The Fundamental(ist) Imbalance

Nowadays, the truth of peace continues to be dramatically compromised and rejected by terrorism, whose criminal threats and attacks leave the world in a state of fear and insecurity. These are often the fruit of a tragic and disturbing nihilism.

Looked at closely, nihilism and fundamentalism share an erroneous relationship to truth: the nihilist denies the very existence of truth, while the fundamentalist claims to be able to impose it by force. Both show a dangerous contempt for human beings and human life, and ultimately for God himself. Indeed, this shared tragic outcome results from a distortion of the full truth about God: nihilism denies God’s existence and his provident presence in history while fanatical fundamentalism disfigures his loving image.

In analyzing the causes of the contemporary phenomenon of terrorism, consideration should be given to its deeper cultural, religious and ideological motivations. All Catholics in every part of the world have a duty to proclaim and embody ever more fully the “Gospel of Peace,” and to show that acknowledgment of the full truth of God is the first, indispensable condition for consolidation the truth of peace.

God is Love which saves, a loving Father who wants to see his children look upon one another as brothers and sisters, working responsibly to place their various talents at the service of the common good of the human family. God is the unfailing source of the hope which gives meaning to personal and community life. God, and God alone, brings to fulfillment every work of good and of peace.
— Pope Benedict XVI, Message on World Day of Peace, January 1, 2006

This except occurred to me after reading about Faisal Shahzad’s uncertain ties to the Taliban, and his as-yet-not explained contempt for the nation whose citizenship he accepted and whose freedoms and opportunities he enjoyed. Why would he not simply want to contribute his talents into the human collective, so to speak, (as we all do in our work) and make his way toward his god, in peace?

The press is running ragged trying to identify the mysterious motive behind Shahzad’s attempt to kill and maim unsuspecting strangers; he was a victim of the (Bush) economy, whose house was foreclosed on! In 2004, he said he hated Bush (hardly a remarkable opinion) and the Iraqi war! It was the drones! He didn’t like the drone attacks!

Faisal Shahzad earned both Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from the University of Bridgeport, in Connecticut, where he did not seem to stand out in any way. He was not memorable, just an average guy. Doubtless we will soon read that Shahzad’s attempted bombing was an attempt to make a name for himself, to be noticed and known in an America that cruelly ignored him by assuming he was like anyone else. That certainly could be one subconscious motivation.

The search for the best, most politically useful motive will go on, but all of these excuses are mere pretexts, they are attempts to ignore something that is fundamental to the Times Square Bomber: his religion.

We’re not allowed to talk about his faith. Someone pointed out that in the myriad news stories immediately covering Shahzad, the word “Islam” only appeared in “Islamabad” and “Muslim” appeared only once. Governmental and media elites are so dedicated to political correctness (and seemingly so keen to blame terrorism on middle-class conservatives) that some quickly made fools of themselves, suggesting that the attack could be “someone who didn’t like the healthcare bill” or that the attack would be fodder for the sort of racist, violent reaction that these middle-class (often Christian) conservatives are lately being accused of even though they stubbornly to conform to that template.

If I decided -like Shahzad- to set off a car bomb outside of the offices of Viacom, which produces South Park, does anyone think my Catholicism would not be mentioned? “Fundamentalist Catholic Takes Revenge on Cartoon!” It would be a lede so sensational, so irresistible, that they would omit the “fundamentalist” qualifier. Without it, after all, the indictment extends to the whole church.

Which, ironically, is precisely the indictment that the government and the press are trying to prevent being brought, in the case of Shahzad. They so disdain ordinary Americans that they do not trust them to be smart enough, or fair enough, not to fault an entire group of people for the actions of one, or even of 19. Apparently the peaceful way ordinary Americans went about their lives after 9/11 brought no new understanding to bear on elitist bigotry.

Pope Benedict was very wise in linking fundamentalism and nihilism. Both strip away reason and balance until all that is left is an ignorance that becomes downright heretical, even when the fundamentalism is applied to atheism, or ideology. Fundamentalism and nihilism both strip down broad and multi-faceted systems and cling to one aspect of one idea within the complex whole; allowing that one vastly oversimplified idea to dominate, the imbalance leads to a narrowing of perspective that never ends well.

Faisal Shahzad’s motives are mysterious right now, to the press and the government. That mystery may be rooted in the fact that they have stripped down the broad, multi-faceted system of social conventions to one idea (some groups are to be protected from criticism or suspicion) and one aspect of that idea (they must be protected from the always-suspect bourgeois). Allowing that single, vastly over-simplified idea to dominate their thinking, their perspective has become perilously narrowed.

Required to consider a whole complex world full of positions, opportunists and threats, the lockstep government and press are choosing instead to follow their one unkempt notion as it guides them into an ill-lit alleyway where, like the Faber College Marching Band, they will soon hit a wall.

From Instapundit, the mundane tools of the modern terrorist.

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • AMDG

    All right, the Faber Marching Band reference, along with The Stork leading the band, had me howling. Right click, save as… I will be using that jpeg again.

  • Shak

    I was just going to leave almost the exact comment as ‘AMDG’. Great post and the Faber Marching Band Reference was the coup de grace! A serious topic that had me laughing and, unfortunately, shaking my head at the same time.

  • http://greatspiritualbattle.com simeon

    Even worse that the religious implications of acts by people like Shahzad are ignored or swept under the rug, but the long history of islamic terrorism, likewise, is verboten. There once was an incredible cathedral called Hagia Sophia. One need only read its desecrated history to know the true nature of the beast and enemy of all civilization known as islam.

  • Rand Careaga

    Someone pointed out that in the myriad news stories covering Shahzad, the word “Islam” only appeared in “Islamabad” and “Muslim” appeared only once.

    Perhaps “Someone” should look at the New York Times now and then?

    [When I began writing (or taking notes for) this, which was on the 4th, "someone" (and I will try to find the link) was quite right. The early, immediate coverage of Shahzad went out of its way not to use those words. But by all means, focus on that, instead of the larger points. ;-) -admin]

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  • cathyf

    After Scott Appleby co-authored his massive tome on fundamentalism, he made a fascinating claim about what he says is the one thing that all forms of fundamentalism share, whether Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, etc. His claim is that in every form of fundamentalism, female adherents are required to have a relationship with at least one male adherent which violates the First Commandment.

    Somehow this is right along with Benedict’s insight that terrorism, from the father beating his children and the husband terrorizing his wife to the splodeydope hurling deadly shrapnel at babies, starts with the bizarre and perverse notion that God demands that men control the people around them and will punish those men for those people’s independent thoughts and will.

    There is a lot of logic to this: a teenaged girl talks flirtatiously with a neighbor boy, so her father directs her brothers to throw gasoline on her and burn her to death for bringing “dishonor” upon the family. If that’s what you think a father is, then since God is our Heavenly Father it makes perfect sense that he is directing his sons to blow up “infidels” or other members of the human family who have “brought dishonor” down on the family.

  • http://jscafenette.com/ Manny

    “Fundamentalist Catholic Takes Revenge on Cartoon!”

    LOL!

    “It would be a lede so sensational, so irresistible, that they would omit the “fundamentalist” qualifier. Without it, after all, the indictment extends to the whole church.”

    Absolutely. We walk on eggshells to avoid the truth.

    I don’t find this terrorist all that mysterious. His motives and passions fit right in with all the rest of the terrorists. They want to undermine the United States and think that a bomb here or there will do so. It’s not their motives and passions I find mysterious; it’s their strategy. I don’t see a path to victory for them. What are these bombs supposed to accomplish in the big picture? Do they think that the Islamic countries are going to rise up and challenge the west? Come on. This is a spiritual martyrdom they are after. Though they are individually hurtful, these bombs will not change an iota of anything. Bin Laden may wish to conquer the world, but his every day soldiers are looking for a path to heaven.

  • http://www.monksonline.org Steve P in Sparta, Wis.

    I think I understand what the Holy Father is getting at, but his use of “fundamentalist” is imprecise. The actual fundamentalist Christians I’ve known (and the term “fundamentalist” arises from early 20th century controversies within American protestantism) have never claimed to be able to impose truth by force. They have a lunatic fringe, as does everyone else, but the fringe does not define the main body.

  • Doc

    Great post, Anchoress. The corporate media invites the very ridicule that will bring them down even further. They can handle anger, which empowers them to stand firm, but well aimed satire and sarcasm is something that just makes them look foolish. Jim Treacher has a great example of this with his piece on Newsweek’s demise over at the Daily Caller. Funny and spot-on.

  • dry valleys

    I am made aware of a film in Britain which is a satire on wannabe jihadists, Four Lions. Which I might go & see, although maybe not as I tend not to be a cinema-goer. The funny thing is that all their plans never get off the ground, & they end up just looking like pointless blowhards (of the sort who comment on blogs, eh?)

    In my view it is wholly appropriate to laugh at things of this kind, which is why I supported the cartoons in Denmark & am all for Parker & Stone speaking freely & receiving protection from the authorities against any threats to their well-being that come from Islamists.

  • http://conservativehall.spaces.msn.com/ Steve

    For reference, I believe the inerrant quality of the text called the Bible… from Genesis 1:1 to Revelation 22:21.
    As such, Pope Benedict was not wise at all when he rejected fundamentalism… It is not a simple matter to simply restate one’s belief in their own words, “which seem right in one’s own eyes.”
    A great deal of study is required to build a right understanding of any matter, be it Torah, be it rocket science… and this study must be based in fundamentals, else it is doomed to eventually fail.
    You simply have to use the right author, and build your case of law (or your spaceship) with the properly designed and crafted building blocks.
    For example, an honest attempt at Torah (not mine) goes like this:
    “I found verse [Lev 19:] 14 very interesting. We’re not to ‘curse’ the ‘deaf’. ‘Curse’ here is ‘qahlal’ or ‘feel contempt for’ or ‘treat as insignificant’. And, “deaf” is ‘cheresh’ or ‘silent’. So, we’re not to treat with contempt, or as insignificant, those who are deaf or silent to what we say to them, like what we believe. Also, we are not to throw ‘stumbling blocks’, ‘mik’shol’ or ‘give occasion to stumble’ in front of those who are ‘blind’, ‘iv’vare’ or ‘have scales over the eyes’. Yahweh works differently in each of us according to His purpose. So, let’s be careful how we treat those who don’t ‘get it’ just yet.”

  • AvantiBev

    Nothing saddens me more than seeing how many syncretists we have, not only in the wider Christian community, but among my fellow Catholics. When I hear their innane statements about “many paths to God being equally valid” and “all pray to the same god”, I have to ask them which books they have been reading since 9/11/2001? Have they read the works of any former Muslim women, who live under threats of dismemberment and death for writing their articles and books? The answer is usually “no” and then suspicion of me for having delved quite deeply into the works of Trifkovic, Spencer, Hirsi Ali, Wafa Sultan, Shoebat and others.

    Lex orandi, lex credendi. There is indeed a difference between being a child of God and a slave of allah. It’s sad that our press and government elites cannot see it; but it is down right maddening that our kumbaya katholics-lite WON’T see it.

  • http://www.withouthavingseen.com Ryan Haber

    Steve,

    There is an analogy of meaning here that is perfectly legitimate. The denominator “fundamentalist/-ism” does arise in the US in the early 20th century, as you noted. It does, in that connection, refer to a particular approach to understanding the Bible, and to those who understand it in such manner.

    The Holy Father’s usage, I think, builds from the analogous meaning employed in contemporary culture both in the media and among specialists. This use is dissimilar to the original usage of the word because it has lost reference to the historical origins of that word. The contemporary use is similar, though, because something of the same mindset exists – or appears from the outside to exist – among that original group of Fundamentalists and among contemporary fundamentalist Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, etc. groups.

    The similarity of mindset is this: a strongly dualistic perspective that groups those who disagree with the relevant doctrines that the “them” in an us-versus-them scenario. While this mindset is not necessarily a part of the 20th century Fundamentalist movement originating in upstate New York, it clearly became common throughout members of the movement.

    When the Holy Father used the word “violence” I think he was employing not only the common meaning, but also the more general philosophical meaning, which is something like, “that which is contrary to a thing’s nature.” In this sense, any attempt to coerce or compel a human – who is made for voluntary decision – is a sort of violence. It is in this sense that government, as such, is inherently violent because it is coercive by design. It is in this sense that legislation attempting to (re-)engineer society is also violent. In as much as modern Fundamentalist Christians (or anyone) is content to change consciences and social behavior by legal declaration, they are behaving violently. It is not at all uncanny that such legislation inevitably uses increasingly brutal means of coercion as the gentler approaches prove ineffective.

    What all this coercion, all these attempts to legislate the Kingdom of God into the here-and-now show is not faithful trust in God, but despair that God can and will make His kingdom come is replaced by attempts to compel others to enter it.

    —-

    As an aside, I read and write Hebrew as a result of graduate study in Biblical studies, and I have to say that I am mystified by people who are mystified by ancient languages. Don’t get me wrong. I love them. Latin is my first intellectual love. Some languages are better suited for expressing some things than others; or at least, some minds express some things more elegantly in one language than in another. Hebrew is a beautiful language with some beautiful poetry in particular.

    But it is not God’s language and it is not magical. Words mean things, and the meanings are important. Knowing the original word doesn’t really give the kind of insight that people often believe it does; it doesn’t usually gives more insight than a good translation. Deploying “original words” very often covers a lack of genuine insight and knowledge regarding the text. This phenomenon can best be witnessed by removing such “original word” references from the evasive passage. Usually, very little is left.

  • BrianE

    “Looked at closely, nihilism and fundamentalism share an erroneous relationship to truth: the nihilist denies the very existence of truth, while the fundamentalist claims to be able to impose it by force. Both show a dangerous contempt for human beings and human life, and ultimately for God himself. Indeed, this shared tragic outcome results from a distortion of the full truth about God: nihilism denies God’s existence and his provident presence in history while fanatical fundamentalism disfigures his loving image.”

    I noticed the qualifier “fanatical” was used in the statement. I assume it was meant to distinguish between your garden variety fundamentalism, and the fanatical fundamentalism that is being referenced. It is unfortunate the distinction wasn’t used throughout the statement.

    There is a difference and equating the two is disservice to fundamentalists everywhere.

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  • cathyf

    The actual fundamentalist Christians I’ve known (and the term “fundamentalist” arises from early 20th century controversies within American protestantism) have never claimed to be able to impose truth by force.

    Perhaps not in the sense of using violence against strangers, but fundamentalists generally see no problem with forcing their beliefs upon their loved ones. All for their own good, of course, since wrong thinking equals damnation.

  • http://conservativehall.spaces.msn.com/ Steve

    Ryan Haber:

    In reference to #11, I suppose that instead of my being pretentious as the only Steve in the world I should call myself “Steve H from somewhere else.”

    In regards to your comment, ” But it is not God’s language and it is not magical. Words mean things, and the meanings are important. Knowing the original word doesn’t really give the kind of insight that people often believe it does; it doesn’t usually gives more insight than a good translation. ”

    I can only say, don’t knock it until you’ve actually tried it. Far from a dead language like Latin…

    (pdf file link)

    link

    It may be rude to be pretentious on a blog post, don’t let your intellect overpower your faith and your quest for the Truth.

    Unless you already have all the answers, of course.

  • BrianE

    “In this sense, any attempt to coerce or compel a human – who is made for voluntary decision – is a sort of violence.”

    That’s a little bit of a stretch.

  • BrianE

    “fundamentalists generally see no problem with forcing their beliefs upon their loved ones. All for their own good, of course, since wrong thinking equals damnation.”

    Paul, speaking to the Corinthian church had this to say:

    “It isn’t my responsibility to judge outsiders, but it is certainly is your job to judge those inside the church who are sinning in these ways. God will judge those on the outside; but as the Scriptures say, “You must remove the evil person from among you.” I Corinthians 5: 12-13

    So, the only question is– what should “these ways” include?

  • BrianE

    My apologies.
    I didn’t realize the Pope was talking about Muslim fundamentalists.
    He should have said so.

  • Sarah

    I am proudly a fundamentalist. Neither I nor any fundamentalist Christian I know or have known has ever used violence to persuade someone else of anything. Frankly I can’t believe anyone could believe we and fundamentalist Moslems have anything in common. Especially when southern, conservative, Christians give more money to charity than any other group, we don’t kill more people than any other religious group.

    ["Proudly" is not "fanatically," I think, Sarah! :-) -admin]

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  • http://jscafenette.com Jeanette

    I consider myself to be a fundamentalist evangelical Christian, and yet I don’t try to impose my will or beliefs on anyone.

    Jesus commanded us to go into the world and preach the Gospel. That’s what evangelicals do, but we don’t all walk up to someone and force our speech on them.

    I generally wait for the topic to come up or for some kind of opening and then start off easy so as not to overwhelm the person, but to also let them know Jesus is the only sacrifice acceptable to God for us to have fellowship with Him as He intended.

    Our nation and this world needs a revival and I pray one more will come before Jesus returns.

    I am fundamentalist because I actually believe what the Bible says and I take it seriously, so I have to respectfully disagree with Pope Benedict XVI.

    [Again, people seem to be losing sight of the qualifier, "fanatical" which is meant to be distinct from ordinary fundamentalism. The qualifiers are there for a reason, and in order to make that very distinction, but it seems like people want to ignore it, and want to be offended. Sigh. You know, I could look at that last line you wrote, and think, "well, harrumph and la-di-dah, is she saying that because I do not call myself a fundamentalist, I do NOT actually believe what the bible says and take it seriously, too"?

    Now, of course I do NOT think you are saying that, or that you're setting yourself up as something better than I am, there. But do you see how easily someone can take what you said simply because we've all become so damned defensive, all the time? -admin]


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