It's time to clear up the obvious confusion surrounding the words "Christianity" and "fundamentalism." The two are not necessarily synonymous. Having posted on various debate boards on this very topic, I have observed more than a few schools of thought on each. This is not surprising, as the terms have different meanings for different people. Let's tackle Christianity first.

There are several splinter groups of Christians, ranging from the more libertarian or progressive to the arch conservative. The liberal branches are represented by both Liberal and Liberated Christians. Members of these two groups believe in God and Jesus, but reserve the right to make personal decisions regarding sex, marriage, contraception and reproduction. Catholics For Free Choice is spin-off of the traditional Catholic church, which normally takes a hard line on sex and reproduction. Unitarian Universalist is another church that favors a more humanistic philosophy over the dogmatic and often repressive doctrines of conservative and evangelical Christian sects. From what I have read and observed of both liberal and conservative branches of Christianity, it is clear to me that the liberal groups represent Christianity rather than the conservative element. The latter leans to the far-right direction of fundamentalism.

Fundamentalism stresses strict observance to a particular faith or ideology over people's personal rights and freedoms. In other words, individual liberties aren't important; obedience is. One of the more extreme examples of religious fundamentalism can be found in the Spanish Inquisition, begun by the Catholic Church in the latter part of the 15th Century. Catholics who supported the Inquisition shared the fundamentalist belief that theirs was the only "true faith," and anything else was heresy. In the movie "Mary Queen of Scots, the character of Father John Ballard, Queen Mary's personal priest, summed up this thinking with the following statement: "In this world, there are only two sorts of men; Catholic and heretic. Only a fool thinks otherwise. Modern fundamentalists, be they Christian or some other religion, have almost exactly the same thought.

The split between Christianity and fundamentalism widens considerably when issues relating to sex, marriage and reproduction are being debated. Liberal Christians generally feel that what consenting adults do in the privacy of their homes and bedrooms, be these adults straight, gay or somewhere in between, is no one else's business, certainly not that of the church. Fundamentalist or conservative Christians maintain that sex outside the parameters of what they have determined acceptable is a sin, unacceptable to God, and must be severely punished, or at least made illegal. Practices considered to fundamentalists include abortion, contraception, homosexuality, and premarital sex among heterosexual couples. Of course, when pressed for an answer on how they know for a fact these "sins" are not accepted by God, the typical answer is "because the Bible says so." Considering the Bible was written by men rather than God (whoever they believe that to be), this answer fails to make any sense to anyone who prefers facts to beliefs.

In recent years, the two most volatile issues in Christianity appear to be abortion and gay marriage. In the matter of abortion, the more liberal Christians feel it is regrettable, but are not in favor of eliminating a woman's right to choose. Christian fundamentalists believe abortion is never acceptable under any circumstances, even when a woman's life is threatened if she continues the pregnancy to birth. Extreme Christian fundamentalists, such as the Rev.

Mark H. Creech, oppose not only abortion but also contraception, which more often than not prevents pregnancy from occurring. If extremists like Creech were allowed to get their way, all forms of contraception, which might even include voluntary sterilization, would most likely be eliminated, leaving women with only two options; reproduction or celibacy. I sometimes wonder if they also support the idea behind the barbaric and cruel practice of female circumcision (removal of the clitoris) as well, to make sure sex remains a duty for women, rather than a pleasure.

Gay marriage is the other issue on which Christianity and fundamentalism is clearly divided. Progressive Christians, some of whom are gay or lesbian themselves know that gay marriage has no effect on heterosexual marriage. Fundamentalists, on the other hand, insist that allowing gays and lesbians to marry will somehow undermine traditional heterosexual marriage. How this would happen, however, is never made clear. They also fail to come up with an intelligent secular argument for gay marriage being banned. Again, logic has been eliminated in favor of hard-line religious beliefs. In the fundamentalist mind set, belief is all that counts.

In a nutshell, Christianity and fundamentalism are clearly defined, at least for me. Christianity, the kinder and gentler variety, is tolerant of individual differences and accepts disagreement, knowing that the views of one person aren't necessarily the same as another. Fundamentalism, regardless of the particular religion, has no tolerance or acceptance for any other views but one; obedience and subservience to the faith. Which is why I equate fundamentalism with fanaticism, both of which are highly dangerous to the individual rights of liberty and freedom.