Who are the Real Christian Fundamentalists?

CNN is broadcasting a mini-series on “fundamentalism”: Jewish, Muslim and Christian. While these forms of fundamentalism have a few things in common, the dissimilarities are so stark that carelessly juxtaposing them tends to create a false sense of similarity.

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.

If one instead uses as a measure of fundamentalism the quintessential fundamentalist belief that the Bible is the literal word of God, the general pattern of the 2000-2006 GSS data is very similar to that based on fundamentalist religious denomination.

I'll wait to see how CNN handles Christian fundamentalism before judging the series, but I hope that this scene as described by David Bauder of the AP is not characteristic of the larger work:

The segment on Christians explores BattleCry in some depth, digging at the roots of an organization that fights against some of the cruder elements of popular culture and urges teenagers to be chaste. In noting how girls at some BattleCry events are encouraged to wear long dresses, Amanpour asks the group's leader how it is different from the Taliban.

To be a success, at a minimum the mini-series should dispel more stereotypes than it perpetuates.

CNN’s broadcast is discussed by Bauder (AP), Fifth Column, BF2S, Newsbusters, Mr. C, and Reenee.

UPDATE: More at Powerline (John), Variety, Melissa Rogers, and In From the Cold.