We’re all fundamentalists now
They’re just another raving bunch of fundamentalists! Now there’s a phrase you’ll hear on talk radio if you listen hard enough. Fundamentalist. The very word, in its modern context, sounds kind of hick, kind of backwoods Kentucky. Kind of downtown Mecca. It is used, primarily, as a pejorative – an insult against those deserving of the label ‘fundamentalist’. Heck, I’ve even taken a liking to it myself as a means of describing diehard secular humanists: atheist fundamentalist fruitbats.
But what does ‘fundamentalist’ really mean? It means somebody with a strong worldview. Somebody who is confident that they understand the world and their place in it, and therefore somebody not likely to be swayed from that worldview easily. A fundamentalist is someone who believes in the reality of objective truth.
At a shallow level, every single one of us is actually a religious fundamentalist. That’s because whatever you believe about the universe and your own place in it, your belief is a faith-based one even if you are an atheist scientist. You may fervently believe that life is a product of random evolution and natural selection. But in a billion lifetimes you will never be able to absolutely prove it. You may believe that God created the earth in six days, but this too is ultimately a matter of faith. You may believe in reincarnation, karmic destiny and the alleged wisdom of Shirley Maclaine and whatever she’s channeling this month. This too is a matter of belief.
You may believe that ‘fundamentalism’ should be discouraged by the government, perhaps even banned, because it threatens your own ideals of tolerance and good vibes. But you too would be guilty of fundamentalism, of imposing your own desire not to be exposed to someone else’s beliefs above another person’s right to listen to free speech.
You see, there is no one in your home or office who, deep down, is not a religious fundamentalist of some kind. Once you scrape away the layers and the distractions, you are left with a person’s core beliefs about how the world is or how it should be. You might be a gay fundamentalist, or a green fundamentalist, or a New Age fundamentalist. Every time you stand up and venture an opinion on how things should be, you are vocalizing your fundamentalism.
So is that wrong? No. To deny our inherent rights to our fundamental beliefs is to deny that which makes us human, rather than slaves.
How then, do we tackle fundamentalism that manifests itself in a bad way, like Islamic fundamentalism? Only by recognizing that while everyone is fundamentalist, not all fundamental beliefs are right. Once upon a time, it was an established religious belief to conduct human sacrifice, even cannibalism. Should we shy away from confronting such evils just because we might offend a cannibal? Clearly not. Is the evil of cannibalism any less evil if we’re dealing with an army of 100,000 cannibals instead of 10? Does the fact that something evil is popular make it inherently right all of a sudden?
Evil triumphs when good men do nothing, the saying goes. The truth is, though, that if they did nothing then they were not truly good.
We are all fundamentalists. Nothing wrong with that. But not all fundamental beliefs are created equal.
Here’s a cold hard truth: the only hope for disarming Islamic fundamentalism lies in the advance of Christian fundamentalism. The Passion of the Christ was a huge hit in the Arab world, because it was the first time they’d seen forgiveness, instead of eye-for-an-eye. Mel Gibson struck a bigger blow for world peace in one movie, than all the Middle Eastern summits put together.