Religious Fundamentalism - Is there a remedy?

Yesterday I purchased a copy of Karen Armstrong’s book The Battle for God, which examines the origins of the fundamentalist aspects of the three major world religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam). I began reading the book around 9:30 p.m. last night, and have remained awake all night until I finished it at 6:50 a.m. I suspected that I would find it good reading, since I had admired A History of God, one of Armstrong’s earlier books, but I had not anticipated it engrossing me to the point where I would forgo an entire night’s slumber. The recent tragic events in Israel, as well as the terrorist attacks of September 11th, made this book timely reading for me, I believe.

I found the book to be enormously educational, particularly in outlining the factors behind the Iranian Revolution, an event that occurred when I was very young and oblivious to the political events of the world. But as informative as I found the material, I also found it to be depressing, almost chilling, particularly in its final two chapters.

My interest in this area is not purely academic. I have a cousin that I care for very much who fits Armstrong’s description of an American Protestant fundamentalist to perfection. A few other family members are similar in his beliefs, but none so fervently devout. In addition, I am an American who does have concerns about where this country is going, and cannot ignore his own belief that the violence in the Middle East will have a direct impact upon us here.

My own personal background with regards to religion is somewhat complex. My father was raised Baptist…my mother was raised in the same church I was. I was raised in a very conservative Protestant church (the Church of Christ), which ascribed to a strict literal interpretation of the Bible. During my sixth grade year, I began read about other religions, and began to question the logic behind such a literal interpretation of the Bible. I had special difficulty with the concept of Christians being the only ones eligible for heaven, with all others doomed to hell regardless of their actions…it seemed to me an unusually cruel and barbaric piece of theology. In later years, I found it difficult to accept the notion of “scientific creationism.” The narrowmindedness and hypocritical prejudice of too many of the Christians I know was what drove me away from that faith. Today I would describe myself as an agnostic.

After reading The Battle for God, I realized that Karen Armstrong is very likely correct in her assessment that fundamentalism is unlikely to ever go away, that it will always be some part of society’s fabric. The question that occurred to me is…what to do about it?

Repression of fundamentalist faith would not work, as Armstrong indicated in her book. Not only would such repression likely lead to a backlash that could worsen the situation, in the U.S. at least such repression would be in violation of the American constitution, and it would actually play into the fundamentalist belief that the world is against them. Neither would ignoring the fundamentalists completely be a practical approach.

Karen Armstrong stated that the fundamentalist movements she examined ultimately had a common root – fear, a dread of the secularization of society. If this is true, and Armstrong made a fairly convincing case for it in her book, what what then be a rational approach to remedy this fear, without giving in to the goals of the fundamentalists?

My questions wouldn’t necessarily apply to the American Protestant fundamentalist movement, of course. I wouldn’t mind hearing answers regarding other fundamentalist movements as well, since even though they are not strongly present in this country, they do have an impact on how the U.S. interacts with the rest of the world, particularly the Middle East.

The only remeady I see that can work is a good economic climate not created by fundies but by moderates

I’m not sure that remedy would apply to the fundamentalist American Protestants. The movement was born not out of economic distress, but as a reaction to what they perceived as the increasing secularization of American society.

Case in point: in The Battle for God, Karen Armstrong points the current fundamentalist movement in America to have begun its upswing in 1979-1980, and it increased in strength throughout much of the 1980s. With the exception of a recession in the early part of the 1980s, that decade was a fairly prosperous one for the U.S. The movement lost a bit of steam after 1987 (remember the televangelist scandals?), but picked up again in recent years.

The economy seems to have had little to do with its origin, and certainly doesn’t seem to have a lot to do with its ability to sustain itself to this day.

Well, perhaps I’m being naive and idealistic, but I think the best way to deal with fundamentalism is to teach folks how to think critically, demystify the differences and similarities among religions, and teach folks to be tolerant and respectful of others. The root of all these problems is the fear of the unknown, whether that be a totally secularized society, a totally fundamentalized society (Heaven forfend! :rolleyes::), or a mix of the secular and sacred. Education, then, is a way to tackle those fears. A thinking person should realize that we can’t have a totally fundamentalist society because we wouldn’t be able to choose which fundamental interpretation of which religion should take precedence.

That sounds very reasonable, but what if American fundamentalists avoid this education?

While I can’t speak for what happens outside the U.S., I do know that homeschooling is quite popular amongst American fundamentalists. If not homeschooling, then the kids might be sent to a private religious school that excludes from its curriculum anything contrary to its doctrine. My cousin attended such a school, as did I for a couple of years before moving to Oregon (somehow my experience in that school failed to rub off). If my cousin is any indication, the quality of the education he received there was fairly poor.

Even after high school, there are means for American fundamentalists to obtain college degrees by attending schools that deliberately excludes non-doctrinal material. Bob Jones University comes to mind right away; I suspect that Oral Roberts University and Liberty University (Falwell’s school of higher learning) are in the same boat.

I didn’t say it would be easy, and perhaps I’m being too optimistic about how far homo sapiens generally has really evolved in terms of being able to think critically about religion. [giggle] I, too, have friends who received very poor educations at the Christian charter schools that they attended; however, they somehow came away from those experiences–drinking and having sex at school rather than learning anything of substance–with the ability to think critically. I mean they weren’t learning anything else so why shouldn’t they start wondering about that and about the reality of surviving in the real world? I can’t help but think that if folks are exposed to just one side of things, if they have any kind of brains at all, wouldn’t they just have to wonder about what they aren’t being told and why? And, maybe do a little reading of their own?

As far as teaching about the different religions in public schools, I guess one way to do it would be to look at them through other lenses like history or literature or art to investigate how the sacred has influenced the secular and reflects specific culture and vice versa.

I’m sorry if this is not a coherent post. I’ve just been bombarded by too much illogic today, and I need to go lay down.

Is there a remedy??

How about genetic engineering? I have read a suggestion that there may be a genetic predisposition to religious belief. (A quick search on Google yielded nothing.) Anything’s worth a try.

I don’t think it will be easy for the US to rid itself of religious fundamentalist elements. For one thing the US has the greatest percentage of Christians, which means that when all else are equal, it has the greatest number of fundamentalists.

One of the problems hindering this is the education system. It seems that the preferential treatment given to religious organisations also doesn’t help.

Great Hemlock, prove the fundamenrtalists right with your reckless idea.

Yes: time.

Secularism marches on!

How about compassion? Understanding (though not necessarily agreeing with) their point of view, then treating them with the dignity and respect that every human being deserves? How about we start by not giving them further reasons to hate and fear; reasons to believe that those of us who are not fundamentalist do not want to “wipe them out” - because, really, we don’t. After all, fundamentalists are people too. In my mind, they’re people first. People I may not agree with, but people nonetheless.

Oh, and Urban Ranger - I suggest you get a copy of the book listed in the OP, and note that the OP mentioned that there are Islamic and Judaic fundamentalists as well as Christian ones. Reading this book might open your eyes. I know it did mine.

Um, how about ignoring them? Basically you are asking “what should we do about these people who have diferent beliefs from mine?”. There isn’t much you can do other than not give money to their churches, not attend their schools and not support their political leaders. If they break the law, they go to jail like everyone else but they aren’t going to go away just because you think they are irritating.

At least that holds true for religeous fundimentalists residing within the United States.

Thank you, dear. Recent events had gotten me to the point where I had lost hope that the stance I hold could ever accomplish anything, as between the “stiff-necked people” and the Indignant Left. (Seeing two good friends put through the wringer for what the laundrypeople thought were the highest of motives didn’t help.)

Your post was like a drink of cold water on a hot day in the desert. Thank you.

And let me also recommend strongly Karen Armstrong’s The Battle for God, a book on fundamentalism and its relation to the world which as noted covers far more than conservative American Protestantism – and is fairly easy reading for its depth of scholarship.

You’re welcome, Poly.

Although, to be fair, I had a push - last Sunday’s service at my UU church was about this very book and this very theme.

But I had already come to that conclusion based on my own reading of the book.

IMHO, it’s hard to hate what you understand. The tricky part is coming to the realization that understanding does not necessarily mean agreement.


Better science education, more emphasis on scientific issues in the media, etc.

Shining light on evidence for evolution is an effective way to challenge fundamentalism, but perhaps even more effective would be improved science detailing the environmental threats we face.

Environmental threats affect us all, but fundamentalism is ill-equipped to address them. Their entire agenda is based on denial. If the fundies argue that all such problems will disappear with the Second Coming, accuse them of gambling with the future of the entire planet.

I agree with the consensus about the book. But I disagree with some of the suggested solutions though. Based on what I got from the book and what I know of fundamentalists - and I know quite a few, and most are even SciCre - I would think that forcing them to ingest evolution and science, while in the end a great idea, fails to understand the issues.

As Atreyu points out from the book, fear is the driving force behind Fundamentalism. We can see what they are afraid of, because they fight it constantly; i.e. evolution, secular education, secular government. But why are they afraid in the first place? Because they fear that as more is discovered, the more of their literal faith falls away.

And that is a faith they are betting their whole lives on. Which helps to explain the violence and anger they feel. I think what Fundies need is not more science, or humanism (at least not at the start) but first to learn how to interpret their faith and bible without resorting to literal translations. How this is done, I cannot say, but it would have to start with the leaders and pastors of the Fundie churches. Which, tend to be the people who led, or continue to lead the people along fundamentalist paths.

So it is a lost cause, but not one that can be abandoned, since many countries are led or have leadership swayed by powerful citizens/voters who are fundamentalists, irregardless of which religion we are speaking about.

And it only took you 9.25 hours to read that book? Wow, I gotta pick up a Kevin Trudeu Reading Kit :slight_smile:

Well, it was more like 7 hours, actually. I took a break about halfway through to rest my eyes and to cook up a late-night meal.

The march of science.

Fundamentalism is less prevalent in the U.S. than it was a hundred years ago, and it will be evn less prevalent (/more marginalized) 100 years from now. The more we learn from science, the more difficult it becomes to hold onto a literalist interpretation of the Bible.

You know, the more I think about the title of this thread, the more I think the answer is, “Why should there be?”

And then I imagine a discussion on a fundamentalist message board entitled “Religious Liberalism - Is there a remedy?”

No, I think I stand by my statement that compassion is the answer - for both questions.

A couple of years ago, our minister talked me into taking a bible study course (Methodist). When I looked around the table the first night I thought I’d made a big mistake. Out of the 12, there were at least 5 that I knew were strongly fundamentalist. Actually it turned out that I was the only one that would voice doubts about what the lesson was teaching. As time went on I felt more and more at home and actually played a leadership role in the class. The last night we had a meal and everyone except myself took communion. I think that they would have been upset if I’d have taken communion, because it would have been giving in and doing something I didn’t believe in.

It is experiences like this that keeps me in the church. As SisterCoyote says compassion is the answer, but you have to stay involved to make the compassion count.