According to a new Pew Forum poll: 33%.
And the above number really hasn’t changed all that much over the past 30 years. I read from this something important: fundamentalism, despite its clamoring presence in contemporary Republican politics, is not a growing cultural phenomenon; it’s a stable and contained one. The environment for fundamentalism in America is no stronger and no weaker than it has ever been. As in past decades, it functions as reactionary static to a secular world that continues to evolve and move forward.
Does this mean that I’m complacent about the noxious nature of fundamentalism, and its potential, in a time of stress, of turning the country in an authoritarian and anti-humanist direction?
Camus’s famous novel, The Plague, is a sobering reminder not to mistake a phenomenon’s relative dormancy or containment for its defeat. It tells the story of a devastating plague visited upon the Algerian town of Oran, and it is also an allegory of France’s suffering under Nazi occupation. The haunting final passage, in which Dr Rieux reflects on the town’s apparent recovery, is this:
He knew what those jubilant crowds did not know but could have learned from books: that the plague bacillus never dies or disappears for good; that it can lie dormant for years and years in furniture and linen-chests; that it bides its time in bedrooms, cellars, trunks, and bookshelves; and that perhaps the day would come when, for the bane and the enlightening of men, it would rouse up its rats again and send them forth to die in a happy city.
Religious fundamentalism—in its absurd, arbitrary, and absolutist claims upon people—is a memetic cultural bacillus; critical thinking—with its insistence on vulnerable dialogue, reason, and evidence—is fundamentalism’s antidote.