Encountering Fundamentalists


1. What can people with a more secular outlook or moderate religious outlook do to engage fundamentalists? Are fundamentalist movements a threat to them, and if so, how? Is constructive engagement possible?

Christian Fundamentalists

It seems to be easier to view what is foreign as a threat over what is familiar. Defining a national standard has established grounds for what is normalized, and what is considered a threat. For even the most secular Americans, being brought up with ‘Christian values’, experiencing Christian traditions- even from a secular viewpoint- and being taught to associate religion with patriotism and morality are common experiences. Politicians correlate Christian beliefs with American values and presidents are often elected based on how well they can support their platform with the bible. Children of all religious backgrounds repeat a daily reminder that our country is under God throughout grade school. It is no wonder that even the most radical of Christian extremists are disregarded as a threat when the label of ‘doing God’s work’ has been subconsciously assigned a positive meaning. In terms of religious violence, Islamic violence is discussed extremely disproportionately to Christian violence. Terrorism conducted by white, American, Christians is rarely addressed as such, leading to the complete diminishment of Christian violence. However, the threat of Christian fundamentalists is real and undermines the lifestyles and lives of secular Americans and modern Christians alike. Fundamentalists can and should be engaged with, especially by those with knowledge of the bible, positions in the church and those a part of demographics opposed by fundamentalists.

Christian fundamentalists base their practices off of their belief in scripturalism and the inerrancy of the bible. While all groups take the same sacred texts literally, their beliefs manifest in a variety of theologies depending on how each fundamentalist group interprets the text. This results in varying definitions of what it means to be pure and how to obtain purity, fundamentalists carry out one of three strategies in an attempt to obtain purity; avoidance, separation, and confrontation. Christian fundamentalist groups that practice avoidance and separation believe the only way to be spiritually pure is to be separatists, distancing themselves from sin. While other groups consider themselves activist groups, believing that purity can only be achieved by actively cleansing the world of sin. While the teachings and beliefs spread through separatist groups have established them as hateful, activist groups are a much more immediate threat.

Activist Christian fundamentalist groups have called for and in some cases enacted violence against those they believe the bible is against. They utilize the confrontation strategy to cleanse the world of sin as they believe that by saving others from eternal damnation they are ‘saving the soul of the nation’......... Activism occurs when fundamentalists call for the implementation of social and political standards based on their religion. This goes hand in hand with the concept of totalism, the belief that God and sacred scriptures have dominion over all factors of life including legal policy. The danger in this arises when taking into consideration that determining what laws are supported by scripture and God is not based on established rules; they are in the hands of fundamentalist interpretation and can be manipulated to serve whatever agenda they are able to argue is backed by scripture. For example, Rev. William Einwechter and Gary DeMar believe that laws should be created that allow for the murder of misbehaving children and gay people. In the case of physically enacting violence, Rev. Michael Bray believed that until the country revolts and establishes a new moral America founded on biblical law, it is the duty of what Bray calls the ‘Army of God’ to fight against impurity even if it means murder. This violence and the biblical justification of it is also supported by Eric Robert Rudolph, a serial bomber who grew up in the racist, homophobic, anti-semitic Christian Identity Movement. Rudolph was charged with bombing abortion clinics, lesbian bars, and the olympics on the basis of his opposition to sexual immorality. While these activists are not able to cite verses of God commanding his followers to destroy lesbian bars, they all believe that their actions are just and scripturally supported.

The two demographics that would be able to most effectively engage with Christian fundamentalists are biblically knowledgeable Christians and the people that fundamentalists see as impure. The strong emphasis on scripturalism means that those with a strong knowledge of the bible would be able to most effectively engage with fundamentalists to combat misconceptions. To some extent, constructive engagement is not possible when both parties believe they are correctly interpreting a text that has no proveable meaning. However, when the beliefs of fundamentalists threaten the rights, safety, and lives of others, engagement is necessary. The most effective method of engagement with groups that seem to be based in misconceptions is education. If fundamentalist Christians were exposed to facts surrounding the people and institutions they believe are toxic to the world they may realize that their violence is unwarranted. In the same vein, if fundamentalists were to associate a face to the demographics they believe are toxifying the world, they may be able to see them as humans that deserve life. For this reason, it is equally, if not more effective for the groups opposed by fundamentalists to peacefully engage with them.

Jewish Fundamentalists

Jewish fundamentalist groups have rarely been a threat to Americans, however, activist, zionist Jewish fundamentalists are a clear threat to Palestinians. Like fundamentalists of every religion, there is a spectrum of Jewish fundamentalist groups from separatist to activist. However, unique to Judaism are three separate components that create major variations in the groups’ practices. One differentiating factor is whether or not the group has a strong Torah or Talmud loyalty. Jewish fundamentalists still have the general fundamentalist element of scripturalism and scriptural inerrancy but, rather than a single text, different groups depend on different texts. These groups also split in belief and practice based on their opinion on Palestine, partially dependent on the third criterion, whether or not the group is considered zionist.

Groups like the Gush Emunim are activist, nationalist, Zionist Jewish fundamentalists. This group believes that it is in the power of humans to bring upon the messianic age, which can only be done by taking back the holy lands through means of forced settlement. The group is militant and practices violence in the form of settler vigilantism. Also activist, nationalist, and zionist the Kach party is a more secular group, beginning as a violent defense league against American anti-semitism and developing into an extremist anti-Arab group practicing unrestrained violence.

Not all Jewish fundamentalist groups are threats to Palestine. The Neturei Karta are considered pro-Palestinian, believing that Zionists are preventing the messianic age with their violence against Palestinians. However, this fringe group is not supported even by the larger group it associates itself with.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is highly emotional and there is no right answer of how to engage with either side. While it would mainly be ineffective for someone who does not have any personal understanding of the conflict to engage with a radical Zionist, engagement should between both sides of the conflict would be helpful in reaching a solution. It isn’t clear whether or not constructive engagement can exist between two sides that passionately believe they are right and there is no easy way to say what engagement would be effective. However, major conflict is not resolved until both sides agree to see from the others viewpoint.

2. If you meet people in your circle of friends, family, or work place with a very strong anti-fundamentalist attitude, how would you respond? To what degree would you argue?

Islamic Fundamentalists

With the current political climate, it isn’t rare to hear misinformation or dangerous generalizations about Islam as a result of violent extremist Islamic fundamentalist groups. The media and government are quick to mistake the fundamentals of Islam as beliefs isolated to Islamic fundamentalists. The use of terms like ‘Islamic state’ ‘jihad’ and ‘Sharia law’ in reference to ISIS creates a sense of fear against not only Islamic fundamentalists, but all Muslims. The concept of creating an Islamic state is not an idea exclusive to Islam, all religions have fundamentalist fringe groups that carry out violence in varying degrees for the same purpose as Islamic fundamentalists: to create a state where their religion and its values are law. While jihad of the sword, enforcing violence to spread Islam and its morals, is one manifestations of jihad, the term also refers to efforts to live out a good life and make society moral whether it be by speech, writing, or within oneself, something western ideas of Islam seem to misunderstand. Sharia law has been misunderstood as something all of Islam is attempting to force on America to oppress women and enforce violence when in reality Sharia law is the model for Muslim morality. With the travel ban back in effect it is clear that the post 9/11 world is still in fear of Muslims and that the threat of Islam is not something many Americans are able to properly gauge.

It is entirely valid to fear Islamic fundamentalists as Islamic terrorists have caused mass destruction. In responding to anti-fundamentalist arguments regarding Islam, it is not fair to denounce the threat of Islamic fundamentalists; instead most of the response would have to involve separating Islamic fundamentals from Islamic fundamentalism, and further, shedding light on the parallels between Islamic fundamentalism and fundamentalist traditions of other religions.

Islamic fundamentalists share the same core values as fundamentalists of all religions. They reject secularization and modernity, believe that their sacred scripture is inerrant and should be taken literally, and believe that God should have dominion over all aspects of life. Like all fundamentalist organizations, Islam believes that their religion had a golden age that it should attempt to return to, with most fundamentalist groups this is a time when that religion greatly determined how all people in a community lived their lives. Islamic fundamentalism see their golden age as seeking Ummah or the perfect Muslim community created by the prophet Muhammad, this perfect community would be considered Dar al-Islam, a Muslim majority community following Islamic rule. The elements of Islamic fundamentalists are consistent with all other fundamentalists, all that changes is the religious practices they are applied to.

Violence in the name of religion is not isolated to Islam, nor are all Muslims dangerous despite extremely dangerous militant Islamic fundamentalists. In fact, there have been majorly influential Islamic fundamentalist leaders that still believe in enforcing an Islamic state, but want to do so through education, not violence. Abul A’la Maududi, proposed a non-violent solution to nationalism and secularization by the creation of an Islamic state made up entirely of moral and spiritual beings devoted to upholding divine law. Maududi believed it is dangerous to get caught up in national or personal agendas and that people should insead focus on being spiritually moral rather than opportunism or impure education. His intent was to spread these beliefs through influential community leaders and education.

The threat of extremist Islamic fundamentalists is very real, however, sweeping generalizations have caused for widespread misconceptions. Counter-arguments to anti-fundamentalists should occur to the extent of establishing that not all fundamentalists, not all Muslims, and not all Muslim fundamentalists are violent and oppressive. Just like in every other religious tradition, there are moral and immoral people who all believe their actions are justified through their beliefs.

Hindu Fundamentalists

Like fundamentalists of all other religions, Hindu fundamentalisms main goal is to establish a Hindu state, free from the toxic influence of secularization and modernization. This manifests in a range of organizations from the BJP, a dominant political party which has held government power, to the Hindutva, a grassroots Hindu nationalist movement.

There are Hindu Fundamentalists groups that practice violence, for example, the BJP or Bharatriya Janata Party. This group is a political party that established dominances in 1995 with high-caste Hindu nationalists occupying a majority of government from 1998 to 2004. In terms of ideology, the party is in support of a militant to enforce a Hindu India and repress secular government favor of Islam. The BJP is unable to publically enforce violence such as the destruction of a mosque that resulted in riots and the murder of Muslims, however their political power is used to avoid punishing Hindus acting violently in the name of Hindu Rashtra or the Hindu State. Responses to anti-Hindu fundamentalist attitudes must take into account that political groups pushing for an all Hindu state when a portion of the country is Muslim are dangerous when given power. There is no easy way to argue for a government that is able to keep violent anti-Muslim Hindus innocent while enacting policies to drive out or disproportionately condemn innocent Muslims for the sake of creating an all Hindu nation.

However, there are elements of Hindu fundamentalism that can be argued are beneficial and are creating important social changes in India. Womens agency within Hindutva is one of these elements. The RSSa is a Hindutva women’s movement that credits itself with providing liberation and agency to women. Women in these organizations work to fulfill their Stridharma, duty as women, which often involves becoming educated and being a leader both at home and in the community. Women are seen as daughters of Bhara Mata, mother India, which has major implications on a women’s role and power in society, giving them the freedom to become socially engaged even after marriage. While typically, once a woman is married it is her duty to serve her mother in law only, giving women the title of daughter of Mother India gives them a higher purpose and the ability to become socially engaged outside of their husbands home. Organizations like the RSSa place a focus on embracing femininity and strength, their Shakti, and push women to reach the full potential of their power or Matrishakti.

Giving power to women is not a factor people typically associate with fundamentalism. While this does not negate the violence enforced by these groups, the social progress that arises from the grassroots Hindu nationalists movements is a counter-argument against those who are strongly anti- Hindu fundamentalist. It can also be argued to those who are specifically against Hindu fundamentalism that this religion utilizes the same fundamentalist ideologies that all other religions do but seem to insight much less violence in the name of these ideals. In the end, the ideologies of fundamentalists is what makes them dangerous, so the extent of arguments are limited to diminishing the threat of Hindu fundamentalists in comparison to other fundamentalist groups, not justifying the fundamentalist thought-process as a whole.