“Fundamentalists in reverse”

Currently, I’m reading Sacred Song in America by Stephen Marini (Urbana/Chicago: University of Illinois, 2003). Marini is a religious historian who is probably best known for his studies of Revolutionary-era religion in North America (Marini has also founded a well-respected group that sings 18th century American choral music and Sacred Harp music, has composed music in the singing school tradition, and has edited a collection of such music).

One of the chapters in Sacred Song in America covers the conservatory tradition of sacred music. Half of this chapter consists of an interview with Daniel Pinkham (1923-2006), long-time music director and composer-in-residence at King’s Chapel, a Unitarian Universalist church in Boston. There are many delightful moments in the interview, inculding Pinkham’s revelation that he was an atheist, and his story about how he got the New England Conservatory to stop having a prayer at commencement, and his comments on the singability of choral music, but I found this exchange particularly delightful:

Stephen Marini: The Unitarian tradition seem especially right for you, given your sense of things, because they are not going to push you on beliefs and doctrines and dogmas.

Daniel Pinkham: But Unitarian churches, they are fundamentalists in reverse!

5 thoughts on ““Fundamentalists in reverse”

  1. Amy

    On my way to co-leading “How to Talk to the Fundamentalists in Your Life” two Sundays ago, I stopped to talk briefly to a long-time member of the church, and invited her along. She said, “Will it help me talk to the fundamentalist humanists?”

    I’m not sure what Pinkham meant, but she was talking about rigidity, which is definitely not limited to any particular theology.

  2. Dan

    kim @ 3 — Beats me what he means. I could make it go either way — either we are the opposite extreme of fundamentalists and therefore maybe a little too flexible, or we are some sort of humanist fundamentalists. Or (more likely) it was just a throw-away line, and doesn’t mean anything much.

    Two things I take away from this: (1) You never know what your musicians really think about your church. (2) Daniel Pinkham knows more about music than he knows about theology.

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