Posts Tagged ‘atheism’

At first, I decided against writing anything about That Fucking Cross, but this morning, as I was racking my brain for new and shiny things to do while procrastinating, I thought to myself, oh well, self.

Alors, on to the news from the land of cold, drizzling and unholy:

The most unfortunate of you might have had heard about the fairly recent fundie meltdown in Poland. Directly connected to the plane crash in which the president and a bunch of officials died, it’s a bastard child of misbegotten spin doctors, power-hungry politicians eager to exploit the alienated, the mentally ill and the marginalised for their own political agenda, and a bunch of creepy and/or mentally ill hate-mongers who actually believe in the bullshit they’re spouting.

In short, after the crash the Catholic scouts(1) put a cross in front of the presidential palace. Nobody minded(2) then because people were leaving all sorts of things in front of the presidential palace then: flowers, votive candles, and journalists. However, after everything went back to normal(3), a certain feeling of WTFery began to set in the cold little hearts of the Polish people, as they watched their telly and thought:

What the fucking fuck is this fucking cross doing in front of the fucking presidential palace? For fuck’s sake(4).

Or even the dreaded:

What the fuck, I thought this was a fucking secular fucking country? Fuck(4).

As a result of various considerations of this and similar nature, the local authorities decided they have to remove the cross from where the scouts had so thoughtlessly left it(5), and mow it down with a steamroller, and stab it several times for good measure, and maybe even stake it so Jesus never rises from the dead again.

Actually, no. They wanted to move it to a church, and they even had a procession of priests and scouts(6) eager to accompany it, but this is not what happened at all.

(Really, watch it. It has an old lady who tied herself to the cross. Seriously)

What happened is that the entire fucking state is apparently completely powerless when faced with the completely unmanageable rage of ~*a few dozen old ladies*~ (well, and maybe a couple of Neo-Nazis, too).

The cross is still standing, the completely crazy fundies cum Holocaust deniers cum NWO conspiracy theorists have been swarming around it day and night for several weeks.

This has caused several things:

1) on average, the Polish are crankier than usual; this is strongly correlated with the increased use of the word “fuck”, which is frequently triggered by the sight of crossroads, crosswords, cross-stitching and cross-examination,

2) on average, the Polish are more angry at the government than usual,

3) on average, internet memes are finding this environment to be very easy to flourish in.

On Monday, a crowd of reportedly 5000 anti-cross activists (sceptics, hipsters, anti-theists, pro separation of church and state, and trolls) who had been gathering on Facebook in the course of a few days went to make fun of the fundies. Photos!

signs: 1) Moscow pays me, 2) Demolish the presidential palace, it's blocking out the cross

They started at 23:00 AFAIR:

Lots of angry hipsters:

Hipster footage

They’re screaming:

– remove the presidential palace

– back to church

– take the cross back to church

– remove the cross


(The guy with the megaphone says that the law in Poland is being broken right in front of the presidential palace, which makes the whole country an international laughingstock(8). They are demonstrating, the guy says, to make fun of the fundies who are appropriating the public space. At roughly 1:53 a guy in a pope custume appears on a balcony FTW)

Hipster remix, apparently played in some clubs already (lyrics = “where’s the cross”)

One flash game parody, two flash game parodies.

You can put a cross on your website here.

And finally, today a random guy decided that he will sue the government because of the clear violation of the separation of church and state laws(9).

The thing is, this is not going to change anything at all. Not only the most conservative politicians, but usually even the self-proclaimed left-wing ones are coddling and accommodating the fundies no matter what crazy thing they decide to do, even though they’re an obvious (if loud and crazy) minority. The fundies are appropriating the public and symbolic space, bit after bit, and the public discourse, with the result that anybody who opposes them or criticizes them in any way is presented as a public enemy, traitor and possibly also a member of one (or more) of the many conspiracies the fundies believe in. The worst thing is that this sort of thinking has been slowly sneaking into mainstream media; most people will preface their criticisms of not even religion but religious fundamentalism with “I’M A CATHOLIC BUT” or “CATHOLIC VALUES ARE VERY IMPORTANT BUT”, and so on.

It’s cool that there’s a bit of rage, finally, instead of  the usual apathy, and hopefully in ten-twenty years, this rage might actually accomplish something. Meanwhile, as ever, the fundies can do what they wanna.

(1) There are also the regular, non-Catholic scouts so.

(2) I would have, but I’m observing this stuff from a safe distance, you see.

(3) It would perhaps be useful to point out that the Polish “normal” might be vastly different from what you’ve grown accustomed to classify as “normal”, JSYK.

(4) The Polish people like to swear a lot to show the sincerity and depth of their feelings. Also, in Polish the above sentences would display much more variation of profanity, respectively:

Co do kurwy nędzy robi kurwa pierdolony krzyż przed jebany pałacem kurwa prezydenckim? Żesz kurwa jego pierdolona.

Do kurwy nędzy, świeckie kurwa państwo.

Guys, I turned the diacritics on just for you. This is serious stuff.

(5) I think the time has come to finally say it: fucking scouts.

(6) Fucking scouts.

(7) Fucking scouts.

(8) Fucking late to be self-conscious now.

(9) Constitutional lawyers say he will most likely lose, because Polish law sucks like that, so it’s mostly about making a gesture.


Fundamentalists from religions that place an emphasis on the correct interpretation of a revelation in the form of a holy text tend to claim not only that their interpretation is the only correct one – but that their interpretation is the correct one because it’s literal, doesn’t involve any metaphorical readings and sophistry(1).

Very often those claims of literalism are taken at face value in the discourse about religion, usually not by scholars, by but activists, journalists and atheist bloggers.

This uncritical reception of facts provided by parties who are by no means objective, neutral participants in the discourse about religion – namely, the fundamentalists themselves – constitutes a deeply flawed approach to understanding the phenomenon of fundamentalism, and to fighting it.

1) Fudamentalists are selecting the parts of their holy texts they want to interpret “literally”; those parts usually support their anti-modern, absolutist, Manicheist, xenophobic stance. Have you ever heard of a Christian fundamentalist sect that chose to interpret Matthew 22, 37 literally?:

You shall love your neighbor as yourself.

There is no such fundamentalist sect. Quite the opposite, the fundamentalist sects will engage in all sorts of spurious sophistry to metaphorically explain this bit of the Bible away so that it doesn’t seem to be in contradiction with their plans of eliminating sexual minorities and subjugating women.

2) Fudamentalists’ literal interpretations are completely decontextualised and in fact false

Let’s consider the common stance of various fundamentalist Christian sects on homosexuality, namely that it is a sin, and that the Bible explicitly states that it is so. However, the Bible cannot possibly explicitly state anything at all about homosexuality, because it has no word for homosexuality in any of its many books. Even if there are some words that might or might not refer to homosexuality in the New Testament, there are describing a completely different phenomenon than the one we understand as “homosexuality” today. What the Bible says about homosexuality is:

(Leviticus 18:22) “You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female; it is an abomination.”

What it means in more modern terms is more or less this:

Two men having an anal intercourse is a bad thing, because if a man is penetrated by a penis that makes him a woman. A man becoming a woman, who is less of a human than a man, is a bad thing and a violation of a natural order. The natural order of things was established by God – therefore, anal intercourse between two men is an act of disobedience against God, and a sin.

Because women are unimportant, women having sex with each other are never mentioned. This isn’t because when the Bible says “man” it means “human”. Any such claims are ridiculous: in antiquity “man” meant “a non-foreigner who is male and who is not a slave”.

As in the example I provided, the process of constructing a typical “literal” fundamentalist interpretation looks more or less like that:

A. Picking the parts of modern ideology fundamentalists disagree with and want to fight against; this will be the things that they consider to be the biggest threat to the traditional, idealised way of life.

B. Re-defining them in modern terms and decontextualisation: they’re taking a stance against modernity not by ignoring or rejecting it but by actively opposing it; this paradoxically makes it necessary that modern terminology and vocabulary be included, at least as a point of reference.

C. Making a list of the things selected in B; this will be the list of fundamentals, the things that are especially important and interpreted “literally”, according to the members of the fundamentalist religion. As mentioned above, parts of the holy text that could be considered a threat to the literal interpretation of the fundamentals will be interpreted metaphorically, often with the help of seemingly sophisticated theology, which however will in the end be only the tool in the hands of a above-all anti-modern movement.

It’s extremely irritating to see atheist activists and sceptics being deceived by the claims fundamentalists make about their interpretations being literal. It’s quite certain that many of them sincerely believe that this is the case, this however, is not a sufficient reason to take them at face value; in fact, any sort of self-report, or claim about ideology someone is invested in should undergo a thorough scrutiny.

ETA: fixed typos ^^;;;;;;;;;;;

(1) Obviously, I will be only writing about the fundamentalisms that have holy text that are considered to be the word of the relevant god, and important because of it. However, it should be clear that not for all fundamentalisms, just for religions, the existence of such a holy text is necessary: a good example would be the Buddhist fundamentalism in Sri Lanka, or various Hindu fundamentalisms (this of course doesn’t mean they’re not using any texts at all, only that those texts are not considered to be the word of god(s) and consequently their interpretation and analysis is not accorded such a great importance as in the case of, for instance, Christianity or Islam).

The case of religious people who are unable to categorise stuff rationally, and demand that their beliefs be accommodated and supported by SECULAR state or the SECULAR educational system, that is, obviously,  creationists is widely publicised and widely known.

There are, of course, people in other professions for whom their religion becomes a hindrance, and who demand the accommodation of their beliefs, such as the pharmacists in the US who refused to sell contraceptives.

But. To this day(1) I was unaware of a linguist(2)  whose flaunting of their religion in a completely inappropriate manner lead to logical fallacies, wishful thinking and special pleading(3).


Anna Wierzbicka, I’d known you were religious even before I read any of your articles. The reason was:

1) Your book about Jesus

2) Somebody told me

This wasn’t, however, a problem, at least initially. I liked her articles about cross-cultural linguistics, I liked her book about keywords important in various cultures, and I found her arguments contra and pro (yes, both at the same time) prototypes  in Semantics: Primes and Universals well thought-out and extremely persuasive. However.

Is it really necessary to quote the Bible in every other example sentence? Seriously? Linguistics paper: it’s not the place for your confession of faith.

However! As usual, it got worse:

Referring to the use of the word ABOVE used in descriptions of social position and power, Wierzbicka adds:

“It is quite likely that the metaphorical use of the notion ABOVE with reference to people is universal, and that for example, the idea that God is “above all people” can be rendered, and be understood, in all languages.”

I’m so very glad (NO) that she supports the efforts of missionaries to convert the pagan (NO) masses all over the world (NO), especially in developing countries (NO and NO), but maybe the place to express her support is not page 136 of Semantics: Primes and Universals, chapter 3, Universal Grammar?

A bit earlier on, Wierzbicka discusses the use of the semantic primitive GOOD FOR which can be defined as:

This was good for me. =

because of this, something good happened for me

Well, I obviously can’t tell whether this definition is the best possible one with anywhere near 100% certainty (although I would actually lean towards it being correct), and I’d need some more time to think,  and people to bounce ideas off, but here’s what Wierzbicka writes:

But I don’t think that this analysis is valid. From a moral point of view, it may be important to distinguish something that is “good for a person” from “something good that has happened to a person”.

A feeling of acute WTF was accompanying as I read the above words, because for the last 130 pages or so  I was absolutely convinced I was reading a book about semantics not ~*morals*~. My bad!

For example, for many moral teachers it may be important to be able to say things such as:

When something bad happens to you, it may be good for you.

If good things always happen to a person it may be bad for that person.

A language which wouldn’t be capable of expressing such ideas could be regarded as impoverished, and we can hypothesize that all languages are capable of expressing them.

1. She should just give up the “moral teachers”. We all know you mean “Jesus”; obfuscation is futile.

2. “for many moral teachers it may be important to be able to say” is not an argument, it’s wishful thinking (I’m not saying that it’s not important for them, or that they can’t say what’s important to them; just that “it may be important” is extremely weak not-even-an-argument).

3. “a language which wouldn’t be capable of expressing such ideas could be regarded as impoverished” – well, a definition of “impoverished” in Wierzbicka’s idiolect would have to be something like:

Impoverished =

such that is doesn’t allow for making an argument that would contain or that would be based on a theodicy that is embraced by a part of an international Christian sect with whose views I personally agree

you can’t say what I want to say in a language

therefore this language is impoverished

its speakers may or may not want to say what I want to say

Otherwise, her value judgement would have to be  incorrect(4).

Cherry on top of the fail pie, from page 40:

Who created the world? – God

God is someone infinitely good and merciful

FFS STFU. This is only correct in the case of the interpretation offered by a particular Christian sect to which Wierzbicka belongs(5); there are many Gods who don’t fit the criteria she offers.

Be a good linguist, don’t flaunt your religion where it’s inappropriate.

(The whole post was actually prompted by an article about Christian bias in dictionaries, and the fail in my own dictionary that translated a completely neutral non-Christian term for an object of worship as “idol”. I’m collecting examples for a separate post at the moment, may Cthulhu eat them last — actually, not my examples, but people who are responsible for their existence in the first place)

(1) Metaphorically speaking.

(2) Well, I thought there was also this computational linguist guy who was a creationist, but: I forgot his name, and also, it didn’t stop from doing his job. As far as I remember, which is: not very far at all.

(3) To be fair: at least not in 20 century =______=

(4) There are in fact religions in which the problem of the existence of evil is not central, because, for instance, their god is not deemed to be omnipotent, or is not a creator, etc etc etc.

The whole argument is pointless in any case, because the Christian sects Wierzbicka is so eager to support can make words mean new things anyway.

Additionally, what I don’t understand is why she had to mention religious morality in the first place? There is folk wisdom stuff and proverbs that say stuff along the lines of “too much good is bad for you”, and mentioning those would seem much less like major case of special pleading, so.

(5) No, I have no idea which.

You haven’t misread. Indeed, it is Vox Day who indeed pontificates the benefits  the society can gain if it embraces the feminist ideology. I can’t blame you if you twitch a bit, and ask yourself quietly whether this Vox Day, the defender of feminism and women’s rights, can really be the same person who wrote this:

Consider the two great laments of the modern American woman. For the unmarried woman, it is the reality that she must marry later in life than ever before, if she is able to marry at all. For the married woman, it is that unlike generations of women before her, she cannot afford to stay home with her children unless she is fortunate enough to have married to a man of the financial elite.

Both of these developments can be traced directly to women’s rights. Men’s increasing unwillingness to marry stems primarily from two causes — the feminized family court system that transformed marriage from a mutually beneficial contract into a financial and emotional liability, and the removal of paternal responsibility for the sexual behavior of young women. Ergo, the need for marriage has been eliminated while its liabilities have increased. As Blue America and de-Christianizing Europe increasingly show, in the absence of religion there is now very little impetus for marriage. (source)

or that:

I have said before that calling a feminist a feminazi is an insult to National Socialism. Now, it is clear that even Mao, Stalin and Pol Pot are second-rate killers in comparison with Ms. Sanger, Ms. Friedan and Ms. Steinem. (source)

or even this:

Since only the woman who is not entertaining the possibility of sex with a man and is subsequently raped can truly be considered a wholly innocent victim under this ethic, it is no wonder that women who insist that internal consent is the sole determining factor of a woman’s victimization find traditional Western morality to be inherently distasteful. (source)

And yet! In Why women have to vote? Vox Day points out several important reasons for why they should:

1. Although he starts his initial argument very uncertainly, by cautiously mentioning that there is very little conclusive research done on how the women’s suffrage positively influence societies, he soon gives a long list of examples where women’s suffrage and women’s rights movement did influence societies positively. In any case, we think that Vox Day, not being an expert on feminism and sociology, as painfully  evinced by the above quotations, would benefit from studying the relevant literature a bit more closely.

2. Vox Day’s subsequently indicates that countries whose governments focus on the support of the capitalist system at the cost of personal freedom of their citizens often tend to have severe restrictions on voting and political representation, also of women.

3. In his next argument, Vox Day points out that the increased liberalisation, which often follows the recognition of women as full citizens by the state, has many a time lead to a sudden change of priorities for the better, such as more restrictive gun laws in Switzerland introduced 22 years after women’s receiving suffrage, in recognition of the obvious fact that one’s right not to be more likely to be shot is more important that one’s right to own a boom stick. This was accomplished at a relatively swift pace despite Switzerland’s long tradition of private militia.

4.  To quote this short passage in its stunning perceptiveness:

The opponents of women’s suffrage have been proven correct with regards to their predictions of a) increased divorce, b) increased abortion, c) sexual promiscuity, d) increased paganism.

This means that despite many pessimistic predictions, various women’s movements throughout the last two centuries did manage to fulfill many of those movements’ demands, and that we are, despite everything, progressing towards equality for everyone, regardless of their gender, sexual orientation, race, religion and class.

(I would also prefer Vox Day not to forget that lesbians and trans* women also are and have been part of the women’s movement in a way, although I don’t want to erase their, or rather our *own* accomplishments)

It’s always very heart-warming to see the efforts of many generations of women around the world recognised by a, hopefully, former opponent.

5.  Next, Vox Day quotes John Lott (unfortunately, his website is now defunct. I’m certain I’m not the only feminist who would have liked to see his brilliant analysis of our, let’s face it, epic win):

“The two consistent results were: allowing female suffrage resulted in a more liberal tilt in congressional voting for both houses, and the extent of that shift was mirrored by the increase in turnout due to female suffrage. The effects are quite large.”

The above words refer to the US situation, so the correct re-interpretation for Europe would be “social-democratic tilt in parliament voting”; this of course means that women were smart enough to recognise that anti-feminist political parties, such as the most conservative ones, are least likely to represent their interests effectively, and voted accordingly.

6. Finally, in the last attempt at hipster irony, a stylistic choice of Vox Day I tend not to value very highly, he amusingly mentions that:

Perhaps not all women are fascists at heart, but without their votes, few fascists would ever be elected.

Some readers who are less well-read than Vox Day may misunderstand his sophisticated irony, so I’ll try to explain: Vox Day is wittily alluding to the fact that under the fascist regime in Italy women were not allowed to vote;  they receive suffrage only in 1946.

Thank you, Vox Day.

(Link to the Vox Day post was found in the comments of this post.)

How to write a lot of words without making an ounce sense? How to be a complete jerk while at the same appearing to look benignly concerned and slightly offended?

Look closely, guys. Leon Wieseltier has a lot to teach you.

My adventure with Leon Wieseltier, of whose existence I used to be blissfully unaware until this morning, started, as usual, with a book. Wieseltier is, as it turns out, the author of the introduction to my newly purchased edition of Illuminations by Walter Benjamin(1).

Now, from three and a half pages of text by Wieseltier, I found that:

– Illuminations were fashionable among students when (presumably) Wieseltier was in school, also other things about Wieseltier that I never wanted to know, really

– That “His [Walter Benjamin’s] incompetence at ordinary living allowed him to see it more sharply”, an ultimately meaningless statement, accompanied by many similar ones

– And finally, this gem, which translates roughly to “people who don’t write about what I want them to write in a way I want them to write are failures as human beings”, a staggering display of reader entitlement, in its pure form seen only in the deepest recesses of the internets, where the fan fiction readers lurk in the shadows, waiting for their prey:

“These volumes may be read almost as a spiritual diary. They give a portrait of a pilgrim. But this pilgrim makes no progress, and his story at some point ceases to be stirring, and becomes alienating, and then crushing. It is not only the evil circumstances of Benjamin’s death that leave one with a gathering pity for him.”

Wow, how generous! Were you per chance trying to say that Benjamin should have found god like you did(2)? (3)

– Additional stupidity:

“His [Benjamin’s] infatuation with Marxism, the most embarrassing episode of his mental wanderings..”

Oh, really? Embarrassing? What, pray tell, is so embarrassing about espousing marxist views? Or is Wieseltier just mindlessly repeating what he must have heard many many times,  not having actually ever read Marx?

– Coup de grace,

“I confess that there are many pages in Benjamin that I don’t understand, in which the discourse seems to be dictating itself, and no direction is clear.”

This is important, because while I actually do believe that Benjamin’s discourse is usually completely clear, and while it is perhaps a wee bit embarrassing that a person who purports to be an expert in words in so nonchalant about being unable to understand them when they’re arranged in an order and provided with full stops and commas, this confession is not just Wieseltier’s false modesty and coquetry, and eye-winking to his reader, it isn’t — because misreading, misinterpreting is actually something Wieseltier does for a living a lot.

Apparently, people tend to notice his awkward to malicious fumbling from time to time, because his shoddy writing is shredded to pieces with surprising regularity. Despite that, the only thing that changes is the person doing the shredding; Wieseltier remains the same blathering nincompoop, his writing as devoid of any substance as before, his intellectual dishonesty as glaringly obvious as it must have been in the first sentence he had ever written.

Exhibit 1

Wieseltier called out on his bullshit in 2004.

Exhibit 2

In 2006 he writes a review of Daniel Dennett’s book. Among other things, it (the review, not the book, thank Cthulhu) contains such pearls of wisdom as:

THE question of the place of science in human life is not a scientific question. It is a philosophical question. Scientism, the view that science can explain all human conditions and expressions, mental as well as physical, is a superstition, one of the dominant superstitions of our day; and it is not an insult to science to say so.

Whoaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa. Easy there with all the wishful thinking, pumpkin.

(The review is duly mauled here <— the author could have used some more claws, though)

Exhibit 3

In 2008, Wieseltier, apparently having obsessed about Sullivan for more than a decade, completely fails to understand what Sullivan wrote(4), and accuses him of antisemitism. Mauling ensues (v worth reading; the author has his hearth and his claws in the right place — heart in a pocket, claws deep in Wieseltier’s flesh).

Exhibit 4

Two years later, emulating such worthy men as Captain Ahab, Wieseltier continues with his obsession about Sullivan, calling him the only name he knows, that is, anti-Semite. Actually, he’s got a little bit of point (see this article about Jewish exceptionalism), but it all gets drowned in a deluge of incomprehensible (not because of the thesaurus-tinged vomit, but because it. makes. no. sense) long-winded blathering. Also, the reason for Sullivan’s idiocy is not antisemitism, but his fucked-up religious views.

It might be also worth mentioning that Wieseltier spouts incredible amounts of barely comprehensible religious (or at least I assume it is religious; other religious people in the second Sullivan debacle tended to be at least as puzzled as  I am) stream of consciousness (at least I assume it is; otherwise it would be very difficult to explain).

There’s also Wieseltier’s piece on humanities here, which is, as far as I could brave the gigantic paragraph of doom, was made of  brain death and gorilla poo.

Guys, I read so much drivel today just to warn you. Don’t waste your time on Wieseltier, it’s not worth it(5). I’m going to read Stefan Zweig now, to rid my literary palate of the Wieseltierean scribblerish aftertaste(6).

(1) The reason why I’m reading Illuminations, and why I’m reading them in English when I’m in Germany, so DUH, there’s an overabundance of original German editions in all sorts of bookstores, is uninteresting and irrelevant.

(2) This article should be approached with caution. I read and read and read, and waited for the author to stop fellating Wieseltier, already, but HE NEVER DID.

(3) Benjamin wasn’t an atheist; his sort of religion, though, might not be enough for Wieseltier.

(4) Full disclosure: I actually strongly dislike Sullivan for his inability to parse that haven’t been a persecuted minority for over a millenium and a half, and also for his demands that the state support his religious morality (see his stance on civil unions). Also, lol, conservatives.

(5) Actually, it’s a lie. I kept reading to accumulate enough hatred to motivate me to write at least 500 words. Success!

(6) This is, I am certain, how Wieseltier would have written the senstence. I hope you enjoyed your painful visualisation.

A couple of days ago, I saw Dan’s post of a Ayaan Hirsi Ali video, in which she was explaining that the willingness of fundamentalists to kill people cannot be only blamed on their destitute situation (for two reasons: 1. not all of the fundamentalists who become terrorists are poor, 2. not all poor people become terrorists).

My immediate reaction was that of scoffing ‘well of course she’s right’, but actually I was  being overly dismissive again. Because that bad economic situation contributes to radicalization of many people’s political or religious beliefs is an intuition many people have, and one I would have had not so long ago.

(Fun fact: I feel I cannot any longer deny that I’m a learning machine. I tend to forget things like:

– paperwork,

– wallet,

– where I left the keys,

but I usually remember things like:

– when firefighting was nationalised in the UK (1865)

– where the wife of Salomon Maimon finally caught up with him, after he, to all intents and purposes, abandoned her with a child (Breslau)

– why a word with short vowels receives plene writing in Akkadian poetry sometimes (because it’s the accented part of a question).

I have a great memory, but my priorities are wrong, all wrong.

Another thing is: after learning a new thing I tend to immediately forget that there was a time I didn’t know it. A “new” information only stays “new” for a couple of hours or so.  Which is why everything always seems obvious-old-news all the time to me. Whence the dismissiveness.)


The intuition that “poverty causes people to become terrorists” is a bit true in that poverty may indeed spur a poor Pakistani political science graduate to join a fundamentalist organisation like Jamaat-e-Islami (it is now a more respectable political party) in hopes that it will lead to a creation of a just Islamic state, in which he or she would no longer be poor. The problem is that he or she has to believe in the just Islamic state and its power to make all wrongs right in the first place.

It is the quite obvious that poverty is not what causes fundamentalist movements to form. What happens instead is the following:

A  religion that was heretofore taken for granted is confronted with another (foreign, new, reformed) religion. As a result, the religion that to its believers appeared simply obvious and natural becomes the object of intense reflection  and deliberation, and is for the first time questioned. Eventually, the religion that was before natural and obvious, is defined, standardised and juxtaposed with the new or other or foreign religion.

This is in fact not just a religious phenomenon, it’s perfectly observable in culture and language (standardisation, anyone?). This is in fact  how people adapt to modernity or westernization.

Of course, many different concepts and definitions arise as the result of the reflection and deliberation process. Unless there is such a dominant power involved that could easily impose its own definitions, multiple definitions are allowed to exist. Some of them turn out to be fundamentalism.

If the new, or foreign, or other religion becomes, to put it succinctly, the evil twin of the newly-developed-old religion, we get fundamentalism.

A close observation of numerous movements allowed to create a definition of fundamentalism as having the following characteristics:

1. Moral absolutism

2. Manichaeism, understood as the belief that there is a continuous struggle of good and evil

3. Nativism (not always, propagated for instance in Sri Lanka, the belief that only a Buddhist Sinhalese is the real Sinhalese)

4. The sort of millenarism that presupposes that the believers will actively seek the overthrowing of the existing order, being fundamentally opposed to it (see moral absolutism). If a secular state can be  tolerated, we will only have a conservative, not fundamentalist movement. Often, the overthrowing of existing order is seen by fundamentalists as a restoration of mythical golden age.

5.  Claims of being the only true, pure version of a religion, other, more liberal versions being “tainted” by modernity, the Western influence, etc

6. But above all, the Enemy.  An  Enemy is something without which no fundamentalist movement can exist, because the enemy defines the fundamentalist movement and its goals by being everything it negates, despises and seeks to destroy. It’s the modernity, the secular society that tolerates multiple truths (see 1). Because the Enemy represents the absolute evil (1 and 2), it is all right to dehumanize the members enemy groups.  Fundamentalists from religions as traditionally pacifist as Buddhism advocate violence against their opponents (like Phra Kitthivuddho from Thailand, who argued that killing communists does not violate the Buddhist prohibition against killing sentient beings, because the communists are less than human).

The enemy must be eliminated; waiting for the respective higher power to mete out divine punishment and restore justice is not enough. A fundamentalists must actively strive to establish the divine order on earth.

Most fundamentalist movements appear in times of rapid societal change. This is not a coincidence: fundamentalism cannot exist without the Other.

I might write some more about different fundamentalisms in a couple of countries, later, if I have the time.

But I wouldn’t be very optimistic :<


(While I didn’t use any specific book while writing this post, I should mention that I’ve been reading a lot of stuff from the Fundamentalism Project, which you can find here, though I mostly focused on Fundamentalism Observed (while a bit obsolete, it is nonetheless a valuable resource). One of the first people who noticed the extent of puzzling similarities between various fundamentalisms is Martin Riesebrodt, especially in his book “Fundamentalismus als patriarchalische Protestbewegung. Amerikanische Protestanten (1910-1928) und iranische Schiiten (1961-1979) im Vergleich” aka Pious Passion: The Emergence of Modern Fundamentalism in the United States and Iran).

Atheist Easter, a recipe:

Posted: April 5, 2010 in atheism
Tags: , ,

1) one A la recherche du temps perdu by Marcel Proust <– for Sendai to read

2) one The Greatest Show on Earth(1), Polish edition <— for Sendai’s mum to read

3) one Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy <— for Sendai’s dad to read

4) three laptops <— for Sendai’s younger brothers to held a LAN party. Caution! Remember always to hide Sendai’s laptop first.

5) one cheesecake <– to feed the crazy old aunt

6) on blanket <— for grandmother, when she fells asleep

7) internet connection <— just in case

Stir until not crazy, serve with eggs(2) and coffee(3).

(1) Yes, it was very fortunate that I ACCIDENTALLY TOTALLY ACCIDENTALLY spotted it in a bookshop.

(2) Sendai could do without the eggs, though. But noooo, eggs are TRADITIONAL, you see *grumble*

(3) Crazy aunt was really crazy this time; she was alternatively cooing at Sendai, exhorting her to Pursue a Poetry Writing Career(4), cooing at one of her younger brothers, and trying to make another of Sendai’s younger brothers meet her friend’s granddaughter who has a great job and could support Sendai’s brother forever WTF I DON’T EVEN.

This meant that Sendai needed a lot of coffee. And naps.

(4) Sendai knows her limitations v. well. Also, her disinterest in poetry is v. striking, and only comparable to her disinterest in sewing.