Psychoanalyzing Fundamentalism

If there was something my German evangelicals loved, it was a good conversion story. Since I am a little gifted with the ability to tell stories well, I was invited all over to tell my story. At the time, nigh on 20 years ago, I was pleased to be accepted. I was away fom home and eager to find some people with whom I could talk. My wife was very sceptical of all of this but she loved me and so patiently accompanied me.

It was very easy to adapt to the good and bad polarity, even if it placed people I respected and even loved on the wrong side of the fence. Your only had to add the comment that God is merciful and the world was OK again. But it became hard to keep up once I started in Care Nursing. The consequences of the teaching I had recieved put the old and those suffering from dementia on the other side of the fence - and it put me at odds with what I had learned from German history. It had enabled me to see the Prussian influence in Nazi Germany, dragging people along in a fashion not unsimilar to my days as a soldier, unwilling but caught up in a collective madness. If I could find forgiveness, wouldn’t God also forgive?

Shortly after this conflict I met someone I was quite drawn to intellectually. He was studying Philology at our University and seemed to be a genius in Greek and Hebrew. The only problem was that he was a Jew. We had long evaded the issue that threatened our relationship, concentrating on the OT, the Tenakh, discovering wonderful literary jewels. We laughed at the satirical story of Jonah, we peeled off the various layers of Job. But one day we stumbled over Isaiah, who I interpreted christologically. My friend as very patient, and showed me many things about the three Isaiah’s, helped me understand how he interpreted Isaiah - and it was plausible. He said he understood that Christians adopt many prophecies to underline their claims - he could even imagine how it came about. He wasn’t angry at Yeshua, after all, it was his followers, not Yeshua himself, who had persecuted his people throughout hundreds, even thousands of years.

Could this man be going to hell? He would never convert, but was as gentle as a lamb himself. My brothers at church were completely out of themselves. In a scene that obviously angered two of my ‘brothers’ they proceeded to shout me down, literally, in a manner that I had experienced with a drill sergant, but not expected in the church. I said nothing and even remained a while, but it was the beginning of the end. It was also the beginning of an undestanding, that people can have good reasons for not becomming a Christian - how can people know that they have to believe in Christ, not the Christians, if Christians have killed their family? And if they can’t believe, would they then go to hell?

Conversion suddenly becomes questionable if you review the millions of lives of people who have been confronted with the wrong kind of Christianity, who have converted and then slaughtered in mistrust.


Depends on what you mean by anti-Christian. If you mean hostile to Christianity, then yes, Davis’ comments were not necessarily that. However, they are ‘anti-Christian’ in the sense that they are based on the assumption that Christianity is false.

I would explain it by saying that that person actually takes it seriously when it is said that 'Abortion is Murder', and does not compartmentalize their thinking when they consider this stance. If a person [i]really believed [/i]that an abortion was a murder, than terrorizing abortion clinics would be the most sane thing they could do. 
My God, the nerve of these people (Did you forget who you were talking to)!! The problem is truly widespread, for it seems that anywhere similar bills are proposed, they are passing. We are in great need of larger clinics, for is seems over [i]half the country[/i] is suffering this neurosis. If you want another explanation, consider this:  How we judge people is determined in part by how they are, and in part by how we are.  You are obviously aghast and astonished that pro-life, anti-gay people can exist in such numbers, and completely unable to fathom how a sane person could believe the way we do. Did you ever stop to think that maybe that's [i]your[/i] problem?
It ought to at least give you pause for thought that it's taking a narrow-minded, pig-headed conservative such as myself to point this out to you. But if you're convinced it's just the neurosis talking, here's a second opinion:

You seem to have forgotten I'm not one of your anti-Christian bar buddies laughing with you at all the stupid people. When you sneer at the 'sick puppies', you are sneering at my mother, my late grandparents, and most of the people I knew growing up. If you can't be more cordial to the opposition, please don't talk to me anymore. 


I'm not much  of a literalist myself, so I understand this, and I also understand how frustrating it can be arguing with someone who insists that the world must only be 6.000 years old, for example. What I don't see is the need to 'discover' that there is something [i]wrong[/i] with these people- beyond being incorrect, I mean.  You can couple this incorrectness with a dash of stubborness, general ignorance, and fear of the unknown- [i]in individual cases.[/i] I used to be a literalist, and if I take you correctly, so did you. Do you feel like you were cured of an illness, or do you feel like you went through a process of education? It's definately the latter for me. 

That is the first reaction- if we take some parts of the Bible as metaphor, why not take it all that way, argues the fundamentalist. And we have to admit, there are some published interpretations of the Bible out there that give creedence to this point. I have come to believe that the text itself shows us what to take literally, and what not to. Jesus going before Pilate- I see no reason to take that as a metaphor, if it didn’t really happen, then the Bible is just incorrect. On the other hand, the first creation story of Genesis is clearly (to me, at least) a poem- ‘correct’ or ‘incorrect’ are difficult to apply to something like that.
I’ve gone through a phase where I would have agreed with this article entirely. When I first started studying philosophy, almost immediately many of the things my friends and family believed seemed far-fetched, incredible. Reasoning with them was like reasoning with a brick wall, and I began to wonder if there wasn’t something wrong with these people. But then, as I participated a little more in philosophy, I discovered that outside the walls of Christian fundamentalism there were Berkelian Idealists, nihilists, anarchists, and many others who seemed at least as obstinate or ‘out there’ as the fundamentalists, though in different ways.
One of the first principals of philosophy is charity, and if I sought out psychological explanations for every belief system I thought was ludicrous, I’d never get around to interacting with any actual arguments. I am in no wise a psychologist, so I cannot say whether or not discovering the ‘hidden motives’ behind people’s belief systems is of value, or if it’s an objective enterprise. What I can say with certainty, is that from the perspective of a philosopher, it’s just a very elaborate ad hominem.
I’ll follow this up, and read over your thoughts on Conversion once I’ve cooled down a little from some other business I had to reply to. I’m sorry if some of my strained tone carried over to my exchange with you.


OK. Let’s take it from the top.

Davis doesn’t say anywhere that christianity is false, nor does he infer such. What he does say is that fundamentalist so-called christians twist their religion into forms to support some rather unhealthy personal needs.

The fundamentalist who truly believes that abortion is murder issue: I only mentioned the mildest reaction. That same fundamentalist who threatens violence in an effort to intimidate doesn’t seem to have any limits. From justifying intimidation he goes on to justifying fire bombing of clinics, and finally justifies the killing of doctors. All this in the name of, and for the glory of God? Please feel free to accept this rationale as ‘sane’ if you want. I"ll continue challenging the attitudes that make such acts ‘reasonable’.

A constitutional amendment banning gay marriage: I do hope that you remember that we live in a pluralistic society that attempts to protect the rights of all its’ citizens. In short, I don’t have to agree with the way you live, I’m only responsible to see that you have the same rights and freedoms that I enjoy. Your private practices are none of my business.
Further, I do hope you enjoy living in a society that governs by rule of law and not just whatever happens to the majority opinion of the moment. Remember reading about prohibition? There was an example of the worst sort of morality law gone bad. They certainly had a majority, but they failed to find consensus, and the rule of law was tarnished by this experiment. Regardless your position on the ‘sanctity of marriage’, do you really want a law that permanently creates a layer of second class citizens? Yes it’s my problem alright. Watching that many people loudly proclaim their belief in democracy trample it underfoot to protect their version of morality is disgusting.

Finally, here’s a flash for you. I don’t have any ‘anti-christian bar buddies’, and you seem to have missed something really important. This isn’t about you, or your family. It’s about the anti-christian fundamentalist christian arrogance and hate mongering. Of course, if you identify with this, then it’s your problem.


I think an important thing to remember is that the notion that all people with fundamentalist beliefs are psychotic is wrong. In order to believe this, you must maintain a strict Reason/Madness division. This division is does not work for me and I feel that it doesn’t fit in society either. Reason is not an objective standard to judge behavior and madness is a label used in all sorts of exclusions.

I do not hold that Fundamentalists have a neurosis or anything like that. I do think that their fundamentalists beliefs do lend themselves to an interpretation of some basic needs. I think this article is useful in that it identifies specific operations within fundamentalist ideologies. This should not be used to suggest that these people are all insane or should be exluded, rather, it gives us ways to understand them within the context of a social situation.

There is fundamentalists that will require physical resistance. These include: Islamic fundamentalism, violent anti-abortionists, abusive cults of many types, satanic cults and any religious group that decides religious fervor licenses violent action.

Most fundamentalists will require little action. There are some social justice issues that understand their thinking will help us develop strategies. There are many social rights issues that this article will assist in developing strategies.

Hi Uccisore,

On the other hand, the historicity of the story of Jesus before Pilate is questioned because of the length of the process, because of the illegality of the Sanhedrin meeting in the dark, because of the atypical behaviour of Pilate towards the crowd. You get the feeling that the story told here is bigger than the story of the trial of Jesus, it is the story of political power versus spiritual authority. It portrays the priorities of the world when in confrontation with the spiritual. By allowing nothing more than a literal reading, people lose a lot.

Yes, a poem is also “a verbal composition designed to convey experiences, ideas, or emotions in a vivid and imaginative way, characterized by the use of language chosen for its sound and suggestive power and by the use of literary techniques such as meter, metaphor, and rhyme.” But then again, think of how many evangelical Christians insist on taking it literally, precisely out of the reasons you have mentioned (“if we take some parts of the Bible as metaphor, why not take it all that way”). What is also disturbing to me is the radical way these views are often presented. But I think that this has to do with what you wrote here:

Which does suggest that extremist views are not restricted to Christianity, but doesn’t lead to exoneration of those views. It really shows that we have a lot more in common than at first sight.

I suppose that Davis just isn’t approaching the subject like a philosopher. He is just observing the behaviour of many (prominent) Fundamentalists and saying to himself, “I’ve heard that somewhere before!” It is this that makes me agree with him. Psychology isn’t so much about finding hidden motives, but it is about understanding people. Anyone who has had practical psychology taught him, which he applies at work, has difficulty switching off. Besides which, the reliability of professional observations encourage us to use our knowledge to understand people around us.


I'm not saying the story is beyond question: I'm saying that if it got the details wrong, then mostly likely it's wrong and that's that.  I'm not going to 'reach' for an explanation, or make excuses for the Bible if it's wrong, you know what I mean? 

Well, there’s always a ‘story behind the story’. If something has been kept around for people to read for 2,000 years, there must be more to it than just a record of events that happened. So yes, the Jesus/Pilate lesson has something to teach about political power vs. spiritual authority, no doubt. I think that’s independant, though, of whether or not the actual
event happened, and I think both are important to the Christian faith.

 People have a hard time understanding that when I say "Genesis 1 is a poem" I [i]don't[/i] mean to say "Genesis 1 is a bunch of bull".  People on both sides of the issue, fundamentalists and atheists alike, make that mistake. 
I feel the entire root of the problem here is this: Religion is something that drives nearly everyone to strong belief, but not to evaluation of those beliefs. The notion "If we take some parts figuratively, why not take it all that way?" is a perfectly reasonable question for someone who has a deep conviction that Christianity is true, but isn't an English major, or doesn't have the time/capability to read philosophy or theology. Religion is just weird because belief comes before understanding, and with most other enterprises, it's the other way around. 

By pointing out how common extremist views are, I’m trying to show that classifying them as a neurosis is wrong or at least counter-productive.

 I guess the point of difficulty here is that the 'understanding' seems to me to be a sort of marginalization. If you say that a person has a certain belief because of a deep-seated yearning for XYZ, aren't you making that belief illegitimate or undesireable in some sense? I know that if someone told me, for example, that I believed in God because my Dad was off working long hours and I needed an alternate father figure, the implication would be that I [i]shouldn't[/i] have belief in God, or that if I was thinking properly I [i]wouldn't[/i] have belief in God. Am I off the mark here?

Hi Uccisore,

Which is precisely where most objections come from. I observe many Fundamentalists grasping at belief in certain occurrences, instead of asking themselves what they are being told. For example when Jesus asks ‘Where is your faith?’ he isn’t asking where is their faith in him, but where is their faith in God, but it is immediately assumed that he is talking about ‘post-christ’ faith. If people were to mis-read other texts in the same way, their intelligence would be questioned.

Since neurosis is no longer in scientific use, but common in the vernacular, it refers to those mental or emotional disorders that have no apparent organic cause but which have symptoms such as insecurity, anxiety, depression, or irrational fears. This is in keeping with my own observations and could even be the cause of extremist views altogether.

Yes, I think you are off the mark. Nobody has put Fundamentalists on the couch, but there are certain observations that remind me of classical psychological teaching. As Tentative has already said, it is something that people who are not Fundamentalists observe and which Fundamentalists seem to be oblivious of.


That's because people of average intelligence and no education wouldn't [i]be reading[/i] texts as difficult as the Bible if it wasn't a religious text.  That's what makes the issue so complicated: Theology and the study of ancient literature are difficult topics, but [i]religion[/i] is something that everybody does.  Of course some of the mistakes fundamentalists make seem obvious to you, or obvious to me. But what does that say, other than we've put more time into the bookwork than they have? 
The problem there becomes defining 'extremist' such that all the people you want to condemn are included, but you [i]aren't[/i] included despite thinking so many people are neurotic. Or, even if you drop the personal implications, coming up with an objective definition of 'extremist' at all could be tough.  For example, 'extremist' suggests to me that the person's views are either uncommon or violent, and we're talking mainly about a group of people who are neither. 

Something that some non-fundamentalists observe, yes. Others are more than happy to concede that fundamentalists are just people with different, incorrect views, and don’t see a need for a deeper explanation.


In spiritual issues not only does belief come before understanding, but it may be that belief transcends our capacity to explain. Belief can be beyond language. I have no problem with personal belief, even if you can’t explain it to me. I can’t explain mine either.

My issue with fundamentalism starts with blind acceptance without any attempt to understand, and the villification of different beliefs, to the activist role of demanding that others conform to their beliefs. My argument isn’t with christian fundamentalism alone. It is with every form of extremist ideology where rational thinking is usurped by non-rational referents. The word of God or Allah has certainly been twisted into some malovent shapes hasn’t it?

We all have our private beliefs with or without understanding. But to push into the public an ideology that allow’s no questioning, only blind obedience, is wrong and should be challenged. Do I have disdain for fundamentalism? Absolutely. It doesn’t have anything to do with Christianity. The Bible is not a substitute for thinking.


  And here is the point. I'm not trying to argue you out of your disdain for other people's beliefs. What I'm trying to point out is, you need to make a choice between seeing the fundamentalist as a person like you who has made different choices and come to different conclusions, or as a person who has a mental problem.  Either option has consequences.  
 If you choose the first, it means you [i]must[/i] make some effort of seeing it from their side, and accepting that rational, intelligent people can have these crazy beliefs, if you want to have any real understanding. If you make no attempt at understanding, then you'll just be the equivalent of Anne Coulter for your 'side'.  
If you choose the second, then your above statement is incorrect. If the fundamentalist is like the schitzophrenic who thinks everybody but them is a robot, then you ought to give up all pretenses to 'challenging' them.  What on earth would be the point, other than to enjoy the sound of your own voice?  You need to give a person or an ideal more implicit credit than [i]that[/i] to even engage in discourse.


Did you really mean to say that rational intelligent people can have crazy beliefs? That’s my point and my bone of contention. It isn’t any of my business what someone’s personal beliefs may be. It does become my business when they push their beliefs into a public forum, particularly when they use those beliefs in an attempt to coerce my behavior.

I’m happy and pleased to be involved in any discourse based on reason. We have a lot of real problems that need real thinking. I am more than capable of looking at the other side of any rational argument and I’ve even been known to compromise once in awhile, BUT I have no patience with those who would quote their version of the bible or the quran and expect me to ‘buy in’ simply because they believe they’re telling me the “word of God.” So you see, I do understand. I wouldn’t want to comment on the intelligence of any fundamentalist, but rational? I also understand that there is no rational discourse with a fundamentalist. They, and they alone, have the way, the truth, and the light. They have no ability to entertain anything that raises questions of their version of faith.

Interesting that I should look at the world from their side to have understanding. What do you suppose would be the likelyhood of them looking at the world from my side? Fat chance.


My problem is this: who defines what a “crazy belief” is? The medical profession? The Church? The Government? What I consider crazy certainly may not coincide what you’d define as such.

As for interpretting the Bible, yes, that can be difficult, even for scholars. Take our own American constitution, for example. It was written only a couple centuries ago in our own language, yet look how much debate there is about what it says. American dialects of English have changed drastically since then, and that’s a relatively short span of time.

Now consider the difficulty of taking a book thousands of years old, that was also written over a couple thousand years. To understand it, we need not only to understand the language, but also what the language meant at the time. Compound the difficulty by trying to translate it into other languages that often have no literally equivalent word for something mentioned in the older texts and you have a recipe for misunderstandings and misinterpretations.

  Not necessarily.  I mean only to say this: You have to choose whether you think 'Fundamentalists' are merely stable people who have beliefs that are incorrect, much like people who believed in retrograde motion of planets, or if they are people who have some mental problem such that rationality isn't even a factor for them. Whichever way you decide has a huge impact on how it's reasonable for you to handle them.  For example, you can't say that you're willing to look at somebody else's point of view and reach compromise with that person, while you're [i]also[/i] saying that they are a 'sick puppy'. 
I also think you need to decide how you're defining 'fundamentalist', or if you've decided, express it a little better. Is anybody who believes Jesus was God a fundamentalist? Is anybody who is pro-life for a religious reasons a fundamentalist- or just the ones that advocate legislation against abortion? Or perhaps, just the ones that advocate [i]violence[/i] against abortion? 

So people who are extremely bad debaters are crazy, and they are crazy because you have no patience with them? If that’s not your point, then what does your like or dislike for certain folks have to do with anything? It’s starting to look like you just really really don’t like fundamentalists (for good reasons), and the idea of calling them crazy appeals to you out of spite. That’s the precise thing I’m trying to explain is bad.

Not to bring the conversation back to the article but here is the set of 4 beliefs that are key to fundamentalism:

I’m not religious, but that defination looks like the definition of “Christian” to me, not just Fundamentalist Christian.

Most Christians do not believe in the literalist notions of the bible. The conversion experience and evangelicanism are popular but Endism appears in many different forms.

How many Christians have you asked about that, NabberGnossi? I’m not so sure that literalism is that uncommon. Most Christians I know (which in my Red State home means most people I know) think that most of the Bible is literally true, even including Genesis. A good many believe it’s all literally true.

I’m not so much saying you’re dead wrong, per se, I only wonder how many Christians you’re close enough to to discuss this with.

I think the bulk of Christians believe Revelations describes the inevitable end of the world, but I agree that few “good” Christians think they know when it will happen. The Bible clearly says that not the angels in heaven nor the son, but only the father, know the day and the hour when the end will come.

lol… Another Red Stater? I live in Utah, the state with the most percentage points to dubya, highest religiosity and draconian liquor laws :frowning:

I think I might be a little biased because I live among mormons, who consider the bible mistranslated. I guess their literalism is reserved for the Book of Mormon…

You might be right. Most of the christians I interact with are also philosophy students, who are less likely to hold that the earth is only 6,000 years old. It is creepy to think that the majority of the US population is pretty sure Jesus will come to whipe out the rest of us.

I’ve read quite a few christian scholars who do not take revelations literally. I like this notion very much. There is something about being around people who are certain it will end soon that makes me nervous.

I think Mormons are fascinating. I once spent a summer working with a beautiful Mormon girl who was preparing for her Mission (can’t recall to where). I must admit the her descriptions of its tenants sounded a bit too “Dungeons and Dragons” for me, but it was interesting.

As an aside, it seems to me that the Bible would be the last book on Earth you’d study for literal truth. First off, what really is the Bible? It’s compiled from many many peices, each that was subjectively determined to be a “good fit.” For each part that was cannonized, there were books that were excluded. So really, isn’t the Bible a patchwork quilt of teachings, just contrived for convenience? And what is in the parts that were rejected? In truth, if we to do it all again, mightn’t some of those works possess as much merit as the parts that were included? (And no, I’m not particularly interested in the Gnostics and Da Vinci Code type stuff. Just tossing it out there).