Psychoanalyzing Fundamentalism

This is an article about a book that studied fundamentalism.

Here is some interesting highlights:

These four basic beliefs are great ways to ground discussion of religious fundamentalism. The first example is key to understanding the fundamentalist psyche. The second fractures the identity and reveals an intimate dualism that begins within and extends to the external world. The third explains the fundamentalists regard for other people. They are either fellow believers or objects for possible conversions. The fourth is perhaps the most frightening of all, it is suggested later in this piece that Endism is an expression of Thanatos.

Here is the section that first peaked my interest:

Here is an interesting passage on method:

This passage brings this analysis into an examination of the form of fundamentalism. This enables us to understand a general form that is found in the practicing fundamentalists.
This form does not restrict itself to religion:

Here is a critical point:

The author does not wish to focus on the pathetic phenomena but instead looks to the strong, powerful, and intense expressions of valuation. I think this is a quite necessary. Painting a picture of fundamentalists as crazy, needy, and ignorant is sorely off the mark.

Here is where I begin to doubt the writer a little bit. I do not think religion is mass psychosis, that is an extremely negative spin on a phenomena that is quite intimate to human life. I think the universe holds many mysterious and unknowns, religious interpretations of those mysteries and unknowns should not be dismissed with psychoanalytic condemnation:

The first of the four basic fundamental beliefs is literalism. It is my personal belief that literalism is in fact only a dense experssion of Western Cultures logocentricism. Anyway, here are some highlights:

Simplicity is a necessary precursor to dualism. It is this uncritical attitude towards the self and knowledge that drives me crazy. Religious certainty isn’t nearly as interesting as philosophical agonism.

The fundamentalist form is a form at rest with its self and its ideology. It does not wrestle with god nor does it ponder complexity:

Binarism or dualism is the result of this simplicity:

Holy crap, this is long… Okay a short reference to the rest of the core beliefs:


And, Endism:

And in conclusion:

Hi NabberGnossi,
It took some time but I finally got to the Link you had posted and read the whole article. Effectively it is Davis writing about Strozier’s book ‘Apocalypse’ and applying a psychoanalytic method to describe the ‘inner world’ of Christian Fundamentalism in America. It is interesting reading, even if it supports much of what I know from experience - both with fundamentalistic groups and with psychoanalysis.

It is important that Davis didn’t want to launch any hate-campaign, but give an explanation that would help these people understand themselves. It isn’t surprising that psychoanalysis is suspect in such circles, since you only have to open up the basics of psychology to find textbook examples of everyday occurrences in such circles. Davis’ article gives us those examples.

It was however also interesting to read why I have often had difficulty when explaining metaphors and coming into conflict with the literalism of these people. The accusation that I spoke ‘gobbledygook’ is only too understandable, when the world has to be simply explained in polarities (binaries) and there is no room for complexities. In the discussions we’ve had here, we have often found that evangelicals are willing to get their mind around subjects that are non-committal, but when it comes to showing colours, they return straight back to their black and white view of the world.

The explanation of what the idea of ‘conversion’ does to somebody was also revealing. Instead of coming to terms with their ‘dark side,’ it is something they envision as being completely under the control of Jesus and therefore faded out. They are a new creation that only has to avoid anything that could bring that dark side into view and by autosuggestive prayer protect themselves against ‘Satan’ then they can keep up their smiles and optimism ‘Jesus loves me!’

This polarity is then even in their own lives, let alone in the outside world. It approaches what we call ‘neglect’, only it is something that these people try to impose upon themselves rather than something that stroke patients suffer. It explains to that outsiders are completely unable to understand the mind-set of such groups until they have been inside.

Of course, evangelisation is just the ritual that is a ‘psychological need’ to keep this illusion in place. It is a projection of the condition they feel in themselves upon others, completely disregarding the intellect and moral integrity of the people they are trying to convert. In that way you can understand that evangelisation is done for their own sake, not to ‘save’ others. The drive is essentially self preservation, on the one hand for themselves (which they shut out) and on the second hand to keep their movement going.

But what Davis describes as a real cancergrowth is the “apocalypticism” that isn’t always fully active in fundamentalist circles, but always latently at hand. Those who are fully fledged ‘apocalypticians’ reveal a distaste for a complicated world of worries and insecurity and long for it to pass. It is essentially a yearning or Sehnsucht for death and ressurrection, which suggests that there is a hate in their hearts that they are trying to supplant in believing in a timetable that God has set.

Of course, the pre-occupation with the sexuality of others is just the projection of their own problems in an area where their ‘dark-side’ is always present. It isn’t that God is interested, but that my own sexuality is continually telling me that I am not literally a ‘new creation’ but very much the old creation and as carnal as anyone else.

Perhaps the article or the book could help someone know themselves better. It is at least worth a read.


I always get uneasy when psychology attempts to deconstruct religion. Too often their views of what’s reasonable are politically motivated, and they tend to start at a conclusion and work backwards from there. At any rate, when certain veiws are determined to be neurotic, incorrect or delusional, one has to wonder how long it will take them to define such “wrong thinking” as mental illness. Recall that at one time homosexuality was considered a disease by the AMA.

As a science, psychology is in it’s infancy. And I feel it’s much less objective than, say, physics or astronomy. There’s a lot of wiggle room, plus a lot of room for ones own beliefs to color ones research. First fundamentalists (or perhaps ‘religious extremists’ would please them more) come under fire. Then who’s to say eventually anyone who’s religious becomes an extremist. Then everyone who’s conservative. Maybe anyone who’s gay?

So long as it’s just research, I guess that’s fine. When they cross the line into social engineering, then it’s time to worry. IMO everyone has a right to adhere to any belief they want, no matter how wacky it may seem to me or anyone else.

Hi Phaedrus,

I think you are fighting a paper dragon here. We are already where you indicated that the article could take us. Homosexuality is at least a ‘disorder’ for evangelicals, if not worse. It is of course disturbing when the most powerful leader of the world is a fundamentalist, but as I indicated, these things are everyday occurrences for someone who ‘grew up’ in such circles and then took up a profession that forced him to widen his horizons.

If you read the article you can see that it is politically motivated - but does that mean it is wrong? And if this would apply, do you apply it to the other side too? How much covert manipulation is going on already - this kind of open opinion is harmless by comparison. Dubya regrets that he spoke out what he thought - not what he thought! So does this mean he’s now going underground with what he thinks?


I’m not really speculating on the politics of that particular story, but rather the field in general. As for whether having an agenda makes it less true, well- obviously yes. Anytime you allow a political agenda to dictate to science, you’re introducing errors. Science must be guided by facts and facts alone- politics and science are a very poor mix.

Bias bothers me. One disturbing trend I’ve noticed is that Christian beliefs are being mocked and persecuted by the media of the West while Islam is being lauded. It smacks of apologism and appeasement to me.

It’s a real shame that politics has a tendency to just take intellect, common sense and respect completely out of the discussion. When we lower ourselves to the point where me marginalize and minimize those with whom we disagree (for instance, when we can’t even be bothered to have enough repect to call someone by their name and resort to using titles like “Dubya”), we do a grave disservice to the subject.

Again, the real issue: is being religious in and of itself a mental illness? And who will ultimately decide? And if a world view can be determined to be a mental illness, what other types of thinking might society decide is wrong? This is especially troublesome in an era when genetic engineering might actually allow us to meddle with these traits.

If we identify the gene that causes, say, MS or CF, who would disagree with “fixing” it (okay, many would fear genetic manipulation, but let’s assume for the sake of argument that the process is 100% safe and effective). Blindness? Who wouldn’t want to cure that. What if we had a gene therapy we could apply to an embryo to render it immune to cancer? Again, there’d no moral downside to that.

But what about a gene for criminal behavior? Perhaps we’d agree that some very specific gene that leads children to grow up as sociopaths, many would agree that altering the gene would be good. But what will constitute “criminal” behavior? Would be engineer out other “undesirable” traits? Agression? Dishonesty? Will the State have the authority someday to engineer “wrong think” out of people? If so, you’d better hope your political party is in charge. :wink:

How about going a little further? What if we could engineer people to get rid of homosexuality? How about left handedness? What if we could alter the genome to get humans of only one race, stripping color and ethnicity out of us? None of these things would “harm” anyone in the strictest sense, and would get rid of bigotry and predjudice. Would that be simpler than looking for the genes for bigotry and predjudice? In any event, if either could cure the discrimination, which course of action would be taken?

Okay, I’m taking this pretty far afield, I’ll admit. My point is just that when you let a subjective area of science/pseudoscience dabble in social engineering you’re asking for trouble. And whatever social ills religion causes is probably better than opening Pandora’s Box and trying to get rid of religion.

I agree with this, but I also see no clear way for it to be avoided: science very often costs great sums of money, and requires the efforts of people who are dedicated enough to [i]something[/i] to put in years of schooling and longer years of tedious work.  Isn't that just a breeding ground for bias of all sorts?
I think the idea of religious belief being a mental illness can't be handled by psychologists, because it involves a couple presuppositions that are out of their league:  In order for religious belief to be considered a mental illness, it must be assumed that religious beliefs are false. And not just technically false, like determinism or libertarianism may be technically false. But rather [i]obviously and trivially[/i] false, such that we are justified in thinking there is something wrong with the believer (beyond just being incorrect, I mean).  How could one even begin to argue that, in the face of what's around us? 
    The only alternative would be to seperate 'being religious' as a disorder from any particular beliefs themselves, and have it tied up instead with the reactions to those beliefs.  In that case, believing the tenets of Christianity would be fine, but if those tenets drove one to pray, or worse yet, to [i]evangelism[/i], medication could be prescribed. 


That’s pretty much what I was getting at, but you put it a lot more succinctly than I was able to. That determination is not possible to make by science.

Well, when it comes to philosophy, there’s maybe 3 things I can talk about without sounding like a complete fool. This just happens to be one!

Hi Phaedrus,

well congratulations, you have managed to take the attetention away from the subject. My reaction to Nabbergnossi was to confirm that the article supported much of what I have experienced in such groups, even though these groups were in Germany and not in America.

Uccisore has had an opportunity to avoid the issue - again - which is probably the saddest part of your reaction.


I don’t think we got too far off the path, Bob. But if I’ve steered off topic, then accept my apologies. No attempt at changing the subject was intended- you’ve probably noticed that staying on topic on an internet forum is often a challenge! :slight_smile: If you feel I’ve unduly hijacked the thread, please restate or reassert your point and I’ll let the thread be. :smiley:

Didn’t mean to spin off on a tangeant- I guess I got carried away. :blush:


Hi Phaedrus,
it’s OK - I was a little reactive anyway - I was off-line an couldn’t figure out why… after all my search it was the main telephone connection.

What appealed to me about the article was the explanation of Literalism, Conversion, Evangelicalism, and Apocalypticism in terms of behaviour patterns. These patterns associated directly with personal examples I have of the same phenomena which led to my spiritual realignment. The observations made in the article show how the whole evangelical syndrom has an effect on people - mainly increasing anxiety.

I actually took up my vocation as a care nurse for the elderly because of religious convictions and during my training I was explained by the Preacher that I shouldn’t pay too much attention to psychology. However, I found that much of what I was taught was confirmed by experience. I then proceeded to specialise in psychology and geronto-psychiatry, finding that there was a lot to be done to help the people suffering from psychotic disorders and dementia, helping them lead a ‘normal’ life.

Among many of the terminally sick and those with disorders were of course devoutly religious people whose reaction to their illnesses was influenced by their faith. The people who could let themselves ‘fall into the arms of God’ were generally people who were not followers of Literalism, Conversion, Evangelicalism, and Apocalypticism. They had a relaxed religious attitude and were at peace with themselves and with their fellow man.

Those who did adhere to Literalism, Conversion, Evangelicalism, and Apocalypticism were generally anxious and fidgety, some sought my counsel and were clearly quieter when I told them that they only need to trust God and all else was no longer an issue. However, the relatives who found out what I had said were often angry and proceeded to pray to overcome my influence. One of my nurses said it sounded like an ‘excorcism’.

The same too with people I have experienced in the groups around me. Anxiety dominated many sermons, warning the listeners that the world was the enemy. I was both a member of the mainline protestant church as well as the evangelical communities. My experience that people are not so aggressive was brushed aside by evangelicals and my sermon about love being the first command was met with annoyance. I was clearly against the literal interpretation of Revelations and landed in deep trouble. Finally, after being told I didn’t account enough for the devil, I left the communities and am now an elder in the Protestant Church.

The difference between European and American Churches seems to be quite big - in my Church there is room for a Mystic like me. In Evangelical Churches there is not. So you can understand why I was impressed with the article - despite it’s slant against Bush.


Okay, I think I understand a little better now. I was speaking more from a standpoint of human rights vs institutionized attitudes towards faith. I would have to agree with you.

I will have to say I’m an atheist. Perhaps not for lack of trying. :wink: In the end it wasn’t that I lacked faith, but that I just fundamentally never really believed in God at all. I have a great respect for those people with deep faith, bordering on envy. I sometimes wish I did believe in a Higher Power, but unfortunately I “know better,” so to speak. My defense of religion probably stems from that longing.

My parents are fairly devout Catholics, but certainly not Apocalyptic in their beliefs. I think they have a greater outward acceptance of their mortality than almost anyone else I’ve ever known. My “faith” in the ultimate emptiness of existance and the meanlessness of death was oddly comforting to me as a younger man, but the older I get the more keenly I feel mortality. This paragraph probably sounds a little darker than I mean it to, but it’s early and the ol’ brain isn’t working at peak efficiency. :wink:

I believe that even if, for the sake of argument, we concede that there isn’t any God and religions aren’t literally true, they still possess symbolic and ritualistic truths. And they have value. I’m not sure that humanity as a whole has reached a stage of “evolution” (again for lack of the right word) to get by without it. Schopenhaur’s assertion that in death we merely revert back to the nothingness from whence we came is not sufficient comfort for most people. So what if religion isn’t true? For many people it gives them a moral framework in which to contextualize their lives and place in the world, and a means of dealing with adversity and our ultimate morality. And of course, the agnostic in me readily concedes that I could be dead wrong- the ultimate truth of religion is unknowable to us, unless God breaks radio silence and reveals it to me.

Of course, you can talk to God all you like and people say that’s fine, commendable, even. But try to tell them he talks to you… :wink:

BTW, I’m no real fan of Bush, either. But bias is bias. I’m a Libertarian- I hold many conservative political views and many liberal social views. Above all, I value Constitutional Government like a priest values the Bible. That pretty much means I almost never agree with liberals or conservatives. America is in a sense almost in a (peaceful) civil war, with both ideologies battling for the “soul” of the country. I greatly dislike “liberalism,” but I also dislike the “neocons” attempts to remake the country along Biblical lines.

What is the point that I’ve been able to dodge, Bob? That you don’t like evangelicals, and that your reasons have to do with your personal experiences, and not the rationality of their arguments? That point has always been well taken, but I’m not sure how you want me to respond.
I’m not sure what it is I’m supposed to be moved by- really I’m not. From what I can tell, it sounds like you spent time going from community to community, preaching things that are clearly out of the mainstream, certainly counter to fundamentalism as you call it, and then when the fundamentalists tell you not to do it anymore, you seem to be pointing that out as evidence of something. But I’ve never been able to figure out what.
Honestly, there have been times where I wanted to get into a deep conversation with you, and not ‘dodge’ the issues you present, but you make your disdain for ‘people like me’ is so plain in each and every post you make, that I doubt it could be productive or even enjoyable. I make a point of not engaging people to whom I am scum.

Hi Uccisore,

I’ve just had a house full of them, so I think you are wrong on that count. It isn’t the people, it’s what they teach - and what result it produces. Those I had around today and the others who were otherwise occupied are young people who have painfully felt what Evangelical beliefs can lead to and consequently made contact with me long after I left their group. It is hard for them to change, but they have done over the last two years. Slowly but surely.

The points that you avoid are those in the article. Literalism, those things associated with Conversion, Evangelicalism, and Apocalypticism lead up a creek and unless the brainwashing is kept up, it doesn’t work out. As soon as people are able to break away and have a look at life themselves, they realise that they may have been living in an illusion that it is difficult to leave, having suddenly to cope with them complexities of life that had been faded out by evangelical teaching, but an illusion all the same.

I’d enter into a conversation with you, and I would not be abusive. However, I would tell you where I see evangelical teaching is abusive (in a subtle manner). I am quite a loving person really, except when I see people being hurt or written off - then I can become very angry.

Shalom (I mean it)

Well, I’ll start with this, then, Bob. I think what I said earlier in this thread is very relevant- much of what I see in the article needs the presupposition that religious fundamentalism (which as far as I can tell, just means ‘believing the things that the religion teaches are actually true’) is an absurdity. This is important because any human behavior, from religion to Scrabble, can psychoanalized, or broken down reductively. The negative elements creep in as a result of the attitudes the analyst had going into the project. Who would attempt a psychological analysis of liberalism, except for a devout conservative? Who would attempt a psychological analysis of capitalism, but a socialist? “Dubya”? “The reddest neck in the reddest state”? The author makes no secret of who he is, and through that, who his audience is supposed to be. I’m not a psychologist, but if psychology is science, then which peer-reviewed journals of record was this study submitted to, and what were the results? Has the APA published any comments on these ‘findings’?
That is the constant risk that creeps in when you judge people not by what they say they are, but what you suppose they ‘really’ are. Take my previous post in this thread as an example of that, if you wish.
Simply put, one can only look at religious expression as a ‘neurosis’ if we accept the presupposition that it is false. The only reason to refer to the fundamentalism as

Is if you [i]mean to say[/i] that it's foolishness, but wish to sound sophisticated. 
The problem here with this kind of work, and others like them, is that most people who would be critical of the conclusions wouldn't accept the unwritten assumptions on which it was based, and so, would never get around to addressing the actual points made.  On the other hand, anyone who agrees with the assumptions has no reason to be critical. Preaching to the choir. 

A final note here, who exactly is being psychoanalyzed in the end? What this paper really does (the excepts I’ve seen, anyway), is single out the elements of traditional religion that a certain group of people finds most distasteful or distressing, and find an explanation for them that appeals or ‘rings true’. In other words, he’s finding a pat way to disregard or marginalize a vast portion of human experience that does not appeal to his audience, in order to preserve an ideal or simplistic way of looking at things- the very thing he accuses fundamentalists of. His weapon of choice is neurosis and not hellfire, sure. Is it any wonder this article rings true to you, and not to me? He’s saying exactly what his audience wants to hear; violating the definition of liberalism he cites at the end, amusingly enough.

The uncertainty of knowledge does not negate the possibility of truth in one respect. I kindly submit that, barring a few differences, some minor, some major, one human mind can in fact know another.

If it couldn’t, then some in this thread must admit that they could not know what the writer of the original article intended, meant, or was saying, ultimately.

IMHO…The essence of this statement reveals the necessity of the author to establish an absolute certain level of facts within his own mind, that Christain fundamentalists come in one color, and it’s the color he designates. In this way he satisfies a primary psychological need to justifiy his otherwise unjustifiable position. He is obivously unaware that he is guilty of the very thing which he is attemping (unsucessfully) to expose. This is an awareness he cannot have since it is precisely the function of his belief structure that renders it unconscious. Psychologically he must engage this rational in an attempt to resolve a major conflict taking place within the battlefield of his mind…

Hi Uccisore,
sorry about the delay but life keeps on interrupting me whilst I take part in ILP.

That may be the stance that Davis takes, but I would claim that religious fundamentalism actually does show itself in the four areas that he wrote about. If we stick to the content and not let ourselves be disturbed by the motives, we may be approaching the reason I agreed with him. Perhaps it would be sensible for me to give my take on those subjects.

At first sight I assumed too, just like many evangelical Christians of our day, that we could take the Bible literally. In fact I did for a short while but was grateful for a friend and preacher who showed that very often literalism actually missed the point being made in the piece of scripture being discussed. Literalism goes off at a tangent and essentially can’t be maintained throughout the Bible. There are statements that evangelicals contextualise just like liberal theologians, which raises the question, why here but not there? The answer is that it suits the fundamentalist here but not there.

A prime example is where the Bible (taken as a complete work of the Holy Spirit) contradicts itself – especially where Jesus is aware of his mission to the Jews but not to the Gentiles (Matth.18 ):
15) And if thy brother sin against thee, go, show him his fault between thee and him alone: if he hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother.
16) But if he hear thee not, take with thee one or two more, that at the mouth of two witnesses or three every word may be established.
17) And if he refuse to hear them, tell it unto the church: and if he refuse to hear the church also, let him be unto thee as the Gentile and the publican.

Or have you seen Evangelists taking this literally?(Luke10):
3) Go your ways; behold, I send you forth as lambs in the midst of wolves.
4) Carry no purse, no wallet, no shoes; and salute no man on the way.
5) And into whatsoever house ye shall enter, first say, Peace to this house.
6) And if a son of peace be there, your peace shall rest upon him: but if not, it shall turn to you again.
7) And in that same house remain, eating and drinking such things as they give: for the laborer is worthy of his hire. Go not from house to house.
:sunglasses: And into whatsoever city ye enter, and they receive you, eat such things as are set before you:
9) and heal the sick that are therein, and say unto them, The kingdom of God is come nigh unto you.

I recall that the forms of evangelism I witnessed were not after this fashion at all. But by not doing what is stated here, you concede that not every statement can be taken literally. But if I or anyone else tells you that he interprets something allegorically or metaphorically, you maintain the truth is in the literal interpretation. That is where Davis is completely right: “to eliminate ambiguity and confusion one must attack its source. Figurative language. That is the danger that must be avoided at all costs because in place of the literal figurative language introduces the play of meaning.”

I understand that there is a fear of ambiguity, but by trying to eliminate it, you eliminate the most normal use of language and “…the literal in contrast puts an end to thought.” That is where you get the stereotyped answers to questions, the stereotyped behaviour, which is all understandable psychologically. I understand that these people have a need to belong somewhere, they want to “come home” out of a supposedly hostile world – something you have suggested many times. The point is that if you get out of your church and live next to people in underdeveloped countries, you will find that they are not immediately hostile if they feel someone is trying to understand them. And I have experienced Buddhists listening patiently to Christians because Christians have listened patiently to them and not dogmatically protected themselves from any fascination that arises.

The assumption that the Bible is inerrant puts a lot of strain on scripture and especially upon figurative speech. It attempts to take away the language of man and put the inspired and inerrant word of God in it’s place. Even Paul’s outbursts of anger and cursing have become sacred speech – something that would probably turn him red if he knew.

I’ll be back with the other parts shortly…



Until Bob get’s back… let me jump in here. I did not find Davis’ article or Bob’s comments to be anti- christian. You may be leery of the methodology as was Phaedrus, but the explanations I saw given match up with the fundamentalist’s acting out I see on a constant basis.

Do fundies have a mental illness? How else would you explain a ‘christian’ minister justifying the terrorization of doctors who perform abortion? Have you looked at any of the anti-abortion websites? It’s enough to make a christian blush.

Consider the current wave of gay hating going on in the fundamentalist churches. They’re ready to push for a constitutional amendment banning gay marraige!

Just at the holidays there were ministers standing in their pulpits encouraging their flocks to boycott any business that didn’t proclaim Merry Christmas.

Do you remember Jerry Falwell advising the whole world that the spate of hurricanes suffered by Florida was God’s punishment for the iniquities of the people living in Florida?

This isn’t psychoanalysis, this is how leaders in the fundamentalist churches act out their beliefs.

I don’t know how else to explain such irrationality, but ‘bunch of sick puppies’ comes to mind. Excuse me for sneering. :smiley: Nah, on second thought, don’t.

I have and will continue to defend those christians that seem to understand Jesus’ admonishment to “love one another”. Many, or perhaps even most, of the christian churches (except here in the states) at least try to be inclusive. Only the fundamentalists are at war with the ‘devil’ and spread their exclusive hatred are far and wide as possible.

Hats off to anyone who even take’s the time to try to understand and explain what these people are about.