We have often heard that fundamentalists are a major problem. Fundamentalist Muslims have gone to the extreme of sending suicide bombers out to attack their enemies. Fundamentalist Jews are unbending in their belief in the expansion of Israel and are willing to kill for that land. Americans often site these groups when discussing Christian fundamentalists, saying that these folks aren’t so bad, because they aren’t killing anyone.
Actually there are Christian fundamentalists that have resorted to murder, but they are less common that the Muslim or Jewish groups. So, why is this the case? Should we be so concerned about Christian Fundamentalists if they aren’t so bad?
In order to understand these questions we need to examine how and why a fundamentalist movement takes hold and what motivates it to grow.
Fundamentalist movements of every kind are based in fear. As society changes, some segments of society become fearful of those changes. This is human nature and we expect this to happen. Fear then creates a reaction to this change. Large changes in society are reflected by large reactions to that change. People who fear the changes find each other and react with a common fear of the change.
If we look at the twentieth century, there isn’t any question that there were very large changes in society that not only affected America, but in every country around the globe. The largest changes to our society have been in science, technology and human rights. So, it shouldn’t be surprising that these are the issues that fundamentalists are concerned about. In fact, they are not only concerned with these issues, but they are fearful of the changes these things have brought upon society.
When a group of fearful people gather together they express their concerns over the changes they have been experiencing. And, when these people are religious they search for answers in their religion. When the goal is to fight change by finding solutions in religion these people will take whatever threads of hope that they find and magnify the importance of these threads in order to prove their point. We see this in all fundamentalist movements.
Fundamentalist movements grow more extreme over time. This is because fundamentalists begin their movement by using scripture to prove that change should not happen. In these early movements they believe that other people will realize that they have God on their side and therefore they are right. They feel as if just telling people that God doesn’t want change will be enough to stop that change. But, fundamentalist movements are usually the minority in a society and there is little chance that the general population will swarm to the fundamentalist cause. In fact most people actually like and appreciate the changes to society so support for the fundamentalist reaction to change never happens.
Well, lack of success doesn’t halt any fundamentalist group. This is because they have always been a minority and they believe that they have God on their side. Reaction to their cause fosters even more fear. They fear that their religious ideas will be expunged by the changes in society. At this point fear turns to rage and violence becomes an action sanctioned by God. Christian Fundamentalists in the USA haven’t reached this point yet, but if the history of other fundamentalist movements is a predictor, when the Christian Fundamentalists feel fear because of a reaction to their movement violence will become inevitable.
So, this leaves us with a conundrum. How do we react to Christian Fundamentalists in the USA? If we react to them with the vile revulsion that their ideas provoke, they are bound to become fearful and rage in violence against our society. If we do nothing, their Luddite ideas and hatred will turn our society back a hundred years. The only action that seems to make sense is the one that goes against our natural compulsion. We need to alleviate the fear of the Christian Fundamentalists and assure them that their religion is not doomed, even if we all wish that it were. By reducing this fear the most extreme individuals will feel assured and not react in violence like every other fundamentalist movement has done.
We just need to be aware that this isn’t as clear cut as some may believe.