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Southern Religion

Fundamentalism death watch

Although neither God nor fundamentalism is dead, Harvard Divinity School professor Harvey Cox believes the latter is on its deathbed.

Cox’s article in the Boston Globe looks at the history of fundamentalism, and proclaims “that for all its apparent strength, the fundamentalist sun is setting on all horizons.” Cox also argues that the religious right in America “is becoming a niche:”

The shrillest TV evangelists are losing audiences to more moderate “evangelical-lite” preachers. Fundamentalist congregations are ceding ground to Pentecostals and mega-churches, which embrace a wider social agenda and teach the spiritual authority – not the literal inerrancy – of the Bible.

Cox calls the fall of fundamentalism “a decisive change in global society:”

It has already freed Christians, Muslims, and Jews to explore what all three have in common as they now begin to cooperate in confronting nuclear weapons, poverty, and climate change.

A key reason for the downfall of fundamentalist movements is their “inherently fractious” nature, Cox says. He writes:

When your view of reality is the only acceptable one, you cannot compromise. Almost from its inception, American Protestant fundamentalism split into warring factions.

No doubt. Earlier today we reviewed the Southern Baptist Convention seppuku – a relentless process of denominational self-destruction through ejection of all but a steadily narrowing group of the sufficiently fundamentalist.

Cox believes the frozen righteousness of fundamentalism will fail because young people learn that “inherited prejudices can soften and melt when confronted with good, morally upright people from different belief systems:”

Virtually anywhere on the planet, it is hard to imagine the grandchildren of fundamentalists reconciling themselves to their tightly constricted spiritual world.

He suggests that in fact a reverse process is the rule, a process which involves throwing off narrow adherence to some body of text and doctrine for living spiritual encounters. Specifically:

The very nature of human religiousness is changing in a way inimical to fundamentalist thought. The most rapidly growing spiritual groups today focus not on someone else’s authority, but on a direct encounter with the divine. Whatever else it may mean that so many people call themselves “spiritual but not religious,” it suggests they still yearn for contact with the sacred, but are suspicious of the scaffolding, the doctrines, and hierarchies through which it has often been conveyed.

Read the entire piece here.

[H/T Bruce Gourley.]

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November 9, 2009 - Posted by | Religion, SBC | , ,

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