Jim Lindgren of The Volokh Conspiracy takes an interesting look at who fundamentalist Christians really are. As always, the popular stereotype of fundamentalist Christians all being Jerry Falwell clones couldn’t be more wrong:
Both academics and journalists sometimes depict Christian fundamentalists in the U.S. as particularly dangerous people, but these accounts seldom report what sorts of people tend to be fundamentalists in the U.S.
The group that most disproportionately belongs to fundamentalist Protestant sects is African-American females. In the 2000-2006 General Social Surveys, 62% of African-American females (and 54% of African American males) report that they belong to Protestant denominations that the GSS classifies as fundamentalist.
When one thinks of dangerous groups in the United States, religious African-American females would not be on many people’s lists. Yet of the people that I see on the streets every day, members of that demographic group are the ones most likely to be fundamentalist.
What about political party affiliation?
In the 2000-2006 General Social Surveys, 34% of Republicans are fundamentalists, compared to 30% of Democrats, not a large difference. But since there are more Democrats than Republicans, a slightly larger percentage of fundamentalists are Democrats (34%), compared to 32% of fundamentalists who are Republicans.
As to gender, in 2000-2006, 30% of women and 26% of men were fundamentalists.
So when one thinks of a typical fundamentalist in the United States in the 2000-2006 period, the image that should come to mind is that of a woman or of a Democrat. And if one thinks of which group is disproportionately fundamentalist, the exemplar is African-American females, not Republicans.
Of course, the term “Christian fundamentalist” has been distorted to be a term of derision used against any Christian that the user dislikes. However, these statistics do give a more realistic view of exactly who is included as members of Christian fundamentalist groups.
CNN is running a three-part series called “Holy Warriors” examining “fundamentalists” in both Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. As Power Line’s John Hinderaker points out, it’s likely to be yet another attempt to rhetorically conflate Christian fundamentalists with Islamic extremists:
Actually, though, the problem with today’s Islamic “martyrs” is not that its adherents are “willing to give their lives,” it is that they want to kill non-Muslims. It isn’t really a mystery why martyrdom was once considered noble; Christian martyrs like Saints Stephen and Sebastian didn’t kill anyone. Whereas today, “martyrdom” in much of the Islamic world is a euphemism for mass murder. Hence the “really bad connotation.”
Of course, everyone knows this. It’s hardly worth the trouble to point out the stupidity of confounding Christian “fundamentalism”–the most commonly accepted definition of which is a belief in the literal truth of the Bible–with Islamic “fundamentalism,” whose distinguishing characteristic is a desire to impose Sharia on the world, and kill everyone who resists.
As Lindgren quips “To be a success, at a minimum the mini-series should dispel more stereotypes than it perpetuates.” Sadly, the media is in the stereotype business, and expecting someone like Christiane Amanpour to take an honest and unbiased look at Christianity is expecting too much.
Christian fundamentalism is not the same as radical Islamic extremism: Christian fundamentalists have no interest in killing non-believers — there’s no support in Christianity for forced conversion by the sword. On the other hand, the Qu’ran makes it quite clear that Islam is by nature an expansionist religion, and the history of the Prophet Mohammad as a military leader makes that message quite clear. (Although, as with the interpretation of any holy book, there are differences of opinion. However, in general there is almost no textual support for militant expansionist Christianity and plenty of textual support for military expansionist Islam.) To conflate the two is to demean fundamentalist Christians — who represent a very large and diverse segment of American population — and to diminish the problems inherent in radical Salafist and Wahhabi Islam.
Not all fundamentalisms are alike, and the efforts to paint Christian fundamentalists as a bogeymen while paying little heed to Islamic fundamentalism is to misunderstand the basics of Christianity, Islam, and the world we live in.