New Internationalist

Simply… The Fundamentals

Issue 210

new internationalist
issue 210 - August 1990

Simply... THE FUNDAMENTALS
Illustrations: ALAN HUGHES

L O Y A L T Y[image, unknown] T O[image, unknown] S C R I P T U R E

Is it in the book?
[image, unknown] The notion that everything in the Qu'ran or the Bible is literally true and must be obeyed is a firmly held belief of religious fundamentalists. A similar absolute faith in the economic and political prescriptions of books like Karl Marx's Capital for communists or George Gilder's Poverty and Wealth for militant free-marketeers marks secular fundamentalist belief. Power Within such groups derives from the ability to quote scripture to make ones point. The multitude of possible interpretations and contradictory passages provide fertile ground for endless dispute over the meaning of the text and split-offs to set up new groups of 'true believers'.

 

B E L I E F[image, unknown] I N[image, unknown] A P O C A L Y P S E

Five minutes to midnight
[image, unknown] There are many fundamentalist versions of the Day of Judgment. Race Wars, nuclear holocaust, total environmental collapse, an Aids plague, economic collapse under a mountain of debt, cultural decadence and decay are all held up as possible scenarios for the undoing of the Wickedness of this World. In this way the fundamentalist transforms real problems and world issues into a satisfying catastrophe in which the sinners - atheists, socialists, liberals, the promiscuous, homosexuals, secular humanists, greedy consumers - finally get theirs. According to some versions of apocalypse the righteous are saved by the timely return of Jesus or Muhammad. Eco-survivalists, meanwhile, save themselves by abandoning corrupt civilization to set up pure communities as far as possible from the sources of pollution.

 

I N T O L E R A N C E[image, unknown] O F [image, unknown] D I S S E N T

Casting out the unbeliever
[image, unknown] The fundamentalists' certainty in the rightness of their cause leads them to a condescending view of the outsider or non-believer that wavers between pity and hostility. The view of the in-group is that their special insight gives them the right to dictate to others so as to reform their thoughts and deeds. Censorship of 'unhealthy' books and films is a key plank in the fundamentalist platform aimed particularly at the politically or sexually unorthodox. For the militant free marketeer economic policy must penalize those who use the public purse to avoid the rigours of hard work. While on the Left the heretic is cast out or sometimes cast into prison for their bourgeois mentality. Extensive 'reeducation' is necessary to bring the unconverted and wayward to the true path. The insecurity of the faithful is seen in their preoccupation with hunting out heresy.

 

R I G H T[image, unknown] L I V I N G

Protecting us from ourselves
[image, unknown] FUNDAMENTALISTS tend to be very prescriptive about lifestyle and personal habits both for their own members and the rest of us as well. In Islam the strict adherence to Sharia law contains a number of prohibitions around liquor, sexual freedom, abortion, dress, and living arrangements enforced by a rigorous criminal code. These are meant to apply to non-Muslims living in the country as well. In Sudan, which has a huge non-Muslim population, the enforcement of Sharia is one cause of civil war.

The fundamentalist Christian social agenda is very similar to that of Islam with a tight family-centred approach leading to campaigns to restrict the rights to abortion, to different sexual preferences or even to unconventional living arrangements. The zealots of both the New Right and the Old Left also glorify the nuclear family unit as the root of social stability.

 

A U T H O R I T A R I A N I S M

An eye for an eye
[image, unknown] FUNDAMENTALIST groups often have strict charismatic leaders, stern father figures who lay down the rules for their members. Fundamentalists reject leniency and believe that wrong-doers or even non-believers should be severely dealt with. Where they achieve some degree of influence the fundamentalists usually push for an authoritarian form of government that will enforce restrictive codes of behaviour on non-believers. In the US the fundamentalist movement has been one of the main backers of the return to the death penalty now in place in a majority of states. Under Sharia law there are a wide range of severe sanctions including amputations, flogging and death by stoning. For the free-market fundamentalist the main crime is lack of initiative and laziness. The punishment is to make poverty (sometimes said to be an 'incentive') more acute by cutting off welfare cheques.

 

P E S S I M I S M

Doom, gloom and magic
[image, unknown] Despite their absolute certainty about what is right and wrong with the world the overwhelming mood of most fundamentalists is pessimistic. They wring their hands over the devil's work: the free-spending welfare state, the lack of discipline amongst the young or the evils of TV and strong drink. The world is held to be in the hands of the ungodly and hope for redemption seems quite slim. Even in Iran, where fundamentalism is very much in the saddle, the prevailing mentality is of a group under siege by the forces of the modern world. Fundamentalists of all types feel very much on the defensive in a world that they cannot control or even explain very well. The best hope for worldly redemption lies beyond the realm of politics in a magical second coming, a cathartic night at the revolutionary barricades or a purifying collapse of the global eco-system.

 

T O T A L I S M

We can explain it all!
[image, unknown] Fundamentalists are obsessed with their philosophy which they feel is a total explanation for all that is wrong with the world and a complete prescription for setting it right. Marxism-Leninism has purported to explain away genetics and fundamentalist Christianity to explain away evolution. The experience and previous knowledge of the individual is submerged under the ocean of doctrine. If your feelings do not accord it is because you have a bourgeois mentality, are male-identified or are being influenced by the Devil. The thought-terminating cliché bludgeons individuals into submission to the group. They are encouraged to purge any feelings and characteristics that are identified with impure outsiders. They are thus made vulnerable enough to accept the discipline of the group and its leaders.

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