January 21, 2006

Spectrum blues and oranges

Don't believe I've ever used the word "fundamentalist" in anything I've written, mainly because I've never been sure it really means anything.

But it recently struck me that there is a meaning to the word. Or at least, this is my understanding of it. To me, a fundamentalist is a person who cannot appreciate such a thing as a spectrum of opinion. Who cannot conceive that there are those who want to stay equidistant from both sides of the spectrum, or at least somewhere along it. Who therefore thinks anyone who disagrees with her ideas is automatically at the far end of the spectrum.

It's as if you had violet and red, but nothing in between.

But of course you do have some things in between. They're called indigo, blue, green, yellow and orange. They're pretty vivid colours in their own right.

So give me a rainbow, not black and white. Or violet and red.


Anonymous said...

I can give you an orange if you want.

Bonatellis said...

i think the word "fundamentalist" is a misnomer ... it's normally attributed to people whose fundamentals are rather weak ;)


Nikhil said...

'To me, a fundamentalist is a person who cannot appreciate such a thing as a spectrum of opinion. Who cannot conceive that there are those who want to stay equidistant from both sides of the spectrum, or at least somewhere along it. '
Yesssss- You have hit the nail on the head.
This spectrum is what is ost when ideological or dogmatic fundamentalists are close to power. All dissenting voices are silenced.

Mandar said...


i think you have very beautifully explained what the word means!

Anand said...

Nicely put. That explains the word very well. But the word has acquired a completely negative meaning now, I guess. I would like to distinguish between fundamentalists too. Surely there's a difference between those who say non-violence is the only way and violence is the only way?

Anirudh said...

Indeed. And there's infra-red and ultraviolet too.

MichaelBains said...

There is a band who sang on a South Park episode. I think they had something other than Homo Sapiens in mind with it, but the jist remains the same:

so many colors in the homo rainbow
don't be afraid
to let your colors shiii-ine!

Never be afraid to honestly look at everything.

Nicely said Dilip!

zap said...

@ bonatellis - i.e. whose fundas are completely mental..

Anonymous said...

Fundamentalist is unfortunately used as being synonymous with absolutist. The following entries from the OED should clarify the history of the usage of these two terms:


The practice of, or adherence to, the absolute, in theology, politics, or metaphysics.

1. Theol. ‘The dogma of God's acting absolutely in the affair of salvation, and not being guided in his willing, or nilling, by any reason.’ Scott Suppl. to Chambers.
1753 CHAMBERS Cycl. Supp. s.v. Absolutism is one of those doctrines charged on the Calvinists, for which the Lutherans refuse all union with them. 1775 ASH, Absolutism, the doctrine of predestination.

2. Pol. The practice of absolute government; despotism; an absolute state. (First used, together with ABSOLUTIST, by Gen. Perronet Thompson.)
1830 GEN. THOMPSON Exerc. (1842) I. 295 The experiment of trying to have an agent of the foreigner upon the throne, with leave to bring back the old absolutism. 1840 Ibid. V. 148 The old flag of absolutism, which it might be well enough to hoist two centuries ago, but is all too late now. 1841 SPALDING Italy I. 24 Our dislike of absolutism in government..tempts us to overcharge all its evils. 1862 M. HOPKINS Hawaii 253 The king's power was absolute; and as is usually the case with absolutisms, his chiefs in their separate spheres were smaller despots. 1878 SEELEY Stein II. 231 Standing armies ushered in a period of absolutism over the whole Continent.


a. A religious movement, which orig. became active among various Protestant bodies in the United States after the war of 1914-1918, based on strict adherence to certain tenets (e.g. the literal inerrancy of Scripture) held to be fundamental to the Christian faith; the beliefs of this movement; opp. liberalism and modernism.
1923 Daily Mail 24 May 8 Mr. William Jennings Bryan..has been exerting the full force of his great eloquence in a campaign on behalf of what is termed ‘Fundamentalism’. 1925 K. LAKE Relig. Yesterday & To-morrow 63 There has been in America some surprise at the sudden rise of Fundamentalism in the last five years. 1927 Observer 5 June 5/3 Fundamentalism and the Klux Klan are signs of alarm on behalf of the older ideals. 1955 Times 25 Aug. 14/1 ‘Fundamentalism’..appears to have been used first in connexion with the (American) Northern Baptist Convention of 1920 to describe the more conservative delegates who desired ‘to restate, reaffirm, and re-emphasize the fundamentals of our New Testament faith’. Ibid., Now ‘fundamentalism’..appears to describe the bigoted rejection of all Biblical criticism, a mechanical view of inspiration and an excessively literalist interpretation of scripture.

b. In other religions, esp. Islam, a similarly strict adherence to ancient or fundamental doctrines, with no concessions to modern developments in thought or customs.
1957 L. BINDER in Middle East Jrnl. XI. 391 Fundamentalism in religion and the Hinduization of the national historical myth were made possible [in India]..by the historical and religious work of Europeans. 1961 {emem} Relig. & Politics in Pakistan ii. 52 These same circumstances determined that the Congress act as midwife at the birth of Islamic fundamentalism in the Khilafat movement. 1981 Observer 27 Sept. 32/1 The new, or rather very old, Islam, the dangerous fundamentalism revived by the ayatollahs and their admirers. 1984 Church Times 2 Mar. 6/1 The newly-revived Western Christian awareness of ‘Islamic fundamentalism’, whose symbolic figure is Ayatollah Khomeini. 1984 Times 27 Apr. 13/2 It is this very process that has helped ignite the fires of Sikh fundamentalism, rather as Shiite fundamentalism was sparked off by the forces of modernization in Iran.