Can an Anti-Fundamentalist be Wrong?

James Alexander, in a reflective moment, tells us this:

Reading though the postings on this site has led me to question if I am coming off as more “right” about it all than I really want to. I am concerned that the reader might get the wrong impression. So… let me qualify.

I am completely fallible. I screw-up on a regular basis. I am often opinionated. Still, I know my limitations. My conclusions are only as good as my observations and facts.

In my last response to him, I noted that “if you want to see a one sided view of things, just visit Alexander’s own.  As he says, it’s impossible to get away from a fundamentalist background.” Is this an attempt to rectify that?  Let’s take a look.

Before I get to that, let me start by outlining the approach that many anti-fundmentalists take in dealing with their opponents.    A good example is Dr. Saul Adelman’s own method, which got us into this dialogue.

  • The first step is to label your opponent as a “fundamentalist.”  Such a label requires a definition.  Adelman generated his own (unless he cribbed his in turn from someone else, which is possible.)  Alexander used Adelman’s.
  • The second is to, by virtue of the fact that your opponent is, mirabile dictu, a fundamentalist, ascribe to him or her opinions and characteristics that are “typical” of fundamentalists.  This relieves you of having to investigate or address what they are actually saying.
  • The third and final step is to triumphalistically mow down your opponent’s new-found position.  Given the nature of our society, you are guaranteed to find a sympathetic audience for such a attack.

The weakness of this method is obvious: it doesn’t address your opponent’s issues, which is essential for a proper response or refutation.  When Adelman’s bluff was called (yes, Dr. Alexander, I come from a long line of hard drinking card players) on this, he responded as follows:

Although I have found that many fundamentalists are sincere in their beliefs, nevertheless I am profoundly disturbed by individuals who desire the products of our modern scientific revolution yet reject its pragmatic, rationalist points of view. This is hypocrisy.

It’s only here that Adelman gets past his own rhetoric and comes to his true belief: that the only way to be eligible to live in a modern society is to accept a secularist view of things.  Today we have ninnies such as Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins who push this line very aggressively, and frequently do so using the technique outlined above.  They do not grasp the fact that, in a purely materialistic framework, the only things that count are the results, and that such litmus tests are self-defeating.  They also do not understand that morality has no place in a such a framework, an issue I addressed vis-a-vis Adelman.

This is a line which I pursue elsewhere on this blog and I would do so in more depth here, but I’m not convinced that Alexander is an adherent of this decree of secularism.  So let me bring my thoughts closer to home.

The basic problem with Dr. Alexander’s approach, as I see it, is that it shares one characteristic with his fundamentalist opponents: it’s too simplistic and narrowly focused.  It’s a “single-issue” approach to life and, as I noted with one of my other visitors, a single-issue approach makes one sound like a drone.  It also forces everything through the thin gap of one construct without considering other factors.  Let me enumerate two of these.

The first, IMHO, of primary interest for Dr. Alexander and me, is the quality of our Southern, Scotch-Irish ancestors.  This is a favourite topic of mine, and sometimes I’m surprised that my conservative Christian colleagues haven’t taken me to task about this a long time ago.  I even applied this analysis to our style of preaching, and although it generated much interest here I never got a comment about it.  My point in bringing this up is that the constant implication of many “progressive” voices in the South is that our region would be well advanced if we could only jettison all of this “fundamentalism.”  But our history indicates that the activities that we choose in place of church aren’t an improvement, to say the least.

The second is that such a dialectic does not take into account socio-economic complexities that always seem to mess up everyone’s ideal construct.  In this case they do not consider the fact that many “fundamentalist” movements are fuelled by class disparities and inequities that would otherwise be addressed in a revolutionary context.  What this does is place the “anti-fundamentalist” at the disposal of the elites whose position is threatened by such movements.  Although I’m sure that some anti-fundamentalists enjoy doing the elites’ dirty work, I can’t believe that all of them do.

Related to the second is the simple fact that religion has traditionally been regarded by controlling interests as a way to calm the otherwise destructive impulses of the people under them.  That’s why Marx and Engels regarded religion at the “opiate of the people.”  One thing not appreciated about our Founding Fathers is that they too looked at religion in a similar manner, an inheritance from their classical education more than anything else.  That’s why it’s erroneous to say that the U.S. was intended from the start to be a purely secular state, which brings me back to the point in the original Forum article.  The Fathers knew that the discipline and morality that religion instilled were necessary for a society not run by pure fear of punishment from the government.  It was their own enlightened self-interest.

Unfortunately, as Spengler laments, “Successful manipulation of religious conflict is a lost art.”   Our modern rulers only know how to pass laws and throw people in jail.  They have no other response to anyone who puts their God ahead of their government.  They are too narrow minded to put that impulse–one obvious to theologians but oblivious to bureaucrats–to work for them.

Back in the 1970’s, when liberals had their previous best shot at taking permanent command of this society, they had the chance of using identity politics to create a safe “millet” for Evangelical Christians.  But they passed this opportunity up.  They instead proposed regulations for Christian schools and pursued other avenues which first cornered and then galvanised the “Religious Right.”  The rest, as they say, is history.

These are some of the reasons why I find the whole “anti-fundamentalist” line inadequate.  Is there room for thoughtful dialogue?  Maybe.  Maybe not.

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