From a reader:
Dear Mr. Goldberg,
I have been following with interest the exchanges between you and the
increasingly hyperbolic Andrew Sullivan.
With respect to “fundamentalism,” it is probably worth noting that the term
has a precise definition. A fundamentalist is anyone who agrees with the
Five Points of Fundamentalism, a statement of faith formulated at the
Niagara Bible Conference of 1895. The Five Points are: 1) the inerrancy of
scripture; 2) the virgin birth of Jesus Christ; 3)the substitutional theory
of atonement; 4) the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ; and 5) Christ’s
imminent bodily return to the world.
The Niagara Bible Conference was a conservative Protestant response to the
same phenomena of Modernism that elicited the condemnation of Pope Pius X.
The points avoid most of the touchy theological issues that divided
Protestant denominations from each other (as well as from Catholicism and
Orthodoxy), and so just about any Christian who can recite the Apostles’ or
Nicene Creeds in a spirit of sincere belief is appropriately called a
Correct usage of the term is NOT reflected in the usage of secular or
liberal religious commentators, for whom “fundamentalist” is nothing but a
pejorative to describe someone whose religious beliefs they don’t like.
One of the most egregious examples of bias in the media is the use of
“fundamentalist” as a description of certain typically fanatical and violent
Muslims. Because “fundamentalist” specifically refers to a type of Christian
belief, applying that adjective to Islam makes about as much sense as would
applying the adjective “Talmudic” to Buddhism.
The Islamic sect most often called “fundamentalist” is Wahhabism. The
Wahhabis refer to themselves as “al-Muwahhidun,” which is most accurately
translated “unitarians.” Of course, it wouldn’t do to say that the Twin
Towers were attacked by “fanatical unitarians.” The term “fundamentalist” is
used because the commentators’ real agenda is to suggest that Pat Robertson
or James Dobson are comparable threats to the American Way of Life as is
Osama bin Laden. This cheap and dishonest rhetorical trick is Sullivan’s
stock in trade.