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Old 12-02-2006, 10:16 AM   #1
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The Psychology of Fundamentalism...

It's a very long research essay, and, as such, I invite you to read the following link:

However, if you're interested in a slightly less lengthy summary, here it is:

I. Literalism

Literalism is the linchpin of fundamentalism; the literalization, if you will, of the founding psychological need. For an absolute certitude that can be established at the level of facts that will admit of no ambiguity or interpretation. (Fundamentalists, ironically, are the true positivists.) But to eliminate ambiguity and confusion one must attack its source. Figurative language. That is the danger that must be avoided at all costs because in place of the literal figurative language introduces the play of meaning. The need to sustain complex connections at the level of thought (not fact) through the evolution of mental abilities that are necessarily connected with developing all the metaphoric resources of language. The literal in contrast puts an end to thought. It offers the mind a way to shut down, to reify itself. It thereby exorcises the greatest fear: interpretation and its inevitable result, the conflict of interpretations and with it the terror of being forever bereft of dogmatic certitudes. A metaphor is the lighting flash of an intelligence that sees, as Aristotle asserts, connections that can only be sustained by a thought that thereby liberates itself from the immediate.
Literalism is a cardinal necessity of the fundamentalist because it guarantees the primary psychological need. For a certitude that in its simplicity puts an end to all doubt, even to the possibility of doubt. That is what one must have and once attained what nothing can be permitted to alter. The literal meaning of words one need only point to for that meaning to be established must be imposed on the world without a blink of hesitation, a shadow of doubt, and when necessary beyond any appeal to the simplest claims of our humanity. Two examples. Perhaps the most chilling moment in a recent CNN special on fundamentalism occurs at the end of an interview with a young girl-between 8 and 10-who was saved at an earlier age (3) and is now so firm in every article of the faith that she is no longer in need of her parents or teachers. Earlier when the mother was asked if she'd ever let the children watch South Park the young girl chimed in: "I wouldn't want to watch a program like that." The interview ends with this question: "what happens to those who don't believe?" Like a trumpet call, in the blinking of an eye, even less, without batting an eyelash the child answers: "They go to hell" What made this statement so chilling was the absence of the slightest sign of doubt or pity. If there is an innocence left here it lies in the possibility that, unlike her parents, the child has not yet started to feast on images of the damned. She is however already in league with where fundamentalism will take her because she's attained the correct posture: the assumption of an absolute certitude in which there is and can be no conflict of the heart with what it is told to believe, no possibility of wondering about a God who is capable of the titanic condemnation she's just asserted as an assured article of faith. Nor of course is there the possibility of the only legitimate choice such a "truth" would demand-the rejection of such a God. 2 +2=5. Whatever one is told the Book says becomes the truth.
II. Conversion

This category is best approached through narrative. Fundamentalism is in love with a single and common story it never tires of telling. This story is the key to the nature of the transformation it celebrates and the absolute split that transformation produces. A subject finds itself lost in a world of sin, prey to all the evils that have taken control of one's life. A despair seizes the soul. One is powerless to deal with one's problems or heal oneself because there is nothing within the self that one can draw on to make that project possible. The inner world is a foul and pestilent congregation of sin and sinfulness. And there's no way out. One has hit rock bottom and (so the story goes when it's told best) teeters on the brink of suicide. And then in darkest night one lets Him into one's life. And all is transformed. Changed utterly. A terrible beauty is born. Before one was a sinner doing the bidding of Satan. Now one is saved and does the work of the Lord. The old self is extinguished. Utterly. One has achieved a new identity, a oneness with Christ that persists as long as one follows one condition: one must let him take over one's life. Totally. All decisions are now in Jesus' hands. He tells one what to do and one's fealty to his plan must be absolute. There can be no questioning, no doubt. For that would be the sign of only one thing-the voice of Satan and with it the danger of slipping back into those ways of being that one has, through one's conversion, put an end to forever. The person or self one once was is no more so complete is the power of conversion. A psyche has been delivered from itself. And it's all so simple finally, a matter of delivering oneself into His will, of following His plan as set forth in the Book and of letting nothing be within oneself but the voice of Jesus spreading peace and love throughout one's being.

The most striking thing about this narrative is the transparent nature of the psychological defense mechanism from which it derives and the rigidity with which it employs that mechanism. Splitting. Which as Freud and Klein show is the most primitive mechanism of defense employed by a psyche terrified of its inner world. The conversion story raises that mechanism to the status of a theological pathos. Though the story depends on recounting how sinful one's life once was(often in great even "loving" detail) the psychological meaning of conversion lies in its power to wipe all of that away. Magically one attains a totally new psyche, cleansed, pristine, and impermeable. One has, in fact, attained a totally new self-reference. The self is a function of one's total identification with Jesus. Consciousness is bathed in his presence. It has become the scene in which his love expresses itself in the beatific smile that fills ones face whenever one thinks of one's redemption, the tears that flood one's blessed cheeks, the saccharine tone that raises the voice to an eerie self-hypnotizing pitch whenever one finds another opportunity to express the joyous emotions that one must pump up at every opportunity in order to keep up the hyperconsciousness required to sustain the assurance of one's redemption. The whole process is a monument to the power of magical thinking to blow away inner reality, and as such a further sign of the primitive nature of the psychological mechanisms on which conversion depends.
III. Evangelicalism

Evangelicalism is the manic activity whereby the split in the psyche that conversion creates is projected onto the world. Thereby one confirms the identity one has attained through a fresh exorcism of the one that conversion vanquished. Evangelicism offers the fundamentalist the only way to sustain the reborn self: by trying to recreate the experience of one's conversion in others in order to reenact an unending exorcism. In the other one locates the split off self one once was now placed totally outside oneself. It becomes the fantasm of what must be the condition of one's auditors, of those who, whether they know it or not, are lost, wallowing in error and sin, their minds awash in the torrents of secularism, dumb to the clarity that comes from the Words one now speaks to bring them enlightenment, could they but hear. This is the root cause of the frustration that quickly comes if we make the mistake of bidding entry when the fundamentalist knocks on the door. We offer discourse in vain to those who are seized by a necessity. It's not just the repeated literal citation of the Bible as absolute truth ("do you know that satan was once an angel close to God; that's why he's so powerful") or the repeated refrain that puts an end to all discussion ("well I believe the Bible and the Bible says"); or the inability to hear anything we say except as a sign that we've not yet grasped the truth that's galling. It's the recognition that despite the charitable demeanor, evangelical activity is based on a total lack of respect for the minds of those they are trying to convert.
It should now be evident that what looks at first like the least important of the four characteristics of fundamentalism fulfills perhaps the deepest psychological necessity. Without this activity the fundamentalist psyche would implode. The obsessional need to preach the gospel, to find a way as soon as possible to let every stranger one meets know that one is a Christian, born again, are practices that derive not from a lack of social skills but from a manic necessity. For the saved there is and can be nothing but the story of their salvation. It is the master narrative to which all lives must conform, the tale one must tell as often and ardently as the Ancient Mariner tells his. Though for antithetical reasons. The Mariner tells his tale to relieve an inner pain by injecting it into the consciousness of listeners who will be existentially individuated by the tale. Evangelists tell theirs to reassure themselves about their "identity" by trying to compel others to participate in it. Structurally and psychologically, however, both tellers labor under the same necessity. Repetition as the attempt to retain an identity in order to flee something else-in the Mariner's case a suicidal depression; in the fundamentalist perhaps the same thing -- that is of necessity buried deep in the unconscious. One piece of evidence in support of this hypothesis: without the chance to engage in evangelical activity the fundamentalist psyche sinks into a state of empty boredom.
IV. Apocalypticism-The Heart of the Ulcer

Apocalypticism is the capstone that completes the process of fundamentalist self-fashioning. Without it, as we'll see, the entire edifice would crumble. In the Apocalyptic moment the disorder at the core of the fundamentalist psyche achieves a final form, thereby passing over to the register of the sublime. The sublime is the register of the psyche that is reached when the informing desire is given an unbounded expression. All conflicts are then resolved in a release of tension that is total and constitutes what Lacan means by jouissance. The psyche has found a way to fulfill and complete the desire that structures its inner constitution. As we'll see, each structure described in the previous sections requires Apocalypticism and achieves completion in it. In the Apocalyptic fantasm an ultimate expression is given to the conflicts that define the fundamentalist psyche through an action that brings an end to those conflicts.
The slight textual support (1 Thessalonians 4:17) notwithstanding, the Rapture is a psychological necessity. It embodies the magical thought that the coming of global destruction is also the coming of salvation. One has always longed for a feast of destructiveness as the signal for one's transport to a condition free of the world. That's why when that moment comes it is impossible to prevent the surfacing of a long suppressed and twisted sexual desire. As destruction approaches so too does ascent to a realm in which one is free to project a marriage consummated in the sky with Christ serving as the Bride. The delights of that image should not prevent us from seeing what has happened here. The longing for death has been turned into an ecstatic embrace of it; a rapture so complete in its jouissance that one can no longer disguise the fact that all of ones libidinal energies have gone into the quest for such a complete and final unbinding, an extinction within consciousness of all save the ecstatic recognition that one is saved and that all the connections that once bound one to the world have been severed once and for all.
Historically the great transformation in the use of Apocalypticism to incite fundamentalist believers to political action came in the 1980's, during the Reagan years, when Jerry Falwell (to cite but one example) shifted from the pre-millenarian belief that the faithful can do nothing but spread the gospel and wait as the modernist evil that will bring about the Tribulation runs its course to the activist position that fundamentalism must become a political force, indeed take over the country if possible, and make it a Christian Nation worthy of being spared as well as the one chosen to advance the movement toward that long sought, long delayed, deeply longed for and blessed Apocalyptic event.
V. Sexual Roots of the Fundamentalist Psyche

My goal is to plumb the root cause of phenomena that are well-known. Fundamentalists live in a world obsessed with sexuality. It provides the primary texts of Biblical citation. It's the concrete referent of the fulminations against secularism, secular humanism, post-modernism, ethical relativism, feminism, deconstructionism, etc. It's also what the vaunted claim of "moral values" is all about. Morality is not about a life of charity, or the pursuit of justice, or the opening of oneself to the depth of human suffering. It's about avoiding certain sexual sins and fixating on that dimension of life to the virtual exclusion of everything else. Battling sex is apparently what life is all about as if the primary plan of the creator were to put us on earth so that we'll be tempted by that in us that we must condemn in order to win salvation. By the same token, each new scandal reveals the consequences of sexual repression: the brutal abuse of young boys by a legion of pedophile priests; the sexual license of Jim Jones and David Koresh; the sadomasochistic bondage rituals that Jimmy Swaggart significantly could only enact with prostitutes; the epidemic of physical, sexual, and psychological abuse that is the untold story of the fundamentalist family. The repression of sexuality has as a necessary consequence the brutalization of the other.

All such phenomena are variations on the same tired story. Sexual repression breeds foul imaginings. Which of necessity fixate on the sexual. What has been rendered foul within runs amuck in the world. Following the dictates of a punitive super-ego the psyche becomes obsessed with the attack on sexuality. The purpose is to render evil virtually everything connected with sex until life itself is reduced to an allegory in which the battle of good and evil is all about the temptations of the flesh, as if nothing else in life matters so complete is the vindictive fixation of the Deity on the human genitals.
Walter A. Davis is professor emeritus of English at Ohio State University.

Thoughts? I'm sure there must be, at least, some.

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Old 12-02-2006, 10:23 AM   #2
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