How do you Solve a Problem like Fundamentalism?

This is an insightful and accurate description of the pernicious effects of fundamentalism on, well, everything.

I particularly like the last paragraph which is an antidote to the overly-optimistic bromides you often hear about how education, particularly science education, is the cure for the current plague of anti-intellectualism and fundamentalism. Baloney. Trying to stem fundamentalism with education is like trying to put out a five-alarm fire with an eyedropper. For education to succeed, there has to be some degree of receptivity, and fundamentalism is extremely effective at hermetically sealing the channels into the human brain. No, fundamentalism must be fought, not with physical violence (at least not in this country…yet), but in several ways:

1) Intellectually: The pseudo-intellectual basis of fundamentalist polemic and ideology should be systematically dismantled. It would be great if there were some one site you could consult that would carry authoritative, point-by-point, in-your-face refutations of all major fundamentalist and religious right claims. Many of these critiques already exist, for instance at Talk.Origins and other anti-creationist and anti-fundamentalist sites. It would be great to have these brought together in one convenient location. Of course, maintaining such a site and keeping it current would be a lot of work and would probably keep a team of volunteers busy, but it would be a great resource. Naturally, the site would not aim at convincing fundamentalists. It would exist to provide ammunition for people to oppose fundamentalist polemic. For instance, when I hear some fundamentalist saying that you can “pray the gay away,” I would love to have one site where I could go that would give a clear, focused rebuttal that would cite the legitimate scientific sources and take that nonsense apart piece by piece.

2) Politically: Here, actually, we have seen some real progress. In the last election fundamentalist idiots were taken to task when they said particularly stupid things, especially stupid things about women. Fundamentalist beliefs really are out of the mainstream, especially with younger people. Much of what needs to be done here is to alert people to what fundamentalists REALLY believe. They really believe that a woman should submit to the authority of her husband. They really believe that abortion should be illegal even when the pregnancy is due to rape or incest. They really believe that there is something terribly wrong with gay people. They really believe that Jesus is soon coming back in glory for a genocidal Second Coming. They REALLY believe these things. Not much could be more damaging to fundamentalism than to let people know what they really believe. When a fundamentalist is running for office, we must pressure them to admit what they really believe. Make them say that they think a raped woman should be denied an abortion. Make them say that we don’t need to do anything about climate change because Jesus is coming back soon. Make them say it.

3) Culturally: I think that Tina Fey’s wicked satire of Sarah Palin on Saturday Night Live probably had as much to do with the defeat of the McCain/Palin ticket in ’08 as anything else. Fey made it devastatingly clear just how clueless and fatuous Palin really is. “A single belly-laugh is worth a thousand syllogisms” said H.L. Mencken. Fundamentalism and fundamentalists should be ridiculed in the media, by comedians, or wherever. You don’t have to worry about fairness, since, as Poe’s Law famously notes, no satire can possibly be more absurd than the real thing. Come on. You just can’t come up with anything more ridiculous than someone who honestly thinks that all human woes stem from an incident in which a talking snake accosted a naked woman in a primeval garden and talked her into eating a piece of fruit. Again, most ridicule would consist of pointedly drawing attention to what they really believe. Nothing could be fairer than that. As a sign admonished on The Simpsons, put the fun back in fundamentalism. Laugh it to death.