to climb higher, but below which you need never go in refreshing yourself and taking stock. Much more apt is the anaIogy of the pilgrimage or voyage, which is different for everyone, and on which you never come back to the same point.It is your pilgrimage, your voyage, and no one else has ever taken exactly the same route. You can get advice from other people, hints on the sort of things that might happen to you and the sort of things you might do; but no one can travel with you, far less instead of you. And dictating to you the Funda­mentals of Christianity, telling you what you must believe is precisely trying to travel with you or instead of you.

And, as if to prove a point, it is on this question of the incommunicability of Christianity that the Fundamentalists really become angry. They quoted a sermon of mine on the subject at one stage in the heresy proceedings, without comment, as if I was condemned out of my own mouth. Because it is here that we are fundamentally opposed. The whole basis of their religion is that it offers salvation through acceptance of propositions about God and Jesus Christ - the Fundamentals of Christianity. And their whole purpose as Christians is to persuade themselves and others to accept these propositions, to be converted. But that is precisely why they will never be converted. In the Fourth Gospel Jesus offers freedom to the Jews but in reply they deny that hey have ever been slaves. You cannot liberate those who think they are free. You cannot convert a Fundamentalist.