Saturday, May 11, 2013

Alvin Plantinga: "Fundamentalist" = "sombitch"?

All of us are familiar with how the dreaded f-word is trotted out to stigmatize this or that group, whether Muslim or Christian. Well, now philosopher Alvin Plantinga offers a full philosophico-grammatico-semiological analysis of the term "fundamentalist":
On the most common contemporary academic use of the term, it is a term of abuse or disapprobation, rather like 'son of a bitch', more exactly 'sonovabitch', or perhaps still more exactly (at least according to those authorities who look to the Old West as normative on matters of pronunciation) 'sumbitch'. When the term is used in this way, no definition of it is ordinarily given. (If you called someone a sumbitch, would you feel obliged first to define the term?) Still, there is a bit more to the meaning of 'fundamentalist' (in the widely current use): it isn't simply a term of abuse. In addition to its emotive force, it does have some cognitive content, and ordinarily denotes relatively conservative theological views. That makes it more like 'stupid sumbitch' (or maybe 'fascist sumbitch'?) than 'sumbitch' simpliciter. It isn't exactly like that term either, however, because its cognitive content can expand and contract on demand; its content seems to depend on who is using it. In the mouths of certain liberal theologians, for example, it tends to denote any who accept traditional Christianity, including Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, and Barth; in the mouths of devout secularists like Richard Dawkins or Daniel Dennett, it tends to denote anyone who believes there is such a person as God. The explanation is that the term has a certain indexical element: its cognitive content is given by the phrase 'considerably to the right, theologically speaking, of me and my enlightened friends.' The full meaning of the term, therefore (in this use), can be given by something like 'stupid sumbitch whose theological opinions are considerably to the right of mine'.
Source: Alvin Plantinga, Warranted Christian Belief,2nd ed. (Oxford University Press, 2000).
[Hat tip to E. Echeverria]


Tawser said...

So basically all Christians living before, say, 1960 were fundamentalists. Good to know. That clears that up. Ahem.

Dark Horse said...

Haw! Thats about it!! Yeeee-haw!!

Anonymous Bosch said...

Very funny. I've head traditionalist and even conservative Catholics called "fundamentalists," so I can identify. Our level of "public discourse" on matters of religion and politics has sunk so low that it hardly deserves to be taken seriously any more. Depressing.