WALTER A. DAVIS: The Psychology of Christian Fundamentalism


Richard Moore


What we have here is not just a standard essay. This is a
brilliant treatise, a defining analysis. It reminds me of
Bruno Bettelheim's, "The Uses of Enchantment". Bettelheim
delves into the deep psychological lessons that are subtly
embedded in the various tales collected by the brothers Grimm.
Walter Davis, with comparable insight, delves into the deep
psychological needs that are served by fundamentalism.

In both of these works, by Bettelheim and Davis, I was amazed
by the totally unexpected insights and connections that were
presented. But at the same time, due to the excellent
presentation, I was able to grasp, almost intuitively, the
sense of the observations: they had become 'obvious' to me; I
had seen the evidence all my life, but hadn't really thought
about it.

Here are two teaser excerpts:

            "Devout believers are safeguarded in a high degree against the
            risk of certain neurotic illnesses; their acceptance of the
            universal neurosis spares them the task of constructing the
            personal one."
            - Freud

            It is hard to conceive the extent of the contempt for life
            that informs fundamentalism.

You'll need these definitions 

        Than·a·tos (th n-t s), n. 
            1. Death as a personification or as a philosophical notion. 
            2. Psychiatry See death instinct .
        death instinct, n. Psychiatry 
            1. A primitive impulse for destruction, decay, and death,
            postulated by Sigmund Freud as coexisting with and opposing
            the life instinct. Also called Thanatos .
            2. Death wish. 


Weekend Edition
January 8 / 9, 2005

Bible Says 

The Psychology of Christian Fundamentalism 


            "I know you're a Christian, but who are you a Christian against." 
            - Kenneth Burke 

In Apocalypse, a patient study of Christian fundamentalism
based on extensive interviews over a five year period with
members of apocalyptic communities Charles Strozier identifies
four basic beliefs as fundamental to Christian fundamentalism[1] .

            (1) Inerrancy or biblical literalism, the belief that every
            word of the Bible is to be taken literally as the word of God;
            (2) conversion or the experience of being reborn in Christ;
            (3) evangelicalism or the duty of the saved to spread the
            (4) Apocalypticism or Endism, the belief that The
            Book of Revelations describes the events that must come to
            pass for God's plan to be fulfilled. 

Revelations thus becomes an object of longing as well as
the key to understanding contemporary history, to reading the
news of the day and keeping a handle on an otherwise
overwhelming world. Each of these categories, Strozier adds,
must be understood not doctrinally but psychologically. What
follows attempts to constitute such an understanding by
analyzing each category as the progression of a disorder that
finds the end it seeks in Apocalyptic destructiveness.

Before undertaking that examination a note on method. My goal
is not to number the streaks of the tulip with respect to
Christian fundamentalism but to get to the essence of the
thing by offering a psychoanalytic version of the method Hegel
formulated in the Phenomenology of Mind. My effort will be to
describe the inner structure of the psyche implied by
fundamentalist beliefs by examining those beliefs in terms of
the psychological needs they fulfill. The examination of each
belief will reveal its function in an evolving "logic" that
traces the sequence of internal operations required for the
fundamentalist psyche to achieve the form required to resolve
the conflicts that define its inner world. The difference
between my method and Hegel's is this: Hegel's effort was to
describe the sequence of rational self-mediations required for
the attainment of absolute knowledge. Mine is to record the
sequence of psychological transformations that must take place
for another kind of certainty to be achieved: one in which, as
we'll see, thanatos and not reason attains an absolute status,
freed of anything within that would oppose it. In effect, my
goal is to offer fundamentalists a self-knowledge they cannot
have since it is precisely the function of the belief
structure we shall examine to render it unconscious and all
the more powerful and certain of itself by virtue of that
fact. What after all is religion but a desire displacing
itself into dogmas all the better to assure the flock that
what they desire is writ into the nature of things?

Who does the structure we'll examine describe? George W. Bush
and some of those closest to him? The 42% or 51% of those
Americans who now call themselves fundamentalists? The 80 or
90% of practicing Christians, the over 1 billion viewers
worldwide, who found Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ a
singularly compelling expression of their faith and who are
thus already far more fundamentalist in their hearts than they
realize? The power of any religious belief system derives from
how deeply it taps into collective needs and discontents. In
this regard we may already be living in a fundamentalist
Zeitgeist with the collective Amerikan psyche now defined,
even among those who have never (or seldom) seen the inside of
a church, by the emotional needs and principles of operation
that find their most seductive realization in fundamentalism.
We may in fact find the same "faith" informing a project that
initially appears to have nothing to do with
fundamentalism--global capitalism.

Though he does not share their beliefs Strozier often comments
on the charity and gentleness of his interviewees seeing in
that a sign that we should always temper any criticism of
fundamentalism by acknowledging the good things it does for
people, many of whom would be lost or miserable without it. Be
that as it may, in terms of the psyche a far different
condition might maintain with a pronounced dissonance between
the sincerity of the surface and the depths where something
quite different has taken hold of the psyche. Moreover, in the
psychoanalysis of a belief system the primary concern must be
not with the sheep but with the Grand Inquisitors. Or, to put
it in psychoanalytic terms, with those who fashion the
Super-ego which is the agency essential to the hold that any
religion assumes over its followers. Our concern, in short,
must be with fundamentalism not as a pathetic phenomena, a
halfway house for drug addicts and a panacea for those who
find in it the infantalization they seek, but for those who
have fashioned in it what Nietzsche would call (though with
horror) a strong valuation, an attempt to take up the
fundamental problems of the psyche and fashion a will to power
out of one's resentment by developing a faith that will make
one strong and righteous in that resentment, like Falwell,
smug in its smug certitudes like Dubya, confident in the right
to rule over those it reduces to the status of sheep, dumb and
blissful in their blind obedience to the will that is
collectively imposed on them.

Religion remains of course the one thing we are enjoined to
treat with kid gloves as if this is the one area of life where
criticism and a rhetoric that tries to energize the force of
criticism is verboten . Violating this rule is also the
quickest way to lose what current statistics indicate will be
the 93% of one's audience who say they believe in God. It is
thus important that I indicate up front that this is not a
contract I can honor. Like Freud, I think it can be
demonstrated that religion is a collective neurosis. In fact
one implication of the following examination is that Freud
didn't go far enough. But let me reformulate this hypothesis
in a more convivial spirit. Let's bracket the whole question
of whether religion has an object. On second thought, let me
concede it, the utter ontological truth of all the basic
beliefs, ever each one. Only then perhaps can we focus on the
question that constitutes the inherent and lasting fascination
of religion. Not what people believe, but why. The
consideration of religion as a psychological phenomenon-and as
such perhaps the one that offers the deepest insight into the
nature of the psyche and its needs.

I. Literalism

            "I don't do nuance."
            - Dubya

Literalism is the linchpin of fundamentalism; the
literalization, if you will, of the founding psychological
need. For an absolute certitude that can be established at the
level of facts that will admit of no ambiguity or
interpretation. (Fundamentalists, ironically, are the true
positivists.) But to eliminate ambiguity and confusion one
must attack its source. Figurative language. That is the
danger that must be avoided at all costs because in place of
the literal figurative language introduces the play of
meaning. The need to sustain complex connections at the level
of thought (not fact) through the evolution of mental
abilities that are necessarily connected with developing all
the metaphoric resources of language. The literal in contrast
puts an end to thought. It offers the mind a way to shut down,
to reify itself. It thereby exorcises the greatest fear:
interpretation and its inevitable result, the conflict of
interpretations and with it the terror of being forever bereft
of dogmatic certitudes. A metaphor is the lighting flash of an
intelligence that sees, as Aristotle asserts, connections that
can only be sustained by a thought that thereby liberates
itself from the immediate.

Literalism is the attempt to arrest all of this before it
takes hold. It's innermost necessity is the resistance to
metaphor. For with metaphor one enters a world that has the
power to unravel the literal mind. Let me offer one example.
"There is no God and Mary is his mother." In this great
aphorism Santayana asserts an ontological impossibility and a
psychological necessity. I once tried it out on some
fundamentalist friends. They were at first puzzled by the
unintelligibility of the statement then amazed that Santayana
and I were so dumb we couldn't see the contradiction. Finally
the light went on, almost in chorus, the literalist
deconstruction of the statement: "If he wasn't a God how could
she be a mother?" All attempts to suggest that the statement
wasn't meant to be taken literally only produced further
confusion then frustration then anger. Santayana's statement
made no sense precisely because it was a koan , a paradox
intended to produce reflection, even introspection. It was
there I suggested that one would find the key to its meaning;
not in the assertion that its meaningless constituted evidence
that Santayana was perverse or mentally unbalanced. We were,
of course, talking at irretrievable cross-purposes with no way
to bridge the gulf between us. Which was, of course, the point
of the exercise.

Literalism is the first line of defense of a mind that wants
to put itself to sleep. A sensibility that like Nietzsche's
last man can only blink in blank incomprehension at anything
that can't be immediately understood. It is the great
protection against a world teeming with complexities.
Literalism offers a way out, a way to keep the mind fixed and
fixated at its first condition. The way: the refusal to
comprehend anything that exceeds the limits of the simple
declarative sentence. Two reductions thereby feed on one
another: the world is reduced to facts and simples; the mind
reduced to a permanently blank slate.

Fundamentalism feeds on and fosters this reduction of the mind
to the conditions of the immediate. For in fundamentalism
literalism is raised to the status of a categorical
imperative. It is the law that assures deliverance from all
confusion. There is a single text, the Holy Bible . It
contains clear, simple direct messages-proclamations-that
establish the Truth once and for all. All of life's questions
and contingencies are resolved by statements that are beyond
change and interpretation. Literalism reduces reading and
interpretation to the Cratylean dream: one need only point to
the appropriate passage and "Pouf" all doubt and ambiguity
about what one should think, believe, or desire on a given
situation vanishes. One need no longer wrack one's brain or
one's heart or live in the terror that the world exceeds one's
grasp. The Book's unequivocal meaning and Life are adequated
to one another in a relationship of stark and simple
imposition. You see God has a plan for us and unlike
secularists and post-structuralists He speaks in clear and
unmistakable terms.

When approached literally the Book of necessity takes on a
number of other characteristics. Everything in it must be
factual and nothing outside the book can contradict those
facts. The very possibility of scientific investigation is
sacrificed a priori to the need to proclaim the text's
inerrancy. Every word of it must be the unalterable and
unchanging word of God, which of course can contain no
contradictions. One of the ironies of fundamentalist reading
is the rather considerable constraints it places on the deity.
He proclaims and what he says remains so forever, beyond
growth, development, change, revision. Whatever abomination of
sex hatred one unearths from Leviticus must remain gospel
today. The Book cannot be read progressively or retroactively,
despite Christ's repeated claims to cancel the old law. An eye
for an eye remains true for all time however out of keeping
with the law of charity. After all, "It's in the Bible." That
repeated assertion expresses the essence and fundamental
paralysis of the literal mind. The idea of reading the Book
along the pop-Hegelian lines pursued by Jack Miles as the
story of how as He develops God changes his mind, softening
his prematurely hardened heart is anathema. God's role is set
by the limitations of the literal "imagination." His job is to
lay down the law, once and for all, and in no uncertain terms;
to be that super-ego who operates by the only logic that
literalism permits- binary opposition. All conflicts and
confusions must be resolved into a sharp, simple, and
comprehensive opposition between Good and Evil. Else comes
again the fit of contingency and ambiguity. Binarism is the
realization in logic of the literalist attitude toward
language. The reduction of language to the declarative
statement is matched in binarism by a logic that turns
everything into an abstract allegory.

The most interesting reach of literalism comes, however, in
the interpretation of the prophetic writings, especially
Revelations. Here confronting what even it must see as image
and metaphor, literalism performs the only operation that
makes sense to it. The metaphoric is literalized. Armageddon
must take place on the plain of Jezreel near the ancient
military fortification of Megiddo (35 miles southeast of
Haifa), even though this patch of land "is not tomb enough and
continent to hide the slain." Gorbachev must be the Beast (how
else account for that red swath on his forehead); Saddam
Hussein must be the Antichrist-or Arafat or Bill Clinton.
Anything and everything that happens in the Middle East must
be scanned as a sign that we are indeed moving toward the
Tribulation. When he speaks prophetically God is playing a
little game with us, to activate what in fundamentalism passes
as the exercise of imagination. To make sense of the text
requires the precise matching of its ornate and expressionist
images to persons, places and events which are thereby
assigned the only meaning they can have. Mapped onto history
the Bible offers us an absolute certitude about history,
thereby vanquishing the greatest contingency. In dealing with
the Middle East , for example, we need not confuse ourselves
with the messy details of political history or develop a
nuanced appreciation of Islam. Such things only breed
confusion. All we have to do is literally match a prophecy to
a contingency and Voila! we have attained literal certitude
or, what amounts to the same thing, the fantasmatic imposition
upon reality of what we want to believe. [2]

In all these operations sustaining a literal interpretation of
the Bible is a desperate necessity. Once let go of that and
the Book slips away into the hands of those who eventually
will find anything in it-liberation theology, Bonhoeffer's
religionless Christianity, a searing message of love-since
they will be guided in their reading by nothing but the
attempt to sustain a heart in conflict with itself using a
book to pry open the deepest and most conflicted registers of
its own interiority. Who can tell, perhaps this approach could
even lead to the discovery that the Book hates the simple
minded; that it is indeed Kafkaesque in offering parables and
prophecies that only deepen our burden by demanding an
intelligence equal to the complexity of the human heart.

Literalism is a cardinal necessity of the fundamentalist
because it guarantees the primary psychological need. For a
certitude that in its simplicity puts an end to all doubt,
even to the possibility of doubt. That is what one must have
and once attained what nothing can be permitted to alter. The
literal meaning of words one need only point to for that
meaning to be established must be imposed on the world without
a blink of hesitation, a shadow of doubt, and when necessary
beyond any appeal to the simplest claims of our humanity. Two
examples. Perhaps the most chilling moment in a recent CNN
special on fundamentalism occurs at the end of an interview
with a young girl-between 8 and 10-who was saved at an earlier
age (3) and is now so firm in every article of the faith that
she is no longer in need of her parents or teachers. Earlier
when the mother was asked if she'd ever let the children watch
South Park the young girl chimed in: "I wouldn't want to watch
a program like that." The interview ends with this question:
"what happens to those who don't believe?" Like a trumpet
call, in the blinking of an eye, even less, without batting an
eyelash the child answers: "They go to hell" What made this
statement so chilling was the absence of the slightest sign of
doubt or pity. If there is an innocence left here it lies in
the possibility that, unlike her parents, the child has not
yet started to feast on images of the damned. She is however
already in league with where fundamentalism will take her
because she's attained the correct posture: the assumption of
an absolute certitude in which there is and can be no conflict
of the heart with what it is told to believe, no possibility
of wondering about a God who is capable of the titanic
condemnation she's just asserted as an assured article of
faith. Nor of course is there the possibility of the only
legitimate choice such a "truth" would demand-the rejection of
such a God. 2 +2=5. Whatever one is told the Book says becomes
the truth. One then clutches it to one's bosom with literal
precision, locking in step to its every command,
Kadavergehorsamkeit . My second example comes from poor Mel
Gibson who judging from a TV interview accepts with apparent
indifference the belief that barring conversion to Catholicism
his own wife (mother of his 7 Catholic children) will suffer
eternal damnation. Such is the literal nature of his faith and
the ability of that literalism to seal off everything else in
him so that we need not fear that Gibson will ever find
himself in the place of Milton's Adam who choose death because
he couldn't bear the thought of an eternity apart from the
woman he loves. Literalism protects the heart from everything,
even its own deepest urgings.

There is something terrifying in our first example; something
appalling in our second. Together they reveal the emotion in
which the literalist passion is grounded. Hatred--of all
complexities; of anything that can't be reduced to the
simplicity of absolute dogmas and the need to impose that
hatred upon the world in a totalizing way. It is sometimes
alleged that fundamentalists are just like the rest of us,
confused by the world and seeking something to hang onto as a
portal in the storm. This view is invalidated by the nature of
the answers that the fundamentalist finds: answers that
annihilate the problem, turn the desire for knowledge into a
farce, and make of confusion the motive for
self-infantalization. (By their answers ye shall know them.)
Literalism is the way, but hatred is the through line. That is
why fundamentalist certitude always becomes rectitude with the
Bible mined for all the things one can label abomination.
Thereby a sensibility that wants to have nothing to do with
the world takes revenge upon it. On the surface literalism
looks like a characteristic of fundamentalism free of
psychological motives; on investigation it reveals itself as
one of the clearest signs of the psychological need in which
the entire project is grounded. Literalism is the first
realization of the psychological root of fundamentalism: a
fear and hatred of the contingencies that constitute being in
the world. That is the first threat that must be vanquished.
The second is found at a more intimate register.

II. Conversion

            "But if a man is to become not merely legally but morally a
            good man this cannot be brought about through gradual
            reformation but must be effected through a revolution in the
            man's disposition. He can become a new man only by a kind of
            rebirth, as it were a new creation."
            - Immanuel Kant

This category is best approached through narrative.
Fundamentalism is in love with a single and common story it
never tires of telling. This story is the key to the nature of
the transformation it celebrates and the absolute split that
transformation produces. A subject finds itself lost in a
world of sin, prey to all the evils that have taken control of
one's life. A despair seizes the soul. One is powerless to
deal with one's problems or heal oneself because there is
nothing within the self that one can draw on to make that
project possible. The inner world is a foul and pestilent
congregation of sin and sinfulness. And there's no way out.
One has hit rock bottom and (so the story goes when it's told
best) teeters on the brink of suicide. And then in darkest
night one lets Him into one's life. And all is transformed.
Changed utterly. A terrible beauty is born. Before one was a
sinner doing the bidding of Satan. Now one is saved and does
the work of the Lord. The old self is extinguished. Utterly.
One has achieved a new identity, a oneness with Christ that
persists as long as one follows one condition: one must let
him take over one's life. Totally. All decisions are now in
Jesus' hands. He tells one what to do and one's fealty to his
plan must be absolute. There can be no questioning, no doubt.
For that would be the sign of only one thing-the voice of
Satan and with it the danger of slipping back into those ways
of being that one has, through one's conversion, put an end to
forever. The person or self one once was is no more so
complete is the power of conversion. A psyche has been
delivered from itself. And it's all so simple finally, a
matter of delivering oneself into His will, of following His
plan as set forth in the Book and of letting nothing be within
oneself but the voice of Jesus spreading peace and love
throughout one's being.

The most striking thing about this narrative is the
transparent nature of the psychological defense mechanism from
which it derives and the rigidity with which it employs that
mechanism. Splitting. Which as Freud and Klein show is the
most primitive mechanism of defense employed by a psyche
terrified of its inner world. The conversion story raises that
mechanism to the status of a theological pathos. Though the
story depends on recounting how sinful one's life once
was(often in great even "loving" detail) the psychological
meaning of conversion lies in its power to wipe all of that
away. Magically one attains a totally new psyche, cleansed,
pristine, and impermeable. One has, in fact, attained a
totally new self-reference. The self is a function of one's
total identification with Jesus. Consciousness is bathed in
his presence. It has become the scene in which his love
expresses itself in the beatific smile that fills ones face
whenever one thinks of one's redemption, the tears that flood
one's blessed cheeks, the saccharine tone that raises the
voice to an eerie self-hypnotizing pitch whenever one finds
another opportunity to express the joyous emotions that one
must pump up at every opportunity in order to keep up the
hyperconsciousness required to sustain the assurance of one's
redemption. The whole process is a monument to the power of
magical thinking to blow away inner reality, and as such a
further sign of the primitive nature of the psychological
mechanisms on which conversion depends.

The power of conversion to produce a saved self makes the
Catholic confessional the operation of rank amateurs. There
through forgiveness one gets temporary relief from sins that
in all likelihood both priest and penitent know one will
commit again. One gets a momentarily cleansed psyche but not a
lasting transformation. Through conversion, however, one
achieves an absolutely new beginning. One's life is divided in
half. Split between B.C. and A.D. Everything one once was is
washed away. Everything one now is is its antithesis. Such was
the miracle that came upon Dubya by the end of his walk along
the beach with Billy Graham. The man George W. Bush was is no
more. It was merely the stuff the dream of conversion was
built on and now has vanished leaving not a rack behind. Dubya
is reborn to the very depths of his being. And everything that
follows becomes a pure expression of the new self he now has.
Thanks to Jesus. For that's the key both to conversion and its
aftermath. One has finally little or nothing to do with the
transformation. Agency is the Lord's. He enters one's psyche
and performs precisely what the psyche could not do for
itself. Moreover, the new agency that results from conversion
is also his. All that one now does derives from his Will. One
has become the medium through which the Deity achieves its
purpose. One's own will finally has nothing to do with it. One
is but the servant of his Will, doing what he tells one to do
as He makes that purpose known. That's also why error is
inconceivable, when when asked Dubya is unable to discover any
mistake he's made as President. And of course that must be so
in service to a deeper exigency. It is His will that put one
in the position of the most powerful man in the world and He
must have done so because He had something special in mind.

Such for the fundamentalist is what it means to have a self.
To live an abstract allegory. Devil before, god after. With
the self dissolved under the force of the one agent or the
other. And never the twain shall meet. Except as absolute
antagonists. One could say that conversion transforms the
self, but it would be more appropriate to say that it
annihilates it. That is in fact its function. For salvation to
occur the self is precisely that which must be rendered
powerless then transcended through a transformation that can
only come from without. That transformation accordingly
produces a split that is absolute and must be maintained at
all costs. For it is what the psyche depends on to deliver it
from everything disruptive and unstable in itself. Even if at
times one finds oneself again a sinner, that sinfulness is all
the work of the Big Other, Satan. Salvation is deliverance and
such is the fundamentalist despair over the self that
deliverance must be total.

Conversion is thus the antithesis of what happens in an
authentic psychoanalysis. A contrast between the two will
bring out what happens within the psyche when it embraces
conversion. The key to an authentic analysis is the assumption
of full responsibility for who one is through the attainment
of a concrete and intimate knowledge of one's psyche, of the
unconscious desires and conflicts that have structured the
history of one's life. Attaining such knowledge entails three
steps. (1) Recognition that one is the author of one's
condition; not Satan, not the parents, not demon rum in its
effects on a pre-existing physiological condition. The state
of one's psyche in its bankruptcy is the function and fruition
of a desire. That is why, as Freud said, one must listen to
the details of one's illness-not the appeal of remote and
general causes-because it is in those details that much that
is of value to one's future life must be derived. (2) Through
the second recognition: that the problem of the psyche is not
to extinguish desire but to reclaim it by freeing oneself from
the self-defeating ways one has lied to oneself about it. To
do that one must see that the trauma or traumatic event that
has produced a crisis or breakdown in the psyche is the
fulfillment of its own plan for itself. It is the thing one
has brought upon oneself, like Oedipus, through one's effort
to avoid it. As such it is what first puts one in the position
to know oneself. As a being defined by conflicts that cannot
be transcended but must be sustained.. The task is not to
escape them but to enter into them in the right way. Conflict
is and remains the reality and burden-of the psyche. (3)
Which begets the third recognition. The recognition that one
never escapes one's psyche nor achieves some form of
ego-identity that guarantees a stability outside or beyond
conflict. Change requires a radically different discipline-and
change is what psychoanalysis is all about. What it teaches is
that the possibility of change involves taking on a total
responsibility for one's psyche. One does so not by fleeing
one's conflicts but by deepening one's engagement in them.
Life is a process of becoming responsible for oneself by
deepening one's awareness of all that within oneself for which
one must assume responsibility. A genuine analysis turns on
the assumption of a tragic agency; it "ends" when that agency
has become the relationship that one lives to oneself. One is
not freed from one's disorder but delivered over to it. The
depth of the interrogation one continues to pursue about one's
psyche becomes the basis of the agony one continues to have
with oneself. That is the ethic that psychoanalysis makes
possible, an ethic of existential change that is terminated
only with one's death. To exist is to be in the difficulty of
what it is to be a subject burdened with itself.

Working through ( Durcharbeit ), the most important part of
any analysis, is essentially an education in the process of
assuming a tragic relationship to oneself. It is the art of
learning to sustain tragic emotions-the kind we're told we
must avoid or shed as quickly as possible since all they can
do is made us sad-as the emotions that put the subject in
touch with its inner world. Depressive melancholy must become,
for example, what Keats saw it as: "the wakeful anguish of the
soul." The route to self-knowledge is a progressive deepening
of a knowledge of one's disorder through the suffering of it.
This possibility depends on a single circumstance: the
concrete and bitter immersion in the particulars of one's life
and one's responsibility for those particulars. No satanic
agency caused one's condition and no messianic agency will
come to blow it away. One must know and accept the concrete
causes in oneself that have shaped the self-lacerating history
of one's heart. One is not delivered from it; one is delivered
over into it. There is only one source of inner strength and
it is found in a full acceptance of relating to oneself in
depth by sustaining the suffering that relationship entails.
The answer to the problem of the psyche lies in the
maximization of the problem. Self-analysis is based on the
recognition that there is no deliverance from desire and inner
conflict. Satan, in contrast, is the blank check that puts an
end to that process before it can begin. Consider the contrast
between two statements. " I was a lustful man and a fornicator
who worshipped the Beast within me." "I was a man who hated
women and used sex to injure them psychologically in order to
feed the emotional conflicts of my relationship with my
mother." The difference between the two statements is
enormous. The first obliterates the need for further
description, exorcising the possibility of self-knowledge and
genuine responsibility. The second is but the overture to the
painful problem of taking on responsibility for every word of

Conversion is the flight from that action. The psyche is
safely delivered into the hands of abstraction. One was under
Satan's power when one did all those terrible things. That's
how He works. He invades a soul like a thief in the night and
under his power we do all sorts of things that are against our
nature. But once we let Jesus in we are cleansed. Born again.
All before was the work of an otherness that invaded us. It is
now burnt and purged away. We can of course feel remorse but
at the same time those we harmed should know it was not really
our doing. The cause is not in ourselves but in the virus that
invaded our soul.

Psychoanalysis delivers the subject over to itself as the one
relationship that cannot be transcended. Conversion delivers
the subject from itself. What one was is not the depth of a
disorder one must plumb concretely in the full horror of all
one must come to know about oneself as author. It is rather
all that one can blow away through one's conversion! Such is
the power and pleasure of splitting as a mechanism of defense.
In the absolute reliance on that mechanism fundamentalism
renders up its secret.

Here, then, is the real truth of conversion. Fear and hatred
of the psyche and a desperate desire to be rid of it. The
psyche is that which one must find a way to escape and then to
deny. Any sign of its continued presence after conversion
produces panic anxiety. That is why for conversion to work one
must maintain a carefully limited subjectivity given over to
the self-hypnotic iteration of all the signs or behaviors one
maintains in order to reassure oneself of one's salvation. The
presence of anything else within fills the fundamentalist with
terror and loathing and the need for a fresh exorcism. The
psyche is the problem in fundamentalism not because it's
sinful but because it's exacting. Sustaining a relationship
with it requires the constant opening of oneself to the
suffering of truths not about the devil but about oneself; not
about evil but about the actual things one has done to other's
harm, which is the bottomless discovery that psychoanalysis
inflicts on us as the price of remaining human. Such a tragic
discipline can have no meaning for the fundamentalist except
as the condition one must be delivered from. How perfect then
to find a way to be done with the whole thing, to shed one's
former life the way a snake sheds its skin and then be reborn
in the conviction that one has consigned it to the past. But
the only way to sustain that state is by living the life of a
subjectivity under surveillance needing and giving itself
constant reassurance that it is saved by pumping up all the
positive emotions (and happy talk) that witness one's oneness
with the Lord while guarding against the expression of any of
the old, negative emotions that would suggest the opposite.
Expressing the emotions of the saved has become an obsessional
necessity. One thing alone is needful. Giving the proof at all
times-especially to oneself-that one is on God's side.

To be saved is to enter a condition in which one only has
"positive" emotions, Christian emotions, which are always
played "over the top" because the primary purpose of the
performance is to engage in an ongoing act of self-hypnosis.
In keeping with a duty that cannot be shirked: one must become
the walking embodiment of one's simplest version of the love
that God has for you since any other kind of love would be
exacting whereas this one offers the bliss of
self-infantalization. That's the source of the monotonous
sameness of the fundamentalist congregation, the aping and
mimicking of one another; the identical smile of mindless
bliss, the tearful displays, the saccharine tone in the
proselytizing voice, the need to constantly proclaim how
wonderful it feels to be saved and to bear witness to that
fact by turning every possible occasion into a chance to
inflict a bevy of dimensionless emotions and sentiments on
others as if being a Christian amounted to being a walking
Hallmark card. In all this one labors under a manic necessity.
But it isn't enough. That mania must find a practice that will
offer lasting reassurance by enabling one to repeat (as it
were) the process and content of one's conversion.

III. Evangelicalism

            "This is deadly work."
            - Clov in Samuel Beckett's Endgame

Evangelicalism is the manic activity whereby the split in the
psyche that conversion creates is projected onto the world.
Thereby one confirms the identity one has attained through a
fresh exorcism of the one that conversion vanquished.
Evangelicism offers the fundamentalist the only way to sustain
the reborn self: by trying to recreate the experience of one's
conversion in others in order to reenact an unending exorcism.
In the other one locates the split off self one once was now
placed totally outside oneself. It becomes the fantasm of what
must be the condition of one's auditors, of those who, whether
they know it or not, are lost, wallowing in error and sin,
their minds awash in the torrents of secularism, dumb to the
clarity that comes from the Words one now speaks to bring them
enlightenment, could they but hear. This is the root cause of
the frustration that quickly comes if we make the mistake of
bidding entry when the fundamentalist knocks on the door. We
offer discourse in vain to those who are seized by a
necessity. It's not just the repeated literal citation of the
Bible as absolute truth ("do you know that satan was once an
angel close to God; that's why he's so powerful") or the
repeated refrain that puts an end to all discussion ("well I
believe the Bible and the Bible says"); or the inability to
hear anything we say except as a sign that we've not yet
grasped the truth that's galling. It's the recognition that
despite the charitable demeanor, evangelical activity is based
on a total lack of respect for the minds of those they are
trying to convert.

That lack of respect is, however, necessary. Anything less
would be a confession of doubt. Which would make the other a
threat when they can only be one thing: an image of what one
was prior to conversion, of what the world in its unregenerate
condition represents. Namely, the place where one projects all
that conversion supposedly removed from the psyche. Through
evangelicalism one engages in the repetition compulsion that
has become one's innermost necessity. The only way to prevent
a return of the projections is through their continued
projection. By locating them outside oneself and waging an
"attack" on that externalization one is delivered from the
fear of what can no longer be within. Everything bad is now
outside oneself and one must do everything to keep it there.
One can share with one's auditor the confession in the
abstract that one is a "sinner" too but the discussion better
shift quickly to the evils of the world: to homosexuals and
abortion and the entertainment industry and best of all the
imperiled state of a nation bereft of "moral values." One is
well tuned then. The manic drive has been unlocked and sweeps
to a revenge upon anything that can be even remotely
associated with one's former self; for one has entered a dream
state and readies desire for wrathful discharge upon a world
drenched in sin. Evangelicalism offers the psyche a chance to
be cleansed again of everything that may still fester deep
within somewhere, longing to break out. This is an operation
fundamentalism shares with its most famous offshoot-Alcoholics
Anonymous. Though splitting and projection produce denial, one
is always in danger of slipping. One needs a ritual to
reestablish who one is by again exorcising what one was. What
the meeting does for the alcoholic proselytizing does for the

It should now be evident that what looks at first like the
least important of the four characteristics of fundamentalism
fulfills perhaps the deepest psychological necessity. Without
this activity the fundamentalist psyche would implode . The
obsessional need to preach the gospel, to find a way as soon
as possible to let every stranger one meets know that one is a
Christian, born again, are practices that derive not from a
lack of social skills but from a manic necessity. For the
saved there is and can be nothing but the story of their
salvation. It is the master narrative to which all lives must
conform, the tale one must tell as often and ardently as the
Ancient Mariner tells his. Though for antithetical reasons.
The Mariner tells his tale to relieve an inner pain by
injecting it into the consciousness of listeners who will be
existentially individuated by the tale. Evangelists tell
theirs to reassure themselves about their "identity" by trying
to compel others to participate in it. Structurally and
psychologically, however, both tellers labor under the same
necessity. Repetition as the attempt to retain an identity in
order to flee something else-in the Mariner's case a suicidal
depression; in the fundamentalist perhaps the same thing --
that is of necessity buried deep in the unconscious. One piece
of evidence in support of this hypothesis: without the chance
to engage in evangelical activity the fundamentalist psyche
sinks into a state of empty boredom.

Thus the lassitude of Dubya before 9-11 and the hectic
messianic energy that has defined him since. 9-11 gave him
what he needed-the chance to transform a stalled Presidency by
adopting an evangelical stance toward the entire world.
Preemptive unilateralism is not just a political credo. It's
an evangelical article of faith. The world must of necessity
be divided into Good and Evil. And one must bring that message
to the world in the same way the fundamentalist visits the
doorstep of the unconverted. If those one addresses-the United
Nations, other countries, members of the Republican
party-aren't converted to the Word that can only be a sign of
their error. Or worse. As Ashcroft never lost an opportunity
to remind us, their complicity with the enemy. The whole world
is either with us or against us. And nothing anyone says can
have any other meaning. We cannot let our message be altered
by doubts or fears. The fundamentalist mind, closed off from
discourse by its own certitude can only project itself upon
the global stage in the way demanded by inner psychological
necessity. Manic activity under the guise of certainty as the
proof that one has triumphed over all inner conflicts. And
thus the beckoning of a new necessity. The need to extend the
opposition between Good and Evil as far as possible-from
Afghanistan to Iraq to the Axis of Evil to the 60 nations
identified as supporters of terror-in the assurance that God
has chosen one for a mission not just to convert the World but
to wage war on whatever one labels evil, the only certainty
being that one will always find fresh targets because doing so
has now become the projective necessity of a mania that drives
toward the omnipotence it seeks by pushing the war on terror
toward an ultimate realization. Moreover, whatever one must do
in waging this war is justified without the possibility of any
appeal to conscience. Thus another doctrinal innovation that
distinguishes Dubya from all previous Presidents: the
assertion of the right for a first strike use of nuclear
weapons and with it the developments now under way to create a
host of new "tactical" nuclear weapons. To deliver the world
from the spectre of nuclear war we must ready ourselves to
wage a nuclear war on the world. (Paranoia thus projects the
possibility of an omnipotence beyond MAD as policy.) And so we
should all indeed be trembling in our boots to know the
mind-set that now has its finger on the nuclear trigger.
Happiness is a warm gun.

The war on terror has many meanings, not the least of which
the blank check to disseminate an Orwellian fear whenever the
Administration desires. Perhaps its deepest meaning, however,
is to mark the founding moment in which politics in Amerika
becomes inseparable from the projection of a religious
ideology. 9-11 told Dubya that the time was ripe for a mission
that the Deity elected him to perform. A seamless transition
thus offers itself to us, from an evangelical presidency to
the fourth characteristic of fundamentalism, the one that, as
we'll see, informs and completes the others taking us to the
heart of the disorder, the innermost necessity that hallows
all its dreams.

IV. Apocalypticism-The Heart of the Ulcer

            "Devout believers are safeguarded in a high degree against the
            risk of certain neurotic illnesses; their acceptance of the
            universal neurosis spares them the task of constructing the
            personal one."
            - Freud

Apocalypticism is the capstone that completes the process of
fundamentalist self-fashioning. Without it, as we'll see, the
entire edifice would crumble. In the Apocalpytic moment the
disorder at the core of the fundamentalist psyche achieves a
final form, thereby passing over to the register of the
sublime. The sublime is the register of the psyche that is
reached when the informing desire is given an unbounded
expression. All conflicts are then resolved in a release of
tension that is total and constitutes what Lacan means by
jouissance. The psyche has found a way to fulfill and complete
the desire that structures its inner constitution. As we'll
see, each structure described in the previous sections
requires Apocalypticism and achieves completion in it. In the
Apocalyptic fantasm an ultimate expression is given to the
conflicts that define the fundamentalist psyche through an
action that brings an end to those conflicts.

The necessity of Apocalypticism is a direct outgrowth of the
psychological mechanism on which fundamentalist relies to
structure the world. The only way to prevent a return of the
projections is through a final evacuation. This desire can
only come to fruition with the picturing of a world beyond
redemption held under the brand of an all-consuming wrath.
That image finalizes the split that defines the psyche by
giving sublime expression to the way one must view the world
when seeing it from the standpoint of one's salvation.
Apocalypticism thus brings to completion the psychological
operation that has been employed repeatedly from the
beginning. First, one cleanses oneself by projecting one's
disowned desires unto the world. The resulting split must then
be maintained rigorously with nothing allowed to fall outside
its scope. The psyche must be voided of everything save the
serenities of the saved. For that to happen, however, the
world must become the object of an unstinting attack on all
that one has externalized there. This act must be endless lest
the projections return. By its internal logic fundamentalism
is thus driven ineluctably to a need for quantitative
expansion through the discovery of greater, more insidious
forms of evil. The mathematical sublime beckons, the need to
produce greater and greater magnitudes. The world becomes the
polluted chamber of one's foulest imaginings with no way to
check the demands of that vision. Within the psyche an even
greater transformation occurs. One craves the constant
exercise of an emotion that one must just as strenuously
disclaim. Hatred. One needs fresh supplies of it as badly as
the U.S. needs to ransack the globe for fresh supplies of oil.
No matter how loudly one proclaims one's salvation, purified
in the blood of the lamb, hatred has become the innermost
necessity to which one is wedded. And that necessity has now
broken lose of any containment. Hatred of one's former self is
no longer sufficient. One now hates the world and is driven to
seek out everything in it that one can claim caused or can
cause an inner condition other than the purity of the saved.
One hates, that is, everything that resists surrender and
absolute obedience to the system of literalism and literal
commands to which one has committed oneself. As the scope of
what one hates grows apace it finds fruition in the binary
opposition that is essential to it. Good and Evil divide the
world in two, giving ontological form to the rigidity of the
split that defines the fundamentalist psyche. All differences,
all particularities, all complexities must give way to the
demands of a comprehensive abstraction. And the fury of that
abstraction can and will brook no exceptions. Everything thus
resolves itself into the ultimate necessity required by the
informing hatred. One longs for and demands an end to all the
contingencies that have from the beginning been sources of
fear and confusion. It is what one has always sought. To be
done with all of it. With the contingency of the human. To be
done with all ambiguity and complexity and confusion. Done
with the feeling that history has no purpose other than chaos
or meaningless repetition. Done with embodiment itself- and
all the unwelcome desires it imposes on us. Done with the very
sources of all that one hates and fears. To locate it all
ontologically in a single principle-evil-and then be rid of it
all once and for all through the triumph of that force that
has the power to extinguish it all.

Literalism tried to keep the world at bay by reducing
everything to the simplest formulas, the mind itself to the
most unproblematic blink of consciousness in stupified
adherence to the narrow fixations needed to banish metaphor,
ambiguity, and uncertainty. But it wasn't enough. The world
keeps seeping it. There must be a way to be done with it, once
and for all. To find what one has craved from the beginning.
The end. And a proper end-one that will give sublime
expression to the desire that has fed the whole thing. Death.
The longing for death transformed into a sublime celebration
of death. Life in its complexity demands too much of us. That
in a nutshell is the fundamentalist message. Only death can
deliver one from the threat life poses. Only when life is done
is one safe from a return of the projections and an eruption
of the repressed. One has always longed for deliverance into a
realm free of desire and all its temptations. Death alone
offers the comfort one seeks. The resentment in which the
psyche has centered itself demands no less. One must work
one's hatred of the world into a frenzy and feed that hatred
with sublime images of evil in order to bring it to a fevered
pitch. Release and satisfaction then come with the delivery of
that world over to the hands of an angry God expressing his
wrath in an orgy of pure destructiveness. Thank God for The
Book of Revelations. For the only way both to satisfy and to
purge one's hatred is to express it on a massive
world-shattering scale. The death one seeks projected into the
death one delivers. The self is thereby done with life and
freed for transport of the saved split off self to a realm of
bliss freed from all cares. A psyche wedded to thanatos has
found in thanatos the final solution. One's resentment against
life has been turned into a righteous and of necessity cosmic
attack upon it.

In Transformations Wilfred Bion tries to conceptualize a
destructiveness "that goes on working after it destroys
personality, time, and existence." Such is the desire that
feeds the fundamentalist fixation on The Book of Revelations.
A psyche wedded to thanatos seeks sublime expression of that
desire. It finds it satisfied repeatedly in Revelations, as if
its author, like the director of the next disaster movie,
keeps seeking the perfect image to feed the underlying venom
or to bring it, with each repetition, closer to that image in
which destructiveness will find its objective correlative. One
makes allowances of course for the author of Revelations, what
with his people under genocidal persecution at the hands of
the Roman Empire. But how account for the fixation on such
images, as if they were the only real source of pleasure, of
those whose greatest fear is that their wife will find the G
spot or that Mommie's little darlings will see MTV before the
V chip is installed? How account for the persistent
unscratable itch for picturing the great Whore of Bablyon and
anticipate the delicious synesthesia of the golden cup "in her
hand filled with abominable things and the filth of her
fornications? How account for the thrill that comes as one
reads again the rich description of all the plagues that will
be visited upon the earth? And how else account for the
necessity of the grand crescendo to which it all moves as the
enraptured reader approaches Armageddon and the final battle
that will put an end to that folly, human history, giving the
reader the true pleasure of the text since one has known all
along that history could have no purpose or meaning other than
its destruction? One loves this book and longs to see the
coming to pass of all it promises in fulfilling on a cosmic
stage the very process that has given structure to one's
psyche, as if the apocalypse one suffered on the little stage
were but a prefigurement meant to whet one's appetite for the
Big One.

Here then a reading of the function that Revelations plays in
the fundamentalist psyche. In the depths of its psyche
fundamentalism is ruled by catastrophic anxiety, a self
tottering on the brink of a dissolution in which it will
fragment imprisoned in a world that will impose all of its
terrors and evils upon it. We will fail to understand
fundamentalism as long as we resist seeing how close it is to
a psychosis. Fundamentalist rage is the attempt of a subject
to hold itself together in the only way it can: by waging war
on all that terrifies it. The psyche commits itself to
destructiveness to allay a destruction that already threatens
it from within. That condition results in a paradoxical
situation that finds its only possible solution in Revelations
.Destructiveness must be given a full, unchecked expression
and the psyche must somehow survive that act. The drive toward
death repeats itself in increasing magnitudes as it moves
toward a final conflict that obliterates all future conflict
and transports the self to a realm of unending bliss. The
slight textual support (1 Thessalonians 4:17) notwithstanding,
the Rapture is a psychological necessity. It embodies the
magical thought that the coming of global destruction is also
the coming of salvation. One has always longed for a feast of
destructiveness as the signal for one's transport to a
condition free of the world. That's why when that moment comes
it is impossible to prevent the surfacing of a long suppressed
and twisted sexual desire. As destruction approaches so too
does ascent to a realm in which one is free to project a
marriage consummated in the sky with Christ serving as the
Bride. The delights of that image should not prevent us from
seeing what has happened here. The longing for death has been
turned into an ecstatic embrace of it; a rapture so complete
in its jouissance that one can no longer disguise the fact
that all of ones libidinal energies have gone into the quest
for such a complete and final unbinding, an extinction within
consciousness of all save the ecstatic recognition that one is
saved and that all the connections that once bound one to the
world have been severed once and for all. The psychotic attack
on linking finds its apotheosis in Apocalypticism. The Rapture
must be interpolated into Revelations at precisely this point
because one's salvation corresponds with the arrival of
something else-the dawning of the cataclysmic aggressions that
must be vented in order to bring destruction upon the earth
and usher in the millenium. In the clouds, safe with Jesus,
one can continue to rejoice free of life or cast a cold eye
upon it from time to time like one looking back on the moment
just before one's conception but free now (an angelic Onan) to
nip it in the bud. Or to spend the 1000 years millenium
assured that though peace reigns it will come again, one last
time, the dead themselves resurrected so that they can be
slain again in a greater destruction than has ever been
visited upon the earth ( Revs. 19-20) and then, as if that
isn't enough, consigned to torment day and night forever. Only
then is the rage that informs John's text discharged. And only
then can love be expressed without leading to a new burst of
rage. [3] Only then can a new heaven and a new earth be
celebrated in language admittedly of great beauty with God
himself wiping away all tears, putting an end to death, pain,
and sorrow, making all things new, delivering believers from
realities that they could never see as anything but arguments
against life, Revelations confirming this fact long before
Nietzsche conceptualized it. The great love feast--it's a
pretty fantasy. As if once rage fashions its masterpiece the
heart will open and what has been frozen for so long will
become a warm and virgin spring.

Historically the great transformation in the use of
Apocalypticism to incite fundamentalist believers to political
action came in the 1980's, during the Reagan years, when Jerry
Falwell (to cite but one example) shifted from the
pre-millenarian belief that the faithful can do nothing but
spread the gospel and wait as the modernist evil that will
bring about the Tribulation runs its course to the activist
position that fundamentalism must become a political force,
indeed take over the country if possible, and make it a
Christian Nation worthy of being spared as well as the one
chosen to advance the movement toward that long sought, long
delayed, deeply longed for and blessed Apocalyptic event.
George Herbert Walker Bush was finally a man of restraint with
a keen appreciation of the realities of global politics. Dubya
labors under no such restraints. His is a mind unencumbered by
an countervailing pressure that the world might offer to his
singleness of vision. Thus there's no telling where the faith
will lead now that Dubya has his mandate and must deliver to
satisfy the grandiose conception of what God himself elected
him to do. Even perhaps find a straight shining path from the
cataclysmic future that defines that paranoic present that
constantly recedes before us unless, that is, the Apocalyptic
future can become the Evangelical present? Under Dubya that is
now one term for reading what is going on in the Middle East.

It is hard to conceive the extent of the contempt for life
that informs fundamentalism. As a final example, however, a
testimonial to the environmental policies of the Bush
Administration, consider the quaint piece of fundamentalist
folklore known as "dominion theology." This tenet of the faith
was openly professed by former Secretary of the Interior James
Watt, the mentor of the current Secretary Gale Norton.
Dominion theology holds that the Bible commands us to use up
the earth's resources. We glut ourselves not just for
capitalist greed but by biblical mandate. Indeed, as the end
approaches it is our duty to do so globally since there's
little time remaining to complete the job and thereby bring
that final day ever closer. Besides, why bother preserving the
planet. After the Second Coming none of it is going to matter.
And so with each new success-the hole in the ozone, the
melting of the ice caps, drilling in the national wildlife
refuge, the Alaska pipeline -we give further proof that
history is moving in the right direction. Since all is yellow
to the jaundiced eye, the only thing the fundamentalist, like
the capitalist, can see in Nature is that which must be
conquered, used up, then subjected to disposal. The
oft-chronicled battle of fundamentalists against
environmentalism is dictated by the demands of the manic
triad. Triumph, contempt, dismissal. Thereby destructiveness
is projected onto life itself. The sublime for the
fundamentalist is not found in the rain forest, but in its
ravaging. Through such acts one finds another way to project
one's hatred of life onto another object that has the power to
deepen our entry into and love of it.

It is hard to know which is colder, crueler: the logic of
fundamentalism or the logic of capitalism? But then that
question assumes they are different in some fundamental way.
And let's face it we want to hang on to that difference
because it offers reassurance, even a guarantee, that we can
play the two off against each other. Those currently in charge
of our country suffer from no such illusion. Maybe that's
because they know the secret we need to fathom if we're to
historicize the connection that Max Weber saw between
Christianity and Capitalism and thereby learn that Christian
fundamentalism and Global Capitalism correspond to one another
because they derive from the same seedbed and feed on the same
destructive violence.

In concluding I offer a summary of how thanatos works in the
fundamentalist psyche binding everything to the necessity for
a sublime discharge. Apocalypticism expresses both the final
evacuation needed to prevent a return of the projections and
the jouissance required to fulfill the demand of thanatos for
that complete unbinding that can only come by putting an end
to everything. The hatred in which the psyche is grounded
requires no less: it is total in its control over the inner
world and thus demands a matching totalization. In the images
of destruction that warm its heart one sees externalized the
process that has ravaged the inner world. In that sense
fundamentalism is the most extreme act of sado-masochism
toward oneself that has yet been devised. As such it offers us
perhaps the deepest insight into the super-ego as the force of
death in the psyche, as an agency that is satisfied with no
less than soul-murder, the bending of the entire psyche in
blind service to its commands. Literal obedience to literal
commands is merely the tip of that iceberg. It is within that
the true process of soul-murder takes place. In a psyche that
is willing to sacrifice everything in itself in order to
placate an authority that is vindictively cruel in the wrath
it directs on the slightest opposition to its will. In an
attempt to achieve identification with that force the psyche
wages war first on itself and then upon the world. The former
act reveals the power of the super-ego; the latter act offers
a way to confirm one's identification with it. In sacrificing
everything in oneself to the super-ego one attains the right
to become the walking embodiment of its wrath. The
fundamentalist can loudly proclaim his or her love of God but
the fact of the matter is that one fears Him because terror is
the only relationship He permits. Fear-that is the thing one
has never been able to overcome. That is why all transgression
or the mere thought of transgression unleashes an overpowering
guilt under which the psyche unravels. That guilt is the power
of the super-ego to maintain control over the psyche.
Super-ego guilt is thanatos in its immediacy ravaging the
psyche by punishing it with the loss of a "love" that is
indistinguishable from hate so absolute is the sacrifice it

But how does such an agency come into being? On what must it
draw to create the enormous energy that gives it such power
over/within the psyche. Could it be that this too has and must
have its beginnings in love? We have traced the effects of the
destructiveness to which the fundamentalist psyche is wedded
but we have not yet considered the cause. Sections 1-4 trace
the dialectical progression of a disorder that we must now
consider in its genesis. To do that we need to strike through
the sound and fury of fundamentalist rage and get at what Ahab
called "the little lower layer" by showing how thanatos first
takes root in a soul and why it continues to ulcer there until
it finds fulfillment in Apocalyptic expression.

Before turning to that examination a brief summary of the
psychoanalytic understanding we've developed of the four
characteristics that Charles Strozier isolates as fundamental
to fundamentalism. (1) Inerrancy as the need to reduce all
complexities to the literal in order to confine the mind to
its simplest operations; (2) Conversion or the use of the
primitive psychological defense known as splitting to
establish an absolute separation of the saved psyche from the
damned; (3)Evangelicalism or manic activity as the way to
sustain and project that split; (4) Apocalypticism or thanatos
incarnate as the desire for an event that will satisfy the
hatred and the death-drive that has come to define the
fundamentalist psyche. In discussing these characteristics I
deliberately withheld the issue of sexuality until now not in
order to minimize its importance but to maximize it by
creating the context of characteristics that only make sense
once we grasp the sexual disorder that informs them.
Fundamentalism will then emerge in its proper meaning, as one
of the clearest examples of the old and oft forgotten Freudian
insight that sexuality is at the center of the human psyche
and the dialectical opposition of eros and thanatos at the
center of culture.The previous sections describe a super-ego
"morality" grounded in thanatos. The following section
attempts to describe the sexual roots of the disorder and
thereby offer an explanation of how thanatos can take over the
life of the psyche and channel all energies into its service.

V. Sexual Roots of the Fundamentalist Psyche

            "Think of the depressing contrast between the radiant
            intelligence of a healthy child and the feeble intellectual
            powers of the average adult. Can we be quite certain that it
            is not precisely religious education which bears a large share
            of the blame for this relative atrophy?" 
            - Freud

My goal is to plumb the root cause of phenomena that are
well-known. Fundamentalists live in a world obsessed with
sexuality. It provides the primary texts of Biblical citation.
It's the concrete referent of the fulminations against
secularism, secular humanism, post-modernism, ethical
relativism, feminism, deconstructionism, etc. It's also what
the vaunted claim of "moral values" is all about. Morality is
not about a life of charity, or the pursuit of justice, or the
opening of oneself to the depth of human suffering. It's about
avoiding certain sexual sins and fixating on that dimension of
life to the virtual exclusion of everything else. Battling sex
is apparently what life is all about as if the primary plan of
the creator were to put us on earth so that we'll be tempted
by that in us that we must condemn in order to win salvation.
By the same token, each new scandal reveals the consequences
of sexual repression: the brutal abuse of young boys by a
legion of pedophile priests; the sexual license of Jim Jones
and David Koresh; the sadomasochistic bondage rituals that
Jimmy Swaggart significantly could only enact with
prostitutes; the epidemic of physical, sexual, and
psychological abuse that is the untold story of the
fundamentalist family. The repression of sexuality has as a
necessary consequence the brutalization of the other.

All such phenomena are variations on the same tired story.
Sexual repression breeds foul imaginings. Which of necessity
fixate on the sexual. What has been rendered foul within runs
amuck in the world. Following the dictates of a punitive
super-ego the psyche becomes obsessed with the attack on
sexuality. The purpose is to render evil virtually everything
connected with sex until life itself is reduced to an allegory
in which the battle of good and evil is all about the
temptations of the flesh, as if nothing else in life matters
so complete is the vindictive fixation of the Deity on the
human genitals.

The eroticization of thanatos necessarily has a flip side: the
demonization of eros. The libidinal economy on which
fundamentalism rests is as simple as it is devastating. Eros
must be turned into evil, sin, pollution. So that all of one's
desire can go into thanatos. Or vice-versa. Once
destructiveness has been eroticized all one's energies become
fixated on the erotic since it poses the greatest threat to
the resentment one feels toward life in general. The
chicken-egg question of temporal priority misses the necessary
dialectical connection. The only way to triumph over eros is
by eroticizing death. And the only way to secure that
eroticization is by projecting guilt, sin, resentment and
punishment into every aspect of human sexuality. Such is the
basic logic to which the fundamentalist project is wedded.

To understand why that is so, however, requires answering two

            (1) What must sex be for it to assume such importance?
            (2) And what must happen to it for the fundamentalist mind set
            to assume control over the psyche?

What is needed is an account of the genesis of fundamentalism
through a description of the sequence of formative experiences
through which thanatos by invading sexuality assumes control
over a psyche.

Fundamentalism fixates on sex not by accident or divine decree
but by the exigencies of immediate experience. Eros is that
force which binds us to life as that blessing which can be
lived and loved as an end in itself. It is the spontaneity
that weds the child to an innocent and unbridled curiosity;
the vitality that resists any restraints imposed on the
outpouring of an affective embrace of life in all its forms;
the ability to experience the natural prior to and free of the
ethical, as a matter of fascination and exploration. Eros is
that in us which wants to incarnate itself fully, to expend
oneself in investing all of one's energies into life. And when
all of this becomes overtly sexual it discovers its innermost
meaning: to open oneself to another and incarnate in the body
the depth of feeling that two subjects can have toward each
other. Sexual pleasure is the temple of a holiness that
neither wants nor needs other worlds so completely has it
found fulfillment in this one. Such an erotic valuation
becomes in poets like Whitman and Blake the prime agent of all
human perception; it is in Plato the source of noble laws and
institutions; and in Freud it is that which pits itself
against the forces of death. It is also, of course, that which
rises up at puberty and at crucial crises throughout life in
rebellion against the controls that those who hate and fear it
have placed upon desire.

Because it poses a comprehensive threat to the fundamentalist
project eros must be poisoned at early as possible. Ironically
there is, however, only one way this project can succeed.
Through love. To summarize briefly a concept I've developed at
length elsewhere, parenting is the act through which the
parent's conscious and unconscious conflicts and desires
become the psyche of the child. This transmission is the act
through which the child's psyche is born. The child's
unconditional love is the condition that makes it all
possible. To put it in more concrete terms, from an early age
one must be indoctrinated by those one trusts and loves in the
primary lesson: that obedience is the price one must pay to
retain love. And so deep must become one's need for this love
that one becomes willing to make any sacrifice it requires.
Thereby the condition is set for the greatest transformation.
The energy from which the very life of the psyche springs has
been invaded by a virus that attacks the subject from within.
The process that will issue in the super-ego has taken root.
In Lacanian terms, one's desire has become the desire of the
other with that condition set as the way one will experience
both oneself and the world. Good and evil can now be bred into
everything. The body has become the scene of ethical
instruction. All natural functions are turned into matters of
intense preoccupation. All innocent curiosities nipped in the
bud. Spontaneity itself becomes a source of inhibition. The
reign of the literal is born. That which most intimately
attaches us to life becomes the thing upon which a ceaseless
attack is waged. All natural instincts must become evidence
that the only way to experience the body is as a site of
sinful desires. Embodiment itself must become something one
hates and fears, a condition in which something evil and
disgusting is always at work. Everything that desire opens up
in the subject must be turned back against itself. Sin, shame,
and guilt must come to define the relationship that the
subject lives to itself. The goal of fundamentalist
child-rearing is to create a subject preoccupied with waging
war on itself, with battling against its own desires under the
gaze of a judgmental, punitive super-ego. [4]

The super-ego maintains this power because internally a
fundamental transformation has occurred. All of one's desire
has been channeled into one's service to the super-ego. It is
thereby empowered to wage an attack on anything in the subject
that would oppose or threaten its reign. The super-ego is as
Freud noted harsher than the actual parents. It is so because
it fuses prohibition with the quest for love. What is the
first and perhaps the deepest attachment of one's life is
bound to a force opposed to the very thing from which it draws
its energy. Sexuality of necessity brings this conflict to a
head. For in it one experiences at its greatest intensity the
clash of the two principles that constitute the psyche: (1)
that in us that would break free of the super-ego and
constitute a desire independent of it and (2) the power of the
super-ego, as a result of the love one has invested in it, to
crush the opponent. This conflict is inescapable for the
simplest of reasons. Operating upon sexuality was precisely
how the super-ego was formed. It is in one's sexuality,
accordingly, that one experiences the true virulence of a
force that has the power to turn the inner world into a place
of self-torture. All one has to do is desire what it forbids.
One then learns the truth. That capitulation under the
unrelenting pressure of that self-torture is the triumph of a
fundamentalist education. In the war on sex the process of
formation completes itself. Its product is a subject living a
relationship to itself defined by self-contempt,
self-punishment, and self-unraveling. Any attempt to break
with the super-ego only serves to increase its power.
Appearances to the contrary, the super-ego isn't about
morality. It's about power-and the irresistible privilege that
comes with power: to torture, in fact to erect torture as the
relationship the subject lives to itself.

How could it be otherwise? What else could child-rearing be
for the parents but the chance to prove themselves to the Lord
by taking whatever measures are required to assure that His
commands assume total control over the child's psyche. Getting
the child to internalize a super-ego that makes guilt over
one's desires the primary relationship the subject has to
itself assumes in fundamentalism the status of a categorical
imperative. Life must be filled up with inhibitions and
prohibitions in order to assure that sexuality will always be
experienced as a fall into sin. Internally that experience is
guaranteed by the condition that lays in wait to assault the
transgressive psyche, even when the transgression is only in
thought or fantasy. Transgression, one discovers, floods the
psyche with guilt, shame, and the conviction of a fundamental
badness that can only be purged by an attack on oneself. That
attack is the nuptial offering that seals one's marriage to
the super-ego. It is the way one restores one's communion with
it. In punishing oneself one experiences the joy, the
libidinal pleasure, of a union that feeds on destructiveness.
Thereby one reveals the truth: that thanatos has taken control
of the psyche. A subject at war with itself has been created,
one that will experience desire itself as a sign of guilt and
will loathe it as that within oneself that one must strive to
extinguish. Thanatos has created a psyche dedicated to soul
murder-to the murder of one's own soul. The power that
death-work has assumed in the psyche now ravages the psyche.
In three interconnected ways. (1) So great is the power guilt
has assumed that any opposition to the super-ego unleashes an
attack that threatens with psyche with self-dissolution. Such
is the true power of the super-ego: unending torment with no
exit save suicide or psychotic self-fragmentation. (2) Ego
identity thus becomes the active, constant effort to spy out
and combat everything in itself that could be labeled a source
or occasion of sin. (3) In the body consequently a condition
now maintains in which every desire becomes the overture to a
war that must be waged until the very sources of desire have
been conquered, until everything that might once have been
natural has been rendered thoroughly unnatural. S
ado-masochism has come to define the subject's relationship to
itself. The only pleasure lies in the coldness and cruelty of
an unrelenting attack upon one's sinfulness and the pleasure
one gets from making oneself the abject object of that wrath.
A world of perfect self-hatred has been created. A culture of
pure thanatos has been installed as the unity of a psyche that
must project good and evil, sin and punishment, damnation and
salvation into everything until life itself becomes the
doleful and guilty passage of a shriveled and shrunken (but
saved!) subjectivity toward the only thing it can desire. The
End-the death of desire itself, the unending struggle against
it, and the ever-present danger that one will slip and find
oneself in the clutches of the damned. The Apocalyptic desire
is born.

Sexuality has been transformed into the festering wound out of
which resentment is born. For every time desire rises up one
experiences again one's powerlessness to break the
strangle-hold the super-ego has over one's sexuality. A
jaundiced eye then casts its gaze on all who have succeeded
where one failed Envy rises up, offering one the only exit
from inner conflict--hatred of the sexual and an unending war
upon it. That war has become one's deepest necessity. Envy
begets hatred begets rage. The only way to relieve that rage
is by projecting it onto the world. That act has an added
charm: it is the way one achieves identification with that
super-ego that has never stopped assaulting one from within.
As avenging angel damning a sinful world one reclaims as
resentment what one has had to sacrifice as desire. The
transformation is complete. One is no longer a child tortured
into submission by a punitive super-ego. One has become an
adult projecting that destructiveness upon the world. For a
psyche so bound to hatred requires a constant supply of fresh
objects and occasions on which to vent itself. It is wedded to
the search for a sublime fulfillment of the rage that defines
it. And because everything within the psyche opposed to this
project has been killed there is no way to halt it. Death has
become absolute and craves that total unbinding that can come
only with a totalizing Apocalyptic projection. (The
destructiveness analyzed in section 4 is the necessary
outgrowth of the sexual condition this section describes. That
inversion is the circle the fundamentalist psyche is unable to
break out of.)

The process I've just described is not a disorder restricted
to the reddest neck in the reddest state. It is a portrait
drawn from what also typified a Roman Catholic childhood in
the late fifties and early sixties. What Freud struggled to
comprehend Roman Catholicism throughout its history has known
instinctively and with a thoroughness that enabled it to raise
the whole thing to the level of a system based on the most
fundamental of recognitions: that working upon human sexuality
is the way to attain complete dominance over the psyche. The
systematic perfection of that labor depends on a single
insight : wounding someone in their "soul" is the way one
gains the greatest power over them; and one does it best when
one takes what is most open, vulnerable, and loving in a child
and exploits it to forge the bonds that will enslave that
psyche, perhaps forever. The super-ego draws its force from
that desperate love it has solicited so that it can
appropriate the energies invested in that love in order to
wage an attack upon the psyche and thereby eventually on life

Given the genius of Catholicism it should come as no surprise
that Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ is the most
popular fundamentalist work of our time, hailed and promoted
by fundamentalist preachers. What seems odd at first given the
fact that Gibson is not strictly speaking a fundamentalist but
a reactionary Catholic on the warpath against Vatican II makes
perfect sense when seen in terms of the libidinal structure of
Gibson's film and the psychological needs it fuels. The long
standing fundamentalist hatred of Catholicism is misplaced.
Equally misplaced is the attempt to confine fundamentalism to
preachers in the Bible-belt. Fundamentalism is on the rise
today and takes many forms because it speaks to something that
has long been active in Christianity, something that the old
Church exemplified and that we may find impossible to expunge
from Judeo-Christianity in general because the truth of the
matter is the existence of a contiuum that finds
fundamentalism in the position of the Hegelian Notion, the
telos and immanent logos that develops through the course of
Judeo-Christianity until it achieves in fundamentalism its
proper and final form. Orwell offers the following definition
of liberty: "Liberty is telling people what they don't want to
hear." Is it time to extend that principle to religious belief
in all its forms? A New Year's Resolution.

Walter A. Davis is professor emeritus of English at Ohio State
University. He is the author of Deracination: Historiocity,
Hiroshima and the Tragic Imperative . He can be reached at:
•••@••.••• .


(1) Charles Strozier, Apocalypse: On the Psychology of
Fundamentalism in America (Boston: Beacon Press, 1994).

(2) Fundamentalist readings of Revelations are an exercise in
interpretive ingenuity in service to an ox-like stupidity.
Every image in the text must be literalized and attached to a
specific event or person. So that in the grandest feat of
fundamentalist interpretation everything in Revelations
squares with specific details of contemporary history. But of
course this effort requires its own revisionism since this
operation must be performed repeatedly, as it has been in
America by fundamentalists since the 1840's. The same drama,
ever approaching, ever delayed (and more's the pity), with
history and its participants made stock figures in an abstract
allegory. In service to the fundamentalist dream: that grand
day when it will all finally fall into place, no more
disappointing prefigurements, but the real thing. The act of
interpretation in such a framework is both mechanical and mad.
The frantic search is always on for events that will tie down
and confirm the bizarre images of Revelations since they
provide the secret code to the meaning of history. Thus the
fundamentalist as reader driven half-mad in the constant
mental gymnastics required to puzzle the whole thing out then
just as constantly revise the thing, as events dictate, with
no way to stop playing this game.

(3) It would be interesting to do a complete reading of
Revelations as a psychological text; that is, one where the
psyche of the author projects in the action of the text the
inner drama that defines it. In John's case we have a
repetition compulsion in which each attempt to express love is
overcome by an eruption of rage. This rage, however, can never
be successfully discharged. As a result it expands with each
repetition. Only with a cataclysmic projection of total
destruction can John finally rid himself of it in a way that
enables him to end his book with an expression of love. But
that love exacts a terrible price: it is only possible after
this world has been destroyed.

(4) Often for this to work a lot of sex is necessary. Under
one condition : it must always be experienced as a fall into
sinfulness, the disgust that the fornicator must feel toward
him or herself as well as the other with whom one performs the
act of darkness. This also offers an explanation of a new
mutation in fundamentalism: the young college age
fundamentalist who reportedly are also enjoying a frequent if
not lively sex life on campus. Since their conversion came
before they had a chance to sin, they must experience both sin
and salvation at one and the same time in an idyllic space
that is beyond the principle of contradiction. Thereby they
become all the more fervent in their saved status the more
they experience the mindlessness of a sinfulness they cannot
permit to enter their consciousness the way genuine eros
always does-as that which shatters all else with the demand to
affirm and live out all that it puts one in touch with within

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Wexford, Ireland

"Escaping The Matrix - 
Global Transformation: 
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