Fundamentalism and Fear or: Why We Fight so Hard

Something that, to me, has always been axiomatic is that hate is a type of fear. It blinds us to opposing or even parallel but differing view points, it causes extreme emotional reactions, and it often renders us irrational. Hate is very powerful, indeed, and I am frequently struck by its casual use in every day conversation. “Oh, I hate that….” seems to be said rather frequently. The word “hate” is extremely powerful; like “love” it shouldn’t be used lightly.

After studying fundamentalism and speaking with a number of fundamentalists, I have come to the conclusion that the vast majority of them confuse the emotion they attach to their belief. They do not love. They hate. It is not love for their god, but hatred for anything different or new that drives their zeal. This is what differentiates the fundamentalist from the believer. And I say this because, while I’ve been able to have rational, intelligent conversations with believers, conversations with fundamentalists invariably result in circular arguments and knee jerk, emotional responses. And what it comes down to is fear.

Fear’s a normal response to change. The problem is when we give in to that fear, reason goes out the window, and we allow our emotions to make our decisions. This is dangerous on several levels. We fail to see that change isn’t necessarily a bad  thing;  that regardless of what the change means, it represents growth. Every time something changes, we learn something new. And change doesn’t automatically mean that everything that came before is now null and void.

Hmmm….example. My grandparents were born in Italy. The word tradition means something to my family. It represents everything that it means to be Italian.  Every Sunday, my mom, my aunt, my cousin and I would all gather in my grandmother’s kitchen and we’d make dinner together. Then we’d all sit around at the big table with the rest of the family and talk and laugh and eat. It’s one of my happiest memories from my childhood. Now, my grandmother died about 7 years ago. My aunt, my cousins, siblings and I have all moved out of the area. But I still carry on the tradition of Sunday dinner with my husband and children, and the joy of cooking for people I love which my grandmother instilled in me is still there. It’s morphed some, is all. It’s still tradition. It’s my translation of it. It isn’t necessary to lose the tradition while still adapting to change.

But fundamentalism doesn’t recognize that any good can come from change. It’s so afraid of what MAY happen, it can’t allow any deviation at all. And that is its fatal flaw. Because change is inevitable. It’s one of the few things we can count on.  

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5 responses to “Fundamentalism and Fear or: Why We Fight so Hard

  1. I understand what you’re saying. The prime emotive force behind a fundamentalists’ decision-making process is fear – fair enough.
    I get what you mean about change as well, but I’d say, if pressed, they would prefer to change things back to “the way they were”…
    That’s why I try to live in the “now”, as the Zen-masters would say.

  2. Kurt, the dilemma is that “the way they were” represents, at least in the US, an idealized version of a brief time immediately following World War II, approximately the time of McCarthyism. What’s fascinating is that *during* that era, it wasn’t seen as idyllic. We can see that in the rhetoric of McCarthyism itself, based on fear of rising national communism, which led to a significant rise in staunch Christianity as a fundamentally nationalist response to atheistic Marxism-Leninism. What we see during this era is as much henotheism as theology: “My god can beat up your god.”

    To the original point, I think focusing on the fear is possibly more productive than focusing on the hate. While I think fundamentalism is anti-love in many cases, I think that calling it hate may cloud the issue more than it illuminates. While there is certainly a vocal group of true hate-mongers, I don’t think they represent the majority of fundamentalists.

    The fear is certainly there. Fear that two people pledging their love three thousand miles away can somehow impact my pledge of love to my wife. This is the nonsense of “defense of marriage,” but it is the kind of nonsense we expect from fear. Anti-employment laws (which are not the same thing as opposing anti-discrimination laws) would be sign of hate. Jim Crow was hate; “separate but equal” was fear. There is a difference between actively suppressing and destroying, versus failing to support and encourage. What we’re seeing is fear; fear that accepting the “other” will dilute the self. Fear that God will punish those who do “His will” along those who do not (which is a very classical pagan idea ironically). Fear, as Kurt puts it, that things keep changing.

    But even all that is too simple in many cases. I think rationalists project their own way of thinking onto Christian Fundamentalists. We assume that these people must really think like we do, but actively suppress their reason out of fear or hate or ignorance. But in truth, it is often just the answer to a simple question: how do I know what is true? To the rationalist, the answer is reason and evidence, with only the provisional acceptance of authority from those who have proven themselves to interpret the evidence well. To many Christian Fundamentalists, it is authority first, both from the Bible, and from a specific tradition of how to interpret it, and only within that does one use reason and evidence. The question comes down to “do you trust your own judgements more than the judgements of the thousands of your ancestors?” It really is a different way of viewing the world, independent of hate or fear. It’s hard to bridge a gap in how you judge truth. How do you even form an argument?

  3. leftcoastlibrul

    Hi, Kurt. Thanks for the reply.
    As pantheophany stated earlier, “how things once were” is usually a rather idealized view as seen through the rose colored glasses of nostalgia. Because it’s our nature to avoid pain, over time we forget most of the hardships and concentrate on what was good about our lives.

    I do like the Zen comment, though, and living for now is some of the best advice to which a person can open themselves (IMO). Living for either the past or the future is frustrating, as you never really get to enjoy either.

    pantheophany;
    I actually see hate as a kind of fear. Like love, I think there are many different types of fear, and you gave several examples. Hate is an extreme example, I grant you, but still fear at its base. I don’t think that’s over simplifying; fear can be very complex, and often even the person experiencing that fear cannot analyze all the reasons behind it.

    The question comes down to “do you trust your own judgements more than the judgements of the thousands of your ancestors?” It really is a different way of viewing the world, independent of hate or fear. It’s hard to bridge a gap in how you judge truth. How do you even form an argument?

    I think the answer to that question can be yes without invoking any guilt. I have information available to me that was not available to my ancestors, and if they had it, it’s possible they would have reacted differently as well. Technology has advanced at a dizzying rate; the tools that the general populace has at their disposal are far and away superior to anything even our grandparents had. I can hit ctrl-t, gg “pantheism” enter and come up with a wealth of information that even twenty years ago would have required hours in a library (not that I’m opposed to spending hours in libraries….but that’s another entry). And the amazing thing is…we take it as a given. It’s there, and it SHOULD be there.

    In a way, I wonder if the fear reaction isn’t in response to that blase underwhelmed acceptance of our world’s breakneck pace of technological and scientific advancement.

  4. The question comes down to “do you trust your own judgments more than the judgments of the thousands of your ancestors?”

    I think the answer to that question can be yes without invoking any guilt.

    Amen!

    (I’ve always wanted a good opportunity to yell “Amen” on an atheist blog. It needs to be done more often.)

    In a way, I wonder if the fear reaction isn’t in response to that blase underwhelmed acceptance of our world’s breakneck pace of technological and scientific advancement.

    As my mom asks, “Where’s my flying car? We were supposed to have flying cars by now.” Absolutely. Science has brought us so much, but it also raised our expectations so high. Coupled with the idealizing of the past that we’ve discussed, even the incredible progress we’ve seen over the last century feels like decline.

    And in fairness, reason hasn’t yet widely offered the kind of comforting “it’ll be OK” message that religion does. Writers like Carl Sagan gave us glimpses of the wonder that exists when you let go of a personal god, but there’s still a lot of baggage that Nietzsche left us to overcome. Navigating from the warm safety of theism to the bracing awe of reason is a hard and scary journey, with nihilism threatening to devour those who stray or fall. Perhaps the view of being “saved” and even being “born again” into a new way of thinking is correct; it simply goes in the wrong direction. Understanding the fear, without being condescending of it, may help us bring our brothers and sisters back to the light.

  5. leftcoastlibrul

    😛 “Amen” doesn’t bother me. I do think that atheists need to embrace the idea that spirituality is a very human tendency.

    The thing is…I totally get the desire to hear “everything is going to be okay.” I just can’t say it. It’s a scary prospect; acknowledging there’s really no such thing as “safe.”

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