Fundamentalism as Vertical
Was Abraham's readiness to liquidate any obstacle on his way to God by sacrificing his son to God a sublime act of faith? Or was it a terrible pact between the believer and his God, whereby Abraham was asked to return God's gift, Isaac—the promise He had made to Abraham as a reward for his faith—in exchange for eternal progeny, numerous as the stars in the sky and the grains of the sand? The violent erasure of human obstacles to a transcendent merging with (“love” of) the deity expresses the desire to return to “the fundamentals,” to a state of pure, unrivaled oneness with the Creator. This desire, conjoined with cultural and group processes, leads to fundamentalist religious practice, and with further developments, to coercion and violence. The person possessed by this desire exudes a sense of certainty, of being in the right; he possesses a certain kind of assertiveness, self-confidence, and airtight cohesiveness; he tends to feel superior to the other and to devalue him. He simplifies complexities into binary oppositions (basically of good and bad), not only creating order out of ambiguity and chaos but also constituting a “vertical,” homoerotic quest for God's love. Such processes of division and ordering are enacted by increasingly severe purification procedures, and are subtended by a sacrificial attitude, by masochism, and by coercion. It is usually assumed that the religious quest is a search for meaning, but what is often downplayed is the observable fact that this quest is at the same time a series of transformations of fear.
What is this fear? Actually, there are two: one is the fear of death, of human finitude, of personal annihilation;1 and the other is the fear of the other's existence, of the force of the other's own intentions and aims.2