What is a "Catholic Fundamentalist"?

I’ve seen people toss out the term “Catholic fundamentalist”. Of course, it is used with a bad connotation (is there a good connotation for the word “fundamentalist”?). Have you come across this term or ever used it yourself? What does it mean, exactly?

I suppose I can understand it being applied to sedevacantist groups or groups that reject the Novus Ordo Mass, but even that would appear to be a misnomer. If someone was really intent on keeping with the fundamentals of Catholicism, that would seem to include accepting the pope and whatever modifications are made to the liturgy by competent ecclesial authority.

Usually, I’ve seen people use it to describe those who are in line with the EWTN / Catholic Answers / Catholics United for the Faith “school of thought.” I fail to see exactly what the problem is that some people have with these organizations. They seek to explain, defend, and uphold the authentic teaching of the Church. How is that a bad thing?

I’m not trying to start anything inflammatory. I really want to understand: (1) why people use this term, (2) who they use it to describe, and (3) why it is a bad thing.

I have the feeling that it might be one of those terms that is difficult to pin down. People probably use it in different ways. I also have the feeling that, if someone were to describe all the attributes of a “Catholic Fundamentalist”, they would probably find that such a person does not exist. Unless, of course, it simply means that it is someone who holds to all of the Church’s teachings and attempts to live them out in their daily life. In that case, I guess I would be guilty!

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I think this is usually meant to refer to Catholics who subscribe to a similar understanding of the nature of Scripture and Faith as Protestant Fundamentalists. So they can be Traditionalists, or not, but they tend to be conservative in outlook. What that means is open for debate, because no one can agree on what a fundamentalist is. I have given the topic some thought; here is what I think.

My personal opinion is that fundamentalism refers to a certain kind of rejecting of the modern world (which I would like to call theo-luddism, if anyone else would agree to use the term) combined with a very paradoxical approach to scholarship, an approach that allows the tools of reason to be applied only in reverse, so that nothing new can ever be learned. I think that although its proponents often profess a yearning for ancient times, it is a thoroughly modern development.

By paradoxical scholarship I mean this: fundamentalists tend to approach religion with an existing pre-defined idea of what it all means. Fundamentalist scholars do some pretty amazing work in exegesis and philosophy, but always working back from the pre-defined, e.g. I know Mary (is/is not) ever virgin, lets find the Scripture that proves it. The fact that fundamentalist Catholic and Protestant scholars are each able to accomplish this gives you some idea of the value of that approach. It does not occur to them, or they simply reject, the idea that there would be any value in approaching the source materials anew, interpreting them from zero, and seeing where that leads.

By thoroughly modern I mean this: this kind of thinking presupposes that this world is a place made up primarily of immutable facts, that truth can be reduced to simple statements of fact that can be shown to be true by reference to some established authority. I would submit that this is a post-Age of Reason mind set. Truth is more than merely factual, and the early Church understood this implicitly.

Ironically, fundamentalism perceives this as seeking refuge from the uncertain (or evil) modern age in what is a (supposedly) more safe and stable past. In so doing it rejects true learning, true scholarship, and, to a degree, true faith. Although it thinks it is latching onto immutable truths and guarding them from modernity, it is really a process of shielding oneself from exposure to anything that would require rethinking the nature of truth. At its heart it abrogates the requirement that each person seek the Truth, opting instead to adopt a safer pre-packaged set of truths. I think that doing that abandons the possibility of approaching nearer to God, out of fear that failing in the effort will annoy God.

Of course many will reject this idea of Fundamentalism, and even those that agree with much of it will disagree on who it applies to, but that’s my thought on the matter.

TMC, thanks for sharing your reflections on the issue. It’s obvious you have given it much thought! Your idea of “reverse” scholarship is an interesting one that I have not heard before. Very interesting.

One question I would pose for clarification: Is it really possible to interpret “from zero”? It strikes me as the sort of thinking of many of the Enlightenment philosophers that we can somehow erase the slate and work our way from nothing to something. It’s the kind of thinking that mistakenly believes we can approach something “objectively” with no prior bias. It’s also the approach many people take to justify advocating things that are clearly contrary to the teaching of the Church (contraception, abortion, women priests, homosexual marriage, etc.)

I have always thought of Church teaching as sort of the fence to mark the boundaries where we are free to explore in safety. It seems that the idea that we can somehow “approach the source materials anew” is something many Fundamentalist Christians would claim for their approach to the Bible. Whether they are really successful in doing just that is certainly debatable, but that seems to be the way they approach Scripture. Many of them will ignore everything but the Bible in an attempt to approach Scripture as it is and interpret it without any outside influence.

I guess I would say that it makes sense to me to start from the defined teachings of the Church and work our way from there. This doesn’t mean, of course, that we don’t try to understand those teachings or reflect on them. But if we don’t use them as our starting point, it seems we’re either constantly reinventing the wheel or else veering off in strange directions that are plainly in opposition to Church teaching.

All this being said, I do understand your point about the dangers of paradoxical scholarship. It seems as though your definition of this would largely describe the field of apologetics. If we limit ourselves to only looking at apologetics, it can lead us to approach Scripture solely as an apologetics tool rather than something that speaks to us today. We can spend more time googling verses to prove our point than we do in actually reading the passages in context and in prayer. This is something that I have heard many Catholic apologists warn against, which is why I don’t understand the charge of “Catholic fundamentalist” being levied at places like Catholic Answers, EWTN, CUF, etc. They may do the work of apologetics, but they’d be the first to admit that there is more to being Catholic than apologetics.

It seems that many who use the term “Catholic Fundamentalist” do so to describe those in the field of apologetics as though apologetics is all they know or care about. Perhaps there are some Catholics out there like that, but I haven’t encountered many of them. As for myself, I am familiar with apologetics, but I’m familiar with more than just apologetics. Most Catholics I know who are familiar with apologetics are the same way.

I hope I haven’t been offensive (as that certainly is not my intent). I’m just trying to come to a better understanding of the issue. I very much appreciate your feedback and welcome any further thoughts. :thumbsup:

I have been accused of being a fundamentalist because I believe in a literal interpretation of Genesis. But this is actually a Catholic Traditional point of view and is consistent with the Church’s teaching on the Study of Sacred Scripture given to us by Pope Leo XIII.

To some extent I don’t mind the name calling, because I call them modernists, they use modern scientific theory to interpret Sacred Scripture. Modernism leads to many hereseys.

This is merely my own idea of what a Catholic “Fundamentalist” can be, from running into certain people in the Church. Those Catholics who are so “traditional” that they cannot accept Vatican II as a legitimate Council, and therefore refuse to accept any legitimate changes (such as the Mass of Paul VI, and the Mass in the vernacular). Some of them do not even accept any Pope elected since the Council (which actually make them schismatic). Some of them consider such actions as receiving Communion in the hand, women not covering their heads, receiving standing as actually sinful, as well as female altar servers, women lectors (or any woman in the sanctuary). They actually see these as heretical acts. And everyone who is not a Catholic is going to hell and cannot be saved. They can be very in-your-face about this, and very judgmental about others, which is exactly the way Protestant Fundmentalists can act.

Most “Traditionalists” are not like this. They happily accept the teachings of the Church and accept the Popes since Vatican II as legitimate, and the Council as a valid Council, although they rightfully see that some of the implementation has gone in the wrong direction, and accept the “NO” as a valid Mass. They just want to worship in the EF, which is not wrong in the least. They want to keep former disciplines and traditions, such as veiling, receiving Communion kneeling and on the tongue. There is nothing wrong with this. But they have not crossed that line into schism, or declaring legitimate practices as heretical or sinful, whereas certain Catholics have, and those are the people I am speaking of.

I am not judging these people, that is for God to do. But I can judge some of the actions and words as not being in line with the teaching of the Church, and that is a legitimate judgment for any of us to make.

Excellent point. I view it slightly differently. I think it is probably impossible to really start fresh, if for no other reason than that we bring so much baggage to the situation. But I think we should try to begin anew. I would not say that we should set aside or ignore the Church teachings or other scholarship. I would say that the Church gives not fences, but guidelines or guideposts. The way I see it is that intellectually speaking, we don’t constrain ourselves to the ground marked out by the Church, but we keep it in mind. If we find ourselves out of the marked out ground we have to stop and ask, how did I get out here? This seemed right, but now I feel lost. The vast majority of the time you will learn that you went astray somewhere, and get back on good ground. This process involves much deeper learning, I think. Once in a while it will be hard to get back inside the lines. I think this is normal and healthy. I think that this is how we find honest truth and real faith. I am capable of believing through faith things I do not understand intellectually. But I don’t think we are to merely adopt as true things that we don’t believe, and call that faith.

If we stay in the lines only because they are the lines, I’m not sure that’s faith. I know its not scholarship.

I am not sure about the what is meant by a Fundamentalist. I would say that I look at the word in this way. In sports you have to start with the Fundamentals of the game to be played. you have to practice a get a true comprehension of the them be fore you can progress into the more dynamics of it. If you never progress pass the the Fundamentals then you never really become able to play the game to the fullness of its expression.

With that said A Fundamentalist Catholic, or Protestant for that matter, never experiences more that the very basics of the faith. Were that is not necessarily bad it is limiting oneself to growth.

I see this as very different to a Traditionalist, as a Modernist can be just as much a Fundamentalist as they are.

To my way of seeing thing a Fundamentalist see thing within the Church as If it is not mandated that I believe and do it then I don’t see any reason to do it.

I have found all the posts on this topic really helpful. Recently I have been challenged by members of an “Evangelist” group in our Cathedral who will not even discuss the questions posed by The Holy Father for the forthcoming Family Synod. .Their view is that questions should not be asked, we should be told what to do! I was taken aback by the ferocity of their responses, as I consider my self a thinking Catholic taking 20 years from conversion to reception into the church.

Thanks for your help with this, and it seems the right time to raise the question again in view of the first ever consultation of its kind from The Vatican. .

This thread is 6 years dormant. Forum rules say not to resurrect old threads but to start new ones, even for the same topic.

Is the term an oxymoron? Fundamentalism = school of protestant exegesis from the nineteenth century.

It’s been so long, I don’t even remember starting this thread nor what prompted me to do so. :stuck_out_tongue:

But it is kind of neat to think that this brief exchange I participated in nearly six years ago could still be beneficial to someone today.

It is sad that people are willing to outsource their salvation to someone else. What do they say to God on the day of reckoning: “It is not my fault. Someone else told me to do it.”?

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