Religious fundamentalism involves above all else a desire for certainty and the power to enforce that certainty over others. Fundamentlists like order, conformity, and the absence of opposition, and they are willing to do battle royal to achieve this state of affairs in their culture.
Catholicism: The Original Fundamentalism
Catholicism has been engaged in something like a holy war for most of its history. Heretics abounded in the medieval period (Cathars, Waldensians, Free Spirits, etc.), and were invariably harshly dealt with by the Church authorities, who permitted no challenge whatsoever to their power base. (Catharism, or Albigensianism, which flourished in the south of France from the llth to the 14th centuries, even became the subject of a full-blown, and ultimately successful, crusade against its domain.) Then, in the early 16th century, the Reformation came on the scene, setting in motion a long-running conflict with the Protestant movement: a conflict which continues, if only rarely in violent form (as in Northern Ireland), into our own century. (Each side is still competing with the other for converts, with American Protestant evangelicalism latterly making inroads into traditional Catholic strongholds in South America.) The Reformation generated a Counter-Reformation on the part of Catholicism, which was reasonably successful in stemming the advance of Protestantism throughout Europe, and even winning back territory from Protestant control (France reverting to Catholicism after being on the brink of going Protestant, as a case in point). Having weathered the crisis, Catholicism consolidated its position as a major world religion with an aggressive recruiting policy and a practised ability to exercise tight control over the lifestyles of its adherents: 'Once a Catholic always a Catholic', as the popular saying goes.
Despite the development of Protestantism, Catholicism continues to regard itself as not just the only true Christianity, but the only true religion [Dominus Iesus- 2000]. Over the years it has amassed a battery of doctrines to reinforce its claims to this exalted status. Papal infallibility is a latter-day addition to its authority, although the Church hierarchy had never been in much doubt over the tightness of its actions before (as Jonathan Riley-Smith has drily noted, '[f]or most of its 2,000-year history the papacy has not been in the forefront of reform'). Vatican pronouncements are handed down as law, whether on the subject of contraception, [abortion], priestly celibacy, or women priests - to name some of the most contentious issues on its current agenda. While a certain amount of debate is permitted to take place on such topics, it's at a rarefied level in the hierarchy where the laity have little input and decisions tend towards the very conservative. Catholicism has a very strong sense of history, and is more concerned to preserve traditional authority than to respond to cultural change. Considerable pressure has been exerted over the issues mentioned above - contraception, priestly celibacy, women priests - but so far to little avail. As far as the hierarchy are concerned, these are matters of dogma on which only they have the right to pronounce, and they expect their pronouncements to be followed to the letter. Doctrine wins out over the social cost of the Church's ban on birth control in poorer areas of the world (South America, for example), even though the improvement in the quality of life that a change in policy would bring seems obvious to everyone except the Catholic authorities. Although Christian fundamentalism is traditionally associated with Protestantism, it's worth remembering that it has no monopoly on that attitude.
Here follow some other provocative insights from Stuart Sim from his book fundamentalistWorld.
- Religious fundamentalism's great selling point is that it provides a sense of security for believers in what has become an ever more disorienting world, but it does so at the expense of cultivating an intolerance of others which can have devastating effects on global politics.
- The more militant religious fundamentalism becomes the more likely it is to create clashes between rival belief systems.
- Christian doctrine notwithstanding, there will be little forgiveness of sins, if those sins concern the fundamentals of belief.
- What fundamentalism involves above all else is a desire for certainty and for the power to enforce that certainty over others. Fundamentalists like order, conformity, and the absence of opposition, and they are willing to do battle royal to achieve this state of affairs in their culture.
- what fundamentalist share is a burning conviction of the rightness of their beliefs and the necessity to impose them on the rest of us.
- Once doctrine, always doctrine, is the immutable fundamentalist law; the script must be followed regardless of who suffers (it's their fault anyway).
Fundamentalism by far is not the inclusive domain of some Catholics. It is also found in many sectors of our world religions, for example:
Muslim FundamentalismMuslim fundamentalism is an enormously simple, powerful, earthy, sometimes cruel, absorbing, socially fortifying movement, which gives a sense of direction and orientation to millions of men and women, many of whom live lives of bitter poverty and are subject to harsh oppression. It enables them to adjust to a new anonymous mass society by identifying with the old, long-established High Culture of their own faith, and explaining their own deprivation and humiliation as a punishment for having strayed from the true path, rather than a consequence of never having found it. – Ernest Gellner
JEWISH FUNDAMENTALISMIt stresses the obligatory salvation of the Jews and their return to Israel as a precondition for the establishment of the Kingdom of God on the Davidic throne of Jerusalem. These events, foretold by the prophets Daniel and Ezekiel and the last book of the Christian Scriptures, Revelation, create a rigorous framework within which all fundamentalists can understand past and future history, not as a purposeless record, but as a statement of divine will and a preparation for His eventual triumph over the forces of the Antichrist in the coming conflict known as the Tribulation.This brief summary is by no means a complete history of religious fundamentalism. No religion is exempt according to Sim. Nor is fundamentalism restricted to religion. Stuart Sim's book also describes how fundamentalism impacts us through politics and the economy. This well researched book helps us to better understand and reject the negative forces often present in this violent world in which we live. It is no news to anyone that a widespread spiritual awakening is currently taking place - one that has two distinct aspects. On one side, we find a resurgence of religious fundamentalism that embraces a historic view derived from the Middle Ages - a literalist belief that proclaims this world to be the kingdom of a remote transcendent authoritarian father-God, alternately wrathful and beneficent . . . On the other side and in opposition to this view, we have the spiritually awakened and expanded perspective of the secular humanist who perceive an omnipresent, immanent Divine Presence of Creative Force existing within all creation, one that is benevolent, life enhancing and life sustaining. (Mind Before Matter)
Several Years ago I came across the brilliant little book 'Fundamentalistworld –The New Dark Age of Dogma', written by Stuart Sim, Icon Books, U.K., 2004. This thought provoking book provides an in-depth analysis on FUNDAMENTALISM and how it impacts our world politically and religiously. I sincerely hope it will cause readers to renew their personal convictions and beliefs against the Creator of all humankind – and thereby come to embrace and project a love that is totally unconditional and all inclusive.