Fundamentalism   2 comments


Sacre Couer Bell Tower

Content Note: War in the Middle East, Eternal Damnation, Mocking Scriptures

I was struck reading a quote from Chris Hallquist as cited by Leah Libresco.

This is why talk of “atheist fundamentalism” is ridiculous. Atheists do not have any holy book we consider infallible. We have no traditional dogmas to defend. We certainly do not reject central discoveries of science for the sake of any holy book or dogma. We do not think anyone should be eternally damned merely for disagreeing with us, or declare anyone’s private behavior to be an “abomination” just because a book written thousands of years ago says so.

I find this to be an odd sentiment, coming from an atheist. It isn’t an uncommon sentiment, but it is an odd sentiment. It’s odd because it treats religion as a special category of human behavior separate from other categories of human behavior. In this particular sentiment, many religious people and many atheists put themselves in agreement. That agreement is odd.

If Hallquist thought about religion as an anthropologist did, or a social scientist, or anyone else who didn’t give religion special eminence in the sphere of human activity, he would realize that of course their are atheist fundamentalists. If fundamentalism is a really existing phenomenon, it is a human phenomenon. It stems from concerns and motives and methods of thought that are common to all human beings. The existence of sacred scripture in a particular cultural context does not create new pathways in the brain or produce an otherwise unknown hormonal response. If the tendency to fundamentalism exists, it exists in all human beings.

A Dawkins or a Hitchens might not appear to be fundamentalist in every context, but then again I imagine it is just barely possible that religious fundamentalists are also capable of normal human behavior uninfluenced by their fundamentalism. It is certain that Dawkins and Hitchens both cheered on our destructive wars in the Middle East because of anti-Muslim bigotry. If that isn’t virulent fundamentalism, I’m not sure what is.

By the same token, though, Christian fundamentalism should be considered a reality even by convinced Christians. A sincere Catholic should be able to recognize that if human beings can be angry and irrational, they can be angry and irrational about things that happen to be true as well as things that happen to be false. I only know a few Christians who view their religion as immunity to sin, and all the rest should recognize that fundamentalism is a sin to which they are not immune. Given how common the charge of fundamentalism is against Christianity, Christians should be especially on the lookout for it, if only to prevent scandal.

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2 responses to “Fundamentalism

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  1. Sorry, but I think you’re on the wrong track. Fundamentalism is, let’s try the Wikipedia definition, “the demand for a strict adherence to specific theological doctrines”. Meriam-Webster defines it similarly: “a movement or attitude stressing strict and literal adherence to a set of basic principles”. What “basic principles” do you see in the sentence “I do not believe in god”.
    You are making the same mistakes as many people before you: You don’t have a clue what atheism is. You want to believe that it’s some complex thing, full of rules, etc. It isn’t. It’s just the absence of belief. End of story.

    • Atheism may be a simple thing, but atheists are complicated. And while non-belief does not require rational justification, that doesn’t mean it can’t rise to the level of a basic principle as a reaction to theists. Referring back to my example of Hitchens or Dawkins, those two men were so appalled by what they saw as the problems caused by religion that their non-belief did rise to the level of a basic principle. It was something they argued for, defended, and advocated violence on behalf of. Atheism might not be a belief in itself, but reactions against theism can raise it to the level of a deeply held conviction.

      My post was not about atheism. It was about human beings. And atheists happen to be just as human as theists.

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