FUNDAMENTALISM AND ITS NAKEDNESS

People who join the bandwagon of remember…remember the 5th of November oftentimes do not exactly know what they are fighting for besides internet freedom. The success of the Anonymous movement has distorted the message of the 5th of November i.e. the plot to bomb the parliament building. Hatched by Catholic rebels against the “protestant” King James, the plot was a paradigm example of religious opposition to the burgeoning hegemony of protestant political dominance. As such the violent outburst of these Catholic rebels is a challenge to the hegemony that they are to some extent comparable to the rebellion of Christ against the ruling Jewish authorities. Paradoxical as it may sound, the Catholic “rebels” are the ones who are “Protestant” in the strict sense of the term. In this paradoxical reversal of roles, the Protestants are more “Catholic” than the Catholic rebels themselves. While only seventy five years before, the Augsburg Confession was declared by the Lutheran church and the German Princes were allowed religious and creedal freedom in the Holy Roman Empire. The reversal is seen in the context of England where to be Catholic is an act of “protest” against the English Monarch (since to be Catholic is to acknowledge the authority of the Pope over the authority of the Monarch in ecclesiastical affairs).

The same pattern could be seen in the rise of fundamentalist Christianity and their penchant for anti-Catholic propaganda to entice oblivious believers to join their “Christian” ranks. Catchphrases such as “we’re more biblical,” “we’re the original restored church,” etc are common propagandistic slogan from these groups aiming at their putting their significant mark on the religious social sphere. Internal to the dynamics of these fundamentalist groups, to maintain the legitimacy of their religious hold among people they had the tendency to suppress dissent among members through a notion of “unity,” playing a cohesive role in checking the amount of thinking people did as they convert. The main reason for this is to eliminate all traces of the previous religious thinking, tradition, etc to permeate inside the present religious body and affect its thinking and policies. In this case, fundamentalist Christians are more Catholic than Catholics themselves. While on the one hand fundies repeat the Catholic persecution of Protestants ad nauseam, they themselves within their ranks suppress dissent with the threat of hellfire and excommunication should any member marry someone from other religion or denomination or read materials from other sects or groups. In this case, G.K Chesterton’s remarks on secularism applies to fundamentalists themselves i.e. to criticize the role of any hegemonic religious institution and assert creedal freedom, they themselves suppress freedom just to fight the hegemonic church.

When one watches Iglesia ni Cristo propaganda, one recognizes the blatant pattern of their discourse. First to entice believers, they encourage speculation, discernment (pagsusuri), and even doubt, affirming in actu that there are different religious discourses available in the market (Here I am using Robert Ekelund, Robert Hebert, and Robert Tollison’s terminology in the analysis of religions as a form of market where any person chooses a belief always in reference to others and their attached responsibilities and so on). The freedom to explore other churches, to examine one’s own religious doctrines and so on is promoted as if the INC discourse is but one of the many interpretations of scripture. The convert upon any guided examination with an INC minister realizes that there is no real choice but between hellfire and the eternal gifts of salvation. The reality is inside the church itself what the convert sees is the illusion of choice among different religious discourses. The choice is not between one church and another but between two bad choices i.e. to join the INC and abandon all forms of previous thinking that I am used to in the previous church or suffer the life time guilt knowing that in one way or another I would playing with the possibility of hellfire. So, the convert has no choice but to convert. The choice between religious competitors is a false choice; no one really buys their goods in the market of religious beliefs one is sucked into it and its vicissitudes.

During the INC’s 100th anniversary the news site Rappler published an article based on a paper presented to the Max Plank Institute, commenting on Lawrence Ianacconne’s “economics of religion.” Using Ianaccone’s studies on the investment of belief in strict religions like the “Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints,” they commented that stricter religions grow while religions with lax rules tend to lose membership. The reason was simple: strict religions demand more, by demanding more the agent invests more time and dedication to the religious group and hence raises its benefits.[1] How we should understand “benefits” in this context remains shrouded in theoretical obscurantism; the term itself in one way or another an effort on the side of the sociologist of religion to account for religious dogmas of salvation, expressed in sociological terms. To resuscitate this concept of “benefits” from its theoretical obscurity, I claim that benefits should be understood for what it really is i.e. the void, filled by the ideological discourse of the religious group in which the members identify themselves, giving them the fuel for persistence. When one converts to a strict religion like the INC, the neophyte member is bombarded with images and stories of conversion; people like him who underwent the same process of discernment, doubt and speculation, tell their stories of conversion and how they underwent the process of indoctrination and so on. The neophyte identifies himself with them since it fills the void left by abandoning the previous religious tradition and the inherent command to abandon the previous religion’s influence in his own social life. For that reason, converts are the ones who fight tooth and nail for their newly found religion, demanding that others take the path of discernment and so on, to undergo the same process as him and to participate in the universalizing embrace of the brotherhood. Is it not also the case with European members of ISIS who are the ones who were fanatic about the concept of universal jihad and the Iraqi and Syrian members were just people who because of circumstances (anger against the establishment, economic difficulties, disappointment against the Iraqi and Syrian governments, etc) had no choice but to join ISIS just to be assured of the success of the revolutionary movement that they will join?

At the threshold of fundamentalism, Slavoj Zizek’s commentaries about fundamentalism are more important than ever but I think there are a few remarks which I do not agree. First, Zizek although against fundamentalism in its barest, admires the belief of the fundamentalist. The fundamentalist is an uncompromising believer, a believer ready to uphold the very contradictions of his belief. His examination of Alexander Fadeyev and the supporters of Stalinism brings us to an understanding of the very fundamentalist character i.e. the complete and total obedience to the Big Other, his actions are not his but the Big Other functions in and through him. At the dissolution of the Big Other, the fundamentalist is face to face with the void. Religious fundamentalism is on a more solid ground than Stalinism although no greater than it.[2] The strength of religious fundamentalism lies at its admission of the void and the obvious absurdity of its belief system. “I know full well inside my head that it is absurd to believe that Felix Manalo is the final messenger of the end times but in my social exchange with my peers I do believe that he is.” He is not in the same position as the analytic epistemologist who despite his efforts to solve epistemological problems believes that there is a Gettier counter-example for his theory and also knows about it but kept silent just to advance his theory, with an assumption that no one is more intelligent than him to formulate them as such. The difference between the epistemologist and the fundamentalist is in the position upon which they base their disavowal and the cancellation of that disavowal, hence its double negation.

The epistemologist is the prime example of what Jacques Lacan said “you never look at me from the place from which I see you.”[3] The epistemologist does not want to see his theory being the subject of a Gettier-example; he looks at the whole literature of epistemology just to make sure that all the circumstances and the details pertaining to his theory had been considered to make his theory “Gettier-free.” What he does not want to see is the philosopher with a Gettier example; the reference is towards an absent figure in the epistemological debate i.e. the anonymous philosopher with a Gettier example.

The fundamentalist on the other hand cancels the disavowal by recourse towards the visible manifestations of his religious body. The disavowed belief is transposed towards identification with the grandiose symbolic structure created by the religious institution. Here lies my second disagreement with Zizek. The fundamentalist does not simply transpose his belief towards the absent Big Other; but towards the physical edifice of the other’s symbolic structure. The external sign of this edifice is where the textuality of the fundamentalist other lies. For this reason, fundamentalist communities rely greatly on charismatic leadership to legitimize its claim since without it the emperor is naked; Billy Graham without the whole cult of personality of his ministry would be simply dismissed as a red neck pastor if not for his relationship with conservative American politicians and the contexts around which his ministry grew. Furthermore, the internal power of the INC lies not in its leaders since the Manalo family would simply be dismissed as a family of charlatans but rather towards the physical edifice of their character. The churches, the arena, even the charitable activities are part of its legitimizing act aimed at itself. Unlike the usual logical pattern of ideology i.e. to distort, legitimize and integrate, fundamentalist ideology simply legitimizes. At this point, Max Weber makes a stronger point than Paul Ricoeur’s account of ideology.[4] The simplicity of fundamentalist ideology is capable of also simplifying the identification of its members towards itself. When the individual loses himself in the act of sheding his previous religious practices, he undergoes a process similar to Western variants of Oriental spirituality i.e. to find his true self in the act of discernment and only find the sinful and weak soul within. At the moment of finding this inner fatalism, the emperor asserts the illusion that is has clothes despite being nude after all. Hence, all the usual patterns of ideology come after the legitimization phase rather than during its operation when the textual edifice of its character is open to all.

How are we going to demonstrate the latter point? Let us look at the most obvious fundamentalist sect (again) in the Philippines[5] The deeply rooted anger and hate of the INC for the Ang Dating Daan (Members of the Church of God International) lies solely of it being the excess of its own institution. The basic history of the ADD is that its founders were former INC members who were sceptical of Felix Manalo, doubting the leader’s moral authority over the church. The two are locked in constant combat which oftentimes results in a ridiculous exchange of remarks. While the executive minister of the INC is silent about its excess, relying more on ministers to do its dirty work of debating, the leader of the ADD, the loud mouthed Eli Soriano engaged in debates with everyone, creating a spectacle with every Q and A segment. What the two parties engage with is a classic Freudian scenario of the child competing for its father’s love which will turn out to be the start of the desire to murder the father. Eli Soriano wants to debate the executive minister not simply for the sake of proving him wrong but to “symbolically” murder the father and prove his ultimate love for him. What Eli Soriano does not know is that the father is already dead. Felix Manalo is dead and his sons—here the Freudian move is important—are simply the impotent younglings who replaced the father and rules in the Name of the Father whose impotence lies in its necessity to produce the Felix Manalo cult of personality and move towards a place they can call their own which to outside observers would be Commonwealth and Ciudad de Victoria. (Here is where we encounter the very Lacanian moment of the INC ruling in the Name of the Father and the impotence of its leaders, if we translate the Spanish words Ciudad de Victoria into Filipino we get the following: Bayan ni Manalo [City of Manalo], the justification for this is that the Spanish word de is a possessive preposition denoting possession, the translation Bayan ng Tagumpay does not make sense simply because it is not faithful to the possessive-ness of the word de.)

The fundamentalist risk is greater than those who do not profess the same risk. We can understand that the benefits Ianaccone spoke of are the benefits of fidelity without an event. A fidelity to the idea that the emperor has clothes but I nonetheless knew that he was naked. At the absence of a genuine point of identification, the fundamentalist relies solely on the textual edifice of its leaders. It is not surprising that fundamentalist leaders in the US make money out of the self-help books they sell and not solely in their hate-speech. In the same way, the INC member fully identifies not with its claim of biblical fidelity but towards the symbolic textual edifice of its institution.

[1] Paterno Esmaquel II, “The Rise of INC: Stricter Religions Grow Stronger,” http://www.rappler.com/nation/64426-iglesia-ni-cristo-centennial-stricter-religion-stronger (accessed 6 November 2014).

[2] Of course, the Zizekian move here is to argue that religious fundamentalism and Stalinism are just to investments to the Big Other. The fundamentalist transposes his actions to the Big Other of the scripture ( I do not walk by sight but by faith, as the guiding principle of spontaneous activity of the Christian fundamentalist) and the Stalinist sees himself as the agent of history who assures that communism is the final historical development and all dissent is to be eliminated. See Slavoj Zizek, Welcome to the Desert of the Real: Five Essays on 9/11and Related Dates (London: Verso, 2012), 59-60. For a more elaborate discusson of belief, see Slavoj Zizek, On Belief (London: Routledge, 2001).

[3] Jacques Lacan, Seminar XI: The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psycho-Analysis, trans. Alan Sheridan (London: Penguin, 1977), p. 103

[4] For Ricoeur’s account of Weber’s theory of legitimacy see Paul Ricoeur, Lectures on Ideology and Utopia, ed. George H. Taylor (New York: Columbia University Press, 1986); Paul Ricoeur, “Ideology and Utopia,” in From Text to Action: Essays on Hermeneutics II, trans. Kathleen Blamey and John B. Thompson (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1991). Although both essays follow the same point of analysis the latter article is a concise rendering of Ricoeur’s ideas about ideology and his commentaries on Weber, Geertz and others.

[5] The reason for this is that both the INC and the ADD are the two most popular fundamentalist sects in this country. While the Evangelical United Church of Christ in the Philippines geared towards Liberation Theology, following the pattern of South American “Catholic” theologians, the right-wing Evangelical pundits so popular in the US do not have a strong foothold here. Furthermore, even if there are Fundamentalist “Baptist” sects in this country they are too small to pose a significant political force. So far, there are three fundamentalist, revivalist, and local sects at work with enough political and social significance for our analysis i.e. the INC, the ADD and  Pastor Apollo Quiboloy’s (a self declared appointed Son of God) Church of Jesus Christ the Name Above Every Other Name. All other sects pose only a threat to Catholic hegemony but not a threat to Catholic dominance but also to the possibility of genuine emacipatory politics.

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FUNDAMENTALISM AND ITS NAKEDNESS

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