A friend of mine lent me this book recently, after I lent him Sam Harris The End of Faith, which I’ve talked about before on this blog. Both books deal with analysing the phenomenon of fundamentalism but the two authors deal with the subject in very different ways. Harris’ book is full of vitriol and lacks any real compassion, whilst some of his arguments are interesting this gets lost in his rabidly anti religious stance, his intolerance of faith is as damaging as the very fundamentalism he discusses. Armstrong on the other hand tries to rationalise and understand monotheistic fundamentalism,by examining in detail Christian, Jewish and Muslim fundamentalism. She examines each of them in turn with dignity and depth and amazing richness of detail particularly from a historical point of view
Unlike Harris'(who is so rabidly anti-islam that he’s become the poster child for Islamophobes ), Armstrong’s analysis is very objective, surprisingly so in fact, and I’m very glad I read the book, it taught me a great deal. She tries to understand why fundamentalists believe as they do and behave as they do, but she certainly isn’t afraid of articulating her own feelings about these people.
One of the most interesting arguments (if that’s the right word) she makes is that as scientific rationalism began to “explain away” God, fundamentalism rose up as its “implacable” enemy. It’s fascinating how she explains that before this conflict between scientific theories and literal readings of holy texts everyone embraced the “Independence relationship” between science and religion – a theory ascribed to Ian Barbour. In which he describes science and religion as separate domains of equal value in life since they focus on dealing with separate parts of our existence.
Armstrong tries to de-demonise fundamentalism and I think offers some hope in favouring discussion, dialogue and integration as a way out of the ever increasing conflict between fundamentalists and humanists.
It’s a very well written book and offers a valuable insight into the genesis of the fundamentalist movement and what keeps these movements growing. It’s an insightful read and I thoroughly recommend it to anyone interesting the debate around fundamentalism.