Fundamentalism is a term applied to various Islamic, Christian, Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Judaic groups, and even to some secular (economic and environmental) groups. All different.
Yet Tamas Pataki in his newly published Against Religion lists what he sees as “criss-crossing similarities — family resemblances — in certain basic beliefs, values, and attitudes” (p.27) that characterize the various religious groups labelled “fundamentalist”.
1. They (fundamentalists) are counter-modernist. It (fundamentalism) manifests itself as an attempt by “besieged believers” to find their refuge in arming themselves with an identity that is rooted in a past golden age. And this identity is acted out in an attempt to restore that “golden past”.
This is not in Pataki’s book, but the following Hindu example is copied from here
In India they established the Hindu Golden Age described in the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. This great age came to an end with the Bharata War, the beginning of which is dramatically described in the Bhagavad-gita and the result, according to the text, was over a million deaths. Hindu civilization then descended into a long decline that was exacerbated by the pacifism and nihilism of Buddhism and Jainism, which were seen as failed off shoots of Hinduism and not separate religions from Hinduism. During the Second Millennium CE a weakened Hindusim was easy prey for first the Mughal invaders and second British imperialism.
To return, in part, to Pataki’s examples — Most of us know of the idyllic kingdoms of David and Solomon for a Jewish example:
Judah and Israel were many, as the sand which is by the sea in multitude, eating and drinking, and making merry.And Solomon reigned over all kingdoms from the river unto the land of the Philistines, and unto the border of Egypt: they brought presents, and served Solomon all the days of his life. . . . For he had dominion over all region on this side the river, from Tiphsah even to Azzah, over all the kings on this side the river: and he had peace on all sides round about him. And Judah and Israel dwelt safely, every man under his vine and under his fig tree, from Dan even to Beersheba, all the days of Solomon. (I Kings 4:20-25)
Hence the “right” of Jews to the biblical lands of the West Bank, along with the consequent bloodshed.
The Islamic golden age was the time of Mohammad and shortly after; for many American Christians it was the time of the Founding Fathers or “relatively wholesome 1950’s suburban America”. (Pataki does not address it here, but of course the Book of Acts was written to portray a “pre-heretical” golden age in its earliest chapters at least.)
2. They (fundamentalists) are “generally assertive, clamorous, and often violent”.
- Hence the Hindu destruction of the Babri mosque in 1992 and its consequent bloodshed;
- the “right” of Jews to the biblical lands of the West Bank (and eventually beyond?), along with the consequent bloodshed;
- the militancy, threats, intimidation and sometimes violence on the part of America’s “Christian Right”;
- and of course the Islamic bombings.
3. They are “the Chosen”, “the Elect”, “the Saved”. And as such, they are “privileged” or “burdened” with a special mission on behalf of their deity and for the benefit of the world.
Pataki notes that this attitude “is not restricted to fundamentalist groups but is a prominent mark of all of them.” (p.29)
He sees its head among Ulster Protestants, Buddhist Sinhalese, the religious nationalism of Russia’s Dostoevsky, and of course American exceptionalism from its roots in Puritanism.
“To be chosen is to be marked for a superior fate; one is marked by virtue of being superior“. (I would qualify Pataki here by saying that some groups see themselves as having their superiority “imputed” to them by God and they would never let themselves think their superiority is innate in themselves.) Pataki points to the obvious examples in St Augustine, Calvin, and now in pre-millennial Protestants who are “burdened” with knowing they will be saved while the rest of the world goes to hell.
4. Public marks of distinction are needed to maintain their sense of superiority and distinctive identity. Not only for the purpose of maintaining that distinctive identity, but also as “part of the narcissistic struggle to be considered unique and special.” (p.30)
Skullcaps, turbans, hijab, crosses, skin markings, circumcision, initiations, baptisms, rituals, food taboos, holy times, etc etc
The point is to “be separate” so where there are similar groups the slight differences are exaggerated — the heretic being more of a threat than the infidel!
5. There is only one true religion and one correct way of life; and these must be defended against inroads from other religions and secularism.
Religious pluralism is a problem for the fundamentalist. The fundamentalist, whether Christian, Judaistic or Islamic, will accept all but only into one exclusive “truth”.
Narcissism feeds on differences, and these differences are accentuated, intensified.
Since there is only one true way, it is under constant threat. The world is thus a place of persecution. A place where there is a black and white, a Manichaean struggle between absolutes, good and evil, truth and error, God and Satan. There is no middle ground. “You are with us or against us.”
6. There is an inerrant holy book, prophet or charismatic leader to whom literal obedience is mandatory.
The Indian holy books, the Vedas, are said to contain even scientific as well as spiritual truths; many Christian fundamentalists believe the same of the Bible.
Literal interpretations and obedience leave no room for uncertainty, no matter how uncertain the real world.
7. Law and authority come from God.
Even civic law must derive from the holy books. “God’s law always trumps human law.” (Pataki does not directly say it, but we know democracy is not a value of the fundamentalist.)
8. Female sexuality must be controlled and clear impassable boundaries must be established between men and women.
Sexuality is controlled within the structure of the patriarchal family. Women are subordinated in marriage, reproduction, abortion, ordination, access to or emphasis on education. Female sexuality is associated strongly with “animalism” and pollution — giving rise to taboos on certain sexual practices. (p.32)
“The control of female sexuality is sometimes linked with the fear of emasculation and homosexuality.” The fear of men being led to become like women is expressed in Islamic and Christian writings.
9. Sexual behaviour is a major concern of all fundamentalists — Christian, Jewish, Islamic — without exception. Especially the fear of and opposition to homosexuality.
10. Fundamentalism and nationalism converge. The moral life according to the will of God can only be fully lived in a society of fellow-practitioners of the belief. This can only be achieved through God’s rule — through the national executive and legislature itself. Hence the importance of bringing about a government that will prioritize the right morals and right culture for the nation — relegating other (economic) functions to a secondary place.
As Pataki comments, this notion of government has a medieval tincture to it.
Pataki’s conclusion to his list of 10 points is really his introduction to the rest of the book. He notes that the above attributes cluster in patterns that point to something quite possibly independent of cultural variables — a certain set of psychological traits that he sees bound inextricably with narcissism. (But the notes and comments elaborating that will have to wait — will be quicker for most to locate and read his book yourself.)