Beliefs Mark Silk: Spiritual Politics Opinion


Fundamentals.gifThe ever-enjoyable Hartford Courant columnist Susan Campbell, who comes from so far back in the woods of southwest Missouri that even the Episcopalians handle snakes (OK, that’s a joke), offers a useful little primer on fundamentalism today for a readership that for the most part has never seen it up close and personal. Her point, in so many words, is that Sarah Palin is “is no more a fundamentalist than Barack Obama is a Muslim.” But while it takes one to know one, and Susan used to be one, I’m not so sure the parallel holds. Obama, who has tenuous Muslim antecedents through his father and stepfather, made a public profession of faith in a United Church of Christ church, which he attended until the events of this past Spring led him to sever his membership.
About Sarah Palin’s actual religious beliefs we know precious little. By the criteria of orthodoxy laid out in the early 20th-century pamphlets,”The Fundamentals,” she may be a fundamentalist. On the other hand, if you think that Pentecostals, with their focus on the works of the Holy Spirit, cannot be fundamentalists, then her more than three-decades’ association with the Wasilla Assembly of God would presumably preclude her from being one. She now mostly attends, but says she does not belong to, the Wasilla Bible Church–but are there no fundamentalists in non-denominationalist Bible churches?
As a general term of opprobrium, “fundamentalist” is used today to tar hard-core believers of all sorts. But some of the latter–such as the polygamous Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints–wear the badge with honor. Sam Hill, the grand old man of Southern religious history, likes to distinguish fundamentalism from evangelicalism as head religion vs. heart religion. Since I’ve really got no idea what’s in Sarah Palin’s head doctrinally, or how important it is to her, on the question of her fundamentalism I’m calling myself agnostic.

About the author

Mark Silk

Mark Silk is Professor of Religion in Public Life at Trinity College and director of the college's Leonard E. Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life. He is a Contributing Editor of the Religion News Service

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