When is Fundamentalism at its Most Dangerous?
When is fundamentalism at its most dangerous? Julian Smith.
“Of the struggle between reason and religion, I know this: Religion is more dangerous. When reason is challenged, it will raise an objection. It will raise questions. When religion is challenged, it will raise an army. It will raze cities.” — Richard Bamford
I submitted a fundamentalist quote to Fundies Say the Darnedest Things this week. It was briefly approved. What surprised me was how many people thought it wasn’t at all fundamental. What also surprised me was how many people thought it was normal. What surprised me the most was how many people asked for it to be removed for of all things, its “non-fundieness”. Yes, there may have been reasons for respect or taste, but not for a lack of fundability.
The quote was this:
“We think it was God's plan and we're going to have to pick up the pieces and keep going. A funeral to us is a much more important thing than the day of birth because we believe in the hereafter. The children are better off than their survivors.”
He was of course talking about the Amish massacre at the West Nickel Mines School. A twelve year old relative of his had been held at gunpoint, bound along with her schoolmates and just had Charles Carl Roberts IV press a handgun up to the back of her head and spray a lethally significant portion of her brains over her friends and the blackboard as 3D punctuation in today’s arbitrary, yet totally unfathomable lesson.
If we are to believe Sam, she is in a better place. If we are to believe Sam, God meant for this to happen. If we are to believe Sam, she is better off now than last week, when she was laughing and playing with her friends; going home to her nuclear family structure with her whole life ahead of her.
Is this the world we live in? Really?
But that’s just a coping mechanism, right?
“God is the immemorial refuge of the incompetent, the helpless, the miserable. They find not only sanctuary in His arms, but also a kind of superiority, soothing to their macerated egos; He will set them above their betters.” — H. L. Mencken
A terrible tragedy occurred and Sam thought it was great – OK, good! Is that coping? Painting a pretty picture to gloss over reality is denial. Believe in that pretty picture and you become delusional. When your underlying premise is so flawed, maybe you can get away with it once or twice, but soon the inconsistencies will become contradictions and the contradictions will become doubts and the doubts will lead to loathing, misery, still more denial, delusions, desperation, frustration and anger.
God loves you. What a calming, soothing, relaxing thought. What security. He has the answers. He has a plan. But then he tests you. Things do not go to plan. Bad things happen. Then the neuroses creep in – does he really love you? You love him. You’ve committed your life to him? You start looking for signs he loves you… and probably find none… He doesn’t seem to be treating you like he loves you. What could that mean? What am I doing wrong to be punished like this?
They call it a crisis of faith. What it is, is the harsh light of reality trying to shine through the chinks in your armor. A shellfish produces its own shell. It responds to external stimuli and instinctively builds and thickens its shell using its own bodily secretions. Faith is merely a thick coating of calcined mucous you create yourself with a regime of thought control, self-monitoring and ritual indoctrination. It’s good for a limpet clinging tenaciously to a rock; it’s terribly bad for the planet’s dominant life form in a period of ever escalating progress, technological advancement and change.
Is this really fundie?
“All religions bear traces of the fact that they arose during the intellectual immaturity of the human race — before it had learned the obligation to speak the truth. Not one of them makes it the duty of its god to be truthful and understandable in his communications.” — Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche
This is undeniably a fundamentalist view from a fundamentalist religion. According to the Niagara Bible Conference, the five fundamentals of which are; the inerrancy of the Scriptures; the virgin birth and the deity of Jesus; the doctrine of substitutionary atonement through God's grace and human faith; the bodily resurrection of Jesus and; the authenticity of Christ's miracles (or, alternatively, his premillennial second coming). [Yes, looks like he’s late again.]
While it’s hilarious to hear them try to defend the idea of a global flood, or stack up their anti-evolution strawmen before starting a merry bonfire, there’s far more to fundamentalism that a misplaced desire for biblical inerrancy.
There’s the belief that eternity is possible… Yes, that long after the sun has become a red giant, planetary nebula and white dwarf… That long after what’s left of the solar system has been sucked into the supermassive black hole at the center of the galaxy… That a trillion years later when the universe has suffered heat death, you’ll still be sitting in New Jerusalem with it’s streets of gold, on the side of a hill on Earth that somehow survived not only all of that, but one third of the stars in the universe falling to Earth too. How odd.
There’s the belief in Karma, poetic justice, or decency, but of course they cannot ever call it that – it’s the will of God. But therein lies the path to insanity.
Trying to decipher reason where there is none, is by definition superstition, just as much as assuming an unrelated talisman has any significance upon the outcome. This has a two-fold effect, both by assigning cause where there is none, but also by restricting or eliminating the search for any possible and legitimate causality and the analysis and testing thereof. It inhibits science and reason as much as it promotes ignorance and misconjecture. When the truth is branded as heresy and violently suppressed, is it any wonder religion reigned supreme for hundreds of generations and progress was stymied. The pen is only mightier than the sword if people can read, write and think – and there are no swords in reach.
Which leads us to a very curious hybrid, being the people that accept heliocentricity as an undeniable truth, even though this flies in the face of the word of their Lord. Those that claim what is in the bible is allegorical not literal – yet – and God only knows how they come to this bit, the really impossible things like the resurrection of Jesus and eternal life and the second coming, well of course they’re true. Isn’t it odd, when you step back and examine the religious “non”-fundies. They discard the supernatural explanations for natural phenomena. Cool! That makes sense. Yet, after the supernatural explanations for the natural phenomena have been dismissed as absurdities, they still cling to the supernatural explanations for the supernatural. Why is that? Both had equal credence when they had no idea what was possible and impossible – when everything was supernatural? Of all things, you should be removing the supernatural explanations for the supernatural long before you remove the supernatural explanations for the natural.
Why on Earth would you cling to a “faith” or “belief” in the impossible, when in every instance that could be possibly discredited, it has been? It’s the sugar coated medicine – or in this case poison – its an unblanched almond. The fundies take the whole bitter pill, but the non-fundies still like to suck the sugar off the outside and put the almond back in the bowl. And of course the sugar is addictive.
If you have someone telling you what you earnestly desire is true, you’ll defend that tenet (false premise) to the death before you admit you’ve been had.
“Nothing is easier than self-deceit. For what each man wishes, that he also believes to be true.” — Demosthenes
Trying to find a constant rationale behind arbitrary and consequently randomly inconsistent outcomes is never going to work. For starters you are obtaining the conclusion and then trying to work backwards, rather than examining the evidence and seeing what conclusions are reasonable and justifiable. You invent an errant axiom, discard contrary evidence and then try to distort the remnants until at a stretch it almost fits the frame you’d set up earlier. No wonder they need to maintain their “relationship” constantly.
As Dan Barker, a former Pentecostal preacher turned atheist said:
“Truth does not demand belief. Scientists do not join hands every Sunday, singing 'Yes, gravity is real! I will have faith! I will be strong! I believe in my heart that what goes up, up, up must come down, down, down. Amen!' If they did, we would think they were pretty insecure about it.”
If you hold dear the noble but childish premise that good things happen to good people and bad things happen to bad people, well, if you’re a child, you might actually have a magic daddy that can control your entire universe. He can feed you, teach you, protect you, nurture you, punish you, and that might just make sense and hold up to a cursory scrutiny if he’s omnipotent enough. But the minute you enter the real world, and scenarios that are way beyond your scale of control or comprehension; trying to stay in your playpen where you have your bottle at 2pm sharp and a nap straight after – well, good luck with that – especially when your magic big sky daddy is imaginary! But don’t forget to give him a wad of your cash, and remember kids, “He loves you!”
True love is an amazing thing. It can bring out confidence and facets you never knew existed in you. It causes your body to elicit all sorts of amazing chemicals that give you a fantastic high – yet, that is you, not them that causes this. It is your reaction to stimuli, and those stimuli need not necessarily be external or even real. The concept of any god has continually metamorphasised. Originally, there was an entire pantheon in Hebrew mythology. Each god had their own specific role to provide a supernatural explanation for natural phenomena. Well, the gods started getting competitive – OK, the priests started getting competitive. The next thing you know they’re muscling in on each other’s territory and before you know it, there’s half a dozen genocides and a rewrite claiming Yahweh is the one true god responsible for everything, when previously he’d been just a storm god called El with a wife called Asherah. But, originally heaven was where the gods lived. They lived up there and watched us down here, and we behaved or they did terrible things to us. Well, with the advent of monotheism, suddenly God was alone in heaven – all the other gods had been deicided. Well what’s a god doing in heaven all by himself - he must want some company? We’re the pinnacle of his creation after all. And those punishments which didn’t seem to be falling with the assurety they were preached under – what if we combined them with actual Earthly punishments in society and stole Hades from the Greeks? So suddenly the jealous, petty, vengeful, immediate retribution god of Deuteronomy 28, has been transformed into your best buddy – if you do exactly what the priests tell you to.
Suddenly God is lonely. Suddenly God loves you. Suddenly the creator of the universe has nothing better to do that count your ingrown pubes. Yeah right! So of course if something happens, it must happen for a reason – sitcoms wouldn’t be Situational Comedies and wouldn’t be Situational if they weren’t plausible, right? We have ourselves an Interactive Designer - of course all of life’s dilemmas all get resolved in 30 minutes (22 without ads) and have a moral lesson and trailing joke.
God wouldn’t have it any other way – until the end of season cliffhanger as he renegotiates your contract.
Yes, but what could go wrong with that?
“If a man would follow, today, the teachings of the Old Testament, he would be a criminal. If he would follow strictly the teachings of the New, he would be insane.” — Robert Green Ingersoll
Many people take for granted that Christianity has had an unshifting message, and what is preached today was what has always been the case. This simply is not so. It’s not even close. Much of a unified view sprang from the ruthless persecution of opposing points of view. This was nothing new; the Genocides “at the behest of Yahweh” in the Old Testament attacked those that were most closely aligned to, often without warning. And of course, the victors write history, so suddenly the losers were evil, seditious heathens and they deserved to have been massacred.
Heck they even rewrote the history when they lost. They claimed they were a mighty Nation and there were pitiful savages to the North as they huddles in their caves and hillside huts and eked out a truly pitiful existence as the mighty civilizations to the North by and large ignored them. The Judeans were in fact quite fortunate the hills existed as that was the only reason the Samaritans with their horses and chariots did not pursue them.
Where am I going with this? A similar thing happened with the Donatists. The Donatists were purist Christians, and refused to compromise like the traditors that succumbed to Constantine and the Roman State. As a consequence they were declared heretical and hunted down by other Christians. One of the more interesting facets of their belief was their interrelation between suicide and martyrdom. They believed that by killing themselves they could attain martyrdom and go to heaven. They jumped off cliffs, burned themselves in large numbers, and stopped travellers, either offering to pay them or threatening them with death to encourage them to kill the supposed Donatist martyr. That’s the problem when your god died to do something wonderful. That’s the problem when you talk of a land of milk and honey, but it’s not a march or a battle away, it’s a lifetime away – a lifetime that can be thrown away.
Imagine if Donatist doctrine had prevailed unchanging till today? At the time the Catholic Church wasn’t that far different in that respect. They revered martyrs too – how very Christ like. Martyrdom was almost a surefire ticket to Sainthood. Yet that’s not the Catholic catchetism we see today, what on Earth happened?
They only really began to take steps against suicide in the 6th century AD. (“AD” – and how many fundies have you heard swear that doesn’t mean Anno Domini, the year of our Lord, but rather, “After Death”.) But why did the Catholic Church clamp down on suicide? They in their wonderful theocracy of burnt books and then people had a series of simple god fearing folk arrested for heresy and sedition. These people were Christian and a great many of them committed suicide believing they would still be able to go to heaven after doing so, which would not be the case if they were found guilty and excommunicated. They weren’t just better off dead; they were going to burn in hell if they didn’t kill themselves.
So the Catholic Church in 533 decreed that those who committed suicide while accused of a crime would be denied a Christian burial. Back then, you needed to be buried on consecrated grounds or you wouldn’t be able to go to heaven. (A big mix with Sheol and Gehanna and Hades) They didn’t do this to save people. They did this to close a loophole to keep people they didn’t like out of heaven. (A little like Australia intercepting leaking fishing boats full of asylum seekers – it’s not to save them, it’s to minimize their avenues of appeal – and it’s truly shameful!!!) By 562, they’d expanded this to all suicides. If you committed suicide you were going straight to hell. It took them over a millennium to relax this a little.
So we see, once upon a time, suicide was not reviled as a part of Christianity. Once upon a time it was almost a free pass. We cannot say suicide is not part of the Christian message – Jesus did not ever say anything against it. Quintus Septimius Florens Tertullianus, the man who did more than anyone to bring Christianity to the Romans viewed the crucifixion of Jesus as a suicide. Later, in the irony of all ironies the man who wrote the first great statement defining the mainstream Catholic position, Adversus Haereses (Against Heresies), found the Church too political, thought they had too many bishops, too much corruption, decried Roman Catholicism, joined another Christian sect and was consequently branded as a heretic and never canonized.
Essentially, people believe some very, very weird things. Some of them involve death and suicide as a means to going to heaven. Others involve castration – castration cults even existed last century. Who on Earth would put their balls on the block for any book in the bible, let alone the bizarre Book of Ummm, “Revelation”. Let’s not even start to address Christian Zionism, Jehovah’s Witnesses and the other “Rapture Ready” nut-jobs salivating over Armageddon.
What about all the poor deluded meals, that take Daniel literally, and feel their personal God will look after them as they preach to the lions? It happens a lot more than it ever should. Sadly sometimes they even kill the animal as it is now deemed dangerous for attacking a person and the keepers no longer trust it.
The belief that you are better off dead motivates depressed mothers to chauffeur their children to the bottom of the lake.
The mistaken belief that you are special can be reassuring, but when you start applying that in reality, it can quickly lead to huge trouble. When you think a god is looking out for you, you don’t really see the need for all those safety precautions – who needs a helmet with a god on your side? Mohammed Ali was not afraid of flying; he thought Allah would not allow him to die in a plane crash. Imagine if he was a pilot. Imagine if he couldn’t be bothered going through his pre-flight safety checks - Allah would not allow him to die in a plane.
Confusing fate and dumb luck, with intent is by the law of averages going to throw you a nasty curve ball sooner than later – especially when the intent is hearsay and anecdotal in the first place. When the intent is also repetitive and brainwashed, and reality conflicts; mental anguish and confusion ensues.
This can be plainly illustrated in the terribly profound quip:
“I still say a church steeple with a lightening rod on top shows a lack of confidence.”
— Doug McLeod
Well, at least they’ve stopped blaming the lightning strikes on witches and sacrificing the nearest virgin. Conceivably 100,000 witches were killed in Europe on what were obviously baseless superstitions. And the lovely “swimming of the witches test” - a witch would float if cast into water; a good Christian would sink. Once again, no harm done right? It's just another dead Christian is off to their eternal reward.
And so finally, let us return to Charles Carl Roberts IV. He was a man driven past any sense of reason. Let us examine his suicide notes, one to each of his immediate family. Roberts said he was haunted by the death of his prematurely born daughter in 1997. The baby, Elise, died 20 minutes after being delivered. Elise's death “changed my life forever,” Roberts wrote to his wife. “I haven't been the same since it affected me in a way I never felt possible. I am filled with so much hate, hate toward myself hate towards God and unimaginable emptyness [sic] it seems like everytime [sic] we do something fun I think about how Elise wasn't here to share it with us and I go right back to anger.”
Now admittedly, one of the leading causes of miscarriage in late term babies is domestic violence, followed by poor dental hygiene poisoning the baby. So possibly he could blame himself, yet there is the culprit right there. “God”. It was “God’s plan”. “God” chose to do this. So instead of accepting that sometimes things don’t go to plan, Charles had a fictitious scapegoat for his hate. “God!” It was “God’s” fault. “God” did this. “God” hated him. “God”, “God”, “God”, “God”, “God”!
Charles had an object for his rage, an object for his frustration, by his own words, an object for his hate. Could he reconcile this? No. Did he have a coping strategy? No. Did he seek help? No. Could he move on and accept what had happened? No. He had a target to fixate upon. “God” did this to him on purpose. “God” hates him. He sank into his own miasma of pathos and bile and poisonous self-loathing. Why? Because he tried to apply logic to an illogical construct – a figment of collective imagination.
So how did that end? …In a single room schoolhouse with some cable ties and sexual lubricant – and in the papers.
And if we follow the train of thought through… Sam said God had a plan to kill the girls. The girls died because Charles had issues from Elise. Are the Days of Our Lives really scripted by God? Does this mean God killed Elise because he wanted Charles to suffer insanely for ten years before taking the life of five other girls? Some plan you’ve got going there big fella! The shareholder reports for this year’s tithing should be most interesting, especially the Darfur section. “Whaddiya mean he’s not accountable? Sheesh, when’s he up for re-election? Oh crap!”
It still sounds largely harmless or relatively isolated to me?
“Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction.” — Blaise Pascal
Consider Beziers in Southern France. It is the summer of 1209. In between the 4th Crusade in 1204 and the 5th Crusade in 1217, the Roman Catholic Church was busy mopping up heretics; something they’d been doing since declaring the Aryans heretical in the Council of Nicaea nearly a millennium earlier. The most ironically named Pope Innocent the 3rd had proclaimed that any Cathar land could be confiscated at will, and the Barons from the North of France, motivated by greed as much as religious zeal, formed an army.
Beziers had a stable population of about 15,000 people and as many as 5,000 transients and refugees. In this population were 200 Cathars – the sect of Christians whom the church had branded as heretical. Just a mere 1% of the population…
The conquering army was faced with the dilemma of sorting Cathartic Christian from Roman Catholic Christian. Their commander, a Cistercian monk gave the now infamous command:
“Caedite eos. Novit enim Dominus qui sunt eius.” — “Kill them all, the Lord will recognise His own”
When the city was taken, many Roman Catholic citizens had sought refuge in a church dedicated to Mary Magdalene and started a mass for the dead. It turned out to be a mass for themselves. The church was set alight and the rest of the town put to the sword. 7,000 people died in that Roman Catholic Church, including women, children, priests and old men. Elsewhere many more thousands were mutilated and killed. Prisoners were blinded, dragged behind horses, and used for target practice. The city was razed.
Arnaud, the abbot-commander, wrote to his master the Pope: “Today your Holiness, twenty thousand citizens were put to the sword, regardless of rank, age, or sex". [Ed: very Old Testament; Joshua 6:21 all over again, except of course this time they kept the livestock for themselves instead of butchering them too, so I suppose that’s some progress.] Reportedly, not a single person survived, not even a newborn baby. Sure that meant there was a lot more land to be distributed now; but could Arnaud, a devout monk, really have ordered the slaughter of 20,000 of his Roman Catholic kindred if he didn’t truly believe they were going to a better place? Would his Catholic soldiers have perpetrated his bloody orders instead of dying a true martyr’s death themselves standing up on a matter of principle? It doesn’t sound like they were in any way reluctant.
“If we believe absurdities, we shall commit atrocities.” — Voltaire
But surely we wouldn’t do anything so stupid now?
“I distrust those people who know so well what God wants them to do because I notice it always coincides with their own desires.” — Susan B. Anthony
Ronald Reagan had this to say as Governor of California in 1971.
“In the 38th chapter of Ezekiel, it says that the land of Israel will come under attack by the armies of the ungodly nations, and it says that Libya will be among them. Do you understand the significance of that? Libya has now gone Communist, and that's a sign that the day of Armageddon isn't far off.
Biblical scholars have been saying for generations that Gog must be Russia. What other powerful nation is to the north of Israel? None. But it didn't seem to make sense before the Russian revolution, when Russia was a Christian country. Now it does, now that Russia has become communistic and atheistic, now that Russia has set itself against God. Now it fits the description of Gog perfectly.
For the first time ever, everything is in place for the battle of Armageddon and the Second Coming of Christ. It can't be too long now. Ezekiel says that fire and brimstone will be rained upon the enemies of God's people. That must mean that they will be destroyed by nuclear weapons.”
He wanted to Nuke the Commies and thought his concept of god had given him a green light to do so. You’d like to think he’d be given a tinfoil hat and be promptly escorted off to Bellevue before he finished his supper, but no, he became the duly elected representative of the American people and the most powerful man in the world for the best part of a decade.
Of course that makes sense. The powerful Nation to the North couldn’t possibly have been like the erstwhile powerful Nations to the North of Samaria or Assyria and Ezekiel was just a petty revenge fantasy. Or how about those pesky Romans, from which direction did their legions march again? How about the unforeseen rise of Islam 1,300 years later? The Ottoman Empire was where exactly? No, of course it’s Russia. Of course Communism is Satanic – just ask Senator McCarthy. Of course Christ is coming back any day now – sure he said he was coming back 2,000 years ago, but what are a few lazy millennia here or there between best buds. Consider also he was only made best bud a few hundred years after the fact and this is after the “gospels” of several of his disciples including Thomas, James, Phillip, Peter and Judas were all ruled to be heretical as well as their versions of Acts and Revelations, yet the conflicting versions of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were all fine, as was Luke’s version of Acts and John’s version of the Apocalypse. Mark was edited and at least three versions are known of it, Matthew was derived from Mark and Luke was derived from Matthew. John was written 100 years later on a different continent and it’s the one the fundies love! It’s also the one furtherest removed from reality – coincidence? I think not. You know who else loved John? The Cathars! It was their most sacred text.
But I digress. Back to Saint Ronald, consider that this man – who not too much later was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease – had access to nuclear launch codes, and was the creator of the “Star Wars” scheme. Something which was designed solely to fend off thousands of Soviet warheads, at a cost estimated by former Wisconsin Senator William Proxmire at up to US$1 trillion. MAD – Mutually Assured Destruction was the cold war deterrent, but he didn’t want it to be – he wanted a way to nuke the Soviet people with no repercussions. You could do a lot of good in the world with a trillion dollars, especially in the 80’s. A hell of a lot of good, instead, we got Ronnie trying to be the Angel of Death from the Apocalypse of John fulfilling the prophesy of Ezekiel. He wanted to play god. He wanted to be the one raining the fire and brimstone upon the enemies of “God’s people”.
Frankly, the human race is incredibly lucky they couldn’t get it to work. At the height of the Cold War, both sides possessed nearly 65,000 operational nuclear weapons, and if he, like Hitler before him, could attest to doing the self-appointed “Handiwork of the Lord”, wouldn’t that have been something special? [“And I for one would welcome our new mutant roach overlords.”]
Al Gore quoted Churchill in, “An Inconvenient Truth.”
“The era of procrastination, of half-measures, of soothing and baffling expedients, of delays, is coming to its close. In its place we are entering a period of consequences.”
— Winston Churchill, 1936
This holds true as above, diplomatically as Churchill intended, and also as Al Gore explains, we are reaching the stage where our mistakes can and do have lasting ramifications – a period of consequences. Nuclear winter would be a good example of that. Global warming is another.
Ronnie Ray-gun’s Secretary of the Interior – a position responsible for Environmental Policy, James Watt had this to say on the environment,
“We don't have to protect the environment, the Second Coming is at hand”
The US, with less than 5% of the world’s population produces more than 30% of the world’s greenhouse gases. The state of Texas is actually the 6th biggest polluter in the world in its own right, thanks in no small part to extraordinarily lax and irresponsible legislation on what is acceptable.
The repercussions of this ignorance will be felt long and hard into this century. Hopefully it will be able to be limited, but disaster insurance claims can, have and will regularly exceed US$100b per annum for decades to come, even if it is.
So when is fundamentalism at its most dangerous?
“People don't simply wake up one day and commit genocide. They start by setting themselves apart from others, diminishing the stature of those adhering to dissenting beliefs in small, insidious steps. They begin by saying, 'We're the righteous, and we'll tolerate those others.' And as the toleration diminishes over time, the inevitable harms are overlooked. It is for that reason that James Madison wisely wrote that 'it is proper to take alarm at the first experiment on our liberties'.” — Michael Newdow
Fundamentalism is at its most dangerous when it is at its most pervasive... When it appears to be innocuous... When it tugs at the emotions or a sense of nobility as it shifts the very foundations of your perceptions of reality... It is not the last stone you set in place that causes the tower to overbalance and collapse in on itself that was the problem, it was the initial cornerstone being laid the wrong way on a flimsy and illusory and shifting foundation.
Fundamentalism is at its most dangerous when it almost sounds reasonable…
Submitted by Julian.