John Gray’s Phrase for Missionary Atheism: “Enlightenment Fundamentalism”

With all the “hoo-haw” back and forth on the Internet about whether there is such a thing as “fundamentalist atheism,” I noticed that the philosopher John Gray today used a curious phrase in an essay for New Statesman: Enlightenment fundamentalism.

Below is his usage of it in context:

Equating fundamentalism with terrorism is loose thinking, but the biggest drawback is the loss of historical memory that making the parallel entails. Much of the state terror in the past century was secular, not religious. Lenin and Mao were avowed disciples of an Enlightenment ideology. Some will object that they misapplied this. And yet it is a feature of the fundamentalist mindset to posit a pristine faith, innocent of complicity in any crime its practitioners have ever committed, and capable – if only it is implemented in its pure, unsullied form – of eradicating practically any evil. This is pretty much what is asserted by those who claim that the solution to the world’s problems is mass conversion to “Enlightenment values”. If Garton Ash is reluctant to talk of Enlightenment fundamentalism, this may be in part because it suggests that we are at risk of drifting into an intractable conflict. Yet clearly the danger of clashing fundamentalisms is real.

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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