I was replying to someone who had posted a comment that showed their ignorance of history – that Christianity caused the fall of Rome and the intellectual stagnation resulting in the Dark Ages. They referred to, but didn’t quote, Gibbon (presumably The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire).

They also referred to “fundamentalist religion/ Christianity”, again showing their ignorance of the subject, saying that anyone who said that fundamentalist Christianity isn’t less poisonous that any other fundamentalist religion was either lying or… I can’t remember the specifics, but I think it was “ignorant”.

Let’s not bother examining the validity of stereotyping: the application of one quality to every member of a group. But I found grimly amusing the self-righteous attitude that came across in the words; the same attitude as they imagined was held by the “fundamentalists” they were excoriating. It’s exactly that attitude, comprised of ignorance and arrogance, that made me think of white supremacists in 1960s USA, beating, terrorising and lynching people who had a higher degree of melanin. Same thing in South Africa. But who among those white fundamentalists would have thought of themselves as self-righteous or ignorant or arrogant?

As someone has said, we’re often most blind to those faults we ourselves possess.

But I’ve digressed. “Fundamentalist” was an adjective applied to Christians (maybe by themselves?) in the 1920s, as a response to the anti-supernatural hermeneutic born from the Enlightenment. The fundamentals referred to were the propositions that someone had to believe to be called a Christian. “Fundamentalist” was a description that reached across denominations but today, the word has become an invective; essentially a synonym of “bigot”. Any person who calls themselves a Christian and dares to make a statement about anything is tarred with the epithet.

“Fundamentalist” has also become a cliché. As with my erstwhile interlocutor mentioned earlier, the term is most often used by people who regurgitate it thoughtlessly as – I guess – part description and part insult. Ask them exactly who they’re describing; could they say?

Again, poor definition, lack of knowledge, and not allowing for your own bias lead to false beliefs.

Another person had written a response to one of my posts: that western society was built on the foundation of Judaeo-Christian ethics and Roman law. Their response was that maybe it was time to change. This was because they didn’t like a “system of ethics where I could be stoned.” (Hit with rocks, obviously.) Their response was to take an extreme example of law and use that to reject the whole.

Another poor technique in argument I’ve noticed is that people will reject a proposition they don’t like by the argument from civilisation to barbarism: in other words, “That way of acting is inhumane.” The premise is that with time comes civilisation. This is clearly false: firstly because of there is no evidence for this. Secondly, consider the existence of the contrary: societies of the 20th century who have rejected Judeao-Christian ethics: the USSR or Communist China or Cambodia. Ask people who have lived under these regimes if they’d think the ethics of the Bible are outdated. Thirdly, how do you define civilisation? If you mean wireless broadband and bottled spring water then perhaps; but what have they to do with ethics? Surely civilisation, in the comparison with barbarism in the context of ethics, has to do with how people are treated. Given this, and the second point, civilisation is clearly not dependent on time.

I just heard another example of this. Bob Brown responded to Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s statement that she won’t seek to change Labor’s stance on homosexual marriage: i.e. not supporting it. Bob Brown, of the Greens, asserted that “Julia Gillard is wrong; she is last century.” At least he can’t call her a fundamentalist – JG is an atheist. Bob Brown has fallen foul of the fallacy that because it’s old, it’s wrong; because we know more, we’re better people.

But if our knowledge increases with time and leads us closer to truth, how do we know that we’ve reached ultimate truth about the matter now? If today we believe that homosexual marriage is right when 100 years ago we believed it to be wrong, could it possibly be that in another 100 years what we learn will cause our beliefs to change?