9.6.1 Religious Absolutism

Religious absolutism is all too common, but it is indefensible: it conflicts with the higher authority of the Golden Rule.

If someone is a religious absolutist – believing that their viewpoint is the only one that can be permitted by their God – this does not per se present a problem for society.  But if that same person tries to force everybody else to adopt these views (, perhaps under the misapprehension that converting others is a duty and will save their souls, it would be a breach of the others’ rights.  Absolutism in some people takes the form of believing that God would want them to be His agents in converting everybody else, no matter what violence would be required.  There are examples of this type of violent extremism in all three Abrahamic religions and in Hinduism:

●  Al Qaeda’s aspiration of having a universal caliphate is an example that most people have been aware of, at least since 9/11, and is an example of Islamic fascism.

●  Less publicity has been given to America’s ‘dominionists’, who played a major role in getting George W. Bush elected and in influencing his policies while he was in office. Dominionism, according to Chip Berlet’s essay in the book Dispatches from the Religious Left: The Future of Faith and Politics in America, is:

“a tendency among Protestant Christian evangelicals and fundamentalists that encourages them to not only be active political participants in civic society, but also seek to dominate the political process as part of a mandate from God.

“This highly politicized concept of dominionism is based on the Bible’s text in Genesis 1:26: “And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.” (King James Version).” [p. 52]

●  A Washington Report on Middle East Affairs article, Religious Extremism and Holy War: Jews as Well as Muslims Must Put House in Order, gave examples of Judaic extremism.

●  In 1992, Hindu nationalists destroyed the mosque at Ayodhya – as described in a BBC article entitled Q&A: The Ayodhya dispute.

Any attempt to negotiate with violent religious extremists is likely to be unsuccessful.  It is possible, though, to explain to most people that there are serious weaknesses in the arguments put forward to defend religious absolutism:

●  There will never be a time where everybody believes the same thing. Any attempt to impose a single set of religious beliefs by force would turn into a world war with an apocalyptic outcome – and some extremists want this: to bring on the ‘Second Coming’, the ‘Last Days’, and the end of the world as we know it.  Christians United for Israel (CUFI) express a desire for the end of the world, as reported in 2007 by Max Blumenthal in a Huffpost article Rapture Ready: The Unauthorized Christians United for Israel Tour:

“CUFI has an ulterior agenda: its support for Israel derives from the belief of Hagee and his flock that Jesus will return to Jerusalem after the battle of Armageddon and cleanse the earth of evil.  In the end, all the non-believers – Jews, Muslims, Hindus, mainline Christians, etc.  – must convert or suffer the torture of eternal damnation.  Over a dozen CUFI members eagerly revealed to me their excitement at the prospect of Armageddon occurring tomorrow.  Among the rapture ready was Republican Former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay.”

●  Violence conflicts with the teaching (in all religions) that the Golden Rule is the most important commandment (

●  People who have been formally appointed as religious leaders, but who are preaching conflict, are almost certainly pursuing a political agenda – seeking status and power over others (

●  If someone asserts that their role as a religious leader makes them infallible, they are exhibiting hubris and blasphemy. Scholarship might increase a person’s understanding of a religion, but no human can claim to know ‘the mind of God’.  Claims to omniscience are absurd.

●  Anyone listening to a call for violence should have a strong suspicion that such a leader is attracted by the image of being God’s warrior and the sense of exhilaration and power that goes with that role.

Most people can be persuaded to distrust extremists who want to bring about the end of the world, if another point of view is expressed with equal conviction.  Religious extremists would be deprived of support if other charismatic leaders, belonging to the same religion, were giving the originally intended priority to the Golden Rule.  A policy of ethnic inclusivity, to foster peaceful pluralism (9.3.2), is the most satisfactory long-term approach for avoiding violent conflict.



This page is intended to form part of Edition 4 of the Patterns of Power series of books.  An archived copy of it is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition04/961.htm.