The term “fundamentalist” is rarely used as a compliment in today’s culture wars. The word often suggests irrationality, narrow-mindedness, ignorance, and bigotry, and is perhaps most often aimed at religious people on the right, though certain leftist ideologies (e.g. Marxism) are sometimes accused of being “fundamentalist” as well. Once labeled “fundamentalist,” a person may indeed find it hard to get what they might consider a fair hearing for their views.
People labeled as “fundamentalist” may see themselves as merely having an approach to life which sees certain “fundamentals” (certain scriptures, certain institutions, certain practices, certain analyses) as being essential to right understanding, right living, and well-being (temporal and eternal). For religious fundamentalism, for instance, this usually entails the sense that human cognitive and moral limitations, as well as the suffering endemic to the mortal condition, point to the need for guidance from some wholly trustworthy and meaningfully accessible super-human, or super-natural, source--usually “God” and/or divinely revealed “scripture”. Human beings may reject or accept these fundamental truths, but the truths themselves are considered to be beyond the ken of human judgment.
What is seen by critics as “blind” faith in, and “abject” submission to, these fundamentals, is seen by the “fundamentalists” themselves as enlightened trust in a higher wisdom; similar, perhaps, to the way in which the writers of the American Declaration of Independence held certain “truths” to be both “self-evident” and “unalienable” i.e. given to humankind by “Nature’s God” and thus not subject to human abrogation.
Arthur M. Peña
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