Why I am a Fundamentalist


I’m not really a fundamentalist christian. It’s just interesting the stigma that has been further attached to the word since it was first used. People are now ok with ‘religious people’ but it is fundamentalists and extremists that now cause all the wars around the world. I remember one lecturer arguing against Richard Dawkin’s the God delusion by suggesting that most religious people were not fundamentalists but people who just wanted to get on with their lives and let others do the same. Fundamentalism is associated with 6-day creation, bombing abortion clinics and anti-homosexuality then of course Islam, chauvinism, suicide bombing and the twin towers. 

Between 1910-1915 a short pamphlet was published called ‘The Fundamentals’. These people outlined and argued what they believed were the fundamentals of the christian faith in this pamphlet which was then sent to many churches across America. This was particularly in response to the relativism that was becoming accepted into the church during the post-war era (Further reading here and here). They believed that there were fundamentals to the christian faith that other aspects were derived from. This was opposed to the idea that Christians could believe pretty much whatever they liked and the only thing that made you a christian was that you called yourself one. Since then the word and ideology has become distorted and attacked (sometimes it was their own fault) turning the movement into an anti-reason, anti-intellectual movement that requires a literalistic interpretation of the bible and a radical application from its followers. 

Dawkins believes that fundamentalism implies belief  in the face of evidence. To me that seems like a pretty simplistic definition. It assumes scientific statements are the only statements that can be made but if I were to say “Killing is wrong” what kind of evidence could be provided to support that? So lets suggest it’s belief without argument, evidence, reason. Well that’s not really true, the movement started as an argument for these fundamentals. In fact because fundamentalists believe their fundamentals to be true, arguments and reason are encouraged. It can only illuminate the truth of those fundamental beliefs (Admittedly there are anti-intellectuals who do think it best not to discuss their beliefs or ever change their opinion but this is a seperate issue to what is inherent in fundamentlism. There are Christians who are like this, Dawkins actually does do a good job attacking these kinds of people).

But I think people are more fundamentalist then they would like to think. Lets take an fundamentalist organisation that every left-wing, liberal, activist, secular humanist would probably love – amnesty international. It is a truly fantastic organisation that theist and atheist alike can get behind as it campaigns for human rights across the globe. I remember someone telling me that the reason why they would like to boycott the olympics in china is simply because of china’s support of the death penalty. This person believed all countries that support the death penalty should be equally boycotted, such as America. During this conversation a clearly right-wing American who disagreed on this point. They put forward many arguments and stories about incredibly evil people doing evil things and being paid to live in luxury in a prison. None of these arguments mattered. To the original person and amnesty international it is a basic human right to live. There is no human who has the right to take away this right or any other human right. Arguments about the inhumanity of the criminal do not make it more humane for the government to act like the criminal. In fact they merely support their view, that killing is wrong and we shouldn’t do it.

Now I’m pretty sure that many student members of amnesty international would not like to compare their organisation to organisations like the Taliban. But in this manner they are both fundamentalists. It is a fundamental belief that the death penalty is wrong. From this fundamental belief many of the practises and doctrines of the organisation follow. This fundamental belief then continues to influences the way of life of the members. They protest, they campaign and they help those who have had their rights violated. This organisation is even evangelistic and clearly against relativism. The human rights are universal, they apply to everyone even if they disagree. It is as wrong to kill someone in Scandinavia (where anti-death penalty is part of the culture) as it is in china (where it is not). They will do everything they can to make this fundamental belief influence the practises and life of literally everyone.

But this organisation is clearly not evil! Nor is it anti-intellectual. These people will usually have very clear and thought-out reasons why the death penalty is wrong. They will defend their fundamental beliefs and usually they will allow their beliefs to be challenged. They will accept arguments for the death penalty, but with faith that it will be demonstrated incorrect (because the death penalty actually IS wrong). This is not fundamentalism, as in, the exact views of a particular group of people who wrote a book in around 1915 but this is the kind of fundamentalism I would subscribe to as a Christian. I believe that Jesus is God. I believe he died and rose again and that this is not just a fundamental belief of mine. But it is both true and essential to my daily living. It is a fundamental belief from which the day-to-day practises of my life are derived. But it is not against evidence or reason, I’ll welcome challenges and discussion with full belief that eventually it will be universally shown to everyone that these fundamental beliefs are fundamental facts. Not through my personality, not through shere force of argument or manipulation. But simply because it is the truth (relative to everyone). 

Fundamentalism and extremism are inherently against the worldview of some people. Some people are relativist and hate the idea of absolute truth, some people hate extremism, they want conformity. They hate it when anyone deviates from the norm and extremists will always do that by definition. However, they are not inherently evil. Amnesty international are a good organisation, even if they sometimes have faults. Extremism for a Good, Just and Right cause is not evil, even if it is not conformist. In the same way that fire can be used to provide warmth or death, the same way that football provides both entertainment and hooliganism, the same way that religions and idealogies have been behind movements for good and evil, fundamentalism and extremism can be used by good and evil people.

I think maybe the title of this post should have been, “Why you are a fundamentlist” 😛

7 thoughts on “Why I am a Fundamentalist

  1. “Fundamentalist / Bible believing Christians have NOTHING in common with “bombing abortion clinics … Islam, chauvinism, suicide bombing and the twin towers: nor do they support such acts.

    Which is why the Nut who wrote this didn’t provide any examples of the above False Claims.

  2. OB-1, I’m sorry but I’m totally confused by your comment. Would you mind expanding this?

    I mean it sounds like something I might have said but I can’t see where it is written (I don’t like the term “bible believing christians” normally).

    Who is the nut who wrote this and what are these?
    What is the “which is why” referring to? (so how does this connect to my article?
    What kind of examples would you be looking for?

  3. Hey Jamie,

    Interesting post. Regarding a scientific answer to moral questions, have a look at this video:

    Essentially, our sense of moral is linked with the facts about how harmful an action might be to someone. That is true morality. We understand that rocks don’t have feelings, therefore we don’t assign moral judgement to any actions carried out against a rock. In addition, if our understanding about something changes, then so does our moral judgement towards it. For example, if we found out that fish could feel complex emotions and pain on a similar level to our own, we would think it immoral to harvest them as we do. In this sense, morality is not absolute. It only reaches as far as our scientific knowledge.

    The reason why religion should have no say in morality is because it creates it’s own morals, with conditions, for example it’s attitude towards homosexuality. Homosexuality has no negative effect whatsoever assuming it is between two consenting adults. It is perfectly natural (there are over 300 species who have documented homosexual behaviour).

    • It appears that in just that TED talk Sam Harris didn’t fully answer that question. What he was doing was arguing against both Moral Relativism or Eliminativism and instead arguing for a Moral Absolutist view. That there are correct answers to moral questions in the same way there are correct answers to physical questions. As he said in his talk religious people (like myself!) tend to agree with him on this. What he says is confusing is that Atheists and academics in general tend to disagree with him in theory, but really he is arguing that they really think like him. I’m fine with that.

      The problem is, he didn’t really get to the point of explaining how “science” (Whatever he defines that to be) could get to the point of discovering correct answers. In fact I don’t think I totally agree with his example about how we can trust a string theorist over Sam Harris on matters of physics. Firstly, in the UK people tend to have a much bigger issue with String theory. Then there are philosophers of science who have a real issue with calling a theory true that is so far divorced from reality (Very few experiments that can verify it let alone falsify it). The fact is the reason why we trust “Brian Cox” over other physicists is, i think, due to a collection of social and political reasons such as, they got a degree and then doctorate from a good university, universities then have authority because of their history etc.

      Now there are two issues with this. Firstly, it would be difficult to build a political authority structure on issues of morality that mirrors the authority structures of physics that is itself morally good! Imagine if you were the editor of the Journal that dictate moral truths that the whole world had to follow? The scope for abuse is tremendous and even in the world of science there are good argument that suggest physics has its special place in science due to the success of the Nuclear bomb’s destructive power. Secondly I don’t think it is ideal that physicists have so much authority on matters of physics. An ideal society would be one where everyone was able to have the time and access to information to make reasoned judgements themselves. The amount of money Journals make from harvesting articles from workers who don’t even get paid is horrific and then how much they charge the general public to access it!

      http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/cif-green/2010/mar/08/belief-in-climate-change-science

      I’m not saying there are no right answers in morality and physics. I’m ok with saying there are and I’m ok with saying some people are more moral, and know more about physics then others. But when you start trying to figure out what is the best way to apply the label “Best physicist who then dictate truth to others” to an actual individual person without any abuse? That is difficult.

      ————–

      So it appears that Sam Harris links “Human-well being” with morality which then is a statement of the state of your brain that could then me measured. Well if that is true I think it still supports my original point. That “Funamentalism” as played out by Christian Fundamentalists is much closer to the fundamentalism of Amnesty International then it is to some rational moral philosopher. How can you argue that Freedom of Speech? Or the right to own property? Or freedom from slavery? Are human right based on science?

      To be honest I think it might be possible, but possibly immoral to discover them. (You could suggest that communism could have been the correct way of doing things but because it fail we have scientifically proven it was wrong. However in order for it to be strictly scientific we probably should have killed fewer communists and bombarded them with less propaganda. )

      Sam Harris probably has written more about this. But assuming “human-well being” is morally good is already a huge philosophical assumption. What is we preferred Kantian ethics? (Which I would argue is not religious in any way and is in fact against christianity). He argues for an advanced “Do to others what you have them do to you”. That something is morally right if that action could be applied on a universal scale. So for example we don’t lie because if everyone always lied we’d never get anywhere. Anyway it is possible to argue that exclusive homosexuality is morally wrong because if everyone did it the human race would die out. (Although you could also argue as some politicians do, that having too many children will also destroy the human race). I don’t think this is a good argument but it is one that has nothing to do with religion, could potentially count as “scientific” but just disagrees with Sam Harris’ almost hedonistic views on morality.

      Finally, your last sentence was not so good. Arguing that something that is “perfectly natural” is also morally good just can’t work. Rape and murder for political gain are perfectly natural and also wrong. In fact really it seems the whole point of morality is to deliberately go against your nature (If it was just natural to do morally right things like the 60s hippies would have you believe we wouldn’t ever have to discuss morality!).

  4. I think your argument is flawed because you seem to assume an absolute moral in the universe, which of course as a theist you would. Sam harris was arguing that as morality is a human construct, there is no higher level of moral understanding to be discovered as such- just as there was no electric light bulb to be discovered. As our scientific understanding develops, our moral outlook will change.

    On the subject of homosexuality- i said that it was natural to pre-empt a frequent retort that it is unatural (which it is not).

    You can’t argue that homosexuality is wrong because the human race will die out because it’s not immoral for the human race to die out. In fact you could even argue that from the point of other sentient beings on earth, it would be moral for the human race to die out.

    In addition, the logic is flawed- if the whole human race were women we would die out. If the whole human race were monks we would die out. Yet neither of these people could be called immoral.

    His argument about the string theorist was not that only revered scientists should be moral authorities, although i can see how it could be perceived as such. It was more that we accommodate diversity in moral beliefs to an extent that we would not tolerate it in the scientific sphere. He says in the same way the taliban are not an authority on string theory, they are not an authority on human well being, and therefore (by his logic) on morality. They are both just as obvious.

  5. Ok Hugh, I have looked over the talk again and I think you’re going to have to link me to something where Sam Harris says what you’ve said. In the philosophy of meta ethics there is an debate between Moral Relativism and Moral Realists. Now people (like yourself in fact!) seem to assume that if you are into science you are forced into the view that morality is just a human construct. It seems to be that the whole point of Sam Harris’ talk is actually nothing to do with science but to disagree with what YOU have just told me! Sam Harris is saying that moral statements can be facts. So you’re going to have to explain your point further or show me other readings because from my point of view I’m quite confused by what you’ve said.

    Secondly, you realise that your “pre-empt of a frequent retort” is your bad? It was an incorrect statement? If you want me to apologise on behalf of the many stupid christians who say stupid things I can do that! It is in fact true that most people are stupid, and christians are people and so most christians are stupid. Fortunately they are loved by God regardless of their stupidity otherwise I’d be in trouble 😛

    Anyway, even if you had pre-empted my retort correctly your response would have just continued the problem. It does not help responding to people who say “Homosexuality is unnatural” by responding with “But it is natural because animals do it”. Because you are then implicitly accepting the wrong assumption that “Natural is good”. Everyone does it nowadays. You constantly see “Made by 100% natural flavourings” And it is a ridiculous superstition. The reality is the same as what is normal, it is more complex then that. Natural things are not either “Good or Bad” neither are artificial things. Similarly homosexual whether it is natural or not is irrelevant. You are assuming that “Natural” means “Like other things in our world” such as animals. But I think when people think “homosexuality is not natural” they means it goes against “Our nature”, like the thing that makes us human. I think they could also say “Rampant Sexuality is not natural” or “Over the top Nudity in every day life” is not natural because they would suggest that clothing is an inherent part of what makes us human.

    If someone were to think like that (Which I think is actually what some people do think) then telling them that “Animals do it too” would actually support their homophobia! (They could say, “Exactly, and so we must not”).

    Finally, the logic is flawed in applying Kantian Ethics to the issue of homosexuality the logic is most definitely flawed. (I do not attempt to suggest I actually think there is a philosophically sound reason for homosexuality to be immoral! I am merely stating that there are people who are able to do it without resorting to religion). However, it is not flawed for the reason you suggest. Notice I talk about “homosexuality” as opposed to homosexuals. I don’t like the labelling of people in this way. When I say “homosexuality” I’m referring to the act of two people of the same sex and the cultural stuff surrounding that. So therefore your example of “women” is just non-nonsensical. “Women” is not something you can do.

    However, I do think Kantian Ethics (and normal people) would suggest it unethical to try and make the world populated entirely by women…

    Your other example though of being “monks” or priests in the Catholic church is a good counter example. If a Christian ever tried to use Kantian Ethics on you to try and justify their moral position on homosexuality. Then they would also have to reject Monks and Nuns and every Catholic Priest as equally immoral. (However, as I said before this argument for the immorality of homosexuality is something that can be put forward by atheists who would probably be ok with this!)

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