The Spectrum of Fundamentalism

Evangelical Monotheist, Pagan, Scientific and Political


When we think of fundamentalism, most of us think of extremely conservative monotheistic religions. But can there be fundamentalism in other fields as well? In his book The Fundamentalist Mind, Stephen Larsen claims that there is such a thing as “scientific fundamentalism”. How well do the characteristics of religious fundamentalism apply to how scientists practice science? At first this seems odd. After all, scientists are trained to be skeptical and do not advocate any promise of an afterlife. Where are the similarities and where are the differences between conservative monotheistic religion and science?

On the surface the sacred spirituality of neopagan goddess religion would seem to be the opposite of monotheistic fundamentalism. After all, neopagans are anti-authoritarian, claim that individuals can have sacred experiences and are in no need of conversion. Yet how might neopagan goddess practitioners be fundamentalists in their own way? Lastly, some claim left wing political movements can have plenty of fundamentalism built into them. After all, they do have holy texts, martyrs, and often treat their followers in an authoritarian way. How far can we see parallels with political movements to monotheistic religious movements?

I will begin with Larsen’s 28 categories through which monothetic fundamentalism can be displayed.  Then I will apply his characterization to science, Goddess religion and conclude with political fundamentalism. The texts I will be using are Larson’s Fundamentalist Mind, and What’s So Wrong About Being Absolutely Right? By Judy J. Johnson and Eric Hoffer’s The True Believer. I should point out that testing these groups in terms of fundamentalism in no way means that they are unsuccessful in gaining followers and even that they may do some good.

Christian Monotheistic Religious Fundamentalists

Certainty and dualistic oppositions

One of the major characteristics of fundamentalists is their insistence on absolute certainly and their intolerance of answers that are probabilistic or admitting they do not know. In the case of knowledge, religious fundamentalists are dualistic: you are either right or wrong, just as there are two forces, God and the Devil. This produces thinking that is rigid rather than flexible. Religious liberals, on the other hand, will understand opposites as polar and changing into each other rather than being mutually exclusive.

Literal interpretations and anti-scientific orientation

Next is the retelling of history. For fundamentalists, everything that is written in the Bible is literally true. On the other hand, the followers of the liberal wing of the religion will say biblical stories are metaphors for how humanity should live life. Liberals may also say religious ideas should make room for the latest scientific findings and upgrade their beliefs accordingly. Religious fundamentalists are anti-scientific and see science as their enemy. Another characteristic is how they relate to religious competition. Religious fundamentalists are authoritarian. They believe that other religions are evil at worst and erroneous at best. They are the ones being saved while others have lost their way.

Beginning and ends of time; heaven and hell

Cosmologically, monotheist fundamentalists are catastrophic. They believe that the end of the world will be an apocalypse where they will be saved and everyone else damned. The same dualism pervades where they believe people will go in the afterlife. Heaven and Hell are real places. Liberal monotheists will claim, like Tolstoy or Gandhi, that Heaven and Hell are not physical places but states of mind. When it comes to history, God keeps a keen eye on the doings of humanity and can be counted on to intervene in history and fix things from time to time. Liberal monotheists understand that nature is immanent and self-regulating. God is likely to be a divine watchmaker who wound things up and let humans suffer our own fate.

Conversion process, abortions and assisted suicide

If you haven’t been socialized from birth, what is the process by which you become initiated? For fundamentalists your conversion is catastrophic. You are blinded by light as St. Paul was or you are bullied and pressured by a priest, pastor and parishioners at revival meetings.  For liberal monotheists, becoming spiritual is a gradual process of seeing the light through a mystical practice which takes time to reveal itself. Finally, fundamentalists want God to control life and death. They are against abortion and assisted suicide. Liberals argue that humanity should be in control over the birthing process and the conditions under which they die.

Child-rearing and Kohlberg’s stages of morality

Most Christian fundamentalists are from working class backgrounds and are raised by their parents in an authoritarian way. This means that human behaviors are right or wrong, and when you disobey you often get hit. When you do something wrong there is no negotiating and no room for ambiguity. Parents are the boss and there is little sense of gradually letting go of the reigns as the child becomes an adolescent. In terms of Kohlberg’s stages of morality, fundamentalist adults can be as low as stage three, doing things to keep from getting punished or stage four, obedience based on conventionality. There is little interest in going past conventional morality due to exceptional circumstances as when the authorities are instructing people to do immoral things. Therefore, the God of the fundamentalists has the similar characteristics as the child or adolescent’s father.

Emotional life, rituals and motivations

The emotional life of a fundamentalist is a combination of fear, guilt, paranoia, with anger as a cover. The paranoia comes from imagined threats to the rigid order he has set up. Thus there are always devils, heathens, and feminists threatening to ruin Christian life. The fundamentalist is fearful of doing something wrong to offend either his father or God. As a sinner he feels guilty for indulging in simple pleasures. He strikes out at this miserable life with misplaced anger towards others. In his religious life he is carried away by events. He performs rituals mindlessly because he is told to do them, not because he understands the symbology. He is compulsive about the ritual because he relates to it in a superstitious way. If his work life is dangerous, like most workers, he will be superstitious. In situations where he lacks control, he will superimpose a ritual in the hopes of making his work more predictable. Because so much of working-class life is not satisfying, he is extrinsically motivated. He does his work because it is extrinsically motivated, satisfying by his paycheck. The same is true in his religious life. He engages in religious actions in the church not because they are intrinsically meaningful, but as a ticket to heaven in the next life.

Piaget’s Stages of Cognitive Development

The monotheist fundamentalist thinks in a concrete way. He uses his mind to solve problems, but he doesn’t reflect much on his thinking or his behavior. This applies not only to his religious activity but in relation to his friends and his family. In Piaget’s stages of cognitive development, his is either at a sophisticated level of pre-operational thinking or in concrete operations. Liberal fundamentalists are much more likely to use formal operational thinking that requires self-reflection. In large part this is because most liberal monotheists are either middle or upper-middle class and their jobs require more self-reflective, active thinking. The fundamentalist mind is not integrated, with contradictions not being faced. They tend to cognitively compartmentalize. This means allowing contradictions between one’s morality and one’s practice to exist in separate compartments.  They get no “air” where they can to see how they might be behaving in a hypocritical way in the eyes of others.

Sense of humor and getting needs met

A sense of humor is very helpful in living a meaningful life despite the current instability of social life. The ability to laugh at oneself and to laugh with others over the irony of situations makes life more bearable. Most Christian fundamentalists lack the ability to laugh at themselves and with others. They are overly serious about themselves and when they laugh socially it is at the expense of others. In terms of disposition, they are cynical about human nature which supports the theological belief that people are sinners. How do fundamentalists get their needs met? In a contradictory way, with timidity alternating with aggressiveness. On one hand, they are timid about asking for what they want. On the other hand, however, if the situation persists, they will become aggressive and strike out. Since this leads to self-destructive acting out with damages to others, this then calls forth more timidity. They become locked in a self-destructive two-step. Liberal monotheists at their best are neither timid nor aggressive, but assertive. This means saying what you want, trusting the other person to do the same in the hopes of creating a win-win situation rather than a zero-sum game of win-lose.

Attitude towards process and living in the present

In terms of goals, a person can be a “destination” person or a “process” person. Destination is end-state and the process is how you get there. For the fundamentalist, in the case of proselytizing the end is everything and if the means used to get there are inconsistent with the goals that is acceptable because “the ends justify the means.” Questionable means they may be using force, trickery or fraud. For the liberal how something is done is at least as important as the result. If the process is bad the ends will be compromised. This leads to differences between liberals and fundamentalists about how they see time. Liberals are more likely to be present-oriented. They are less likely to blame the past and they have confidence that the future will take care of itself. Fundamentalists are haunted by the past and worried about their future in heaven. They will be least present in everyday life because they have one foot in the past and the other in the future.

Impact on the Brain

As most of you know, the brain is composed of three layers: the limbic brain, the mammalian brain and the neocortex. The limbic brain controls survival (including fight-flight) and reproduction. This is the oldest part of the brain. The mammalian part of the brain controls emotions and interpersonal life. The neocortex controls higher level thinking and language abstraction. All human beings, back to the origins of humanity, have all three operating. However, there is a part of the brain called the amygdala that is largely connected up to fear and fight-flight. Those who experience brain damage can have a permanently impaired limbic system. What can cause brain damage? It can be caused by car accidents, PTSD produced by wars or severe physical beatings, involving head injuries. Now we know that homelife for working-class men and women can be violent. It is not far-fetched that those who experienced brain damage would have an out-of-control amygdala which produces fight-flight reactions that are consistent with the dualistic thinking connected with fundamentalism. We also know that working-class men are also on the front lines of war, and usually come back with PTSD. This is another disorder that can catalyze an out-of-control amygdala. Brain damage like this is not a necessary condition for fundamentalist thinking. Being raised working-class with fundamentalist childrearing along with all the other categories in this section is enough to produce a fundamentalist mind. However, brain damage can amplify a condition which already exists. Please see table 1 for a summary:Is There Such a Thing as Scientific Fundamentalism?

In his book The Fundamentalist Mind, Stephen Larsen wrote a chapter on what he calls “secular fundamentalism” in which he criticizes scientific fundamentalism which includes physical sciences and medical science. He cites the dogmatic materialists who want to reduce the biological and social sciences to that of physics. He writes that the universities in which science is practiced are akin to religious temples. The theoretical controversies within a field of science can result in what he calls “excommunication” or marginalization of some scientists.

Lastly, he cites times in the history of science when new theories were proposed but resisted by scientists and then later shown to be true. Are these factors enough to claim that scientists can be just as fundamentalist as Christian monotheist fundamentalists?

When we compare the criticisms, Larsen makes against the 27 categories of religious fundamentalism, we see the connection is extremely far-fetched. In the first place, scientists are generally upper-middle class which is similar to liberal monotheists. What follows is that:

  • The parenting style will be authoritative or permissive. This means there will be little chance of PTSD violence that might support dualistic thinking.
  • Their morality will be somewhat conventional, but they can also be in stages 5 and 6. Like liberal monotheists, scientists will not be trained to accept a passive and obedient kind of morality.
  • The scientists will think the same as in Piaget’s formal operational stage. If anything, they might have an even more highly developed formal operational thinking because they are trained to be very sharp in statistical reasoning. Liberal monotheists such as ministers or college instructors might not have quite as much on the ball about this.
  • They are high in self-reflection. Scientists are carefully trained to know when they are not being careful and are taking liberties with the facts.
  • Degree of mental integration – scientists cannot afford cognitive compartmentalization because it would be too costly to their job if they didn’t recognize when they were thinking in a contradictory or inconsistent way.
  • Because of their middle class or upper-middle class position, scientists probably like or even love what they do for a living. Dispositionally this would lead them to be moderately optimistic, present-oriented and intrinsically motivated. This is the reverse of the religious fundamentalist cynicism, which involves preoccupation with the past and future and their consequent extrinsic motivation.

Is a scientific experiment a kind of ritual?

What liberal monotheists do in church is a mindful ritual around the meaning of symbols rather than mindless, compulsive or superstitious rituals of monotheist fundamentalists. The closest thing to a scientific ritual is the design and implementation of an experiment. This is a highly complex mindfulness that must remain focused for days and even weeks. Needless to say, any mishaps are understood as mistakes rather than sins. What are the standards for the result of an experiment? Probability is as good as it gets, just as for the liberal monotheists. Scientists do not think in a dualistic way. They are extremely careful and are very comfortable with various middle shades of prediction. They make a practice of quantifying and qualifying. Their language is painstakingly neutral and they are very sensitive to buzz words and loaded language.

Nature as self-regulating, and proselytizing

Scientists do not have holy books, but there certainly are science and philosophy books they respect. However, pointing out where past scientists have gone wrong is a way of life for them. Scientists tend to think that nature is self-regulating. Some are atheists and some are deists but most would not support any kind of divine intervention. The entry into the scientific world would not be characterized as a mystical experience but would be characterized as a gradual improving of skills of practicing the scientific method rather than any kind of conversion experience. Like liberal monotheists, scientists do not proselytize for their field. It is true that Dawkins, Dennett, Hutchens and Harris have thrown down the gauntlet, as Larsen says. But their proselytizing is strictly limited to the educated public. There are no atheists threatening the lives of anyone who is not an atheist.

Because of the usual class position of atheists, they are less likely to have fought in wars and suffered the resulting brain damage to the amygdala, the cingulate or the limbic system. Like liberal monotheists, scientists are not likely to believe in heaven or hell as places.

Science is not reductionistic; importance of falsifiability and a sense of humor

It is true that prior to the rise of complexity theory, the sciences did try to reduce all complex levels of nature to the simple level of physics. But since quantum physics has introduced randomness into scientific theory, physics is no longer deterministic or predictable. Larsen is beating a dead horse as the barn is already open and the horse has left. Contrary to Larsen, science is open to contending paths to knowledge, providing all the contenders play by the rules of science. Scientists are right not to mix scientific ways of knowing with non-scientific ways because the latter do not organize their methodology in a way that they cannot be proven wrong. It is ridiculous to insinuate that this is comparable to religious fundamentalist freak-outs over different religious understandings about the nature of God, the ages of the earth or what happens after death.  I would guess that for the most part most scientists support abortion and a minority would support assisted suicide. As for a sense of humor or a lack of it, we know scientists are very serious people, but that doesn’t mean they lack a sense of humor. Anyone who is a scientist would have to have a sense of humor, given that they are constantly dealing with laws of probability and not knowing things for sure.

Can Monotheist Goddess Pagans be Fundamentalists?

What monotheistic goddess worshippers believe

In the third chapter of my book Power in Eden: The Emergence of Hierarchies in the Ancient World, I examined the viability of the claims of Goddess monotheists. I began the chapter with this story that sums up their beliefs:

In the beginning men and women lived in harmony and peace. We were once one with nature and there were few differences between us in social power or wealth. Women had a special place in early tribal societies: their motherhood was revered, they held positions of authority and they practiced forms of magic centered on the worship of a monotheistic Goddess. Figurines of Goddesses have been discovered, proving there was once a great women’s religion. Throughout the Bronze Age, hunters and pastoralists from Central Asia invaded these peaceful societies, creating social hierarchies, wars and the beginnings of male dominance. All of this was later sanctioned by the worship of an otherworldly, transcendent male deity that eventually coalesced to become a monotheistic God. The Goddess was discredited and went underground, being kept alive in later years by peasant communities in the magical practice of witchcraft. Today the Goddess has resurfaced as the focus of women’s spirituality. (54)

Taking my chances teaching a Goddess religion course

A few years earlier when I was still working on Power in Eden, I was asked to teach a class on “The Religion of the Goddess”. Normally I would have declined to teach it because I disagree with virtually all the claims of the Goddess people. But I agreed because the faculty chair was desperate. When I began teaching the first day, I gave the students a hand-out on the characteristics of monotheistic fundamentalism which was similar to Table 1 in this article. They liked my table and agreed that fundamentalist Christianity was pretty much their enemy. But then I asked, “do you think that neopagan Goddess reverence could also have fundamentalist tendencies.” You could hear a pin drop. That was the beginning of a very thought-provoking class for all of us.

Some Slight Fundamentalist Tendencies Among Goddess Monotheists

Social class and parenting styles

How far can we get with Goddess Neopagans when we compare their social class characteristics to the characteristics of fundamentalists? While most Goddess Neopagans are middle class or upper-middle class, there are also working class women artisans and part of the movement. This means there will be some overlap between working class pagan women and monotheist fundamentalist women that will make the comparison more complex than comparing scientists to fundamentalist monotheists. The parenting styles of the parents of pagan women have all three parenting styles – authoritative, permissive and authoritarian. Those working-class women with authoritarian parents might well have been beaten and even suffered brain damage, probably at the hands of their father, triggering PTSD.

Brain Damage and PTSD

In addition, working class women might have suffered rape which might have triggered an overactive limbic system, amygdala and disfunctions of the cingulate. In addition, the prospect of rape might have been a reality for middle class and upper-middle class women as well. So the experience of women growing up could have been terrorizing enough to catalyze dualistic thinking, regardless of social class. While we are on the subject, whereas working class men can be a good bet to have PTSD because they are fighting on the front lines, working class women are not moved to the front lines often, at least in the United States. Therefore, the chance of them having PTSD from war is not as high as working class men.

Loaded language and literal belief in the independence existence of deities

Loaded language, both virtue and vice words, goes well with dualistic thinking. How far is this likely to be the case with pagan monotheists? My experience with pagan women’s use of language, even Goddess fundamentalists, is nowhere near as severe as with Christian fundamentalists. The closest they come is in calling everything they don’t like “the patriarchy”. They use nothing near the litany of fire-and brimstone terminology such as “devil-worshipping, degenerates, heathens” that is present among Christian fundamentalists. Any bad-mouthing of Christianity is more likely to occur when a woman (or man) first joins the movement. It is not a way of life. Once inside the community, members form tight relationships, are happy with their community and are less likely to be throwing stones at competing religions.

How important is it for the Goddess or Goddesses to have real, independent personalities? In other words, how much is the existence of the Goddess to be taken literally? Because paganism believes that whether the Goddess is one or many, because she is immanent in this world, pagans have less trouble than Christian fundamentalists in thinking that Goddesses might be or are psychological projections, or the result of the collective unconscious. Pagans accept that Goddesses can be literal or metaphorical whether they are one or many.

Kohlberg’s stages of morality and Piaget’s stages of cognitive development

In the case of Kohlberg’s stages of morality, most pagan women came out of the counterculture of the 70s and are critical of the authorities was a way of life. It is not hard to imagine that even working-class Goddess worshippers would not take obedience to the authorities of Kohlberg’s fourth stage seriously. In terms of Piaget’s stages of development, Goddess pagan women are involved in the arts and are less likely to use Piaget’s stage of formal operations. Working with clay, drawing, music and dance all goes very well with Piaget’s concrete operations. In terms of ritual, some say the heart of Goddess spirituality is the collective ritual, and the ritual must be mindful for magic is to take place. On this front they are the exact opposite of Christian monotheist fundamentalists.

Attitude towards violence

Attitude towards violence whether at the hands of God or the Christian fundamentalist community is a normal part of Christian fundamentalism. Some pagan Goddess people make a principle out of non-violence in society in part as a carry-over from the sixties peace movement.  Goddess fundamentalists are like process philosophers. If the process to getting something is good, there is a good chance the desired end will follow. If the process is bad, it means the Goddess has other plans. But if the process of achieving something is bad or violent, the ends will not be achieved.

However, most neopagans are aware of being persecuted by Christians in the past and are ready to fight, at least legally, when necessary. For pagan monotheists who are revolutionary, armed conflict will be necessary. Pagans are more likely to begrudgingly accept violence as necessary in the realm of nature. Since nature has cycles of creation and destruction, the violence of nature, whether in storms, volcanoes, hurricanes, or in animal-animal violence is gone along with. There really isn’t the revenge component as it is in Christian fundamentalism’s apocalyptic endings.

Ways in Which pagan Goddesses are Anti-fundamentalist

Pluralism, eclecticism, immanence, nature as eternal, human control over life

Pagans are generally pluralists. They accept differences in the community.  There is no excommunication among pagans. Many are eclectic and even draw from the liberal or revisionist beliefs of the world religions. There are no cries that other pagan tendencies are false or fallen. Pagans are less willing than fundamentalists to claim that humanity has a special place in life. The idea is to heal the rift between humanity and nature, not to rise above it. Pagan monotheists will argue that the goddess is present on earth now, doesn’t need to be reformed or ask for special help from an external divine force to clean up any messes. Nature is self-regulating and has no need for divine intervention. Most pagans do not think there was a beginning or end to the world. Nature operates in cycles and is eternal. There is no grand cosmic reckoning. Pagans come down squarely on the side of liberal perennialists when it comes to life and death. Goddess fundamentalists, being pro-feminist, are pro-abortion and most believe in the individual’s right to decide to take their life under certain circumstances.

Heaven and Hell as Psychological States – Enchantment is a Gradual Process

Goddess monotheists are much more psychological than monotheist fundamentalists. For example, for Goddess monotheists, heaven and hell are not real places you go after death. They might say, to paraphrase Tolstoy, the kingdom of the Goddess is within you. In other words, we make our own heaven and hell by how we manage our thoughts, feelings, memories, imagination and goals. No one in paganism receives a bolt of lightning from the blue whereby they are converted into paganism. Having magical states of consciousness is a gradual process of practicing, getting control of the imagination and using it to change our state of consciousness. There is nothing sudden or earth-shattering about it. Enchantment is a wonderful, gradual melting that comes over our senses as a result of a good ritual. There is no kicking, begging or screaming about it.

Humor, the senses, sex and the present moment

Pagans, whether monotheists or polytheists have a sense of humor. Their playfulness is worked into the collective creativity of their rituals, which are filled with singing dancing and myth-making. Pagans are serious people but playfulness is necessary when you have to adapt and to go to plan B. So, if an outdoor ritual gets rained out, collective creativity is mobilized. This is a far cry from the obsessive monotheist fundamentalist who has to have everything letter-perfect.

Goddess monotheists happily accept what nature offers in the way of sensual and sexual pleasure. There is no need to bury it, shed it or destroy it. Bodily pleasure also involves enjoying the present. More than Christian fundamentalists, goddess monotheists are intrinsically motivated. This is in part because of their class position – they are usually happy in their work and are not wishing to be somewhere else. They are less haunted about the past or worried about the future. We only have now, anyway. Goddess monotheists are moderately optimistic and not cynical nor do they hope to be delivered to a better place.

Getting needs met and self-reflection

Goddess monotheists generally do not want to play passive-aggressive games to get what they want. Since most Goddess monotheists come out of the feminist movement, or have inherited it from their parents, they are very aware of the games women have been forced to play. Part of their pagan traditions is to overcome these self-destructive games and be straightforward. The self-perpetuating trap of timidity-aggressiveness might apply only to a minority of them. While Goddess fundamentalists might not be very interested in the mathematical-scientific skills of formal operations, they certainly are good at self-reflecting about their actions and how those actions might affect others. Again this is inherited from either liberal or socialist feminism. Lastly, they are not very likely to be accused of cognitive compartmentalizing. Because they are self-reflective, they are likely to be willing to face contradictions and resolve them rather than walling them off and sealing them as monotheistic fundamentalists are likely to do.

Left-Wing Political Fundamentalism

I have decided to focus on left-wing political fundamentalism since it can be interestingly contrasted with Goddess fundamentalism, as well as with science. Right-wing ideas have been seriously presented under the first section on Christian fundamentalism. While I will use Leninism as the political tendency which most resembles left wing political fundamentalism, this does not mean all Leninists groups can be painted with the same brush I have painted in this section. There are exceptions and variations among groups. This section of the article draws from two previous articles I wrote: Political and Spiritual Cults and Left-Wing Psychotherapy Cults.

Social class and parenting styles

The social class of Leninists depends on how successful the party is in recruitment. If successful, it will have a working class base. If the party is small, it will be composed mostly of middle-class and a few upper-middle class people. In terms of parenting style, if leaders of the party came from the working class, then their authoritarian parenting styles will make their children ripe to follow the decisions of the Leninist party. If party members are raised middle class, the parenting would include authoritative parents. Permissive parenting of the upper-middle class would hardly be likely for Leninist parents. Permissive parenting is child-centered and treating the child as special would be dismissed as “petite bourgeois individualism.”

Kohlberg’s moral stages and Piaget’s cognitive stages

Since Leninists are socialists they will have no problem marginalizing Kohlberg’s fourth stage of conventional morality. Leninists will categorize conventional morality as “bourgeois” morality and they will be guided by a communist morality. This kind of morality most closely approximates Kohlberg’s sixth stage of universal morality on which morals go beyond the laws of capitalist life. Middle class liberals in Leninist parties occupy work positions such as high school or college teaching which would require using Piaget’s formal operational thinking as would doing carpentry work or engineering. Working class members would use concrete operations.

Brain damage and PTSD

At least in the United States, middle-class Leninists are not likely candidates for PTSD. However, its working-class members may have been hammered by US world wars and have PTSD. That might make them candidates for the party’s practical dualistic thinking.

Loaded language

Leninist language contained many examples of loaded language. There are virtue words like proletariat, class-consciousness, revolution and dialectical materialism. There are loaded vice words such as petite-bourgeois individualism, capitalist, false consciousness, sectarian and opportunist. Orwell was right to say that if you weed out neutral language while introducing virtue and vice works, you will be successful in narrowing the person’s thinking.

Literal interpretation of sacred books

At their worst, Leninists do treat the works of Marx, Engels and Lenin as sacred books. For example, many have presented Marx and Engels’ history of social evolution as unchanged over the course of 100 years, rather than upgrading it with scientific anthropology that has developed over the past 120 years. Only a few fundamentalist Leninists understand that the anthropology of Marx and Engels needs to be upgraded.

Heaven and hell

Like pagans and scientists, Leninists don’t believe in the real existence of heaven and hell. But unlike pagans, neither do they understand heaven and hell as psychological states. Leninists are too practical to see the triumph of the socialist revolution as a kind of heaven. They see it as more likely the result of transitions. Attacks by capitalist intellectuals who claim Leninists are naïve about human nature are misplaced. This criticism is better directed at anarchists.


Leninists, like most scientists, see rituals as a mindless, superstitious waste of time. They do not understand how Goddess monotheists can engage in ritual in a mindful and meaningful way. They cannot understand the difference between the superstitious use of ritual by Christian fundamentalists and what Goddess pagans do.

Missionary work/proselytizing

While Leninists are a secret, elite party, it can only succeed by masses joining them to make the socialist revolution. Therefore, unlike Goddess monotheists and scientists, there is an element of missionary work in the way Leninists approach the public. On one hand, the masses are considered naïve but on the other hand are considered potentially heroic and can be saved by joining the party. Those not in the Leninist party are mocked and attacked in a way that monotheist fundamentalists will attack other Christian groups. In reality they are threatened by the competition.

Means and Ends

Like monotheistic fundamentalists, Leninists are destination-oriented. They are likely to justify the means they use even if it contradicts their goal, if the goal can be realized. So, Leninists did not trust workers to self-organize and run the factories themselves. They also repressed the practice of the class they claimed was the most revolutionary in the name of the party that claimed it knew better. In terms of their attitude towards time, Leninists are far-more focused on the past (history), and the future (communism) than the present. The present, instead of being enjoyable, is a kind of purgatory to be gotten through to reach the communist future.

Group inclusivity

Leninists in the United States are notorious for splitting into smaller and smaller groups over one or two different interpretations of history. The Trotskyists are the worst at this. It is very difficult for hard-core Leninists to cooperate with other leftists and they can barely stomach fellow Leninists, let alone anyone else.

The nature of opposites

The philosophy of Leninists, dialectical materialism, claims that opposites are polar rather than dual. That means that opposites turn into each other and “either/or” thinking is understood as simplistic. But in practice, Leninists fundamentalists often cannot think about the things that go on in capitalist society as points on a spectrum, with some more positive than others. Instead, most everything is understood darkly. At the same time, it is difficult for them to admit historical mistakes in countries like Russia, China or Cuba and this isolates them even more from other leftists.

Nature and society as self-regulating; process of initiation

Like pagans and scientists, Leninists understand nature to be immanent, self-regulating and self-sustaining. But unlike scientists, Leninists understand human social dynamics as conflicted but self-regulating and subject to social laws as well. Furthermore, the way in which a person becomes a Leninist is not a sudden, blind transformation. Rather it is a gradual process in which individuals transform themselves by reading, discussion and revolutionary practice. In the control over life and death, Leninists, like scientists and Goddess monotheists, understand that the social world is a human creation and human beings should be in control of the birthing and dying processes.

End of the world

Like monotheistic fundamentalists, Leninists also have apocalyptic endings, as in the case of a revolution which overthrows capitalism. There certainly is a judgment day for capitalists in which their entire system is brought down. However, Leninists, like all Marxists, hope that some of the wealth of the capitalist order is preserved so it can be built upon by communists. Just as Christian fundamentalists were not above torture in converting heretics, Leninists think the only way socialism can be ushered in is through armed conflict. This does not mean attacking heads of state or fighting the police. First, workers take over the means of production of workplaces and sources of energy like oil, water or electricity and turn it into social property. The fighting begins when the police attempt to take back social property in the name of private property.

Motivation, self-reflection, humor

The motivations of Leninists are mixed. There is certainly a Puritanical side to Leninism which drives them into relentless political activity which can lead to burn-out. This can lead them to be extrinsically motivated. This means doing political work they might not enjoy for the triumph of socialism in the end. Both scientists and goddess fundamentalists are more likely to be intrinsically motivated and enjoy what they do.

Unlike Christian fundamentalists, Leninists are extremely self-reflective in examining the relationship between theory and practice, both personally and in terms of the practice of their party. Leninists are theoretically committed to mental integration in terms of noticing contradictions, whether they are dialectical or formal. However, they are likely to be guilty of cognitive compartmentalization when it comes to not facing the limitations of what they are trying to achieve, along with wishful thinking about how mobilized the working class truly is.

Like monotheist fundamentalists, Leninists are overly serious and have difficulty laughing with others or laughing at themselves. They often come across as monkish and dour. Leninists are cynical about the collective creativity of the working class without the help of Leninists. They can be overly optimistic about the general human condition and be slow to understand that the revolution is not always just around the corner.


In Table 2 you will find that there is a significant overlap between Christian fundamentalism and Leninism. Leninists are strongly compatible with Christian fundamentalism in ten of the twenty-seven categories with one category where there is partial overlap.  The ten categories are:

  • Loading the language
  • Interpreting the holy books literally
  • Exclusiveness in groups
  • Apocalyptic end of the world
  • Acceptance of violence
  • Proselytizing
  • Extrinsic motivation
  • Lack of humor
  • Destination orientation – ends justify means
  • Difficulty living in the present. Past-future oriented to time

In the case of Goddess monotheism there are no categories which are strongly connected to Christian fundamentalism and only two categories where there is partial overlap. Science also has no categories where there is a strong correspondence with Christian fundamentalism and only two categories which have partial overlap. This means that if Larson had wanted to pick on secularism and argue that fundamentalism is bigger than religion, he should have picked Leninism, rather than science.

See Table 2 for a grand summary of Christian fundamentalism and the extent to which science, Goddess monotheism and radical-left politics can be understood as a type of fundamentalism.

• First published at Socialist Planning Beyond Capitalism

Bruce Lerro has taught for 25 years as an adjunct college professor of psychology at Golden Gate University, Dominican University and Diablo Valley College in the San Francisco Bay Area. He has applied a Vygotskian socio-historical perspective to his three books found on Amazon. He is a co-founder, organizer and writer for Socialist Planning Beyond Capitalism. Read other articles by Bruce, or visit Bruce's website.