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The Dangers of Fundamentalism

I’m out of town for a long weekend and so away from my books, and have decided to re-post some particularly intriguing (IMHO) posts from many years ago.  Here’s a hot one.



You note that fundamentalism is dangerous and harmful. How do you define fundamentalism and why do you think it’s dangerous?



There are of course actual definitions of “fundamentalism” that you can find in scholarship on religion, but I sense that you’re asking more for a rough-and-ready description. Years ago I started defining fundamentalism as “No fun, too much damn, and not enough mental.

When I was a fundamentalist myself (yet to be described) I understood it in a positive way. Originally, in Christian circles, it referred to believers who held on to the “fundamentals” of the faith, which for us included such things as the inspiration of Scripture, the full deity of Christ, the Trinity, the virgin birth, the physical resurrection, and, well, probably a collection of other doctrines. Fundamentalism, for us, was to be differentiated from liberalism, which had sacrificed these basic fundamental doctrines to the gods of modernity. And we would have nothing of it.

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Readers’ Mailbag 1/20/2019: The Only Story of Jesus as a Boy in the New Testament
What *Greek* Version of the New Testament Do I Use?



  1. Telling
    Telling  January 20, 2019

    Hi Bart,

    I have a new book self-published on Amazon, my first non-fiction one, that generally covers things I’ve posted on this blog. You are listed as one of my references (“Forged”). I’ll email you a PDF if I can find your email address. I bring it up because I have a couple of friends who reviewed my book, and one or two who weren’t interested. They are good friends who believe that everything in the Bible is the inerrant word of God. These friends mostly tell me they are in fear that I will be going to Hell because of my beliefs and for publishing them, possibly even sending the elect astray (if that were possible, ha ha). I suppose this kind of thing is a daily thing for you. But honestly, given what historians have uncovered, I could say that about them — I fear they may go to Hell for believing the painfully obviously errant Church message.

    Today there are numerous new elevated scientific ideas about reality that are not inconsistent with Biblical myths. The Jane Roberts/Seth material speaks of: “without myths there would be no science”. Deepak Chopra has a lot to say on the subject of the world being a mental construct, and is very popular today, and Robert Lanza, a biologist, is a growing star, I think — or should be if not. The new thinking, brought to forefront by the mysteries of quantum science, is of this world being composed entirely of consciousness, not the hard solid world of our past thinking. Given this, the world being essentially or clearly a lucid dream, the story of Genesis may be the best explanation of how the world was formed, God being the gestalt awareness that is all and everything. In this sense the Bible is indeed the inerrant “word of God” as is everything else in existence materializing in our lives being the same word of God, and it is inerrant, perfect in every way just as it is.

    Having finished my oration, here is my question for you:

    Are you looking at Deepak Chopra and others like him who have one foot in mysticism and the other in science? Do you see that they are credible? And do you see a bridge between their thinking and of a new fundamental Christianity?

    • Bart
      Bart  January 20, 2019

      Congratulations on teh book! No, I’m not a fan of the mysticism-science discourse generally, or someone like Chopra in particular. I have nothing against them: it’s just not either how my mind works or what I”m personally interested/invested in.

  2. Avatar
    Crosta  January 20, 2019

    Hi Dr. Ehrman, during a debate about the resurrection with Mike Licona on Unbelievable, you suggested that “Jesus and the apostles would not recognize an Evangelical Christian as a Christian.” Mike said that would have to be a debate for another time, and you said you’d like to do that. Any chance of such a debate happening? Thanks!
    Timestamp for the curious: https://youtu.be/DgcHGnjN1PQ?t=2924

    • Bart
      Bart  January 20, 2019

      There’s always a chance! But no one has proposed it to me….

  3. Avatar
    anthonygale  January 20, 2019

    The part about their inferred interpretations especially stands out to me. In your experiences with fundamentalists, do you often find that while they insist you accept their interpretations, they often seem to ignore things pretty clear cut? For example, I’ve known people who interpret keeping the sabbath day holy as meaning you are required to go to church on Sunday and you will go to hell for missing mass unless you go to confession. Yet these same people don’t seem to have a problem stealing, lying, being unforgiving or even condoning violence. I’m not saying it’s the norm because I haven’t ever done a study or survey on fundamentalists. But it is a troubling observation I’ve seen too often.

    • Bart
      Bart  January 20, 2019

      Yes, consistency is not always a fundamentalist’s long suit. (Not to mention that the Sabbath is Saturday, not Sunday!)

  4. Avatar
    Matt2239  January 20, 2019

    Fundamentalists have a credo that protects them from wealthier, better educated people who mean them real social harm. It’s true there are instances where religious belief can cause harm to the believer, such as mishandling poisonous snakes or refusing established medicinal treatment for one’s own child. However, much more likely is the scenario where a person from the northeast with a college degree wants to make a person from the deep south feel bad. In that case, it’s easiest to say God made the earth 6000 years ago and be done with it. There is one point where southern protestant evangelicals really shine — they are uniquely pro-Israel. Religious denominations with roots in Europe struggle with a legacy of anti-semitism. I’d sooner take my chances with the snake handlers than some Christians from Europe.

  5. Avatar
    mikezamjara  January 20, 2019

    There is one bigger danger of fundamentalism. It is sold as a cure for the pain in the world. They sell the idea that the world is worsen than ever so neither science, reason or any secular activity can save he world, only god (obviously, thier version). Nevertheless the data tell us that we live in a safer, more peaceful, richer, happier place than ever because science, reason and humanism have built it. When they reject the humanist values they undermine the only tool that has improved humanity. Have you read Steven Pinker’s book “Enlightment Now”?

  6. Telling
    Telling  January 20, 2019

    I can appreciate that you are specializing in a particular area.

    I’ve mentioned this before, that the Bible is a metaphysical book, containing all the appropriate things like angels, demons, afterlife, God with no beginning, a hard and fixed world open to immediate change on command, etc.

    I can agree that the Bible as the single metaphysical source for trusting and drawing from is (or has been) like an anchor, something to attach a society to a single idea and goal, and it seems to have done this and still does this though to lesser extent. More, the unraveling of it as the sole source is bringing confusion into the society. This might seem like a bad thing, except that we are talking society and not world. I think we can agree that the world has always been in a state of confusion regarding societies and nations, and remains so.

    The Bible was unable to unify the world despite great efforts by missionaries to do so. Even my wife who is Buddhist was indoctrinated into Christian belief as a child growing up in Malaysia. Although there were converts, she remains Buddhist to this day. And you, also, came to reject the Bible as the single source of critical information.

    This brings us back to the question of how to bring order out of chaos, how to end war and conflict, essentially. We can see that the Bible is inadequate. It had it’s chance and failed to do so and is now losing ground. I think this is probably somewhat your position today.

    So, where is our answer if that’s what we’re looking for?

    The world’s unifying force is in our faces — three-dimensional spatial reality. It is the power of God, in this world and in dreams. This is the Jesus message given in the Gospel of Thomas, (note Sayings 3 & 5, probably the most obvious of them). I believe it is here where our answers will be found, not particularly this gospel but rather metaphysics.

  7. kadmiral
    kadmiral  January 22, 2019

    “And being absolutely right is absolutely necessary, because if you don’t have some kind of absolute standard of truth, then everything is up for grabs. There is no longer any objectivity. There is no way to know anything for a fact. And most important, there is no way to know anything about God. And that means that there is no way to be saved.”

    This describes so accurately the wall that fundamentalists cannot see over. This is what keeps the fundamentalist trapped. Those thoughts are mind traps, so to speak. What would you say to the fundamentalist who dares to peep his head over the wall and realize that the fundamentalist version of biblical inerrancy is a strange and troubled doctrine? How can he retain belief and Christianity without falling prey to the mind trap you so eloquently described above?

    • Bart
      Bart  January 23, 2019

      He / She simply needs to become a non-fundamentalist Christian. Happens all the time! Fundamentalism may *seem* like the only CHristian option, but in fact, historially, it is only a very small sliver of the pie.

  8. dschmidt01
    dschmidt01  January 23, 2019

    I’m fundamentally against fundamentalism

    • Avatar
      WSOX1959  January 26, 2019

      Fundamentally, I’m fundamentally against fundamentalism. Fundamentally!

  9. Avatar
    pmwslc  January 23, 2019

    In the religion in which I was raised, the admonition was “When the Prophet has spoken, the thinking has been done.” That teaching is the main reason I left.

  10. Avatar
    randal  January 24, 2019

    I agree 100%. I grew up in a fundamentalist Southern Baptist church and was taught as a child that the mark God put on Cain was turning him black and this is where black people came from. Talking about not enough mental.

  11. webo112
    webo112  January 24, 2019

    I agree with your points on fundamentalists, but when I look at all the human development, thinking, tweaking, debating etc that went into the evolution of Christianity, there is more reasoning, thinking and logic than many people care to realize, probably a lot more than most fundamentalist even realize as well.

    What I mean is, yes the modern religious person, is mostly working off faith- BUT, firstly, a lot if that faith is because an authority figure makes sense in what they are saying (and predicting), but also, a lot of that faith is grounded in some doctrines and beliefs (the person accepts) that were actually thought off/developed by human minds (not given as divine revelation/gift)

    When I look at doctrines such as the Trinity, Jesus is god, Jesus is prophesied in OT, Jesus was a good moral teacher etc, etc…even Jesus’s early adoptive divinity and atonement of sins for his death, Paul’s teachings (not including obsolete doctrines!) THEY ALL show serious thinking one way or another, not some accidental and just blind/proclaimed info.

    I find this especially true in the New testament.

    BUT, of course, you also have the faith/believing in revelation type information – that one is just suppose to believe is true (e.g. book of revelation, Genesis, etc) without much reasoning- but here these work on and feed on other human drives.

    Point is, I don’t think main-stream fundamentalist (not scholars) know how much logic and human reasoning (not revelation) was involved in making the Christianity that they now follow, and ironically they sometimes even completely underestimate and counter that very same tool – reasoning/logic.

  12. webo112
    webo112  January 24, 2019

    On side note, Professor, if you ever have time or are interested, you should investigate why Apocalypticism is so strong, powerful and prevalent in the human psyche, condition and mind and seems to affect all facets of life decisions (and what the research shows – similar to how you showed how memory works in your latest book).

    It seems that Apocalypticism is a major component of many religions, and all have this as a driving force behind them. I think it was a major driving force of the historical Jesus’s recruitment system (and Paul’s), and continued to be after his death.

    It would be great to get a better understanding of this human drive, how important it really is, where it comes from in our evolutionary past, and how it has played out and affected our history, particularly in Christianity, all the way to modern times, its been one of the main common factors throughout the many faces of Christianity.

    …And one doctrine or beleife that not only fundamentals heavily fall back on, but insist and use to try to save others.

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