Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The Problem with Fundamentalist Religion

As I define it, fundamentalist religion is the strict adherence to traditional beliefs and practices of a religion including, but not limited to, the literal interpretation of holy texts. The problem with fundamentalist religion is that it leads people to not only be immune to reason, but also to behave in ways which are harmful to themselves and others.

http://www.atheistmemebase.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/089-Reality-based-beliefs.jpgThe Problem with Faith

In its 2012 platform on education, the Republican Party of Texas made a statement that it opposes the teaching of critical thinking skills because it “challeng[es] the student’s fixed beliefs and undermin[es] parental authority.”[1] Why would this be? It is because religious fundamentalists, such as those who hold political sway over the Texas Republicans, believe that unquestioning faith is a supreme virtue. This is also why many fundamentalist Christians fear sending their children to non-religious universities. As Republican Rick Santorum stated “62 percent of children who enter college with a faith conviction leave without it,” which as it turns out is not a true statistic.[2]

Recall that faith is a belief in something which is not supported by evidence. Thus, to unquestioningly adhere to beliefs based on no evidence means that no amount of reason or evidence should be able to change a true believer’s mind. As I explained in my post regarding blind faith, humans naturally rationalize their beliefs and ignore evidence which contradicts them. However, this stubbornness is outright encouraged in fundamentalist religions, which makes them far more immune to reason than other ideologues.

Beyond being unreasonable, fundamentalists are also far more likely to be taken advantage of by politicians and religious authorities. Regarding politics, people often vote for Republican candidates even when they stand for policies that go against their best interest. Why? Because the Republicans use far more religious rhetoric and promote far more socially conservative causes than do the Democrats.[3] As for religious authorities, consider televangelists and faith healers who scam their followers out of millions of dollars, and clergy who successfully molest children for years without ever being held accountable. Trusting those who put up a fa├žade of religious purity leaves many strict theists vulnerable to being hurt and supporting those who do not have humanity’s best interests at heart.

http://www.atheistmemebase.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/036-The-Dark-Ages.pngThe Problem with Fundamentalist Beliefs

Religious fundamentalists hold onto beliefs and ideas which were devised back when humanity knew much less about science, human psychology, and ethics than we do today. Consider this quote from Abraham Lincoln, the American President who was so progressive that he freed the slaves “I am not nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors of negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people… while [negroes and whites] do remain together there must be the position of superior and inferior, and I as much as any other man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race.”[4] Despite being far more enlightened than most men of his day, Abraham Lincoln was still a racist by our standards. Religious fundamentalists often adhere to beliefs which were formed far earlier than Lincoln, yet are just as backward as his historically moderate racism.


Fundamentalists have very concrete ideas about how people ought to live, and how society should be run. Those who do not fit their mold are despised as unrepentant sinners and/or agents of evil. Given their conviction, religious fundamentalists do not keep their disdain to themselves. Often, they lash out at those who they dislike, leading to much unnecessary suffering. Consider these examples provided by the ACLU:[5]

  • Religiously affiliated schools firing women because they became pregnant while not married.
  • Business owners refusing to provide insurance coverage for contraception for their employees.
  • Graduate students, training to be social workers, refusing to counsel gay people.
  • Pharmacies turning away women seeking to fill birth control prescriptions.
  • Bridal salons, photo studios, and reception halls closing their doors to same-sex couples planning their weddings.


The vast majority of successful societies throughout human history have utilized a patriarchal social structure.[6]As such, the traditional view of women is that they are inferior to men, and are often treated poorly as a result. This perspective is reinforced by the world’s major religions, and stridently kept alive by their fundamentalist adherents. For example:


  • In 1 Peter 3:1, wives are told explicitly to “be in subjection to your own husbands.”
  • In both the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches, women are not allowed to be ordained as priests.[7]
  • Fundamentalist Christians fervently oppose abortions even in cases of rape and incest.[8]


  • Women are encouraged to cover their bodies lest they tempt men to sin by thinking lustful thoughts, but studies have shown that sexual harassment among conservatively dressed women is commonplace in many Islamic countries.[9] 
  • Domestic violence is also very common in Islamic countries, as it is fully endorsed in the Quran.[10][11]


  • In Hindu India, it is common to blame victims of rape, and allow rapists to go unpunished.[12]
  • In the Vedanta, it is said that only males are allowed to study the Vedas, which is necessary for achieving full realization of one’s soul.[13]

Psychologically Damaging

A recent study including over 8,000 people in 7 countries has found that religious individuals are more likely to be depressed than those who are non-religious. On top of that, the most religious tended to be twice as likely to be depressed.[14] While it is probable that depressed people may be more likely to seek emotional benefits from religion, I would argue that for some, religion can do more harm than good. For example, gay teens are 3.4 times more likely to commit suicide than their heterosexual counterparts.[15] The homosexual teen suicide hotline “Trevor Lifeline” reported that nearly twice as many calls come from Southern US states than from Northeastern ones.[16] For those who are not familiar, the Southern states are known for their religious conservatism, and the Northeastern for their secularism. Thus, it is likely that at least a portion of these gay teens committed suicide because they felt shame for their innate sexual preference.

Beyond gay teens, religion can also incite shame and guilt for doing or thinking things which are perfectly healthy (e.g. premarital sex, masturbation, doubting beliefs, etc.) This shame may also be coupled with the petrifying fear of spending eternity in hellfire for displeasing God. On top of that, fundamentalist religions prescribe many unnecessary rules of conduct, dress, cuisine, ritual, etc. that can be burdensome to the practitioners. Consider the plight of Islamic women, for example. Living in fear of sexual and physical abuse certainly isn’t conducive to psychological health.

How Fundamentalist Religion is Ruining the World

Radical Islam

Radical Islam poses one of the greatest threats to the stability and safety of our society. In 2011, Sunni Muslim terrorists accounted for 70% of the all terrorist murders, and over 95% of suicide bombings are conducted by Muslim extremists.[17] In addition to the violence perpetrated by Muslim terrorists, one of the major tenets of fundamentalist Islamic doctrine is that democracy is in contradiction with the sovereignty of Allah's law.[18] The Hizb ut-Tahrir Movement in particular has gained significant momentum in much of Europe.[19] This sect publicly eschews violence, but regularly holds rallies and protests accompanied by statements such as “Britain will be an Islamic state by the year 2020!” to promote its goal of overthrowing democratic governments in favor of a global caliphate.[20]

Degenerating Public Trust in Science

Darwin’s Theory of Evolution hasn’t set well with religious fundamentalists since its inception. Today in the United States, 35% of Americans believe God created humans in their present form around 10,000 years ago, and 26% believe God guided our evolution.[21] This has led to many battles in religiously conservative states to include curricula regarding intelligent design and creationism as well as anti-evolution messaging in public school science classes.[22][23] This isn’t a uniquely American problem either, as South Korea nearly passed a law to drop references to evolution in their public school textbooks.[24] This isn’t only a Christian problem either, as only 8% of Egyptians, 11% of Malaysians, 14% of Pakistanis, 16% of Indonesians, and 22% of Turks agree with Darwin’s theory.[25]

So why does this lack of acceptance in the theory of evolution matter? For starters, it is how humans came to exist in our present form, and misleading our children about it robs them of a full understanding of their own humanity. Beyond this, I personally know a person who went to a Christian college that teaches creationism in its biology classes, yet has both an accredited nursing and PA program. This has the potential to endanger public health, as evolution is central to the study of biology and thus medicine.

In addition to these issues, denying evolution undermines trust in science. This is why religious individuals are far more likely to deny global warming than those who are unaffiliated with any religion (Total U.S. population 47%; Unaffiliated with any church 58%; White mainline Protestants 48%; White, non-Hispanic Catholics 44%; Black Protestants 39%; White evangelical Protestants 34%).[26] This matters not only because the vast majority of climate scientists believe it is a real threat, but also because it has the potential to severely diminish humanity’s ability to thrive on this planet.[27]

Ruining our Political Systems

In the United States, the Republican Party has recently been taken over by religious fundamentalists.[28] This means that half of the world’s richest and most powerful country’s government is being influenced by people who are both immune to reason and firm believers in harmful nonsense. This is why in 2011, 1,100 reproductive rights laws were introduced by state lawmakers during a time when the unemployment rate was 8.2% and over 400,000 children remained in the US foster care system.[29] This is also why in 2013, the federal government was shut down in part due to provisions in the Affordable Care Act, which provided free access to contraceptives to women.[30] Finally, it is also why in recent years, we have had one of the least productive Congresses in US history.[31] In short, fundamentalist religion is ruining my country, and in effect, making the entire world much worse off.


Among all topics I’ve covered in my blog, the problem with fundamentalist religion is one of the most difficult to explain succinctly. There are simply too many examples, too many angles of approach, and too little room to fully detail the degree to which fundamentalism is awful for humanity. Ultimately, the problem is that fundamentalists stubbornly believe in harmful ideas and feel compelled by their religious fervor to make life miserable for the rest of us. Given their large numbers and political influence, their negative impact on humanity will likely be felt long after society fully moves away from such belief systems.

"The Tokyo Rose Case"

The University Press of Kansas has added a new volume to its Landmark Law Cases & American Society series: Yasuhide KawashimaThe Tokyo Rose Case: Treason on Trial (2013). Here's a description:

Iva Ikuku Toguri (1916–2006) was an American citizen, born on the 4th of July. Her parents, first-generation Japanese Americans, embraced their new nation and raised Iva to think, talk, and act like a patriotic American. But, despite her allegiance to the United States, she was forced to spend most of her adult life denying that she was a traitor or that she was World War II’s infamous Tokyo Rose.

When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, Iva was nursing an ailing aunt in Japan. Prevented from returning to home, she was viewed with suspicion by the Japanese authorities. They hounded her to renounce her American citizenship, which she adamantly refused to do. Pressured to find employment, she joined Radio Tokyo. Known as Orphan Ann, she did nothing more than emcee brief music segments on “The Zero Hour” during the war’s last two years. She was never called “Tokyo Rose” by anyone and was but one of only a dozen or so English-speaking females heard on Japanese airwaves.

In need of money to return home after the war, she made the mistake of allowing herself to be interviewed by two ambitious journalists who were certain that she was the Tokyo Rose, even though she denied it. The published story brought Iva to the attention of American authorities who tried and convicted Iva for treason, despite the lack of evidence and a reluctant jury. She was then stripped of her citizenship and sent to prison. 
Yasuhide Kawashima’s account of Toguri’s trials are deeply rooted in Japanese language sources, American legal archives, and the cultures of both nations. He identifies heroes and villains in both the United States and Japan and also highlights broader concerns: the internment of thousands of loyal Japanese Americans, the meaning of citizenship, the nation’s commitment to the idea of fair trial, the impact of tabloid journalism, and the very concept of treason.

Iva was eventually pardoned in 1977 by President Gerald Ford—she was the first person in U.S. history to be pardoned for treason—and had her citizenship restored. Yet when she died in 2006, obituaries continued to identify her as Tokyo Rose. Kafkaesque in its telling, Kawashima’s tale provides a harsh reminder that the law does not always render justice.