I suppose most thinking people would tend to agree that we now live in a largely secular world, in which folks who actively follow a religion are becoming a minority – certainly in the developed world. The religion that is practised in the West is largely of a benign variety – very different from the apparent fundamentalism we tend to see elsewhere. Most of us probably think that fundamentalist religion has no place in the West. Who wants to be a fundamentalist these days? Right?
Well, you may be surprised to hear that a lot of the enlightened, the liberal and the woke among us have actually signed up wholeheartedly to a new fundamentalist religion. Most of them had no idea that this is what they were doing when they joined up, but hey, that’s the clever thing about it. You think you are signing up to a popular club that is a caring, open, transparent, respectful and truthful. Your new beliefs focus on the promotion of democracy, justice, tolerance, social justice, secularism, gender equality, racial equality, internationalism, freedom of speech, and freedom of religion (as long as it’s not Christianity or Judaism), amongst other wonderful things. That’s good. You are convinced that all previous belief systems – political, religious or philosophical – have failed to deliver these gifts to the population because they have been hamstrung by corruption, cover-ups, insider-fighting and institutional dishonesty. And the great thing is, you don’t even need to believe in God to be a member of this new fundie religion.
Once you have recognised the real truth, you immediately realise that you had previously been tricked, indoctrinated or bamboozled into going along with all the ‘old’ ideas. These old ideas have kept you tied into systems that demeaned you and others, worked only for a few favoured people at the top, and ensured the survival of only those who benefitted the most by them. So far so good. You are now enlightened. Thank God (sic) goodness for that.
Do you know that many, perhaps a majority, of our politicians, media personalities and other ‘influencers’ have become fundamentalists?
‘But not me! How dare you say that about me and my perfect, enlightened values?’
Are you sure? You say you’re not a fundamentalist, yet you display, if not parade, several of the characteristics of fundamentalism every day – in your speech, your attitudes and your behaviour….
‘What!? You’re mis-representing me! I’m tolerant of others! That’s not fundamentalist! I’m for equality, diversity and inclusion for all!’
Right. So does that include people who have different views to yours?
‘What do you mean, “different views?”’
Just that. If I have a different idea about what constitutes justice or fairness, or whose rights come first in certain situations, am I entitled to receive your tolerance, equality and inclusivity?
‘What are you talking about? You mean that you don’t think all of my views and feelings are right?’
Uh-huh. That didn’t take long, did it?
So, what is this new fundamentalist religion?
Unsurprisingly, this wonderful new faith is still officially un-named in public. However, it is secretly called The Light of Political Correctness or, if you like to be formal, Lux Politica Rectitudo. Or, as that is something of a mouthful, LPR😊 for short. It is often referred to as ‘PC’, ‘woke’ or something similar, by those who don’t agree with LPR😊. When you see collective references to any of the following list words, be aware that they are likely to be part of a piece about or by the new religion. Failing that, they will be emanating from an organisation or an individual who has been converted to LPR😊:
Open, transparent, impartial, fair, accessible, privilege, oppression, intersectionality, appropriation, social construct, narrative, allyship, unconscious bias, horizontal hostility, non-violence, social justice, plus the calling out or identifying of any -ism and any -phobic labels….and so on.
This amazing religion is made up of a range of ever-shifting denominations, just like ‘old’ religions. These denominations represent the numerous varieties of ‘Truth’. These include Trans-Truth, Gender-Truth, Race-Truth, Orientation-Truth, Climate-Truth, Youth-Truth, Equality-Truth, Tolerance-Truth, Diversity-Truth, Openness-Truth, Freedom-Truth, Speech-Truth and Transparency-Truth, among others too numerous to list here. Some of these Truth Denominations like to band together unofficially into Meta-Truth groups such as The Council of Victimhood-Truth, The Convention of Self-Determination-Truth, the Council of Social Realignment Truth, or the Sisters Against The White Male Patriarchy Truth. Current big names tend to focus on issues around environmentalism, race divisions, sex/gender issues, and anything that comes under the hopelessly wide banner of social justice. But let’s not get too deep into these hierarchies just yet.
How do we know that LPR😊 is a fundamentalist religion? Well, we can look at the characteristics of fundie religions and see where we can find a match (hint – pretty much everywhere).
As an anthropologist by trade, I have long had a fascination with the anthropology of religion. It’s amazing what people have managed to do and to come up with throughout human history to accommodate their beliefs, their needs and their ideals. We’re no different today – just arguably better at it. This is ironic, given that a key part of being a member of LPR😊 involves proclaiming how self-aware and well-informed you are. But hey, nobody’s perfect. The same people who love to criticize mainstream Christianity and Judaism (all other religions get a free pass) as if they are examples of mass delusion or conspiracies to rule the world, are quite happy to engage in their own fundie beliefs and activities, oblivious to the fact that they are exhibiting the same characteristics as those they disparage as extremists.
To help you understand this stuff, just take any current or recent PC lobby group that has dominated the news, and look for the match-ups. It’s not difficult. This works for protest or special-interest groups arising from other religions, from political beginnings or from social-issue origins. Think eco, trans, re-emerging socialism and even in Christian churches, the growth of the LGBT+ version Christianity. And these are just to get you started.
So what are the characteristics of a fundamentalist religion? Anyone who is interested can simply look this up on Google or whatever, but to save time, I have a summary here of the generally accepted features of fundie religions. Read on.
Counter-modernism – many fundamentalist religious groups want to restore a special past or bring about some sort of utopian future based on their own values and certainties. Just look at the current narrative around trans and other LGBT issues. The message is that most of the past – a period that was not apparently controlled by the enlightened – was a pit of intolerance, hate and cruelty. If not these, it was blighted by ignorance of some key issue or issues. This ignorance is now dispelled because of the presence of, and knowledge held by, the members of the new religion. If their views are implemented in society, humanity (or the parts of which they approve) will be saved.
Chosen people – members believe that they are ‘chosen’ as a special generation and as special individuals because they have some sort of insight or knowledge that has been denied to, or ignored by, most or all others so far. Only they have the moral high ground because they have ‘seen the light’ when nobody else has. It is now their moral duty to tell everyone else about their ‘truth’ and if possible, for some of the more extreme fundie groups, to force others to believe it as well. If others won’t believe it, they must be made to believe it by the imposition of rules that make alignment mandatory. It is not sufficient to publicly go along with an idea, everyone has to internally accept it and believe it. Sound familiar?
Divinely-appointed leader or leaders – these leaders have a unique access to the ‘divine inspiration’ and only they fully understand and know the whole ‘truth’. This is something of a paradox considering that ‘God’ as traditionally understood is supposed to be dead, but this does not seem to faze the membership or the leaders. Somehow there is a force or state of being – even if it just human recognition of something or an idea – that confers enlightenment on the leadership. The leaders cannot be criticized or contradicted. Their word is law. Everyone must accept in full all that the leaders say is necessary in order to belong to the group. The leaders define what parts of the modern world can be accepted or not and the members must abide by these boundaries. These leaders are often unusual people, or people who would not necessarily ‘make it’ in any other field of endeavor – but this fundie religion allows them an opportunity to shine brightly. Even if they change their minds about something, or ‘develop’ their knowledge over time, they were never wrong in their initial teachings – they are just better now. The other sort of leadership is now seen in the fad of celebrity endorsement of whatever the current ‘in’ project is. If a famous person jumps on board, well, the fundies think they have been proved right. Rightness can be acquired by association if a celebrity joins up. Likewise, guilt by association is assigned to those who do not toe the line.
Appearance and clothing – adherents have to wear, or must show in some way, signs of their uniqueness and specialness. This is often done through a uniform of some sort. It could involve the wearing of certain clothes, jewelry, hats, hair-dos, or whatever will make them stand out to be recognized as special. Typically, followers who can’t always dress the part like to wear prominent bracelets just below their shirt cuffs to proclaim their allegiance. Or a badge or ribbon on their lapel. Anything to say, “I’m on the right side’. They may like to choose unusual names. They name their children with the names that ‘fit’ the group and proclaim the parents’ values (all groups do this). They may change their name when they join the group. They actively seek to be identified as different. Many ‘orthodox’ groups of various religions, while not being ‘fundamentalist’ in nature, often adhere to this trait as well.
Often complex behaviours are required – adherents must abide by complicated rules about how they live, who they mix with, what they eat, what they wear, what jobs they do (or none at all), how jobs are allocated in the home and in the group, what sort of work they should do and so on. It can even extend to policing who they may marry – or at least sleep with – how they raise children and what they do with their money. Today, for example, we see a range of required behaviours in the Eco-Truth branch of the new religion – most of which are Good Things in themselves, but which are now preached as being the 21st century version of the Ten Commandments. Recycling. Using a smaller car (unless you are a celebrity). Getting rid of the car (almost never actually seen unless the ex-owner lives in a city with a good public transport system). Going vegan. Going veggie. Eating less meat. Not buying bottled water. Buying local. Not flying. Not having a second home (unless you are a celebrity or richer than most). Growing your own veg. Sponsoring a toilet in the developing world. These are all Good Things in themselves, but they are now used by many as a way of acquiring social status rather than simply being a true altruistic action.
Women are second-class (at best) to men – most fundie religions put women’s rights – if they have any at all – below the rights of men. Segregation may occur. Women-only spaces may be required, or may be removed, effectively banning women from certain spaces. Women may have to eat differently to men, or to dress in certain ways, or be denied a full education. Women are treated often as baby-producers or may be urged, or choose, not to have children unless it is ‘approved’. Women’s rights are generally denied or minimized when compared to men’s rights and roles. Much of this is policed in the group by the older women themselves, although men may have the last word. The senior women acquire, in effect, similar powers to those held by the men; they do not hesitate to wield these powers over junior women. Women’s sexuality and expressions of sexuality are highly controlled and policed. Women may be required, or choose, to play down their femininity or to hide it.
It is worth looking at some examples of this fundie characteristic to illustrate the point. At first glance, it may seem that the only way in which LPR😊 differs from traditional fundie religions is in this area – the roles and rights of women. But once you look a bit more closely, you can see that the new religion is, in fact, at least as woman-controlling as the ‘old’ fundie religions. In fact, it is worse. The new religion controls or defines female sex and sexuality in a new way – by questioning whether female existence and femaleness are actual entities. A woman is no longer a woman – an adult female. She is a cis-woman or a trans-woman, or some variation in between. Femaleness is no longer a stand-alone biological concept. Strangely, maleness does not seem to be similarly affected. So not content with controlling who women can or should be prepared to sleep with, have babies with and wear, the new religion has simply denied the very nature of being a woman. Apparently male-bodied persons with internal male organs are now women if they say or think they are. And so are male-bodied persons with their original external bits in place. Got that? That’s what a woman is now – anything that a man says she is. A ‘real’ woman can’t be called a woman – she’s a cis-woman or a natal woman. That’s as opposed to a trans-woman.
Only they own The Truth – theirs is the only version of the truth and all others must not only be dismissed, but actively rebutted. All past truths have been false. All current ‘other’ truths are false or misleading. The new religion’s truth is the most important thing in the world and if everyone does not get on board with it, then the whole world is off to hell in a handcart in the imminent future (remember Al Gore and the Arctic ice prediction?). Not content with being right in everything themselves, members of the new religion cannot allow their ears to be assaulted by any views that differ from their own. This is why we now see no-platforming, safe spaces, trigger warnings and silencing in our universities, colleges and the media. Differing views are not allowed. They must be removed from public life. Those expressing them are Bad People. The association between these ideals and past or current totalitarian regimes appears to be lost on the leadership of LPR😊.
Holy Writings – fundie religions have a range of holy writings that they stand on and which cannot be contradicted. Accordingly, anything written or claimed by a proponent, especially a celebrity proponent, is automatically a piece of Holy Writ. There is not even any debate. Today, these scriptures may be scientific papers, media programmes, podcasts, speeches or images. There is no debate about these scriptures simply because they have been written solely by gods and cannot be refuted. Anyone attempting to contradict or sideline them is an apostate and a rebel and must be silenced.
Utopian society – the best possible lifestyle for the whole world is only possible when their social ideals are imposed and everyone either obeys them or is rejected from society. Any questioning of this, or presentation of contradictory facts that could be considered in any transition period en route to this Utopia, must be dismissed or preferably silenced. If incontrovertible facts or evidence are presented which contradict the sayings or writings of the leadership, then the producer of those facts or evidence must be silenced and/or removed. Alternative facts – or more likely, feelings and lived experience, will be cited, whether based on sound foundations or not, as if they are equal to actual evidence. If these ‘facts’ hurt others, or fly in the face of evidence, so be it. For example, the new eco-religion says we must stop using oil. The whole world must stop using oil. Including the developing world which is reliant on oil and its downstream products to drive their emerging economies. The followers of the new eco-religion don’t seem to realise that the people who will suffer the most from their utopian policies are the poorest ones. But hey – that’s what the Holy Writ says we have to do – so we’ll do it. Or in the case of famous followers and leaders, we’ll excuse our own uses of oil (Emma Thompson – ‘If I could fly cleanly, I would’) and pay someone else to clean up our mess (Elton John, who kindly paid for someone else to plant a few trees to pay for Harry and Meghan’s private jet flights to his place).
Only one Truth allowed – their ‘truth’ should dictate policy and politics and take over the whole of society. All policy should be built on and around the basics of their ‘truth’ despite the wreckage that can be caused by its imposition on populations. Not only must everyone adhere to the current Truth, but they must accept it whether they want to or not. Anyone who doesn’t accept the current Truth is A Bad Person and must be excommunicated from society.
It is totalitarian by nature – One Rule To Bind Them All Whether They Like It Or Not (sorry, JRR Tolkien, but it was too good to resist). Authoritarianism is the key feature of the religion. Of course, all fundie religions claim that their followers are free and that their structures are democratic, open, transparent and honest. But once we start digging, we find a different story.
Sound familiar at all?
If in any doubt, just apply these characteristics to any organisation or individuals who seem to be dominating the headlines today in an effort to convince you of something. It’s an interesting exercise.