What Is Fundamentalism?
Article by Joseph A. Zuchowski
Article by Joseph A. Zuchowski
We frequently hear about Fundamentalism in regard to various religious movements. There are fundamentalist in every area of life; social, political, but the religious ones gain the most notoriety. I would like to take a few moments to explain exactly what fundamentalism is and isn't. First, the term originated in the years after WWI. A number of periodicals were published stating the fundamental beliefs of Christians: the Protestant variety. These were called simply "The Fundamentals" and those who accepted them were called fundamentalists. Fundamentalism is not a "return to” but rather a resurrection and restructuring of basic beliefs in regard to one's religious views.
Fundamentalism stresses first "Sola Scriptura." The holy books are meant to be the final authority and require literal interpretation. As they are inspired by God and therefore unquestionable, even if a multitude of mistakes, contradictions and outright fallacies are blatantly obvious. the argument here is "they are only apparent errors, and you do not understand them." Beginning there, many scriptures were written in a particular time and place and there is little to no evidence that they were not written by humans with all the failings and prejudices that we are all subject to. Taking any writing literally and unquestioningly is utterly dangerous as times change, cultures change and words have multiple meanings depending on the context they are used in. A cultural outlook that was accepted in 1800 BCE has little to no bearing on what is happening now.
Example: it is 1800 BCE and you see your neighbor loading up his donkey and being a good neighbor you ask if they need help. As you load the supplies you ask what's up. Your neighbor is Abraham, the mythical forefather of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, He says God wants Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac to him. This doesn't trouble you because you live in a time, place and culture where this is acceptable and even demanded. Flash forward to 2016: it's an SUV being loaded do you accept what Abe has just said? Only if you want to go to jail as an accomplice. Sola Scriptura is also considered heretical by some sects within different versions of the faith path for this very reason. A holy writ is meant to be a guideline, not an absolute law any longer.
Another issue with religious fundamentalism is that it requires massive amounts of denial of reason and sustainable data lest it conflict with the word. It is reasonable to believe in God, yes perfectly so, Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklyn were deists, and Joseph Priestly who discovered oxygen and carbonization of water was a Unitarian; there are many more examples. However these men did not take ether stories in their Bibles literally, they may not have known the origins of humanity so in a de facto manner they deferred to the creation myth but acknowledged it as myth. This was three quarters of a century before Darwin's "On the Origin of Species." I'm certain that they would have been intrigued by the Theory of Natural Selection.
Fundamentalism requires absolute denial or refitting of conflicting data to conform to the established doctrine. Essentially believing all the answers you need to survive in this world can be found in a book written by someone or someones who only knew their times and locals. It does not encourage growth or learning; if anything it stultifies it. Fundamentalism encourages sexism and racism. "If God is seen as male then the male is seen as God" wrote Simone De Beauvoir over fifty years ago. All the monotheisms are androfocused. Theirs is the only right way, they have the truth and anyone who opposes them are either at best delusional and need to be corrected or at worst evil and need to be destroyed. All three have a Judgement Day myth where the devout and faithful are rewarded and the rest are destroyed.
Many fundamentalists have difficulty dealing with more conventional members of their faith path; they consider them slackers who are not doing what is required of them. When the world ends the righteous and faithful will rejoice while the lukewarm ones will be punished with the rest of the undesirables. Fundamentalists though actually are good at transmission of their beliefs to anyone who is willing to accept them. They have tapes, programs, educational materials they use to promote they views. Often these training aids create straw targets in regard to opposing beliefs. Then they proceed to tear these targets apart to show how superior their view is. They use quotes out of context and even outright lies, knowing that many people they are reaching out too often do not have a good grasp of religion or science so they make easier targets.
The main component of any conversion is the fact the person is no longer satisfied with their structure so they are looking for another that will give them the answers they seek. Fundamentalists are good at giving simple basic answers that work well as long as you do not question too deeply. They do not want you to pull away the curtain. Fundamentalists believe they are chosen by God to create a perfect society based on the ideals and principles that have been discussed. Not all fundamentalists are out to change the world; the Amish and the Chassidim basically want to be left alone to live and believe as they wish. Others do not share this view. In short it is a twisted idealism devoid of the other aspects of the religions they come from. Fundamentalists of the more bellicose variety are the more aggressive ones who make the news, feel that this is their duty to create this society no matter what the cost to the rest of society believing the rewards will outweigh the sacrifices.