The emergence of Neo-Fundamentalism: climate change denial, free markets and God

How much more could I pack into a title of a blog post huh – big heady stuff!

I’m going to reproduce some comments I made over at DeSmogBlog on a recent post on the extreme religiosity and climate denial of the Canadian Prime Minister Steven Harper.

I have been musing for some time on the convergence of several trends in conservative thought, and how the same issues of science denial, conservative values and the increasing political polarisation between left and right. The conservative/right have lurched further to extremes than the left has in a process called “sorting”.

The driver for this, essentially sorting while creating positive feedback mechanism for extremism is the emergence of what I would tentatively call “Neo-Fundamentalism”.

Neo-Fundies (hey there’s a meme for you guys!) combine extreme religiosity, conservative social values and a blind faith in free markets and limited government. It is a response, perhaps fear driven, to the enormous changes gripping the globe: climate change, economic hardship, the growing wealth divide and the decline of American power.

It is a primarily American phenomena, but washes over the globe.

Neo-Fundamentalism promises to fix these issues by waving them away (climate change denial), holding back change (gay and women’s reproductive rights) or fixing it with the right correctives (limited government, personal freedom/responsibility and unrestrained US unilateralism).

I’m very much aware with the problem with this arm-chair theorising, I may be very badly and drastically wrong in the ideas I’m putting forward. Perhaps it has already been discussed and studied and has a name I’m not aware of. Or I’m just way off the mark… but its my blog, my musings.

Still: I think the emergence of the Tea Party and the likes of Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachmann and like-minded conservatives and issues such as climate change denial as part of something “bigger” in retrospect we will look back on with more clarity.

I’ve listed what I see as the defining characteristics of Neo-Fundamentalism below. Thoughts, criticisms and discussion welcome.

I’ve been attempting to articulate, or argue, the connection between climate change denial and conservative, fundamentalist religion is much deeper than suspected for some time.

Coupled with an absolute “faith” in limited government and free markets we have what can only be called “neo-fundamentalism”.

Climate change denial – promoted by think tanks etc. – dropped into a culture in the US already hostile to science: the anti-evolution movement. The segue-way for this group to AGW denial was easy and painless.

I do not dispute the role of vested interests or think tanks or backroom influence in government. But it would not have been so very successful without the right social conditions.

Thoughts on its emergence:

In the 1970s and Nixon pursued the Southern Strategy – to capture and hold the once Democratic base in the US south kicked it off. It was a campaign based on white fear of Afrian-Amercan enfranchisement. It was a valuable lesson in politics. How much of the “Birthers” and fear that Obama is the anti-Christ is the legacy of the Southern Strategy is an interesting question. Still…

In the 1980s Regan came to power playing to the “Moral Majority” base of conservative evangelicals that had felt marginalized and hostile to an increasingly progressive and secular US.

Regan managed to marry free market/libertarian ideas (“Government is not the solution, government is the problem”) with hostility to elites and scientific knowledge that ran counter to conservative values. On evolution Regan said “it was just a theory” and ignored the emergence of AIDS because of its(mis)association with homosexuality.

The second Bush presidency saw a man in the White House fully supportive to the idea of both free markets and that the “End Times” were near.

The current GOP and Tea Party, the Michelle Bachmann’s and Sarah Palin’s are the end result of 40 years of this not an aberration.

The neo-fundamentalist world view incorporates:

  • a conservative Christian world view (not just Evangelical)
  • motivated and with a large supporter base that straddles class/education divides
  • dismissive of science such as AGW, stem cells and evolution
  • dismissive of expertise and expert opinion in contradiction to core values
  • dismissive of government (small or big), equating it with socialism
  • free market advocates
  • socially conservative: hostile to the expanding ethical circle that includes gays, minorities, secularists
  • willingness to embrace aspects of the conspiracy culture to explain failures or limits to action

Run a checklist of these values and beliefs against the likes of Sen. Inhofoe, Bachmann, Palin, the average Tea Party member, Glenn Beck and yes even Lord Monckton and I think you would see a strongly shared world view.

Chris Mooney articulates some of this very well in “The Republican Brain” etc. which is a good attempt the underlying personal and social psychology of how this may have happened.

Since the 1970s, the GOP has created a platform and embraced a world view we could tentatively call Neo-Fundamentalism in which extreme religiosity is fused to a grab bag of ideas about governance, conspiracy theories and free markets.

We have *failed* to understand it because it is contradictory, comical and nonsensical. We thought was funny, or the product of uneducated and unsophisticated minds. We did not see the ferocity or single-mindedness of Neo-Fundamentalism.

Just because a belief system is idiotic, does not means its believers are idiots.

But I also suspect we had are own myopic view of events: we have fought small, limited “battles” such as climate change denial while not understanding or appreciate it enough to see it as part of a broader, fully developed and articulated world view that embraces the above criteria I’ve tried to capture.

Put it this way: do you think they accept climate change down at Oral Roberts University? Here’s a hint, they don’t.

Or Fox News?

Or in the mega-Churches?

We think its “crazy” when Republican state Senators put forward omnibus bills trying to ban/balance the teaching of evolution and climate change denial: “See these people are crazy!” we say.

Not to them, not in their epistemic bubble.

To them it makes sense, indeed it is axiomatic that both evolution and climate change are a “lie” pushed by (to quote Limbaugh) the trinity of liars: academics, scientists and the “liberal” media.

Had we paid more attention to the broader trends (memes perhaps) that have been circulating amongst evangelicals, the conspiracy culture etc. we would have been less surprised.

Desmogblog (

8 thoughts on “The emergence of Neo-Fundamentalism: climate change denial, free markets and God

  1. Sammy Jankis says:

    That’s an interesting point – that we’ve been perhaps too focused on the smaller ‘battles’ rather than the ‘war’. I have to admit, that in the early stages of the Tea Party-esque movements I thought “Surely this won’t last. It’s just too nuts”, but I underestimated the capacity and willingness of conservatives who should know better to accommodate and even amplify nonsense. For example, where are the conservatives in the Australian media who would proudly stand up and say to their colleagues:

    “Look guys, let’s stop with all of this climate change denial nonsense. Instead, let’s focus on solutions. Let’s advocate for solutions which we feel would be better than those currently on the table, but solutions which take seriously the informed opinions of the relevant experts.”

    …but we don’t see that. What we get, at the very most, is a quiet admission by some that the the science is fairly conclusive, followed by a loud rant about the evils of TEH BIG NEW TAX and an insistence that, even though they may strongly disagree with them, scientists and advocates for action on climate change must respect the opinions of laypeople who suggest a massive green conspiracy.

  2. Moth says:

    “In the 1980s Regan came to power playing to the “Moral Majority” base of conservative evangelicals that had felt marginalized and hostile to an increasingly progressive and secular US.”

    Mitt has taken a leaf out of his book, for sure.

    I like this point, mate;

    “We have *failed* to understand it because it is contradictory, comical and nonsensical. We thought was funny, or the product of uneducated and unsophisticated minds. We did not see the ferocity or single-mindedness of Neo-Fundamentalism.”

    Certainly we’ve arrived to the same point; by not taking this wave seriously (and, at the same time, enabling the “all points are equally valid” mantra), it’s brood into a fierce storm, attempting to push us into a new dark age. We gave the movement momentum.

    • Thanks mate, and I note this is a tentative hypothesis.

      But yes – we are well past the simple and naive view of “Big oil = climate scepticism”.

      We are seeing a breakdown of trust across segments of society, a flight to certainty in the various forms fundamentalism (religious, political, economic) and the (re) emergence of right wing populism.

  3. Moth says:

    They’re outside the Canaanite library with torches again.. St Cyril is out for the Library of Alexandria.. The trouble with historic ignorance; we’re doomed to repeat our mistakes.

    • There will be more Hypatia’s.

      “Fables should be taught as fables, myths as myths, and miracles as poetic fantasies. To teach superstitions as truths is a most terrible thing. The child mind accepts and believes them, and only through great pain and perhaps tragedy can he be in after years relieved of them….”

      The inevitable fate of our species is to repeat its mistakes.

  4. And also by Hypatia:

    “In fact men will fight for a superstition quite as quickly as for a living truth – often more so, since a superstition is so intangible you cannot get at it to refute it, but truth is a point of view, and so is changeable…”

  5. […] and I have been discussing the concept of “neo-fundamentalism“, a tentative way to describe the blending of religiosity and the denial of science and […]

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