UnReason in Revolt. Postmodern Conservatism. Justin Clemens

The science of fundamentalism

1. Introduction

Is “fundamentalism” even a concept? Is it not a mere PR slogan that enjoins: “don’t think any more about this, there’s nothing to think about, if you think about it you are already abetting the enemy"? We know from the very name that fundamentalism is bad. It’s anti-democratic, it’s intolerant, it’s inegalitarian, it’s obsessed with archaic fantasies completely out of place in the modern world, it’s what fuels terrorist fanatics, and so on. This is usually how “fundamentalism” is used in public discourses of all kinds today.[1] As such, we need to ask whether “fundamentalism” has any conceptual traction beyond such an ideological deployment.

Certainly, “fundamentalism” is a master-word, in the precise sense that the French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan gives to the term of “master”: an empty, inconsistent flatus vocis, which functions insofar as it makes no sense. That is, while it doesn’t make sense in itself, it nonetheless gives sense to the world, by enabling a clarifying cut to sort the sheep from the goats. Or, if you’d prefer a different sort of vocabulary here, you might say, with Niklas Luhmann, that the designation “fundamentalist” was a pure piece of socio-linguistic technology, that is, a tool dedicated to functional simplification of a situation that would otherwise threaten the social system with destructive complexity. The appellation “fundamentalist” simplifies – and that is precisely its benefit. It is not a term in which truth is really at stake; all that’s required is that the system keeps going (whether or not that involves exploitation and death on the part of its subjects).

“Fundamentalism” as a denomination, then, is a kind of second-order name: we call fundamentalists those people who believe in absolute good and evil, whereas we don’t – apart from knowing that they are absolutely evil and must be stopped. The splitting that the other does inexorably returns in our own discourse: they make bad distinctions between self and other; we make good distinctions between self and other.

Avoiding this dilemma may tempt us into rephrasing the distinction, as does the Slovenian philosopher Alenka Zupancic, between those who are subject to the “master’s discourse,” and those subjects of “postmodern discourse.” Those subject to the master’s discourse would include those fundamentalists who are prepared to die for their beliefs, and even think of life as subordinated to certain fundamental tenets. By contrast, those who are postmodern discursive types know all such beliefs are in fact geographically-, historically- and culturally-circumscribed, and that to submit blindly to their claims is to become the victim of a kind of toxic archaism.

We are therefore confronted with an irresolvable ethical problem. As Zupancic puts it:

we cannot deny all ethical dignity to someone who is ready to die (and to kill) in order to realize his or her fantasy. Of course, we often deny this; we deny it more and more often, for it seems “anachronistic.” Those who practise such an ethics today are called terrorists, fanatics, fundamentalists, madmen...We are (post)modern, we know a great deal, we know that all these people are dying and killing for something which does not exist. Of course, we all have our fantasies and our desires, but we are very careful not to realize them – we prefer to die, rather than to realize our desire.[2]

The master demands his subjects must be prepared to die in order that they might live; the masterless postmodernist must avoid death at all costs. This opposition seems irreducible for us today, precisely the ethical deadlock of our times: fundamentalism or postmodernism, religious absolutism or godless relativism?[3] I will come back to this problem.[4]

If that’s the case, then we have to ask again: what does this term do? To what uses is it put? How does it keep working? I will argue that the problem of fundamentalism is integrally bound up with the problem of science and technology and, hence, with the problem of education. This isn’t an original claim, on the contrary; nonetheless, I think it’s worth pushing here for reasons that will hopefully become clearer as we proceed. I think there’s something highly significant in the fact that, while fundamentalist groups seem perfectly happy to mobilise cutting-edge media and military technologies, they are very often horrified by what they see as the deleterious consequences of theoretical science itself. We only need to invoke the (ludicrous but ingenious) program of “intelligent design” to see to what lengths fundamentalists are prepared to go to in order to contest the perceived social dominance of scientific research.

I want to claim: 1) fundamentalism can be a genuinely rational choice for individuals (psychologically and economically); 2) fundamentalism is rationalist in its ideological modes; 3) fundamentalism is rationalist at the level of group organization. Its scientific pedagogical obsession has severe consequences upon the forms that fundamentalism takes, possibly to the detriment of fundamentalism itself.

2. Origins of the Term

Despite its air of anachronism, almost all credible authorities agree that, if the word “fundamentalism” has any sense at all, it designates a strictly modern phenomenon.[5] If today it is used as a term of abuse (as I began by saying), it began as a rallying-call. The term first arises in the wake of an early 20th century series of primers, written by conservative Anglophone protestant theologians, and entitled The Fundamentals: A Testimony of Truth. As Karen Armstrong puts it:

In 1910, the Presbyterians of Princeton, who had formulated the doctrine of the infallibility of Scripture, issued a list of five dogmas which they deemed essential: 1) the inerrancy of Scripture, 2) the Virgin Birth of Christ, 3) Christ’s atonement for our sins on the cross, 4) his bodily resurrection, and 5) the objective reality of his miracles. Next, the oil millionaires Lyman and Milton Stewart, who had founded the Bible College of Los Angeles to counter the Higher Criticism in 1908, financed a project designed to educate the faithful in the central tenets of the faith. Between 1910 and 1915, they issued a series of twelve paperback pamphlets entitled The Fundamentals, in which leading conservative theologians gave accessible accounts of such doctrines as the Trinity, refuted the Higher Criticism, and stressed the importance of spreading the truth of the Gospel. Some three million copies of each of the twelve volumes were dispatched, free of charge, to every pastor, professor and theology student in America.[6]

But it is the Baptist journalist Curtis Lee Laws who is credited with coining the term in 1920, when he spoke of the need to “do battle royal for the Fundamentals,” and it is in 1920s USA that fundamentalism really gets going (of which more in a moment).

I want to underline four salient characteristics of these auspicious origins. In line with a typical fundamentalist move, the reduction of religion to dot-points, I will myself resort to dot-points here.[7]

1) fundamentalism is an Anglophone phenomenon;

2) fundamentalism is a Protestant phenomenon;

3) fundamentalism is a (post) industrial phenomenon;

4) fundamentalism is reactive (and reactionary), but also an inventive phenomenon.

Now, while 1) and 2) may seem no longer relevant to any functional definition of fundamentalism (insofar as we have to account for Jewish, Islamic, and even Buddhist fundamentalisms), these features are nonetheless not of merely antiquarian interest.

First of all, the Anglophone origins of fundamentalism shouldn’t be underlined on linguistic grounds, but for their imperialist significance. I do not mean to be inflammatory or polemical when I say this: I simply mean that the greatest European empire of the nineteenth century was the British Empire, on which “the sun never set.” Taking North America into account gives the English language both a truly global extension and a power of socio-economic domination. This seems to me one salient precondition for the transmission of fundamentalist principles elsewhere in the world: an established global imperialist network for goods and messages. Yet fundamentalism is just the sort of doctrine that emerges at the edge of Empire.[8] For it is at the edges of Empire where the sorts of anxieties conducive to fundamentalism are most intense and volatile. Early 20th century California completely fits this bill. However, I hasten to add that this “edge” is as much an internal limit as an external territorial border (as I’ll elaborate in a minute).

Second, the “Protestant” origins of fundamentalism give it several special features with which other fundamentalisms have very close affinities, if they have not simply taken over and developed them. One of the most important is an emphasis on the absolute universality, literality and inerrancy of Scripture. That is, there is a sole and single Book which gives the Law to all and every human without exception, and the message of this Book is clear and distinct, absolute and perfect. As Brian Stagoll phrases this position, “We read the Bible in the plain English in which she was written” (personal communication). Now, while Protestantism per se is hardly the origin of many of these theses, what does seem to have emerged in American Protestantism, and which is given a decisive impetus by the Fundamentals is a new synthesis of these already-existing theological motifs. If such apocalyptic doctrines aren’t new in themselves, when combined with the triple doctrine of literalism, inerrancy, and clarity – or what Armstrong calls “logos” for reasons I’ll come back to – they’re given a certain novel flavour.[9] Above all, if you take these tenets seriously, it’s hard to avoid reading Revelation as an imminent apocalyptic prophecy. We’re in the last days, believers, and the final battle is impending. For if Max Weber’s famous thesis can stand – that is, that Protestantism effects an unprecedented unleashing of the individual from existing institutions by withdrawing all stability from the world itself, and placing entire responsibility on an essentially unsettled personal relationship with God – then fundamentalism is already a kind of compromise formation, attempting to save community in the teeth of apocalyptic destruction. Finally, this means fundamentalism doesn’t emerge from a “clash of civilisations”; it emerges rather from a clash within a civilisation, of Protestant against Protestant.

Third, fundamentalism was born out of oil money, mass literacy, and international surplus-extraction and -distribution networks. If you’ll pardon the expression: fundamentalism is literally an oily phenomenon. The links between oil and fundamentalism remain strangely active today. But also the sorts of links that oil makes possible, from corporate restructuring to the reorganisation of transport and communication networks, to the new mass media, especially cinema. Fundamentalism is born with Fordism, but flowers with post-Fordism. Capitalist technical innovation here finds itself enmeshed with radical spiritual innovation – though this latter represents itself as a return to basics.

Four, fundamentalists (think that they) know their enemy, and in some ways their rhetoric is certainly calibrated to provoke this enemy (above all, modern science, Enlightenment/Relativist values and secular liberal humanist virtues). It’s not simply that the fundamentalists fail to understand the sorts of arguments that their nominated enemy makes, nor their power. No, they know the arguments very well – and therefore also know exactly what sort of thing is going to be unacceptable to their enemies. Moreover, fundamentalists know they are seen as ignorant and bigoted; they even go out of their way to appear as such. In this escalating game, fundamentalism has worked out a way of sustaining itself through a combination of embattled heroism and rhetorical provocation. Such a structure of address-qua-provocation supports Fredric Jameson’s remarks that the “two fundamental forms of group relationship” are “envy and loathing”; moreover, these apparent negatives don’t compromise the real utopianism of such groups.[10] Yet the term “fundamentalism” certainly tries to convey something more than just the usual group dynamics, a certain intensity of doctrine and affiliation. Fundamentalism couldn’t exist if it didn’t feel itself on the verge of extinction. Partly this intensity is due to fundamentalism’s own self-created demons, its constant struggle to contain its inner contradictions and logical incoherencies as much as its stated enemies.

Take the so-called “Scopes Monkey Trial,” which is universally considered the determining moment in the development of modern fundamentalism. [11] On 21 March 1925, John Washington Butler’s “anti-evolution bill” was passed by the Tennessee Legislature. It read: “it shall be unlawful for any teacher in any of the universities, normals, and all other public schools in the State, which are supported in whole or in part by the public school funds of the State, to teach the theory that denies the story of the divine creation of man as taught in the Bible, and to teach instead that man has descended from a lower order of animals.” [12] In order to test the bill, and having ascertained that the recently-formed American Civil Liberties Union were prepared to finance the defence, one George Rappleyea took out a warrant against his friend John Scopes, a young teacher who had admitted to using an interdicted passage on evolution from a biology textbook in a class. The Democrat politician William Jennings Bryan, who had launched a well-known campaign against the teaching of evolution – he believed that the German atrocities of WWI were down to Darwinism – was invited by fundamentalist leaders to support the law. Clarence Darrow was appointed to the defence. [13] Though Scopes was found guilty at the trial (several members of the jury being clearly Bible-bashing fundamentalists), his conviction was overturned on appeal.

What are some of the crucial aspects of the trial for the fate of fundamentalism? First, it’s a very high-profile media trial. As Leslie Allen notes in Chapter II of his book:

On the morning of the first day, Friday, July 10, 1925, the case of the People of the State of Tennessee against John Thomas Scopes was opened with prayer in the little courthouse at Dayton – but not until cameras and motion picture photographers had made many “shots” of the Judge, the distinguished counsel, and the crowd which jammed the room to the doors. [14]

There were any number of reporters present (including H.L. Mencken, then America’s premier journalist), as well as radio microphones and loudspeakers; Bryan himself noted in court that “more words have been sent across the ocean by cable to Europe and Australia about this trial than have ever been sent by cable in regard to anything else doing in the United States.” [15]

Second, it’s a “single-issue” contest, in which the legal issues disappear before the “representative” nature of the antagonistic parties: in this case, enlightened liberal scientific humanism v. stupid hick religiosity, Darwin v. the Bible, Science v. God. As it happens, fundamentalists are most successful on fraught single-issue contests (often to do with “family values”), because they can form coalitions with other groups with whom they otherwise have nothing in common. [16]

Third, the entire trial hinges on an obsession with science (especially Darwin), and its corrosive effects on moral and religious precepts. [17] The Socratic problem of the education of youth is absolutely central to the fundamentalist problematic.

Fourth, the fundamentalists are publicly humiliated at the trial by the liberal defence counsels and by the liberal press. [18] It was, for obvious reasons, considered highly significant that Bryan himself died a mere five days after the end of the trial. A sense of embattled humiliation is shared today by almost all fundamentalist groups, often shading into paranoid and persecutory fantasies, at the very moment they are convinced that they, and they alone, speak for an unjustly silenced “moral majority.” [19]

3. Summing up: the highest means for the lowest ends

I want to conclude by reiterating and in some cases extending the points I’ve already made. Fundamentalism is a phenomenon marked by internal paradoxes. Rather than an identity-politics, in the sense that its dogmas rely on socially-established divisions (class, race, etc.), it is an identification-politics. Its putative return to traditional values is radically non-traditional, a radical attempt to reinvent religious organization. This is especially evident in fundamentalists’ enthusiastic adoption, first, of up-to-the-minute media-and-military technologies (an adoption of which they are entirely conscious); and, second, of modern forms of quasi-rationalism in their approach to scripture (an adoption of which they may be entirely unaware).

To take the first point, it’s clear just how dependent fundamentalist Christians in the US are upon TV evangelism, and how much their messages are tailored to and rely upon this particular medium. Indeed, evangelist TV shows function simultaneously as PR, propaganda and revenue-raising machinery. The same holds for non-Christian groups. It’s just as striking how much certain Islamic groups have proved masters of the new mass media – from smuggled video-tapes of Osama Bin Laden, to DVDs of executions and sniper footage retailed online, to the use of internet and other forms of electronic communication. Jacques Derrida somewhere notes that the Ayatollah Khomeini first heard of Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses while listening to the BBC world service on the radio; Malise Ruthven speaks of the dedicated use of TV and internet by fundamentalists (not only Christian and Islamic); the use of mobile phones to – ha ha – mobilise groups is now abundantly well-known. [20] If fundamentalism is allegedly directed towards a particular form of media technology (i.e., writing) insofar as it insists on the primacy, say, of the Bible, and on an absolutely literal primacy thereof, it actually displaces the book by way of its typical audiovisual interventions – loud, testimonial, histrionic, and high-tech.

In regards to the particular form of their discourse, fundamentalists present their chosen Scriptures as if they were clear, distinct and inerrant, and as if they were to be implemented directly as one implements a strategic plan of some kind – whether that plan be for a Wall-Street corporation or for the US military, or for any other thoroughly-rationalised corporation, with very clear chains of command, operational structure, and mission statements. This is in part what Armstrong means when she claims that fundamentalisms have converted elements of mythos drawn from traditional religions into a kind of logos, thereby literally rationalising religion, in all senses of this word. [21] Fundamentalists reduce the scope, sense and sophistication of scripture to clear, distinct, and rigidly applied theses, a dot-point religion. Yet fundamentalism not only insists that its adherents affirm particular beliefs, but that they incarnate particular comportments; moreover, its adherents are to show that they incarnate such beliefs and such comportments. [22] Hence the often-noted kitschy theatricality of fundamentalist heroes, such as preachers and martyrs (once again, note the priority of audiovisual motifs).

I am even tempted to compare fundamentalist organizations with large sporting clubs. If the content that they seem to offer is radically different, they share a great deal in their structure: they both have dedicated funding divisions, ideological operatives, recruitment and pedagogical divisions, international affiliations, and so on. They are usually strenuously sexually-divided, yet remain family-oriented; indeed, they often promulgate various social welfare programs for local communities. They are opportunistically parasitic upon other ideological factors, for example, often being fervently nationalistic and culturalist, at the very moment that they develop loose but effective international affiliations. They are often closely articulated with political elites. Even the most cursory of glances at the modern history of Spanish soccer clubs would reveal deep (and suspect) political affiliations, as would a glance at Australian Rules Football as well. Their adherents are also marked by a penchant for extremely primitive psychological defences, for example, what Kleinian psychoanalysts might call “paranoid-schizoid splitting” and “projective identification.” And if you have any doubts that sport may not be murderous, I will simply invoke English soccer hooliganism as evidence that the passions canalised by sport are as capable of ending in violence as those of so-called fundamentalist religions.

This analogy is more than an analogy, precisely because the situation we’re in fails to provide institutions with any other stability than the imperative for financial growth, and so almost any business these days ends up functioning according to hard-nosed managerial-organisational principles. But it is also misleading because sporting clubs don’t ultimately rely upon the absolute scriptures of fundamentalist movements. Most games require at least two players; fundamentalism demands that there be only one game in town, and one player. [23] Fundamentalism has declared a war; it’s not prosecuting a struggle. Undoubtedly, the fundamental affects that come to be bound to such a drive-to-totalise are quire different from even those of the most passionate soccer fan. In fact, if one fails to “appreciate the genuine alterity of the religious consciousness” (Marty & Appleby), then you’re going to get into serious trouble. [24] But I do think what’s shared by so many institutions today is precisely a dedication of the highest means (high-tech) to the lowest ends (obliteration of the other). If you miss the fact that fundamentalism is a form of rationalism, you are likely to miss everything important about this phenomenon.

Even fundamentalist forms of terrorism can share this rationalism. [25] As the American philosopher and psychoanalyst Jonathan Lear remarks:

If one wants to read those who want to blow us up, it is striking how much they try to present themselves as reasonable. “What America is tasting now is only a copy of what we have tasted,” Osama bin Laden said shortly after 9/11. “Our Islamic nation has been tasting the same for more than 80 years of humiliation and disgrace.” In other words, according to Mr bin Laden, we deserve to be attacked, we deserve to be humiliated; it is just revenge for wrongs we have previously inflicted. [26]

I not only believe Lear is correct in this diagnosis, but I believe that he is also right when he continues:

The terrorist thinks it is because his people have been humiliated that he is justified in his acts. But might the situation be just the reverse? That is, because he takes a certain pleasure in destructive hatred, he has become attached to his sense of humiliation. Thus while it may be true that the terrorist kills out of a sense of revenge, it is also true that he holds onto his sense of humiliation in order that he should be able to go on killing.

Fundamentalism is a symptom of reason itself. Fundamentalisms therefore provide bizarre and probably unconscious parodies of the very reason they are in fact consciously dead set against. Fundamentalists are sophists of science. Even modern religious and spiritual developments that may not be considered fundamentalist (such as “Christian Science” or “Scientology”) can make it quite clear that religion is in no way simply opposed to scientific thought.

On the contrary, as I’ve been arguing, fundamentalism responds to science through rationalising mimicry. This mimicry can be highly parodic, from the 19th century attempts to claim that God built the world with the fossils built in, to today’s version – no less humorous – of “intelligent design.” We can see how much the fundamentalist insistence on absolutes demands invariance: against scientific propositions, which must be able to be falsified (and are therefore always and only provisional, never final), fundamentalism insists on what cannot be falsified, what it thinks of as a fixed point. [27]

One can admire this quest, but still consider that fundamentalists are going about it in a self-deluding fashion. Indeed, fundamentalism is incapable of locating such a fixed point to the extent that has turned itself into a rationalist parody, rift by a variety of ineradicable contradictions (e.g., insisting on literality and inerrancy simultaneously, the supplementation of scripture by audiovisuals, etc.). The paradox can in fact be sharpened: fundamentalism loves technology, but it hates the theoretical sciences that have hitherto accompanied and given rise to such technology (especially evolution and the astronomical sciences). If I began by noting that the word “fundamentalism” might be a piece of rhetorical technology, I want to end by suggesting that fundamentalism is itself a (biopolitical) technological response to modern science. [28]

My own conclusions about fundamentalism are therefore these. First, fundamentalism shouldn’t be opposed to relativism (or secularisation), despite appearances. Its real bond is with modern science, off which it feeds in an antagonistic complicity. Therefore it will never be eradicated as long as our civilisation remains what Neil Postman calls a “technopoly,” that is, as long as we continue to take our socio-political directives from technology. (Though science is not always so closely bound up with technology, modern, post-Galilean science certainly is; not least because technological innovation is now so bound to capitalist investment.) Second, it is necessary to deal with fundamentalism very carefully. In my opinion, fundamentalisms must be severely curtailed; however, confronting them head on will only confirm their persecutory manias. This poses us an ethical, political and epistemological challenge. My proposed solution may seem bizarre, but I believe that its very bizarreness gives it a certain suggestive charm.

We need to affirm that fundamentalism is a very reasonable and viable response to a serious epistemo-political paradox of modern life. As Robert Manne has recently put it, “We rely as never before on experts to solve many of the self-created crises of our technological civilisation. Yet to judge the soundness of their reasoning and the merit of the solutions they offer requires a depth of scientific understanding available only to a tiny group....The real choice before politicians and citizens is, then...not what to believe but who.” [29] In other words, fundamentalism isn’t merely ignorant, stupid or prejudiced; rather, it very quickly recognised how science short-circuits the Enlightenment gap between belief and reason in a radical new way. Because only a tiny section of the population has any understanding of, or access to, the grounding processes of scientific experts, the latter’s pronouncements can appear substantially identical to the pronouncements of traditional religious figures. More fundamentally, the grounds available for non-experts to adjudge the claims of experts isn’t and cannot be given scientifically – and there are presently no other commonly accepted rational grounds for making such judgements. What rushes in to fill the void is typically a devil’s cocktail of heterogeneous discourses – nationalism, racism, sexism, etc. – the political correlates of the most primitive psychosexual fantasies. Fundamentalism works here because it at least tries to provide a central text to which all can equally refer and defer, and which often repudiates the contemptible socio-biological traits beloved of neo-fascist movements. Despite appearances, fundamentalisms often have a strong egalitarian streak.

We therefore need to affirm something important and utopian about fundamentalism’s refusal of science. Yet, I think we need to simultaneously affirm, against all enemies – and fundamentalists may be less dangerous in this regard than many elected politicians – is the absolute value of science-for-its-own-sake, pure science, science without seeking justification in technological applications or in sociological justification. Not just because science is one of a handful of genuine universalisms left in a seething morass of particularisms (though I believe this is the case), and its study should therefore be encouraged by and for all, but also because the practice of science itself involves a kind of ethics – of world-transformation through self-subordination to a non-exclusive cause.


1. It’s tempting to say of the word “fundamentalist” what Alain Badiou says of the word “terrorist”: that it “is an intrinsically propagandistic term. It has no neutral readability. It dispenses with all reasoned examination of political situations, of their causes and consequences,” A. Badiou, Infinite Thought (New York and London: Continuum, 2003), p. 109.

2. A. Zupancic, Ethics of the Real: Kant, Lacan (London: Verso, 2000), p. 254. Or, as Slavoj Zizek says, “Recall the surprise of the average Americans after the September 11 events: ‘How is it possible that these people display and practice such a disregard for their own lives?’ Is the obverse of this surprise not the rather sad fact that we, in the First World countries, find it more and more difficult even to imagine a public or universal Cause for which one would be ready to sacrifice one’s life?...although we in the West are perceived as exploiting masters, it is us who occupy the position of the Servant who, since he clings to life and its pleasures, is unable to risk his life....while the poor Muslim radicals are Masters ready to risk their life,” S. Zizek, “Is there a politics of subtraction? Badiou versus Lacan,” Communication and Cognition, Vol. 36, No. 1-2 (2003), p. 104.

3. For his part, Ernest Gellner claims that our present scene is dominated by “three fundamental and irreducible positions,” Postmodernism, Reason and Religion (London and New York: Routledge, 1992), p. 1. These are fundamentalism, relativism, and what Gellner calls “Enlightenment rationalism, or rationalist fundamentalism.” Perhaps paradoxically, I do not believe that “relativism” and “rationalism” can be so easily distinguished these days: one of the hallmarks of our postmodern era is precisely that rationalism relativises itself (as Nietzsche says of nihilism, “the highest values devalue themselves”), rationally accepting that, since it itself has a history, it cannot consistently give itself a definition or consider itself universal. On the other hand, I do believe what’s threatened today by both fundamentalism and relativism is science – but science is not an “evenly balanced third position,” nor even really a position at all. Science is not an enlightenment rationalism, precisely because its procedures are immanent to it, and cannot be totalised. That is, science is universal without being total: in principle, anyone can do science (what else does the centrality of maths and repeatable experiments/observations mean?), but it is not a scientific principle that extra-scientific concerns must be normed according to scientific criteria. Despite the propaganda, Enlightenment rationalism has very little to do with science proper.

4. This opposition (and its variants, such as between “rational dialogue” and “fundamentalist dogma”) is so deeply-ingrained that it leads to hallucinatory statements such as the following: “Osama Bin Laden, the leader of Al Qaeda, also claims and that [sic] by killing any United States citizen, the amount of evil in the world is decreased. Of course, many people disagree with Al Qaeda’s conception of ‘evil,’ not to mention their interpretation of the Koran. It is no coincidence that Al Qaeda is completely unwilling to question their moral beliefs. In fact, in one of Al Qaeda’s training manuals, they explicitly mention Socrates and reject his methods! Their manual explicitly states ‘the confrontation that we are calling for with the apostate regimes does not know Socratic debates...but it knows the dialogue of bullets, the ideals of assassination, bombing, and the diplomacy of the cannon and machine gun.’...Such a group is patently dangerous, as is any person who refuses to subject their moral beliefs to Socratic scrutiny,” Hope May, “Socrates,” in P. O’Grady (ed.), Meet the philosophers of Ancient Greece (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2005), p. 111. What’s hallucinatory about this statement is precisely that the people who first and foremost couldn’t stand Socratic questioning were ancient Greek democrats: Socrates was executed by the democrats of his own polis. May’s use of Osama bin Laden as an example therefore seems to me seriously politically and philosophically misleading, insofar as it neglects to underline this rather crucial fact. Furthermore, it’s not certain that Socrates was indeed into moral debate; he has just as legitimately been seen as trying to put an end to such debate. The claim that anyone who doesn’t submit their moral beliefs to Socratic scrutiny is dangerous is absurd; it’s quite as arguable that anyone prepared to submit their beliefs to Socratic scrutiny is dangerous; anyone who enforces such questioning all the more so.

5. See, above all, the truly encyclopedic work of M.E. Marty and R. S. Appleby (eds.), The Fundamentalism Project (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991-5), which comprises five hefty volumes. As the editors write in the “Conclusion: Remaking the State: The Limits of the Fundamentalist Imagination” in Fundamentalisms and the State: Remaking Polities, Economies, and Militance, the third volume of the series, “religious fundamentalisms thrive in the twentieth century when and where masses of people living in formerly traditional societies experience profound personal and social dislocations as a result of rapid modernization and in the absence of mediating institutions capable of meeting the human needs created by these dislocations,” p. 620.

6. K. Armstrong, The Battle for God: Fundamentalism in Judaism, Christianity and

Islam (London: HarperCollins, 2000), p. 171. Note, in fact, that, of these five dogmas, only 1) is in fact a fundamental interpretative principle (as opposed to a particular belief), and it is therefore possible to derive 2) to 5) from interpreting the Bible by means of it. It is often pointed out that the Stewarts were business rivals and ideological enemies of John D. Rockefeller, who had founded and endowed the liberal Chicago Divinity School. See M. Ruthven, Fundamentalism: The search for meaning (Oxford: OUP, 2004), p. 12.

7. This is not a definition (which would be in any case impossible), but the highlighting of some key factors. I cannot stress enough that, to the extent that “fundamentalism” has any meaning at all, it must NOT be taken as a synonym for or continuous with “religion,” “terrorism,” or “tradition.” In fact, the temptation to run these terms together in media presentations is precisely a symptom of the situation I began by analysing. For example, proportionally few Christians are fundamentalist in the sense that any of the authorities propose. In volume one of their series, Marty and Appleby proffer a sheaf of “family resemblances” for the fundamentalisms, including: religious idealism as the basis for personal and communal identity; truth as revealed and absolute; explicitly reactive (directed against certain cultural insiders); radically dualist and of cosmic import (all history reinterpreted in light of a fundamental antagonism); led by charismatic males (which does not necessarily mean they are male-dominated), etc.

8. The 19th century English preacher John Nelson Darby, whose theories that Christ would return before the apocalypse (the doctrine of “premillenarialism” beloved of US Christian fundamentalists), that the world was to go through seven ages, each ending in catastrophe (e.g., the Fall, the Flood, the Crucifixion, etc.), had little impact in Europe, but a massive and immediate uptake in the US. Darby is a prime progenitor of the theory of rapture.

9. This “logic” is self-contradictory at a number of levels. For example, as Ruthven felicitously elaborates one of the dilemmas that fundamentalists have created for themselves, “inerrancy is not the same as literalism, and may even produce opposite conclusions. Where literalist readings may logically lead to the ‘deconstruction’ of texts, inerrancy when pursued systematically requires textual harmonization. Since the inerrant Bible as understood by fundamentalists is supposed to correspond to the historical actuality of real events in real time (as distinct from mythical events whose significance may be understood symbolically or spiritually) conservative commentators try to edit different versions of the same stories into a coherent narrative structure,” p. 77.

10. That is, “the two fundamental forms of group relationship reduce themselves to the primordial ones of envy and loathing,” “On ‘Cultural Studies,’” in Social Text, Vol 34 (1993), p. 34; “all class consciousness – or in other words, all ideology in the strongest sense, including the most exclusive forms of ruling-class consciouness just as much as that of oppositional or oppressed classes – is in its very nature Utopian,” The Political Unconscious (London: Routledge, 1989), p. 289.

11. For useful documentation, see Leslie H. Allen (ed.), Bryan and Darrow at Dayton (New York: Russell & Russell, 1925); for further, more up-to-date materials, see http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2000/006/2.50.html. My account relies on the documents provided there.

12. As Butler himself declared of the bill, “I didn’t know anything about evolution when I introduced it,” cited in Allen, p. 1.

13. Among other well-known cases, the liberal Darrow had notoriously acted as defense counsel for the killer Nietzscheans Richard Loeb and Nathan Leopold in 1924. Their story was eventually made into the film Rope by Alfred Hitchcock.

14. Allen, p. 4.

15. Cited in Allen, p. 162.

16. One thinks here of the Australian Federal Liberal politician Danna Vale’s recent comments that Australia would be a Muslim country in 50 years, given that 100, 000 abortions were taking place every year (“that’s a guesstimate”) and since 50 x 100, 000 is 5, 000, 000, we’re aborting ourselves out of existence, etc. – when the debate was nominally focussed around legislation to do with the abortion drug RU486! By a strange irony, the scandal broke just before Valentine’s Day 2006.

17. Jamal al-Din al-Afghani, the so-called “father of Islamic fundamentalism” explicitly attacked Darwinism in the late 19th century: “One group of materialists decided that the germs of all species, especially animals, are identical, that there is no difference between them and that the species also have no essential distinction. Therefore, they said, those germs transferred from one species to another and changed from one form to another through the demands of time and place, according to need and moved by external forces...The leader of this school is Darwin. He wrote a book stating that man descends from the monkey, and that in the course of successive centuries as a result of external impulses he changed until he reached the stage of the orang-utan,” cited in Ruthven, p. 70.

18. When Bryan was on the stand, he was cross-examined by Darrow, “and forced by Darrow to concede that the world was far more than six thousand years old, as a literal reading of the Bible implied, that the six ‘days’ of creation mentioned in Genesis were each longer than twenty-four hours, that he had never read any critical account of the origins of the biblical text, that he had no interest in any other faith, and that, finally, ‘I do not think about things I don’t think about’ and only thought about the things he did think about ‘sometimes,’” Armstrong, p. 177.

19. If fundamentalist groups may well be right that others (like the State or liberal elites) are indeed out to get them, it’s necessary to underline the facts that: a) they themselves are usually concerned to provoke their enemies; b) just cos someone’s out to get you, doesn’t mean that you have to be paranoid (states of affairs and affective responses to that state of affairs are not in any simple causal relation).

20. See Ruthven’s “Conclusion,” e.g., “In the least-developed regions even more radical forces for change are at work, as the audio-visual revolution undercuts the authority of the literate elites. Societies such as Iran and India have moved from the oral to the audio-visual era without experiencing the revolution in literacy that generated both Protestantism and the Enlightenment in Europe,” p. 210. There are any number of websites promulgating fundamentalist doctrines of all kinds, e.g., http://www.bju.edu, http://www.biblebelievers.com/ are two North American sites.

21. Karen Armstrong will even identify a strong Baconian genealogy for fundamentalists: a commitment to good, hard, clear facts.

22. This is why Gellner is correct, but doesn’t go far enough, when he states that fundamentalism “presupposes that the core of religion is doctrine, rather than ritual, and also that this doctrine can be fixed with precision and finality, which further presupposes writing,” p. 2. Doctrine, yes, but supplemented by ritualised and theatrical forms of authenticity (e.g., faith healing, speaking in tongues, etc.); writing, yes, but supplemented by audiovisual technologies.

23. This is clearly one of the hallmarks of fundamentalism worldwide. For example, as Ziauddin Sardar writes of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), “Its ideology of Hindutva, or Hindu nationalism, is based on the idea that all Hindus are one and that India, therefore, is an exclusively Hindu nation that should be ruled by a Hindu government. The BJP is umbilically linked to the Rahstriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the Hindu militia known for their extreme violence,” “Haunted by Hatred,” The Australian Financial Review, 3 Februrary 2006, p. 6. One limited exception to this rule is that of those US Christian fundamentalist groups who believe that Israel must be supported because God did indeed bequeath that territory to the Jewish people; this exception is “limited,” however, because it seems that this is simply the prelude to the conversion of a restricted number of Jews to Christianity and the obliteration of the remainder in the final conflict. In other words, “there can (still) be only one,” in the words of the 1980s B-grade fantasy flick Highlander.

24. In fact, one can easily see that the consequences of thinking religion is just politics pursued by other means, and/or trying to “instrumentalize” religion, is almost invariably a disaster. As Badiou says, in the same essay quoted above, “It is worth remarking that the political instrumentalization of religion has in turn been persistently instrumentalized by the United States themselves. This has been one of the great constants of their politics for decades. Fearing Soviet influence, they fought everything that even mildly resembled secular politics in the Arab world. Whether Nasser in Egypt, or de Baas in Iraq, or in Syria, the United States did not get involved except to create more and more serious problems for these leaders, while on the other hand they supported without fail the retrograde fanatics of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Pakistan,” p. 113. One might also note that Israel were early supporters of Hamas, on the grounds that this might help to destabilise the PLO. This now looks like another case of political caveat emptor, and one might speculate that the neo-con attempt to forge links with US Christian fundamentalists may well end in tears too.

25. Once again, fundamentalism ? religion ? terrorism, etc. This is one reason why the particular brand of fundamentalist terrorism of which Lear speaks here is so weird: it is eager to justify itself in the argumentative terms of its self-confessed enemies.

26. J. Lear, Freud (New York: Routledge, 2005), p. 4.

27. Which can give rise to all sorts of ironies. As Gellner notes, “Contrary to what outsiders generally suppose, the typical Muslim woman in a Muslim city doesn’t wear the veil because her grandmother did so, but because her grandmother did not: her grandmother in her village was far too busy in the fields, and she frequented the shrine without a veil, and left the veil to her betters,” p. 16. So much for the army of immutable law.

28. It isn’t alone in this. See D. Pettman, After the orgy: toward a politics of exhaustion (Albany: SUNY, 2002) for an account of some of the other (cult-like, pseudo-rational) responses to our techno-millennial situation.

29. R. Manne, “Comment,” The Monthly, February 2006, p. 14.