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Stein, R. (2006). Fundamentalism, Father and Son, and Vertical Desire. Psychoanal. Rev., 93(2):201-229.

(2006). Psychoanalytic Review, 93(2):201-229

Fundamentalism, Father and Son, and Vertical Desire

Ruth Stein, Ph.D.

In this paper I describe a certain state of mind that, conjoined with cultural and group processes, leads to fundamentalism, and with further developments, to coercive and violent fundamentalism. Hallmarks of this state are a sense of utter certainty, a feeling of being in the right, hermetic consistency, and highly rhetorical reiterations of Truths. The simplification of complexities into binary oppositions (basically of good and bad) not only creates order out of chaos and vagueness, but also constitutes a “vertical” homoerotic quest for God's love. These processes of ordering and desire are supported by the need to sacrifice, by masochism and coercion, and are enacted by increasingly severe purification processes. It is usually assumed that the religious quest is a search for meaning, but as will hopefully become clear, this quest is at the same time a series of transformations of fear. In this latter sense, the fundamentalist state of mind originates from what may be likened to an extreme and long-extended form of what we experience at those moments and hours when anxiety and fear, or shame, overwhelm us and reduce us to helplessness, a painful sense of smallness, and the feeling of being at the mercy of powers greater than ourselves.

Basically, there are two elemental types of fear leading to fundamentalist formations: (1) fear of death, or rather, of personal annihilation (see the works of Rank, Becker, or Lifton), and (2) the fear and rage in the face of the very existence of the other human being, whose presence and intentions are experienced as an obstacle to one's desires, (Hegel, Sartre, and Klein examine this predicament in their works).

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