Understanding the Concept of Religious Fundamentalism
The concept of religious fundamentalism has become a prominent phenomenon in international politics, playing an essential role in shaping the main events of the 21st century. The entrance of the concept in the vocabulary of the social sciences in recent times is to designate cum revitalise conservative religious orthodoxy. But originally, the word fundamentalism dates to an early 20th century American religious movement. The movement took its name from a companion of twelve volumes published between 1960 and 1915 by a group of Protestant laymen entitled, The fundamentals: A testimony of the truth. It owes its existence, according to Beeman (2001:12), particularly to the same evangelical revivalist tradition that inspired the Great Awakening of the early 19th century and a variety of millenarian movements. It came to embody both principles of absolute religious orthodoxy and evangelical practices which called for believers to extend action beyond religion into political and social life.
The people in this category had a set of well defined fundamental values. These values for them were in opposition to more modern ideas. They originally maintained that it is important to stick to what faith (the Bible) tells them. Today, the term is deployed to qualify religious extremism wherever it is found. Religious fundamentalists believe that religious doctrines or propositions are absolute and immutable. They abhor change of whatever kind in religious matters. They find change oppressive and troubling and thus their emergence is seen in the form of an orthodox restatement of traditional and conservative religious patterns. Tamas Patak, in his recent work entitled,Against religion (Patak 2007:27), lists what he sees as ‘criss-crossing similarities’ –family resemblances in certain basic beliefs, values and attitudes that characterise the various religious groups labelled fundamentalist:
i. They (fundamentalists) are counter-modernist. Fundamentalist tendency manifests itself as an attempt by ‘besieged believers’ to find their refuge in arming themselves with an identity that is rooted in a past golden age. And this identity is acted out in an attempt to restore that ‘golden past’ (p.29).
ii. They (fundamentalists) are generally assertive, clamorous and often violent. This tendency is manifestly evidenced in the militancy, threats, intimidation and sometimes violence on the part of the religious extremists.
iii. They (fundamentalists) are ‘the chosen’, ‘the elect’ and ‘the saved’. It is from this conviction that they usually consider themselves ‘privileged and burdened’ with a special mission on behalf of their deity and for the benefit of the world. Pataki notes that this attitude ‘is not restricted to fundamentalist groups but is a prominent mark of all of them (p.29).
iv. Public marks of distinction. They consider this as a surest way of maintaining their sense of superiority and distinctive identity; not only for the purpose of maintaining that distinctive identity, but also as ‘part of the narcissistic struggle to be considered unique and special’ (p.30).
v. That there is only one true religion and one correct way of life, and this must be defended against in roads with other religious and secularism. In their mentality, there is no room for religious pluralism and there is no middle ground: ‘You are either with us or against us’ (p.30).
vi. That there is an inerrant holy book, prophet or charismatic leader to whom literal obedience is mandatory. With this tendency any contrary treatment of their holy book or revered personage is visited with any protestation possible.
vii. That law and authority comes from God, and every plausible legal structure must source its strength and provision from the holy book.
viii. Female sexuality must be controlled and clear impassable boundaries must be established between men and women. This is premised on the belief that female sexuality is associated strongly with “animatisms” and pollution, giving rise to taboos on certain sexual practices (p.32).
ix. Sexual behaviour is a major concern of all fundamentalists. The concern is expressed especially in reference to the fear of and opposition of homosexuality.
x. Fundamentalist and nationalism converge: It is the belief of the fundamentalists that moral life according to the will of God can only be fully lived in a society of fellow practitioners of the belief. This can only be achieved through God’s rule, theocracy. Hence, the struggle to bring about a government that can ensure the enthronement of God’s will in governance.
It is instructive to note that these tendencies are evident in the activities of the Boko-Haram movement in Northern Nigeria. However, many critical observes are not so much worried about the fundamentalists, believing in certain fundamentals, but their sense of judgement about moral and religious absolutes and their virtual lack of tolerance and accommodation of other views in the society that is heterogeneous and increasingly pluralistic. However, it is worth noting that the features listed above by Tamas Pataki capture reasonably what we consider here to be religious fundamentalism/fanaticism.
Religion and the Nigerian Nation
Nigeria is a religious nation, with three most pronounced religious: traditional African Religion, Christianity and Islam, whereby Christianity and Islam incessantly struggle with bloodshed for superiority, popularity, population increase, secularism and more rights, since inception. We are thus inclined to ask: would the absence/non-emergence of both but the original, African Traditional Religion, practised hitherto, have been better than the present mixture? The affirmative is both ‘No!’ and ‘Yes!’ First, because before the advent of Christianity and Islam to Africa/Nigeria there existed rarely any religious problems, as sanctity was rather maintained by all for fear of the immediate repercussion of one’s misdeeds, unlike now. On the other hand, their coming had brought various changes, positive and negative, yet with the positive ones preceding the negative regardless of the enormous emerging and endemic religious problems such as ethnicity, religious politics, corruption, religious commerce and economy, religious-inclined (social) vices, etc. that engulf a religiously mad nation like Nigeria. Well, opinions on the above would definitely vary among individuals and groups.
Initially, the Nigeria nation (society) comprising of over 350 ethnic groups, was classically involved in the African Tradition Religion inherent to each of these tribes until the advent of Christianity in the South by the European missionaries and that of Islam in the North by the Arabian missionaries, who then began labelling the indigenous religion and means of worship cum the worshippers as ‘pagans’, ‘fetish’, ‘paganism’, idols//idolatry’, ‘juju’, etc., all to convince and convert the people. This mission, they accomplished successfully and implanted the Nigeria’s two main religions– Christianity and Islam, which brought along with them the endemic incessant religious problems that have been ravaging Nigeria over the ages.
In the 1932 census, 50% of the population was registered as ‘pagans’ and it later declined to 34% in 1952, reduced further to 18% in the 1963 censures while in 1991 nobody indicated being a traditionalist, which implies that we have two main religions: Christianity and Islam (Odoh, 2005:136). In reality, this is however not so. Hypocrisy and fanaticism account for such decline. If ATR is now extinct, why do we still see people practising the very kind of religious rites that those proudly known to be its adherents doing so? Who are those that politicians and the like often meet secretly for spiritual powers? Why do we hear some of the so-called believers say: If it takes dropping the Bible/Koran first to go diabolical, I will do so first in this/that matter? Nigeria is turned a hypocritical and fanatical religious nation by her believers of the two major religions.