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Does Secular Fundamentalism Exist? Do Secular Fundamentalists Exist?


Secularism vs. Fundamentalism:

Some Christians say they are in conflict with “secular fundamentalism,” but what is this and does it even exist? The most basic characteristics of Christian fundamentalism can’t apply to secularism of any sort: virgin birth & deity of Jesus, substitutionary death & physical resurrection of Jesus, and a literal heaven/hell. These aren’t the limits of the concept, since the label applies to other religions, but even the characteristics which apply most broadly can’t be applied to secularism.

Erosion of Religion & Tradition:

Key to the fundamentalist position is the belief that the modern world has become corrupted by the forces of evil and that part of cause of this is the erosion of traditional religious beliefs and institutions. The fundamentalist response is thus to restore religion to its position of power and influence. There is nothing similar among secularists — no belief in the corruption of tradition and no belief that secularism must be “restored” to a position of dominance.

Infallibility & Inerrancy of Scripture:

Basic to fundamentalist sects in all religions is a strict adherence to literal or traditionalist interpretations of religious scriptures. Because fundamentalism is a reaction to modern changes, it is thought that such greater reliance on scriptures, which are treated as lacking any errors, provides a reliable anchor against the shifting winds of modernity. Nothing remotely like that exists for secularism. There isn’t even a fundamental text for secularism, much less one treated as infallible.

Members are Part of a Cosmic Struggle:

For members of fundamentalists sects of all religions, the conflict between fundamentalism and modernity is regarded not as a mere political or social disagreement, but as an important aspect of a greater cosmic struggle between good and evil. Fundamentalists of course are on the side of God while modernity is a creation of Satan. Although some secularists might regard the fight for secularism as critical, it’s certainly not cosmic in nature and not a battle between absolute good and evil.

Demonization of the Opposition:

Because the opponents of fundamentalists are in league with Satan, whether they realize it or not, they quite literally are a form of demon; thus demonization of opponents occurs on both a literal and a figurative level. Opponents are not mistaken, misguided, or sincerely following what they believe are legitimate principles. They are, instead, fighting against the will of God. Secularists sometimes demonize opponents in a figurative sense, but not to the degree which fundamentalism tends to.

Absolutism in Doctrine & Morals:

Convinced not only of their own righteousness, but also that they are fighting on the side of God, fundamentalists typically reject any compromise with “the world” when it comes to matters of doctrine and morals. After all, compromising on God’s will would be a sin; compromising with Satan is an even worse sin. Secularism doesn’t involve any moral doctrines, and while secularists are no less unwilling to compromise on their political principles than others, it’s certainly not a sin.

Millennialism & Messianism:

Integral to the view of life as a cosmic struggle between good and evil is often the belief that the ultimate victory of good over evil is accompanied by a thousand year period of prosperity afterwards with possibly a similar period of suffering beforehand. Ultimate victory is also typically a consequence of the leadership of a messianic figure. Of course, there is nothing at all like this in secularism — no ideology about a thousand year period of prosperity and no messiahs.

Patriarchal Control of Society:

The importance of male control and power for fundamentalism in every religion cannot be underestimated. Male control of society is perceived as a requirement of God; allowing women equal roles in politics, churches, families, and culture is a symptom of modernity’s corruption. There is certainly nothing along these lines in secularism. Secularist politics says nothing about male or female social roles, except perhaps to argue against defining them according to religious dogmas.

Religious Idealism as a Basis for Personal, Communal Identity:

Fundamentalists construct both their personal and social identities around idealist beliefs about their religion. The extremist adherence to the community is more akin to radical ethnic identities than the typical adherence that people have to the average church. The construction of identity around religious ideology is a critical component of the fundamentalist opposition to modernity; it also has no analog with secularist political philosophy.

Why Claim that Secularism is Fundamentalist?:

Neither the most specific characteristics of Protestant Christian fundamentalism nor the the general characteristics of religious fundamentalisms around the world have anything to do with any form of secularism. So, if secular political philosophy possesses none of the characteristics of fundamentalisms, why do people claim that such a thing as “secularist fundamentalism” exists? To put it simply, the label is meant as nothing more than a smear — it’s certainly not a neutral or objective description.

The first thing to note is that there is no attempt to use a serious definition of fundamentalism — those who claim the existence of a secular fundamentalism don’t, for example, list the characteristics of fundamentalism which they think secularism can fit. Instead, it’s clear that the label “fundamentalism” here is merely a convenient label for what is perceived to be inflexible dogmatism. This is ironic because real fundamentalists — Christian fundamentalists — are on the side of those making the claim in question. I wonder what they think about how the label for their religious position is being used by their putative “allies” as a form of attack.

The second thing to note is how secularism itself is commonly misdefined. Those attacking secularism use the label not as a political philosophy focused on separating civil and ecclesiastical authority, but rather as an antireligious or even anti-Christian philosophy. Sometimes, it’s even misdefined as a religion itself. It is tactically necessary to misdefine secularism because it would be difficult to arouse sympathy for opposition to keeping civil and religious authority separated.

The labeling of secularism as religious and as fundamentalist are part of the same goal: to discredit secularism as a political philosophy independent of religious disputes or control. There is no such thing a secular fundamentalism; instead, there are simply secularists who ardently fight for keeping church and state separated.

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