2004-12-07

Five characteristics of fundamentalists

Thanks to Digby for drawing attention to the essay "The fundamentalist agenda" by the Rev. Dr. Davidson Loehr. In it he summarises the findings of the Fundamentalism Project of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, which surveyed fundamentalist movements around the world and found that "the agenda of all fundamentalist movements in the world is virtually identical, regardless of religion or culture." This agenda comes down to five items, on which I will quote Loehr at length:

"The fundamentalists' agenda starts with insistence that their rules must be made to apply to all people, and to all areas of life. There can be no separation of church and state, or of public and private areas of life. The rigid rules of God—and they never doubt that they and only they have got these right—must become the law of the land. Pat Robertson, again, has said that just as Supreme Court justices place a hand on the Bible and swear to uphold the Constitution, so they should also place a hand on the Constitution and swear to uphold the Bible. In Khomeini's Iran, and in the recent Taliban rule of Afghanistan, we saw how brutal and bloody this looks in real time.

The second agenda item is really at the top of the list, and it's vulgarly simple: Men are on top. Men are bigger and stronger, and they rule not only through physical strength but also and more importantly through their influence on the laws and rules of the land. Men set the boundaries. Men define the norms, and men enforce them. They also define women, and they define them through narrowly conceived biological functions. Women are to be supportive wives, mothers, and homemakers.

A third item follows from the others. (Indeed each part of the fundamentalist agenda is necessarily interlocked, and needs every other part to survive.) Since there is only one right picture of the world, one right set of beliefs, and one right set of roles for men, women, and children, it is imperative that this picture and these rules be communicated precisely to the next generation. Therefore, fundamentalists must control education by controlling textbooks and teaching styles, deciding what may and may not be taught.

Fourth, fundamentalists spurn the modern, and want to return to a nostalgic vision of a golden age that never really existed. Several of the scholars observed a strong and deep resemblance between fundamentalism and fascism. Both have almost identical agendas. Men are on top, women are subservient, there is one rigid set of rules, with police and military might to enforce them, and education is tightly controlled by the state. One scholar suggested that it's helpful to understand fundamentalism as religious fascism, and fascism as political fundamentalism. The phrase “overcoming the modern” is a fascist slogan dating back to at least 1941.

The fifth point is the most abstract, though it's foundational. Fundamentalists deny history in a radical and idiosyncratic way. Fundamentalists know as well or better than anybody that culture shapes everything it touches: The times we live in color how we think, what we value, and the kind of people we become. Fundamentalists agree on the perverseness of modern American society: the air of permissiveness and narcissism, individual rights unbalanced by responsibilities, sex divorced from commitment, and so on. What they don't want to see is the way culture colored the era when their scriptures were created."


There may not be much to add here, except that looked at in this light, the agenda clearly has much more to do with a certain type of authoritarian politics than with religion.

2 comments:

coturnix said...

All politics is gender politics - the politics of anxious masculinity. That is the bottom line. That seems to be my current way of thinking I arrived to after all those months of furiously typing about lesser details on my blog.

You said other Yugoslavs (and other people I may find interesting) are blogging. Can you put up some links? I'd love to visit them.

Eric Gordy said...

I'm going to do a little research and make up a list, probably tonight. The main domestic blog hosters I know about are blogger.ba and mojblog.hr, but I'll find more and try to do something like a guide to my favorite ten.