Why is Fundamentalism So Attractive?

Why is Fundamentalism So Attractive? September 9, 2014

The fashionable place of fundamentalism in history has found a place in the here and now. Why do we all find our knees eventually bending in the pantheon of fundamentalism? The pantheon refers to all kinds of different types of fundamentalism which we are going to dissect in this article. But, why is fundamentalism so attractive? Why are we, who are part of the human project (we’re not human yet) so enthralled by fundamentalism? What intrigues us? The sense of a safety that a system inhabits? Practices, repetitions, mediations. We live in an era of history where we prefer mediation over direct-experience (i.e., government, politicians, organizations, prisons, police and so on). As Gilles Deleuze once said: Desire desires its own repression. The rest of this article attempts to explain why.

Social Benefits: There is this social myth going around that if you ‘stand for nothing, than you fall for everything’, however, if you start with nothing, then you have the opportunity to create something. If you begin with a void, then the void is filled with potential. Fundamentalism fears potential. It breeds off of nostalgia (i.e., “remember when?”, “what about that one time, when….”, “why can’t we go back there” and etc.). We need to start with nothing so we can build something spectacular. Not perfect. Not whole. This is another socialized myth of fundamentalism, that if we somehow adhere to a set of rules, ideas, practices, codes and so on, then somehow we can create utopia. But this is also a major issue within the Left who use similar rhetoric when they speak of revolution, which has become nothing less than an overused fad. The social benefits of fundamentalism is that it promises the facade of togetherness. The facade of a fading happiness that drifts into every sunset. And then, we have to do it all again, to keep it all going.

Consumer Hedonism: There is entrenched in the very fabric of a consumer society a religion of ‘must-have’. “I HAVE to buy this object”, or “I HAVE to get this!” – There is an unspoken rule that options are optional. We would rather confine our freedom to a few options on our radio dial than choose a plurality of outcomes. We want our freedom to be limited. This is the allure of fundamentalism. It actually gives us what we want and gives us the illusion of controlling that desire. If we all need something, then it is itself a form of conformity. Fundamentalism is essentially about conformity. Consumerism drives this point the clearest, because we are made to believe that we ‘need’ something, and then we are made to believe that if we want to be different, then we must need ‘that’ same thing someone else has, but quite possibly a different version of it (i.e., the war of the branded cell phones seems eternal, with new cell phone creators popping up left and right trying to vye for a space next to Apple’s ubiquitous (yet hipster-esque) metaphysical name at the top). Consumer philosophy draws these distinctions – you can even buy hispter glasses now! – It puts us all into our categories and boxes and makes us think we should all have a box and a name to fit into.  Fundamentalism does just this. It secretes into brains this belief that our freedom must be limited and defined and confined, because if its not, all hell will break loose.

The Hatred of The Other: We like to hate things. It has become so embedded into the western psyche that we use it prevalently and with ease. We say things like, “I hated that movie!” or “I hate that song!” Disavowel of everything has become common place. To hate something is now to distance one’s self from a certain type of another person, or of another thing that might not be acceptable, or might be acceptable, depending on the current trend. Fundamentalism is the ultimate form of narcissism, because it feeds off the self and the assurance of the self over and above any and all others. It takes those who don’t believe as victims (hence, ISIS). In a world full of fundamentalism, it is not only easy to hate the other, it is accepted and anticipated. Fundamentalism itself hates distinction. It wants to consume the other. In a world filled with fundamentalism, there is no other. They’re souls just waiting to be converted.

The Fundamentalism of The Left. The left has become equally synonymous with Communism. Theology has now taken on a whole new side of politicization. No longer are Christians simply those who shun the world, but now are dedicated to it which has emerged itself as a sociological trend to the point that if you don’t have a long-beard and a trow and are not planting seeds for a new world, then you must not be a true Christian Communist. Rob Bell, Brian Mclaren, Frank Schaeffer, and  Peter Rollins; these are some of the more media-saturated known voices of this side of the movement. But there is a problem with them all. Most of them, like a lot of the writers today within Christianity started out reacting against certain aspects of Christianity. So, their works will continuously be haunted by the fundamentalism that they were either exposed to or were a part of. This is not necessarily bad, but does limit what they can offer to the wider Christian community.

The Fundamentalism of The Right. The right has become a punching-bag for the Left (and vice-versa). As we already know, we are all defined by what we oppose, so in one sense, there is this endless ideological merry-go-round between the two, where the parameters of what to believe, how to believe it, and what to do with that belief are defined by the ‘enemy’. One only need to conjure up the names of some of the true fundamentalist voices of the Religious Right to get the shivers. Like: Driscoll, Graham, Piper to name a few.  All these voices represent to us a side of Christianity, that the rest of the world cringes at. The Right are obviously and easily scapegoated as the poster-boy for traditional fundamentalism. But fundamentalism exists in all corners of the world.

The Fundamentalism of Atheism. 

Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett to name a few are voices for the Atheist Fundamentalists.  Now, atheists aren’t different from those who believe. They believe in things, they just are not metaphysical things. Whether it be goodness, or peace, or love or something altruistic, it still simply replaces one god with another. I know some atheists are going to disagree with this, but this is yet another critique of mine, not just of atheism, but of this new fad within Christianity that seeks to somehow appropriate elements of atheism into Christianity, but doesn’t go far enough, and yet claiming that they are atheist Christians and yet believe in God, or Jesus as God or some other theological point in the theological matrix. These new forms of belief aren’t new, they are just switching elements from one belief system to another. There is nothing revolutionary here.

The problem with Fundamentalism.

In Psychology studies, there is a hypothesis that claims the inability to doubt our particular stance demonstrates a level of damage to our pre-frontal cortex. Okay, stay with me here. Typically, that part of the brain is known to control our rational thought. Michelle Rosenthal says the following about the cortex, “Known as the seat of your executive function, the prefrontal cortex affects self-regulation, decision-making, and attention processes. After high stress, this part of your brain can experience a decrease in its capability.” Through another testing process developed called the The False Tagging Theory, we learn that if there is no damage to this part of the brain, then there is an ability to doubt. This of course, begs the question of those who can’t seem to rid themselves of strict fundamentalist attitudes, are they brain damaged? Now, beyond this satirical question, there is something deadly serious staring us in the face, which is that some might be more hard-wired toward fundamentalist attitudes than others.

However, this is to pre-determined and absolves us of any responsibility. We are not predetermined toward fundamentalism. Fundamentalism, like any other thing in thinking is a perversion of thought, it is now a system. A way of thinking that thinks for us. The Apostle Paul, an anarchist theologian, once made the claim that our struggle is against those systems in place that mediate for us on our behalf, fundamentalism is one of them. We are all fundamentalists, we can’t hide that. But we can fight it. Some fundamentalism is important, at certain times, but fundamentalism as a system that imposes itself on others must be dealt with accordingly.

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