“There are those, I suppose,
Think we’re mad, heaven knows
The world has gone to rack and to ruin …”
Opening lyrics to theme song from “Thoroughly Modern Millie”
Fundamentalist Christians no longer call themselves by that name. They want to distance themselves from fundamentalists of other faiths. But it would take far more than a simple name-change for them to accomplish that. Fundamentalists of all faiths have a lot more in common than they want to think – despite their exclusivity and their triumphalist certainty that they alone, of all religious people, are right.
Fundamentalism is very much a reaction to modernity. That is true regardless of how much its enthusiasts want to regard themselves as defenders of tradition. They are too fascinated with the modern world – too deeply absorbed in it – to reject it. They can’t preserve or promote their tradition, because they don’t understand it.
People attracted to fundamentalism tend to be vain, narcissistic, self-indulgent and self-absorbed. It’s all about themselves. In this, they are modern to their hollow core.
The Judeo-Christian faith tradition is inherently a forward-moving, progressive tradition. If it stopped moving, it would die. To freeze it just where they want it, as the fundamentalists attempt to do, would be to kill it. In the Twenty-first Century, it has become urgently apparent that we must understand our tradition, and appreciate it as never before, if we are to save it. That was the real lesson of 9-11, and it has only become more apparent since.
Our homegrown extremists take a high tone about the hijackers of faiths other than Christianity. How, they demand to know, can terrorists frequent strip clubs, get drunk and solicit hookers, then come home and build bombs for God? In the next breath, many of these “superior” Christian fundies vent frustration that they themselves can’t actually eliminate gays and other “sinners.” They are outraged that our decadent Western culture keeps them from implementing their own final solution.
What is unclear, to more rational people, is how “Christian” fundamentalists believe they can stamp out sin by being fascinated with it. What would these people do if it wasn’t there to entertain them? They are especially obsessed with sex – cannot open their mouths without revealing dark, twisted and lurid notions about it. The things they think about sex don’t even occur to those with healthy minds. Whose sexual fantasies, for example, do not include children, farm animals or dead people.
In the wake of 9-11, the fundies’ homegrown mullahs, like Jerry Falwell, actually sided with extremists from other countries who hate America. They huddled in conferences with them, blaming Americans for the terrorist attacks. They like to accuse other people of treason, but that is sheer projection. They are the traitors. In their disgraceful antagonism toward the most hopeful elements of Judeo-Christianity, they betray their country, their tradition and their faith.
The weapon of choice, for terrorists, is terror. Hence their very name. They can’t overwhelm the industrially-advanced West militarily, so they engage in a sort of Ju Jitsu style fight. They attempt to get us to beat ourselves.
If they can terrify us into reacting to them with hate, blindly surrendering our freedoms, blaming ourselves and each other for what they have done to us, then they can defeat us. They need no nukes to do so. They’ve discovered a weapon vastly more powerful than all the atomic firepower in the world.
Fundamentalists in the “Christian” West are actually allies of the terrorists bent on our destruction. They work on the same side, and would accomplish the same objective. On September 12 of 2001, many probably did a happy dance. They seemed to hope they’d found a way to purge society of all those gays, feminists and liberals after all!
In every faith, only a minority are fundamentalists; most are moderate, and some quite progressive. It is unfair to characterize everyone, in any faith tradition, as fundamentalist or extreme. We who are non-fundamentalist Christians understand this. It is why we stand in solidarity with forward-thinkers – those who work for justice and show forth God’s love – in other faiths. In a time of darkness, we must especially shine forth the light.
Fundamentalism is dangerous not only because it is so corruptive and potentially destructive, but because it can be seductive. It taps into a very legitimate concern. It does seem that our tradition is in peril and needs to be preserved. Fundamentalists aren’t the ones who can accomplish that, because they are too big a part of what endangers it. But we give them a power they do not deserve – and cannot handle – when we fail to see why, to some people, fundamentalism has an appeal.
We live in scary times, and we can’t escape them. We are all bound to the time and place in which we live. Modern life is complicated, and it’s tempting to seek easy answers. Fundamentalism scapegoats certain stock villains for our problems and offers unrealistically simple solutions. Those content to exist at the level of animals or infants – always reacting to anger and fear – welcome this sort of coddling.
Anyone who believes, however, that Jesus Christ encouraged us to behave like animals or infants totally fails to understand the Christian faith. No matter what its disciples choose to call themselves, fundamentalism is inherently anti-Christ. Every form of fundamentalism is a betrayal of whatever faith it claims to represent. We can’t defeat modernity by allowing ourselves to be subsumed by it.
Fundamentalists are thoroughly modern Millies. They cannot beat what they hate by joining it. If they want to come face-to-face with the enemy, they need to take a good, hard look in the mirror.
A self-described “Libertarian Episcopalian lesbian,” freelance writer and the author of Good Clowns, a young adult novel published in 2018, Lori Heine published a blog called Born on 9-11 and was a frequent contributor to the website Liberty Unbound. A native of Phoenix, Ariz., she graduated from Grand Canyon University in 1988 and spent much of her life in the insurance industry before turning full-time to writing as a freelancer, blogger and author.