by Harvey Cox
IN 1910, A COHORT of ultra-conservative American Protestants drew up a list of non-negotiable beliefs they insisted any genuine Christian must subscribe to. They published these “fundamentals” in a series of widely distributed pamphlets over the next five years. Their catalog featured doctrines such as the virgin birth, the physical resurrection of Christ, and his imminent second coming. The cornerstone, though, was a belief in the literal inerrancy of every syllable of the Bible, including in matters of geology, paleontology, and secular history. They called these beliefs fundamentals, and proudly styled themselves “fundamentalists” – true believers who feared that liberal movements like the social gospel and openness to other faiths were eroding the foundation of their religion.
Protestant fundamentalism was not an isolated impulse. The same tendency had already appeared in Catholicism; beginning with Pius IX, who issued his famous “Syllabus of Errors” in 1864, most popes severely condemned all liberal Catholic efforts. Muslims hate having the word “fundamentalist” applied to them, considering it a foreign term. Nonetheless, when some 19th-century Koran scholars sought to rethink their faith in the light of science and democracy, an angry opposition resisted these new ideas. Then, as European colonial powers tightened their grip on the region, other thinkers, like the Egyptian Sayyed Qutb, scorned any such reform efforts as imperialist pollution.
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