The Rise of Modern Religious Fundamentalism Worldwide

by Christopher Helali
No one can deny that we live in dangerous times. Never before in world history has there been this level of religious radicalism and fundamentalism on a global scale. Every major religion has organized constituents that mobilize to fight, defend and proselytize their respective faith. How did we get here? We are enlightened, technologically advanced and scientifically superior than our medieval ancestors. Yet today, many adherents, blinded by faith, see these advances as fallacious, in light of the religious holy books and canons of religion. This global phenomenon has now provoked terrorism, militias, wars, goals of mass conversion, destruction, salvation and damnation. It is important to note that these issues are not confined to Islam or Christianity. They affect many major religions
Sociologists seek to understand and pinpoint the rather recent radicalism amongst many religions around the globe. Some scholars and academics have said that religious fundamentalism is a reaction to modernity and global secularization. While this is true, many religious groups denounce the modern world and all of the pejorative entities it brings with it. The reality is that while many organized religions are losing their flocks, smaller, more militant religions are growing faster than ever. Sociologist Peter Berger argues in “The Desecularization of the World” that, “The notion that we live in a secularized society is false.”
According to Berger, the world is as religious as ever, and in some parts the most religious in history. According to the article “The Great Revival: Understanding Religious Fundamentalism in Foreign Affairs,” some religions denounce modern culture like Islam, and others like Evangelical Christianity, embrace it without its “sinful” aspects, such as pornography, abortion, homosexual rights and so on. The important thing to note here is that religious radicalism does not only allow for the culmination of a particular local or global agenda, but it also allows its adherents personal awards and satisfaction, usually in regards to a soteriological or eschatological doctrine.
Islamic fundamentalism is all too familiar to the world. The roots of this phenomenon can be traced back to visionaries like Ibn Taymiyyah (13th century) and recently to Sayyid Qutb, Hassan al-Bana and Abul Aba Maududi. The rise of Islamist political parties and a response to the West and Modernization in the Middle East in the mid-20th century launched these parties and their platforms to prominence. The West saw Islamic fundamentalism reach critical levels when in 1979, Ayatollah Khomeini seized control of the revolution in Iran, thus proclaiming himself leader. The West’s greatest ally in the Middle East, proclaimed by Jimmy Carter as an “island of stability in one of the more troubled areas of the world,” had now become an Islamic Republic.
Today, Islamic fundamentalism has taken many forms, most notably Al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Sept. 11, 2001, was the first instance of the destructive nature of this particular religious perversion on U.S. soil. Since then the U.S. and its allies have declared the Global War on Terrorism in an effort to eradicate and destroy radical Islamic elements that pose a threat to the Western world. Nuclear nations like Pakistan that have strong Islamic fundamentalist groups and are politically unstable pose a global threat, since these weapons could easily be acquired and used by one of these groups.
The home – brewed fundamentalism here in the U.S. that has risen as a direct result of the current conservative wave in the political arena has taken many by surprise. Evangelical Christianity is at the forefront of this campaign, and these religious demagogues seek to
seek to promulgate the U.S. as a Christian nation and diminish the role of secular and scientific ideals in politics, education, the work force and beyond. Famous proponents include Beverly LaHaye, a San Diego local and founder of the conservative organization Concerned Women for America. “Yes, religion and politics do mix,” LaHaye said. “America is a nation based on biblical principles. Christian values dominate our government. The test of those values is the Bible. Politicians who do not use the Bible to guide their public and private lives do not belong in office.”
This insanity is also echoed by others, like Gary North, who in his book “Political Polytheism: The Myth of Pluralism” writes, “The long-term goal of Christians in politics should be to gain exclusive control over the franchise. Those who refuse to submit publicly to the eternal sanctions of God by submitting to His Church’s public marks of the covenant – baptism and holy communion – must be denied citizenship, just as they were in ancient Israel. The way to achieve this political goal is through successful mass evangelism followed by constitutional revision.” The U.S. has seen the rise of militias and militant religious groups, as well as large proselytizing entities, most notably seen in the documentary “Jesus Camp.”
This past winter, as I traveled in Calcutta, India, I was shocked to see Communist flags alongside flags of a radical Hindu party. This is the best illustration for world politics today: the clash of secular and religious politics in the national arena. Hindu fundamentalism is on the rise and is most notably seen in the destruction of the Babri Mosque in India. The Babri Mosque, one of the oldest Islamic mosques, was destroyed, stone by stone, by thousands of Hindu radicals who stormed over the police barricade protecting it in 1992.
Jewish fundamentalism, in the form of extreme Zionism, professes the belief that the land of Israel is rightfully theirs, given to them by God, and that all others have no place in it. It will be protected at all costs, even by using nuclear weapons as a means.
Religion is a beautiful thing, but it has no place in national politics or world government. No single religion has the copyright to salvation nor to the path God, but all have their own unique road to the final destination. We must live in harmony rather than seek to impose our beliefs on others who do not share them or who do not believe in any religion.
The female Sufi saint Rabi’a Basri eloquently describes this understanding: “I want to put out the fires of Hell, and burn down the rewards of Paradise. They block the way to God. I do not want to worship from fear of punishment or for the promise of reward, but simply for the love of God.”
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