Religious Authoritarians II: The Dominators

“I’m a fundamentalist in the true sense. That is to say, I follow the fundamentals of religion … But for over 1,400 years people have been interpreting and re-interpreting the religion to suit their own purpose! … These [extremist and terrorist acts] are not Islamic fundamentals any more than the Christians who burned people at the stake are fundamentalist. They are actually deviating from the teachings of the religion.”

― Mahathir Mohamad, Prime Minister of Malaysia 1981 – 2003

At this stage you will not be surprised to learn that religious fundamentalists of various denominations sink into authoritarianism like one would a hot bath.

Fundamentalism arose out of 19th century protestant evangelism in the United Kingdom and the United States. It militantly supports the literal interpretation of the Bible as “the Word of God” – thanks in part to the presence of Billy Graham in the 1960s – seeks to evangelise or “spread the word” to as many folks as possible in order to save their souls from hell-fire. Belief in the “End times” and the Second Coming of Christ is also very much part of the vision through which, due to their adherence to Bible rules, they will achieve salvation and be saved, looking on and nodding sagely as the rest of us slowly turn on the devil’s spit for all eternity. Which is why they true believers often see the protection of the environment, human rights issues and anything remotely humane as an irritating irrelevance when they believe the end of the world is nigh. What is much more worrying is the fact that many fundamentalists see a big chunk of their Christian duty is facilitate this apocalyptic conflagration as best they can. This of course, means that the Second Coming of Christ will arrive and therefore their promised salvation.

That is analogous to camping outside a high street store all night in order to get the best sale items and when the doors open they will drop kick babies and trample over their own grandmothers to obtain what they consider to be their spiritual goodies.  The glaring irony that these beliefs are the antithesis of Christian values doesn’t seem to occur to them because unfortunately for them – and it appears, everyone else – authoritarian followers tend to lack even a modicum of self-awareness and perspicacity which makes them easy prey for any spellbinding psychopath on a mission from “heaven.”

cross2© infrakshun

Presently, Christian fundamentalists permeate both the US Congress and the US military rising in numbers annually. In America, the religious right was largely responsible for supporting the likes of George W. Bush and his apparent Christian crusade and all that followed. [1] They are also to be found supporting such luminaries of compassion and sound judgement as Sarah Palin, the late Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist; (investigated for corruption) Senate Minority Whip Mitch McConnell; Senate Republican and presidential candidate Rick Santorum; former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft and not forgetting former US House of Representatives member and former House Majority leader Tom DeLay before he was removed on money laundering charges and subsequently sentenced to three years in jail.

Nothing describes quite as well the spiritual and social exploitation at which the fundamentalist mind-set seems to excel and has turned the freedom and liberty of the US into the “American Psycho” we are familiar with today. According to Bob Altemeyer’s survey results based on key questions, fundamentalists and evangelicals are essentially cut from the same rag: “… most evangelicals are fundamentalists according to our measure, and most Christian fundamentalists are evangelicals. Whether you are talking about Evangelicals or talking about Christian Fundamentalists, you are largely talking about the same people.” [2]  And the highest scores on the authoritarian scale repeatedly come from Conservative, Protestant, Christian Fundamentalists.

Indeed, everything mentioned about Right-Wing authoritarian personalities can be applied to Christian Fundamentalists.

Fundamentalism first or authoritarianism?

Chicken and Egg?

Altemeyer explains:

The evidence indicates authoritarianism is more basic. The RWA scale correlates better than the Religious Fundamentalism scale does with acceptance of government injustices, hostility toward homosexuals, willingness to persecute whomever the government targets, and most other things. …. So the problem’s not so much that some people are fundamentalists, but that fundamentalists so definitely tend to be authoritarian followers. But as I just said, religious fundamentalism does promote authoritarianism in some ways. And you can certainly see the influence of right-wing authoritarianism in many things that religious fundamentalists do. [3]

In Altemeyer’s surveys and scales Christian Fundies show what amounts to religious brain-washing when young and a constant religious presence in their lives. By emphasising this affiliation and distinction in religious terms:

“… you instantly create the category of people who are not that, who are different. You’re laying down an in-group versus out-group distinction. Even if you never say a nasty word about other religions, the enormous human tendency to think in ethnocentric terms will create a preference for ‘people like me.’” This plants the seeds of prejudice and bigotry with the fundies employing self-righteous indignation when called on it. However, “…fundamentalists still hold more racial prejudices than most people – a fact known to social scientists for over fifty years.” [4]

Interestingly, the professor also found a high sprinkling of authoritarian types attracted to feminism which should come as no surprise after our brief foray into that realm and the high incidence of narcissism within the movement itself.  The instances of authoritarianism was still far lower than religiously inclined RWAs however, who regularly and persistently trounce all other authoritarianism categories for sheer aggression, zealotry and dogmatism. [5]


The Disgraced (but God-fearing) Tom DeLay who was brought up on corruption charges whilst an avowed authoritarian Christian

As with the basic authoritarian mind, fundies are not noted for their intellectual prowess.

Altemeyer’s research confirms the findings from Mark Noll, an evangelical history professor at Wheaton College, who wrote The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, where he states in a somewhat exasperated tone: “In the United States … it is simply impossible to be, with integrity, both evangelical and intellectual.” And further: “Modern American evangelicals have failed notably in sustaining serious intellectual life.” [6] This is best represented by the refusal to question belief and the rejection of evolution – despite its fundamental flaws – in favour of creationism or “intelligent design” with periodically successful attempts to place the teaching and Bible dogma in the school curricula in America. This equates to “selective ignorance” and is always present when spending vast amounts of energy shoring up fear-based beliefs and the accompanying inability to think critically about anything.

When the mind is compartmentalised is very difficult to follow open-minded and creative discussions because for the RWA fundamentalist, everything must be obsessively scanned for psychological “malware” and suitably virus-checked for information that doesn’t conform to the already prescribed categories that rigidly define his mind. As Altemeyer observes: “They’re not really interested in coming to grips with what’s actually in the Bible so much as mounting a defence of what they want to believe about the Bible – come Hell or Noah’s high water.” [7]

Many fundies haven’t even read the good book like many of us heathens:

“Since fundamentalists insist the Bible is the revealed word of God and without error, you would think they’d have read it. But you’d often be wrong. I gave a listing of the sixty-six books in the King James Bible to a large sample of parents and asked them, ‘How many of these have you read, from beginning to end? (Example, if you have read parts of the Book of Genesis, but not all of it that does not count.) Nineteen per cent of the Christian High fundamentalists said they had never read any of the books from beginning to end …” [8]

Considering their wish to be seen as following God and Jesus while feeling obliged to expend enormous amount of time and energy proselytizing (its larger reflection present in the 21st century crusades gripping much of the Middle East) it is more than disturbing that even the Bible itself becomes irrelevant to the maintenance of belief.

To compensate for what might be misconstrued by the rest of us as abject hypocrisy, double standards and aggressive, vindictive behaviour, a flicker of guilt may surface in moments of weakness and it is this that constitutes a conscience for an RWA fundie. This would be put down to Satan’s influence (which is anything that sits outside the demarcation line of Fundamentalist belief) and suitably purged from awareness by asking God for forgiveness. This is drawn from the related get-out clause of the Roman Catholic ritual of having your sins absolved by the local priest and confession box, always on hand with three “Hail Mary’s” to relinquish all and every responsibility for your actions.

The late Jerry Falwell

The late TV Evangelist Jerry Falwell not one to mince his words in condemning virtually anyone who isn’t like him.

Yet while doing their level best to make the rest of us miserable, fundamentalists claim exquisite joy and contentment from having a “personal relationship” with God and his only son Jesus as their saviour who bestows an exclusive love upon them as a result of their diligent efforts to keep Satan at bay. Provided they continue to do so, they will be offered a place in heaven brimming over with eternal happiness. Which begs the question why it is that their own children leave this particular belief system in droves?

Perhaps because the only thing that Fundamentalism ultimately creates is chaos under cover of short-term gain.

Fundamentalist thinking is both ontologically and epistemologically absolutist and therefore bereft of any real imagination. An inability to be creative and open to other alternative modalities is a defining quality. Openness, curiosity and a non-judgmental attitude about life are components of creativity. The act of imagination must also relate to empathy and tolerance, neither of which authoritarian fundamentalists possess in any great measure. Those who embrace narcissistic and psychopathological attributes for domination naturally repulse those who do not. The latter demographic often suffers a breakdown due to their core nature being forced to embody what is essentially alien behaviour and against the individual’s conscience. What started off as an escape from trauma and life’s hardships rapidly becomes crystallized into negative traits seen as not only normal but superior.

Finally, from authoritarian followers, (High and Low types) and authoritarian Fundamentalists, we come to “social dominators”. These are the individuals who repeatedly attain high scores on all of the authoritarian scales with a clear penchant for power. Reading through Altemeyer’s research data it is clear that at minimum, he is talking about pathological narcissists reaching up toward psychopathy..

Social dominators (SDs) are inclined to be:


Media mogul and Evangelist Pat Robertson whose Christian values regularly include pouring scorn on all and everyone who thinks differently to him (and God).

…. intimidating, ruthless, and vengeful. They scorn such noble acts as helping others, and being kind, charitable, and forgiving. Instead they would rather be feared than loved, and be viewed as mean, pitiless, and vengeful. They love power, including the power to hurt in their drive to the top. Authoritarian followers do not feel this way because they seldom have such a drive to start with. But social dominators do not. Oh sure, they want their followers to be super loyal to the group they lead. But they themselves are not really in it so much for the group or its cause, but more for themselves. It’s all about them, not about a higher purpose. If trouble arises, don’t be surprised if they start playing “Every man for himself” and even sell out the group to save their own skin. [9]

Social dominators are your average wannabe-dictators in waiting. Unlike authoritarian fundies for whom empathy is residual at best, the social dominator’s empathy levels are non-existent, where manipulation, deceit, prejudice, hostility, one-upmanship and the “thrill of the chase” are all normal modes of behaviour. They revel in the law of the jungle and enthusiastically embrace it. Anything goes with the SD if it gets them to where they want to be, which is usually in positions of power. Indeed, for the SD – power is the overriding goal.

The real fireworks start when authoritarian followers, leaders, social dominators and what Altemeyer calls “Double Highs” (DHs) – a combination of high authoritarian personality types and social dominator psychological traits – meet for a barn-dance and begin to formulate plans for a New World Order of their own. These are broad personality types which typically make up the ponerological categories of “humanoids” such as narcissists (and its sub-variants) psychopaths (asthenic, skirtoidal) and characteropaths.

Many variants exist between low-scoring RWA, high-scoring RWA and SD types. For example, the professor found that: “persons who scored highly on the social dominance test were seldom High RWAs, and High RWAs were almost never social dominators.” DHs accrue the high scores for prejudice and domination from the SD and high RWAs and plummet to new depths. As the tests investigated both scales of submissive and dominating tendencies regarding authority one may question how could the DHs score highly on both?

The professor accounts for this seeming contradiction in this way:

Simply put, they are “religious” social dominators. They usually had much more religious upbringings than social dominators typically had, or they may have “got religion” as adults. As a group their fervor does not quite reach the levels found among ordinary right-wing authoritarians. But they go to church much more than most people in my samples do. Ditto for being religious fundamentalists. Ditto for being religiously ethnocentric. They thus respond to the religious content on the RWA scale, which ordinary social dominators do not, and that helps make them Double Highs. But how are they going to answer the Exploitive-MAD scale? It would seem difficult for a religious person who goes to church fairly regularly to rack up a high score on this measure, wouldn’t it? Indeed, ordinary high RWAs score rather low on this test. But not the Double Highs, who score way way up there when it comes to exploitation, manipulation, and so on. […]  They’ve usually combined the worst aspects of being a social dominator with the worst aspects of being a high RWA. Thus we saw that when it comes to prejudice, they pack an extra load of hostility toward their many targets. And they’re just as power hungry as the rest of the social dominators are, rather than being uninterested in personal power as ordinary RWAs are. But when they land in between ordinary dominators and ordinary high RWAs, they usually land closer to the worse outcome. [10]

What Bob Altemeyer found towards the conclusion of his studies is that the DH’s during George Bush’s reign scored highly in the US legislator of the 1990s. The statistical probability and consequent actions have since confirmed that DHs, using an authoritarian religious platform, have taken over not only the legislator, but the Republican party, the US military. and to a lesser extent the Democrats.

In what he calls the “Global Change Game” where students were set geo-political problems to solve, unmitigated nuclear disaster was the inevitable result when DHs were given the reins of power. What this means in the real world is that an American theocracy is in danger of becoming a reality a scenario that these simulations predicted with alarming accuracy based on detailed psychological tests over thirty years. What is more, the professor found that overtly “Nazi” sentiments, while laughed at in the 1990s by most people, are embraced by authoritarian personalities, though under cover of more modern ideological labels and rationalisations.

“The End justifies the means” is the maxim that becomes more and more applicable to today’s International politics dominated by the authoritarian-religious mind-set. If Altemeyer is right when he concludes that: “… the vast majority of us have had practically no training in our lifetimes in openly defying authority,” [11] it merely confirms Andrew Lobaczewski’s studies and explains why so many of us are continually duped by psychopaths in power.

It paints a bleak picture when covert or overt authoritarianism begins to increasingly interfere in our lives, not for reasons of belief, but at its primal core, for reasons of psychological domination by a minority. That is the hardest one to swallow for most people, yet it remains the most viable conclusion. As the great anarchist pioneer Peter Kropotkin stated quite simply: “Where there is authority, there is no freedom.” Mix that with religion and allow it to simmer and you have a recipe for doors wide open for immovable totalitarianism, as much of history has shown us.

Authoritarianism is the channel by which a gradual decay to take place on the inside of institutions and governments while the outside appears structurally sound, where original values and ethics appear to operate. It is the personality framework by which a slow but sure process of ponerogenesis can be allowed to come to fruition. Keeping in mind the propensity for authoritarian followers’ submission to leaders, whatever their pathological make-up, as well as the blindness to social dominators’ preference for amoral activities, what does this mean for the inner workings of the American government and its federal agencies? How is this religious fundamentalism reflected in foreign policy?

We’ll try to answer that question in the next post.



[1] ‘Fundamentalist bigotry reigns at US Air Force Academy’ By Patrick Martin, World Socialist Website, 30 April 2005.
[2] Ibid. (p.76)
[3] Ibid. (p.34)
[4] op. cit. Altemeyer (p.111)
[5] Ibid. (p.112)
[6] The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind by Mark A. Knoll, Published by B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., pages ix, 3.1994.Ibid.
[7] op. cit. Altemeyer (p.112)
[8] op. cit. Altemeyer (p.136)
[9] Ibid.   (pp.165-166)
[10] Ibid. (p.161)
[11] Ibid. (pp.179-180)


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