by Edwin Kagin
America’s Own Religious Extremism to the Forefront
Volume 1, Number 10
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Fundamentals of Extremism
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Welcome to issue 10 of Fundamentally Aware. If you’re not yet a subscriber to my complimentary e-newsletter, be sure to sign up. You’ll find details in the lower left column.
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The relationship between fundamentalism and authoritarianism has been known for some time, but when columnist George Will was quoted in a recent analysis of these studies, the conservative-authoritarian got all in a tizzy. Read about fundamentalism and authoritarianism in an excerpt and in my column below.
As always, please feel free to share your comments with me.
1. Fundamentalism and Authoritarianism
2. Politically Incorrect
3. George Will, Catholic Nuns, and the Ramifications of Authoritarian-Conservatives
4. The Proof is in the Studies
following is excerpted from Chapter 2: The Gathering Storm by Edwin F.
Kagin in The
Fundamentals of Extremism.
Authoritarianism, the practice of requiring blind obedience, has been widely recognized by scholars as another common feature among fundamentalists. One can certainly be fundamentalist without being authoritarian and vice versa. And it is uncertain whether authoritarians mask as fundamentalists or fundamentalism leads to an authoritarian personality. Regardless, there is a high incidence of the two traits combined. This is seen as women and children have few, if any rights in many fundamentalist homes, based on a literal reading of the Bible in which men have all authority. God, identified in the Bible as male, issues the laws, and men interpret and enforce them. All civilized societies recognize the need for rules. Yet, Christian fundamentalists believe the rules they impose have been handed down from God and obedience to such rules must be maintained. Their authoritarian personality helps explain why fundamentalists believe society must conform to their rigid views. At the same time, the nature of authoritarianism assists in understanding some of the personality traits common to fundamentalists.
Leak and Brandy Randall in the Journal for the Scientific
Study of Religion (1995) found that those who score high on the
Rightwing Authoritarianism scale have several tendencies. They are
likely “to aggress against unpopular or unconventional groups, feel
morally superior and self-righteous,” and “possess a
mean-spiritedness that is coupled with vindictiveness.”[i]
They often take “‘secret pleasure’ when others experience
misfortune and appear prejudiced toward out-groups.”[ii]
These negative traits are commonly seen in fundamentalists and will be
revealed in the following chapters. They can be better understood and
more appropriately dealt with by recognizing this connection.
more on the authoritarian style of fundamentalists discussed
Fundamentals of Extremism: the Christian Right in America.
“You will get more with a kind word and a gun than with a kind word alone.”
Al Capone line often quoted by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld,
according to Fareed Zakaria, Newsweek,
Fundamentals of Extremism: the Christian Right in
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Sociologists and psychologists have long studied the social and psychological needs, personality styles, and ramifications of conservatives and fundamentalists. Numerous empirical studies link conservatism and fundamentalism to an authoritarian personality style, and in turn, to many other unfavorable characteristics. This is visible not only in Islamic fundamentalist societies where Muslim states wield oft unreasonable and oppressive authority over human thought, behavior, and being, but in conservative or fundamentalist Catholic and Christian homes and churches in America.
When a recent analysis by scholars John T. Jost, et al. was published in Psychological Bulletin, a publication of the American Psychological Association on the findings of several decades of studies, conservative political columnist George Will attempted in mid-August, rather unsuccessfully, to counter the well-substantiated findings in a sarcastic rebuttal.
Sorry George, despite your understandably desirous effort, the facts remain: conservatives do score higher in authoritarianism and ultimately, prejudice, punitiveness, rigidity, dogmatism, ethnocentrism, sexual repression, and tendencies of both submissiveness to authority figures and aggressiveness toward the subjugated. So the study of these correlations is justifiable if the rest of us desire to understand you and your cohorts and, more importantly, to alleviate the very real problems that result.
As early as 1946, an investigation by Eugene Hartley, found when college students evaluated 35 groups of nationalities (even some that didn’t really exist), those who detested one group held similar feelings toward others. This is hardly surprising today given the vast studies that have since supported this reality. For example, two 1985 studies (Bierly and Wiegel & Howes) revealed that persons that were prejudiced against African-Americans, women, gays, the elderly, or ethnic minorities, tended to be prejudiced toward many or all of those groups.
Fundamentalists and conservatives, typically authoritarian, were, and perhaps continue to be, dominated by a spouse, parent, government, church or priest. In turn, the dominated commands authority over others. This fact is established by sociological and psychological theory and goes something like this: an authoritarian government or church unreasonably dominates its constituents or congregation; out of anger, resentment, and need for empowerment, the males (white, in our case) categorize and exclude certain groups, such as women and other races, who the white males unleash their anger upon and reign power over; the subjugated women and other races must in turn release their frustrations and empower themselves by punitively subjugating those even lower in status—often children; and the cycle continues.
A perfect example of this is seen in the new film The Magdalene Sisters, which has been hailed by those moderate and liberal Catholics who acknowledge and want to correct previous and prevent future wrongdoings. As could be expected it is also highly criticized by fundamentalist Catholics who continue to wield authority over others and desire such dirty secrets, and those it continues to subjugate, to remain under lock and key.
The Magdalene Sisters exposes church-run laundries that imprisoned and physically, sexually, and emotionally abused approximately 30,000 Irish women—a scene not much different from the reprehensible treatment of women by Islamic fundamentalists. The Catholic girl’s crimes? According to Andy Seiler in USA Today, “Fathers could condemn their daughters to the laundries as virtual slaves if they flirted, had a baby out of wedlock or were raped.” Director Peter Mullan explains that the film “points the finger at people within the Catholic Church who abused their authority.”
central issue is authoritarianism—an unbending, unrealistic,
punitive form of control that requires blind obedience by others.
problem for authoritarians that remains, however, is that there will
always be some, and hopefully most, who will rebel.
Here enters religion, or more specifically, fundamentalism.
To reign such power, a forceful tool is required to keep
subjects from uprising lest the control-seekers themselves risk losing
their source of empowerment. What better tool than an omnipotent,
omniscient, punitive, sexist, racist, sexually oppressive, judgmental,
and manipulative God that requires complete obedience to his,
as opposed to man’s, laws.
Blaker is editor and coauthor of The
Fundamentals of Extremism: the Christian Right in
Proof is in the Studies
these links to for various studies that have been conducted on
fundamentalism and conservatism and the relationship to
authoritarianism and prejudice:
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