As I See It: The Fundamental Problem with Fundamentalism

Jul 26 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

People today are concerned with fundamentalism, and with good reason. Religious fundamentalism long ago gave birth to religious terrorism in the form of Jewish zealots and sicarii; Christian fundamentalism gave birth to the Inquisition and crusades; Islamic fundamentalism gave birth to jihad and the order of assassins; and this threat has remained with us down through the ages to the present time with religious terrorists Christian, Jewish, and Islamic.

Just the other day we were treated to the specter of right-wing Christian dominionist terrorism in Norway, even while right-wing Christian dominionists here and abroad (including, ironically enough, the Norwegian terrorist in question) are engendering a climate of fear about Islamic fundamentalism. The rest of us who are not fundamentalists (the vast majority of humans) are the targets -whether violence is part of the equation or not. Our existence offends fundamentalists because “we don’t get it” as they say of President Obama, himself a Christian.

Political fundamentalists – ideologues – have shut down the American government by adopting a no-compromise position and wedding their cause to religious fundamentalism. Republican fundamentalists have fallen into a near-religious frenzy signing pledges and purity statements; they have come to the illogical but inevitable conclusion that Democratic governance can never be legitimate. The Mosaic distinction of True and False in religion has been transposed onto politics and it is wreaking havoc on this country.

Fundamentalism cannot abide opposition and it cannot abide moderation. It’s not enough for a fundamentalist to not do something they disapprove of; they insist that nobody else does it either.

And it’s not just religious and political fundamentalism that is the problem.

It is very difficult to tell one fundamentalist from another, whether it is Christian, or Muslim – or vegan or environmentalist or atheist or some other form of fundamentalist. For example, fundamentalist atheists have a dogma as unyielding and at times, hostile, as any religious fundamentalist (as do fundamentalist vegans and environmentalists). The idea of moderation seems not to exist in the minds of a fundamentalist, who sees only either/or distinctions.

We might see a complexity of issues. But if you’re not with a fundamentalist, you’re against him. It’s that simple from their perspective.

Fundamentalist atheists are as offended by belief as fundamentalist Christians are by non-belief, and each seems determined that others should adhere to their dogma. Vegans and environmentalists form other groups of fundamentalists; vegans can be as dogmatic as any believer or nonbeliever; the belief that “I am better than you because of what I am” or “because of what I believe” seems to permeate all forms of fundamentalism. Here is a humorous example from Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (2010):

Where is there a difference in believing, as atheists do, that they are superior because they don’t believe and in believing, as religious fundamentalists do, that they are superior because they do believe? Neither has a right to complain about the other. Neither espouses a morally superior position. Both tend to want to push their beliefs on others. We are, all of us who fall somewhere in the middle, fools.

It is significant that both fundamentalist atheists and fundamentalist Christians talk of their opponents in terms of enslavement. For the former it is enslavement of the mind; for the latter, enslavement of the soul; for vegans there is the comparison of meat eaters to slave masters. For the rest of us there is no place to hide. We are bombarded from all sides by fundamentalists of one stripe or another, each saying we are somehow enslaved when to our minds, we know we are perfectly free. What ideologues never see, and can never understand is that they themselves are enslaved – by their fundamentalist ideologies.

Nothing is impossible for moderates. There is no true or false religion, no true and false food. But fundamentalism is negation; it is negation of everything outside itself: Negation of meat eating; negation of gods or religion; negation of disbelief or non-religion; and not just negation but a pejorative redefinition of everything outside itself. We have seen the references to slavery. There are also references to ignorance, demonic influences. Meat eaters are speciesist, privileging one life form over another. For environmental fundamentalists humans are no more important than any other life form, even if it is a microbe.  Look at the forms taken by speciesism in fundamentalism of all types:

  • Religious fundamentalism:  True believers have more value than nonbelievers
  • Environmental fundamentalism: Trees have more value than humans (pounding spikes into trees makes this position abundantly clear)
  • Atheist fundamentalism:  Atheists have more value than religious people
  • Vegan fundamentalism:  Vegans have more value than carnivores or omnivores

There is simply no difference between one form of fundamentalism than another. That some have had more opportunity to do harm than others does not make them different in nature, or make one less objectionable than another. They are all a threat to modern liberal democracy because they are all inherently intolerant and they all wish to impose their own worldview on everyone else, to make everyone be like them. The world is made up of shades of gray; those who cannot or will not see anything beyond black and white need to re-examine their value systems and perhaps their decision-making paradigms as well.

Update (7.27.11): Another example of what I am arguing here comes from RAW STORY: PETA exhibit contrasts slavery, genocide with animal cruelty


57 responses so far