A Channel Four television programme with this title, lasting two hours, airs in the UK on Saturday at 7.15 pm. The presenter is Mark Dowd. The official publicity blurb reads:
Former Dominican friar Mark Dowd travels the world to explore the origins of and reasons for religious fundamentalism. Examining five different faiths and a century of history, Dowd strives to discover who fundamentalists are, what their common attributes might be, and why a literalist approach to the religious text is so important to them.
Mark Vernon who has seen the programme, has written this preview:
The Fundamentalists – Channel 4, Saturday 9th Sept
Would you know a fundamentalist if you met one? A black hood and Kalashnikov might rouse your suspicion. But what of the peaceful sort, in regular clothes. What would give them away?
Four individuals featured in Mark Dowd’s film, ‘The Fundamentalists’, shatter preconceptions. For one thing they are women – a Hindi nationalist in India, a settler wife in Israel, an evangelical grandma in the US, and a Palestinian mum in Gaza. These four are also of four different religions – Hinduism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Fundamentalists are as likely to be Buddhist too, particularly if you live in Sri Lanka where they wear saffron robes. You needn’t go abroad for fundamentalism either. I recently spent the day with a fundamentalist from the home counties. He is white, middle class and a minister in the Church of England. We drank tea as he told me homosexuals are at risk of burning for all eternity.
From its origins in America, modern media have given the word fundamentalist global recognition in a few short decades, as Dowd shows when it is instantly recognised by people across four continents. Inspired by American fundamentalists, all sorts of people who feel politically embattled and/or personally unsure now turn to it for security. What fundamentalists have in common is breaking with the past: they do religion without tradition; something written or spoken two or three thousand years ago can be directly and unproblematically applied to today.
How should liberals respond to fundamentalism? Dowd shows how it is partly a political problem but it is also a spiritual problem. This leads him to make some pertinent suggestions. First, recognising that fundamentalism is here to stay, it is important to be savvy about their sense of the sacred to ensure that peaceable fundamentalists stay peaceable. Second, and more aggressively, it is important to challenge them religiously, particularly on the break with tradition: for example, as Jonathan Sacks puts it, God’s word without interpretation is like nuclear fuel without insulation. Third, we must strive for more spirituality enlightened times: the spiritual crudity of fundamentalism is a reflection of the spiritual crudity of materialism. As Dowd concludes, ultimately, only towering spiritual figures can lead fundamentalists away from their fears.