Any individual, group, society or culture that claims to be the sole protector of the “truth”, be that truth Scientific, Statistical, Christian, Muslim, Communist or whatever – holds a fundamentalist view. In fact anyone with a fixed belief, is Fundamentalist. Fundamentalism constrains human innovation; fundamentalists want to revert to what the purveyors of the ideology consider a “cleaner’ more “pure” past. Or in the case of science (and my pet aversion, statistics) if it can’t be “proved” it doesn’t exist, it can’t work or else it is a figment of someone’s overactive imagination.
Fundamentalist either forget or ignore the human spirit, which cannot be constrained. The human spirit (however defined) needs to be free to seek, to strive and to find, in its own way - and not everyone is the same or wants the same things. Anyone who tries to hold back the human spirit, or attempts to direct it into one particular path is doomed to ultimate failure. To prove this point just take a look at what is happening in the Middle East and the hundreds of thousands demonstrating against the practices of financial institutions in American cities and it other cities around the world.
The possible exception here, to returning to the past, is the Scientific Fundamentalist who believes totally in the power and purity of scientific exposition and innovation – and there have been some wonderful inventions and discoveries. But the Scientific True Believer, in whatever field of science, has an absolute conviction that scientific “knowledge” is the basis for everything including Life itself. This scientific evidence, it is often claimed, can be proved statistically; that Statistical “facts” trump all else; that scientific concepts which are supported by statistical “proof” must therefore be true, and anyone who does not see this or who voices any opposition, is worthy of nothing but contempt.
Just recall the years of ridicule and isolation suffered by two Australian scientists, Robin Warren and Barry Marshall who in 1982 discovered that the main cause of stomach ulcers is the bacteria Heliobacter pylori. In their original paper, Warren and Marshall contended that most stomach ulcers and gastritis were caused by colonization with this bacterium, not by stress or spicy food as had been assumed before. They did not conform to current scientific thinking and were pilloried for their stand. Had they been scientific fundamentalist they would never have made this discovery and those suffering from stomach ulcers and medicine would have been the poorer. Stomach ulcers are now cured with a short course of antibiotics.
When the subject turns to Religious (or Political) Fundamentalism we delve into murky waters indeed. To my way of thinking religious or political fundamentalism (often considered one and the same when there is no division between “Church” and State) also holds back innovation by demanding (often on pain of death) that all people believe that they (the Leaders) alone know what is best for them – the populace – and that they (the fundamentalist leaders) are following God’s will. And generally fundamentalists of this ilk try to reduce the role of women to virtual slavery and to being totally dependent on the males in the family. Again, look at the Christian fundamentalists in America, the Jewish fundamentalists in Israel and the Islamic fundamentalists in many Muslim countries, particularly Iran and Saudi Arabia and then of course there is the basket case of North Korea.
I may be wrong (the favoured expression always used by someone who believes they are right!!), but by restricting education to learning the Koran and Sharia Law, or applying a strict interpretation of the Torah or the Bible, and by not educating women, these fundamentalists are holding back their citizens.
One needs to ask how fundamentalism, in any form, adds to the material or spiritual well-being of Mankind?