the origin and nature of fundamentalism

Fundamentalism is often treated as if it were just another point on the natural continuum of religion. Thus, on one end, you have liberal religionists, and you have conservatives on the other. This hides the truly radical nature of fundamentalist belief, however, because there is a profound difference between conservatism and fundamentalism.

Conservative religious belief may be relatively inflexible, but it remains within the boundaries of mainstream religious belief. Fundamentalism embraces the absurd fringe. It is an aberration within the evolution of a religion.

In fact, fundamentalism isn’t really a religious movement in the theological sense. Instead, it is a social movement cloaked in the guise of religion, both to win the support of ill-informed religionists, as well as to disguise its true motives.

Fundamentalism arises in a society in response to changing social conditions. It occurs when a rigidly traditionalist society undergoes massive and rapid change to which it cannot or will not adapt. Rather than adapt to changing times, fundamentalists seek to resist them. Although it was their inflexibility that led to their loss of social status, their response is merely to insist that this was the result of not having been sufficiently inflexible. Effectively, they hope to undo the change by doing the same things they were doing before, only moreso.

Fundamentalist Christians would have you believe that they represent a line of thought stretching back for millennia. In fact, fundamentalism is a relatively recent development, having originated in the final decades of the 19th century. It originated in the American south following its loss in the Civil War. For two decades, southern society had been based on slavery, and Christianity played a primary role in justifying this practice. Slavery was seen as God’s will, and its reinstitution became the focus of fundamentalism in the post-war south. This remained the case until the Civil Rights movement finally broke the control fundamentalists held over southern society.

Actually, that still remains the case. However, it is no longer socially acceptable to express racist sentiments in the open. As a proxy, fundamentalists have adopted homosexuals as their new target of bigotry. They also continue to work against the rights of women; don’t think for a second that anti-abortion activists give a damn about “unborn babies”.

As I observed yesterday, fundamentalist Christians have largely stopped pretending that there is anything except hate that motivates them. Their beliefs originate from hatred and bigotry; without someone to hate, their lives are meaningless.