In 1985, Richard Yao, the founder of Fundamentalists Anonymous, started talking about “The Fundamentalist Mindset. In every media, at every stop, Yao defined The Fundamentalist Mindset as the “black-and-white, all-or-nothing, us-against-them” mindset. He argued that it is this mindset, not the different theologies it spawns, which is the core of Fundamentalism. And which makes it so intolerant and dangerous.
Now we’re in the 21st century and locked in a religious war between Fundamentalist Christianity and Fundamentalist Islam with no end in sight. So some observers now see Richard Yao‘s emphasis on and definition of The Fundamentalist Mindset as ahead of his time, if not downright prophetic.
As American ayatollahs inveigh against Islamic ayatollahs and vice versa, the avowed mission of Yao’s movement to rescue millions from the clutches of The Fundamentalist Mindset seems even more relevant and urgently needed.
Bush Junior’s slip of the tongue after 9/11 that he was launching a “crusade” (some “crusade”!) against Islam revealed what his so-called “war against terror” is really about.
The fact that this “crusade” was launched without the real support of Wall Street or even of the U.S. military’s top brass shows the Religious Right has the most say in the Bush White House and the Republican Party.
When Richard Yao first debated Jerry Falwell on The Today Show, he met Bryant Gumbel, the show’s co-host, in the Green Room.
Gumbel took one look at Yao, shook his head, and gasped “Oh my God, you look like a kid! Falwell’s going to kill you on the air!”
In Gumbel’s nightmare, it was like refereeing a kid against an 800-pound gorilla.
Yao assured Gumbel that so long as he shared half the screen with Falwell and did not faint, he would do fine. And he started telling Gumbel all about what he calls “The Fundamentalist Mindset.
Gumbel unceremoniously cut Yao off. His advice was blunt, if well-intentioned. “That’s a mouthful,” Gumbel warned Yao. “Don’t even mention it. No one will know what you’re talking about.”
Yao did anyway.
He argued that this Fundamentalist mindset is more important than the specifics of “fundamentalist baptist” or “pentecostal” or “charismatic” theologies. And that is the mindset that does so much damage, and therefore it’s the mindset we need to focus on.
Apparently millions of Today show viewers got what Yao was talking about. For NBC’s switchboard was swamped after the Falwell-Yao debate. And over 70% of the callers to the NBC switchboard supported Yao!
Jerry Falwell would have described it as a miracle—if the over 70% support had been for him. Well, it was a miracle. Especially since the Today audience had never seen or heard of Richard Yao until he suddenly materialized on their TV screens, and held his half of it most effectively indeed against Jerry Falwell, a recognized master of the medium.
Now “mindset” and “fundamentalist mindset” are used so frequently on TV and in the media. When Yao first used it on Today, one rarely ever heard those terms. Now they’re part of the mainstream consciousness.