Americans are incorrigibly, radically religious, and there has never been a time when power hungry men have not tried to subvert these spiritual yearnings for their own nefarious purposes. One of the most successful con jobs in the history of religion has been the Fundamentalist movement.

Very few founding fundamentalists had a background in religion, but instead were hustlers and con artists. Take, for example, Cyrus Scofield, the author of the "Scofield Bible" (a Bible containing a lot of footnotes spouting the nonsense of dispensationalism). This "doctor" of theology had in fact never darkened the doors of any institution of higher learning. He was a former self-proclaimed "lawyer" who had only taken up religion as a second career after getting disbarred and jailed for extortion. From the Scofields of the past to today's Jim Bakker, Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, fundamentalism has always been a fertile field for fraud, and the shearing of the sheep.

Christianity, of course, is a religion of love, forgiveness and liberation. You would never know this, however, from the Fundamentalists. Christian Fundamentalism is, in fact, a heresy. Rather than emphasize Christ's all-encompassing saving and redeeming power, the Fundamentalist insists that Jesus diverted the wrath of a malevolent, unforgiving Father onto himself. Jesus, however, is either half-hearted about salvation or not really all-powerful; his "substitionary atonement" doesn't free everyone from sin, but only applies to a few people: the Saints, the Elect. The rest of us are going straight to hell. This semi-miraculous, semi-divine Jesus and unloving, wrathful Yahweh seem indistinguishable from ancient Gnosticism, the only difference being that Fundamentalists perversely insist that Jesus had a "real" body.

Fundamentalism asserts as "fundamental" obscure doctrines of dubious significance, like the virgin birth of Jesus. These doctrines are to be accepted without question or even much reflection. Fundamentalists don't ask, "What does this mean?" They ask: "Do you believe this?" Using this question, they divide people into two groups: the "saved" and the "unsaved", without inquiring as to what the nature of this Salvation might be and what duties it might entail (like loving your neighbor).

In reality, though, religious doctrine means little to Fundamentalists except as a means of distinguishing "Us" from "Them". It is less a religious movement than a social or political tendency. The history of Fundamentalism is rife with politicians of various sorts, from William Jennings Bryan down to Ronald Reagan. Fundamentalism also attracts wealthy businessmen who, behind the scenes, fund pamphleteering or, in more recent years, broadcasting. Indeed, the movement gets its name from "the Fundamentals", a tract published by Lyman and Milton Stewart. Lyman Stewart had made a fortune in the oil business, and was one of the founders of the Union Oil Company of California ("Unocal"). In 1908, Lyman Stewart found the Bible Institute of Los Angeles (now "Biola University"). In 1909, the Stewart brothers underwrote a series of twelve volumes on what were termed "The Fundamentals", contributing $300,000, enough to ensure that millions of copies were printed and distributed.

Inside churches and schools, fundamentalism acts like a malignant tumor. It generally has to be cut out if the institution is to stay healthy. As a result, Fundamentalists are frequently expelled and have to found their own schools, and often their own churches. Fundamentalism has therefore been rejected or expelled from most big, established Protestant sects, except the Southern Baptists. In all other cases, fundamentialist have to form their own sub-denominations (for example, "Missouri Synod" Lutherans) and start their own schools -- at which point their founders are declared "reverend," "bishop" or "doctor" or whatever title they prefer. They then declare themselves the "true" believers of the denomination, and castigate the mainline church as "liberal".

Anti-intellectualism and anti-Catholic bigotry are the staples of the movement, along with stamping out some aspect of secular society. Which aspect is singled out for disfavor seems to change every few years or so. In the early 20th Century it was "Demon Rum". In the mid-20th century it was Rock and Roll. Today's preferred target of life-negation seems to be homosexuality. Oddly, anti-Semitism doesn't seem to be a big part of their agenda, due to an early link with Jewish Zionism and the belief that restoration of the Temple in Jerusalem will trigger the Rapture and the Second Coming of Christ.

I don't take that "lake of fire" stuff literally, but if I did, I'd be sure the Fundies have many rooms reserved in Hell. Jesus warned:

Then he said unto the disciples: it is impossible but that offenses will come: but woe unto him through whom they come! It would be better for him that a millstone were hung around his neck, and he cast into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones.

Luke 17:1-2.


Like my spiritual ancestor, Martin Luther, I refuse to retract a single word, but for those of you who are not as perceptive or knowledgeable as my opponent, Mssr. drownzsurf, a few words of caution. First, the bitter tone comes from my personal experience in my own church (Lutheran). As a church council member I once had to have a Fundamentalist council president removed because he was making the pastor's life miserable. I know whereof I speak, but I have a definite bias. Second, don't be fooled by the logical fallacy in my argument (guilt by association). For all the charlatans and troublemakers, Fundamentalists do include some respectable Ivy League theology professors (identified by drownzsurf) in his writeup). As for the rest of them, well, I'm a lawyer by trade. It takes one to know one. Third, Troll for the Ages!

Finally, regarding dispensationalism. Pending a more comprehensive node, let this suffice: Dispensationalists believe there are (at least) three "dispensations" or rules of life, revealed in the Scriptures, viz.: the dispensation of the Mosaic law, the present dispensation of grace, and the future dispensation of the millennial kingdom. (Some catalog up to seven (7) different dispensations). This serves to ameliorate certain internal contradictions in the Bible, particularly when read literally. In particular, its resolves the tensions between the Old and New Testaments, and between the present Gospel of universal love and salvation, and a hoped for future "Millennium" in which non-believers are tossed into a "lake of fire" to suffer eternal torment.

To understand the terms used by the Dispensationalists you have to have some familiarity with the prophecies of the book of Revelation and Daniel, and how these differ from Old Testament prohecies. Reduced to a crude formula, however: Dispensationalists have to agree that everyone is "saved" --the Bible says so-- but they think some people are more "saved" than others. Dispensationalists like to think that they have a special table reserved in Heaven where they get to sit with Jesus and judge other people --including Old Testament saints, Catholics, and other famous "good" people --just like they do now. More orthodox Christianity insists upon a universal grace of God, without distinctions among the righteous.