Diagnosing and Treating Unreformed Fundamentalism

Diagnosing and Treating Unreformed Fundamentalism November 7, 2015

Allan Bevere wrote a blog post highlighting the problem of the fundamentalist who rejects one kind of fundamentalism merely to replace it with another. He writes:

If there is one thing that can be asserted without proof (that’s a tongue-in-cheek comment meant for literary effect), it is that those who are reformed out of a habit or a movement tend to be the most rabid fundamentalists of them all. The most zealous anti-smokers are former smokers. Those who continually level angry criticism at Christian Fundamentalism are those who used to be Fundamentalists. Others who cannot resist taking continual shots at Protestant liberalism are often former liberals. In their obsession with the things they used to be, they put forth a fundamentalism all their own. Usually, the only people who cannot see such re-formed fundamentalism on display are those who are re-formed fundamentalists themselves. And yes, fundamentalists come in many forms– conservative and liberal, Democratic and Republican, religious and secular.

So, how can you tell if you are a re-formed fundamentalist of some stripe? There is currently no diagnostic test available, but allow me to offer some test questions that might indicate you have the affliction:

1. When you read something on a blog espousing a view akin to your former days, do you comment, not in reasonable fashion, but in anger and disdain for the view expressed.

2. When you hear an idea or a belief being expressed that is comparable to what you used to believe, do you first roll your eyes before considering the substance of what is being said?

3. Are you more interested in getting your now “enlightened” view across to the other person whom you hope to reform, than serious engaging what you have already decided is nonsense?

4. When you think about the views of the “other” are you angry before reflective?

5. Do you truly believe (be honest here) that those who do not share your views are stupid and/or immoral?

6. Do you get more joy out of insulting those who still hold to their “unreformed” views then engaging in serious discussion?

7. Do you find yourself having trouble getting to sleep at night thinking about all those evil people who are still caught up in their ignorance that you formerly held?

8. Do you see your assault on the ignorant perspectives of others as an issue of justice?

9. Do you only read books from authors who basically share your convictions?

10. Have you answered “yes” to several of these questions, but are still convinced that the label “re-formed fundamentalist” cannot refer to you?

Click through for his suggestions on how to avoid this pitfall. He does offer a cure!

A fundamentalist is a person who thinks he doesn't have a hermeneutic



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  • Neko

    I totally flunked that test.

    Although in regard to religion I’m too unorthodox to identify strongly with either side.

  • charlesburchfield

    there ought to be a 12 step program for this! */:D

    • Odd Jørgensen

      Joining a new cult?

      • charlesburchfield

        spittin up the green stuff coo? can’t you find more amoozing things to do w your time on earth mang?

  • Stuart Blessman

    Seems too simple. I need to go read his full post, but parts like “Those who continually level angry criticism at Christian Fundamentalism are those who used to be Fundamentalists. ” aren’t super helpful because many of us have been hurt and abused badly by Fundamentalists. Did we see the good while in them? Probably, and maybe our anger is equal parts hurt and love for what it could be minus the bad.

    But I don’t know if I buy the idea that people just replace one form of fundamentalism with another. Many do. Not all.

    • The post was not intended to suggest that everyone does this, just that some do this. And while it may be naturally to respond to harm by swinging the pendulum the opposite way, I would suggest that true healing from immature religion or anti-religion comes through maturity, not through an equally immature reaction in an opposite direction.

      • But criticism of beliefs that we found harmful is not “an equally immature reaction in an opposite direction.” In fact, I would argue that fighting power and belief structures that we have seen hurt both us and our friends or relatives is an incredibly mature reaction.

        • It depends what the “fighting” entails. Dealing with an exploitative dictator by overthrowing that ruler and replacing them with oneself as dictator is fighting the dictator, but not dictatorship. Likewise, one can fight fundamentalists in a manner that is equally fundamentalist and so does not fight fundamentalism.

          • I suspect we are defining fundamentalism very differently.

          • Major kangaroo

            Noble Qur’an 2:190 Footnote: “Jihad is holy fighting in Allah’s Cause with full force of numbers and weaponry. It is given the utmost importance in Islam and is one of its pillars. By Jihad Islam is established, Allah’s Word is made superior (which means only Allah has the right to be worshiped), and Islam is propagated. By abandoning Jihad Islam is destroyed and Muslims fall into an inferior position; their honor is lost, their lands are stolen, their rule and authority vanish. Jihad is an obligatory duty in Islam on every Muslim. He who tries to escape from this duty, or does not fulfill this duty, dies as a hypocrite.”

            The passage itself can be found in two places. It is on page 39 my copy of the Noble Qur’an translation by Muhammad Khan and distributed by “King Fahd Complex for the Printing of the Holy Qur’an—The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques. It is a footnote to Qur’an 2.190 and is designed to explain Jihad according to Allah as this is the first time the word is used.

            And it can be found on page 580 of the Islamic University of Medina’s translation of Sahih al-Bukhari’s Hadith. There it opens Bukhari’s Book of Jihad.

            In both cases, the Islamic scholars are condensing Allah’s and Muhammad’s teachings on Jihad to a single paragraph.


          • People have offered interpretations of the Qur’an, and of the Bible, that support and oppose various kinds of violence. Was that your point – that the meaning of the text is often ambiguous, and so one has to turn to footnotes to see the different ways that different individuals and communities interpret and apply texts?

          • Major kangaroo

            One does not need to turn to another page, it is right there on the same page as the sura , It is not ambiguous at all . That is the point .The footnote also begins the Sahih al-Bukhari’s Book of Jihad .

            In both cases, the Islamic scholars are condensing Allah’s and Muhammad’s teachings on Jihad to a single paragraph.

            If the Publisher of the most widely distributed translation of the quran in the world was wishing to hide the meaning of jihad or make its meaning confusing somehow, they have had decades to change the text .

            The point was to insure the meaning was not lost, distorted or misinterpreted even by the most dedicated and deranged apologist .

            The quran makes it clear that cleansing the world of disbelief and establishing sharia are essential to the practice of Islam , not distortion of it .


  • John MacDonald

    This post really spoke to me. As a former minion of Internet Explorer, I often get angry when I think about all the time I wasted waiting for web pages to load.

    • charlesburchfield


  • Matthew Green

    I am a former fundamentalist Christian. I consider myself a religious skeptic but I admit that I have a strong crush on liberal Protestant churches (I recently attended a membership class for a United Methodist Church; I am actually tempted to join). I do not look at fundamentalists or Evangelicals as being stupid or immoral. I know of some fundamentalists and Evangelicals who are very fine people. I think some of their beliefs are likely held in ignorance but I can grant that they might have what seem to be reasonable arguments even if I disagree with the cogency of these arguments.
    I try to see them as fellow human beings, not necessarily as people deserving of my superior enlightenment. I try to understand what it is that they believe, why, and what I value most is respectful and peaceful dialogue. Sometimes I can learn more from someone espousing an opposing view than someone who agrees with me. I disagree with a lot of people; even people whose views I am very sympathetic to. I am past any point of needing to be right or needing to feel superior to anyone who has a view that I have since rejected.
    I have come to really dislike *all* forms of fundamentalism. Maybe I might become a religious liberal again one day. If so, I don’t see any need to try to make religious conservatives feel stupid, worthless, or anything of the sort for having a difference of opinion. I always regret ignorance, especially my own. Even if I feel I have a better educated position, I am probably still quite ignorant on many subjects I ought to be better educated on.
    So, I don’t qualify as any kind of fundamentalist. If anything, I get more irritated at people I term “secular fundamentalists” (usually antitheists who are militant mythicists) than I ever do with, say, Christian fundamentalists. If I feel that I have a position sustained by better arguments than people who disagree with me, I will share my position and arguments only because I love my fellow human beings enough to want to help broaden their horizons rather than needing to settle a score.

  • Mike Ward

    Judging only by bloggers I’ve read, I feel like former-fundamentalist are probably more likely to be intolerant jerks that fundamentalist are.