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How to Fight Fundamentalism

Fundamentalism is generally defined in terms of its christian background, such as the Free Dictionary's

1. A usually religious movement or point of view characterized by a return to fundamental principles, by rigid adherence to those principles, and often by intolerance of other views and opposition to secularism.


a. often Fundamentalism An organized, militant Evangelical movement originating in the United States in the late 19th and early 20th century in opposition to Protestant Liberalism and secularism, insisting on the inerrancy of Scripture.
b. Adherence to the theology of this movement.
It is the intolerance, and complete discounting, of other views or perhaps others' views and fundamentalists' "separation" from others, that is the core of the issue. Being certain in their righteousness, fundamentalists can justify extreme anti-social actions such as violence, including extreme violence, in its many forms, physical, political and psychological. Examples abound: terrorist bombings, genocide, denying equal opportunties to groups of people determined by gender, race or belief. Nor is fundamentalism, despite its etymological arrival only a century ago, really a recent phenomenon - examples shout from history across the centuries.
There is a good balanced coverage (at least at present!) of fundamentalism, including the changing usage of the term since its origins at the start of the 20th century, in Wikipedia.
How do you fight such an anti-social trend? Especially when many of its followers are genuinely driven by trying to live "good" lives? Is it more effective to fight the adherents/movement or the set of ideas, or is such a distinction only academic?
1. Attacking fundamentalism with rational arguments does not seem to be very effective in convincing fundamentalists to change their beliefs or actions:
  • Many fundamentalists appear to hold beliefs that allow them to characterise rational arguments as simply wrong or inappropriately based. If one believes in the infallibility of a revealed writing or some other source of revelation, then arguments based on other sources including supposed rational thinking are clearly seen as flawed.
  • Many fundamentalists see themselves as valiant and persecuted preservers of a true faith - and expect and in some ways benefit from such attacks or "persecutions" - and so become even more isolated from the rest of society.
2. Attacking fundamentalism with socio-economic actions that seek to undermine the factors contributing to fundamentalism, such as increasing education, economic and political options, may ignore some of the trends with modern day fundamentalism.
  • Christian fundamentalism had its roots in the United States at the time it was emerging as the world's political and economic superpower. Islamic fundamentalism in the late 20th century appears to have been championed by some of the more educated and economically advantaged rather than those without education or power.
3. Attacking fundamentalism on its own grounds by trying to expose its internal inconsistencies may be more effective, encouraging adherents to self-reflect experience doubt without putting up the defensive rampants of the abused. There are variants and factions in fundamentalism.
  • The christian fundamentalists generally adhere to the idea of biblical inerrancy - but still have different ideas of what this means, for example whether it means literal or allegorical inerrancy. Many fundamentalists have not worked out in their own minds how the choice of which of the scriptural variants is regarded as inerrant should be made.
  • Even the idea of fundamentalism, or defining basic principles around which a faith should be defended, is often perceived as inconsistent with the faith's idea of an all-powerful, but not always understandable, divine figure.
Are there other effective ways of fighting fundamentalism, or its anti-social manifestations?
Other related material:

Last Updated on Wednesday, 16 May 2012 00:42

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