Not all Fundamentalism is Religious

Putting aside the paradox that perhaps all fundamentalism is religious because the narratives we inhabit should be thought of as that which we believe reflect ultimate concern/absolute meaning and truth comprehensively—even if that ultimate concern/meaning and truth is that there no such thing, i.e. empiricism or positivism, I will still use this title as a nod toward what I’m sure the purely secular person/atheist/agnostic believes about his own world-view or narrative.  And he/she believes it to be anything but religious, in fact, he believes it to be the very opposite of religious or faith based.  Okay, fine.  Sure.

My point is that, regardless, the secular can also be fundamentalist.  A case in point is Steven Pinker (see here).  I came across this book review (see here) by John Gray, whom I’ve always liked.  Gray points out Pinker’s scientism, which is also a type of fundamentalism, an ideology, in the context of Pinker’s book about the Enlightenment. I would encourage you to read Gray’s review.

I especially liked the focus here:

“Pinker is an ardent enthusiast for free-market capitalism, which he believes produced most of the advance in living standards over the past few centuries. Unlike Spencer, he seems ready to accept that some provision should be made for those who have been left behind…”

But as Gray points out, based upon a purely scientific outlook, there is no logical basis for making those provisions.  Any such provisions would have to be made upon an ethical and moral basis, which science or empiricism cannot provide.  Science can only tell us about what is, not what should be.  Scientific research/methods can prove the Holocaust happened.  What science (if we mean empiricism/scientism) cannot do is tell us the event was wrong or immoral.  It can only make statements; it can never comment or opine.

Gray goes on to point out that the Enlightenment was not as enlightened as Pinker believes:

“The link between the Enlightenment and liberal values, which Pinker and many others today assert as a universal truth, is actually rather tenuous. It is strongest in Enlightenment thinkers who were wedded to monotheism, such as Locke and indeed Kant. The more hostile the Enlightenment has been to monotheism, the more illiberal it has been. Comte’s anti-liberalism inspired Charles Maurras, a French collaborator with Nazism and the leading theorist of Action Française – a fascistic movement formed during the Dreyfus affair – in his defence of integral nationalism. Lenin continued the Jacobins’ campaign against religion as well as their pedagogy of terror.”

The fundamentalist sensibility of Pinker and those who share his views is best noted here however, at the outset of Gray’s review:

“Early on in this monumental apologia for a currently fashionable version of Enlightenment thinking, he [Pinker] writes: ‘To take something on faith means to believe it without good reason, so by definition a faith in the existence of supernatural entities clashes with reason.’ Well, it’s good to have that settled once and for all.”

Gray’s sarcasm is entirely apt.  Pinker’s assertion is the type of statement one might hear a first-year philosophy major make after a long night of drinking beer and vaping weed.

It is the same type of statement or understanding we might hear from a Baptist fundamentalist or even some evangelicals (sober, mind you).  We could re-word it thus:

“To take something on reason alone means to believe it apart from the Bible or faith, so by definition, reason clashes with God’s word, with faith.”

Well…no.  What it means is neither person understands faith or reason.  It means both see them as oppositions, dichotomies, either/or choices, rather than as two important aspects to the same reality.  As someone has put it: faith and reason are the two wings upon which a bird needs to fly.

Anyway, enjoy Gray’s review.

I’ve seen (and experienced) the damage fundamentalism does, and we need to stand against both the secular and religious types.  A pox on both houses—same house, really.

[Update: Here is another good, and much more generous review, of Pinker’s book]