Thought-provoking Compass on fundamentalism

06 Aug

Consider the following YouTube offering. It will offend some. The trouble is, it is largely true:

Last night Compass on ABC-TV ran Part 1 of a Channel Four documentary The Fundamentalists.

Mark Dowd travels across the world to trace the origins of fundamentalism and find out how it developed into the global phenomenon it is today. He discovers fundamentalists of all religious persuasions across the world – Christians, Hindus, Jews, Muslims and, unexpectedly, Buddhists…

Next week deals with the Middle East, including Jewish as well as Muslim fundamentalists. I got close and personal to a few Jewish fundamentalists when I worked in a Jewish school; the scary ones were a minority there, but they were scary in exactly the same way as the actual Muslim fundamentalists I have met personally, and of course Christian ones. The program rightly pointed to the fear at the heart of all fundamentalisms, the potent mix of nationalism and insecurity, the same rejection of threatening aspects of the modern (but not the technology) and the same rejection — which a lot of people share — of globalising trends. In redoubling their threatened identities and nostalgias in the face of challenges to what they see as core values they too often veer into what Amin Maalouf has so correctly labelled “deadly identity”. From the Channel Four site:

Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks says that today fundamentalism has a more menacing face; that anger against the world which is seen in black and white terms of good and evil becomes dangerous when allied with political power.

Mark Dowd describes Jerry Falwell as the most influential preacher in the USA. After the Ayatollahs came to power in Iran and the word ‘fundamentalism’ began to be strongly associated with Islam, his Moral Majority movement started to describe themselves as ‘evangelical’ instead. He and other american Christian fundamentalists believe that God is on their side and they see their mission as spreading the gospel and recruiting new Christians. A new 9/11 edition of the Bible with an American flag on the cover is distributed all over the world.

Author Karen Armstrong argues that to claim, as the fundamentalists do, that ‘God is on your side’ is to nationalise and provincialise God, which is blasphemy.

That mad Tennessee woman in the apron with a special integrated holster for her pistol and a bizarre range of “uniforms” is an image I for one will never forget. But at the same time not all US evangelicals are quite so crazy, there being a range of beliefs and attitudes even there which the program did not really explore. One thinks of Christianity Today and Sojourners, for example. One admires the quiet and humane work of a Charles Notess all the more in the context revealed in the Channel 4 program.

Still, a good doco. I will definitely watch Part 2.

NOTE: Now you can read chunks of Amin Maalouf — enough to get his drift — on Google Books: In the Name of Identity: Violence and the Need to Belong.

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1 Comment

Posted by on August 6, 2007 in Faith and philosophy, Films, DVDs, TV, Religion, Weird


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One response to “Thought-provoking Compass on fundamentalism

  1. James Russell

    August 6, 2007 at 11:26 pm

    the same rejection of threatening aspects of the modern (but not the technology)

    And this is the thing which always fascinates me about people like this. Having read (or, more accurately, failed to read) one of Julius Evola’s books recently, I was left pondering one thing about him. Evola is a big inspiration to right-wing Radical Traditionalists, and he advocated a return to the sort of paganism practiced under the pre-Christian Roman empire (he was Italian aristocracy). And yet how would he have managed to get his message spread to people without the sort of mass media technology that didn’t exist in the sort of traditional society he wanted to drag everyone back to? If he were still alive I’m sure he’d be maintaining a blog. Always amazing how selective these people can be when it comes to the perils of the modern world…

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