There is a dangerous way of thinking that lay dormant for years but is re-emerging within the United States among white people and within the Black community as well. It is called “Fundamentalism,” and I will use this article to critique it and hopefully persuade my brothers and sisters seeking freedom and justice to dissociate with it immediately.
What is Fundamentalism?
According to Wikipedia, fundamentalism describes “strict adherence to orthodox theological doctrines.” But the term has also come to describe the strict or overly-rigid interpretation and adherence to just about any religious, political or social doctrine or belief system.
This last point is important, for the corporate media far too often isolates Muslim Jihadists (like those involved in the Iraqi-based “ISIS” group for example) as fundamentalists. While the Isis movement is in fact fundamentalist, our obsession with their form of it sometimes causes us to forget that right here in the United States, we have various forms of fundamentalist groups and ideologies. To be specific, we are also surrounded by the teachings and practices of Christian fundamentalism, Conservative (political) fundamentalism, and yes, even Black Nationalist fundamentalism.
Examples of fundamentalism include but are not limited to:
- Teaching that all things in a religious book are infallible (even on non-religious matters) and happened literally. Also, a refusal to recognize the allegorical or metaphorical nature of religious stories.
- teaching that one’s lifestyle or beliefs, because it differs from that of the group, automatically condemns such people to death, unhappiness or damnation.
- Believing that people who disagree with your principles should be physically harmed or killed.
- Insisting there is only one way to enlightenment or salvation, and that only your organization, place of worship, or ideology teaches or practices it.
- Refusing to even discuss alternative perspectives or conclusions.
Fundamentalism – as should be self-evident -is dangerous and divisive. What any person believes is just that – a belief, no more, no less.
Once any belief is deemed immutable law or the only acceptable way of perceiving or behaving, we are deluding ourselves: Beliefs are valid or invalid, but making any of them inflexible facts/laws above critique or analysis only leads to cults. Jim Jones and David Koresh illustrate the folly of such thinking.
Our efforts to avoid fundamentalist thinking and instead adopt reasonable thinking, doesn’t imply that we simply accept any or every idea at face value; On the contrary, progressive-minded people must begin to understand that EVERY idea or belief is up for critique in the marketplace of ideas. Reasonable folk don’t purchase cars, houses or anything else of value hastily or without investigation. This is a practice that serves us well with respect to assimilating ideas as well. People (Black Nationalists included) that adopt fundamentalist thinking or approaches do our struggle for dignity, empowerment and liberation a great disservice by squashing free-thinking and broad-minded thinking.
Agyei Tyehimba is an educator, activist and author from Harlem, N.Y. Agyei is a former NYC public schoolteacher, co-founder of KAPPA Middle School 215 in the Bronx, NY, and co-author of the Essence Bestselling book, Game Over: The Rise and Transformation of a Harlem Hustler, published in 2007 by Simon & Schuster. In 2013, he wrote The Blueprint: A BSU Handbook, teaching Black student activists how to organize and lead. In April of 2014, he released Truth for our Youth: A Self-Empowerment Book for Teens. In 2015, he wrote My Two Cents: Unsolicited Writings on Race, Politics, and Culture. Agyei has appeared on C-Span, NY1 News, and most recently on the A&E documentary, “The Mayor of Harlem: Alberto ‘Alpo’ Martinez.” Currently, Agyei is a member of the Black Power Cypher, five Black Nationalist men with organizing backgrounds, who host a monthly internet show addressing issues and proposing solutions. He runs his own business publishing books, public speaking, and teaching Black people how to organize and fight for empowerment. He is the founder and coordinator of Harlem Liberation School.
Agyei earned his Bachelor’s Degree in sociology from Syracuse University, his Master’s Degree in Africana Studies from Cornell University, and his Master’s Degree in Afro-American Studies from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.
If you are interested in bringing Agyei to speak or provide consultation for your organization, please contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.