The rules governing the behavior of religious members don’t come from the “holy scriptures” they read. After all, most of the rules in the scriptures are not followed (don’t wear mixed fabrics; turn the other cheek); while many important norms (monogamy, democracy, kindness) are never mentioned.

The rules of the religion do not come from the scriptures. They come from the priests—a parasitic caste of old men.

“Fundamentalists,” we are told, “believe that every word of scripture is the word of God.” Some observers (Sam Harris was perhaps the first) have said that this makes “fanatical” religious observers more sensible about their faith (in a way) than “moderates.” The moderates pick and choose which parts of the book to take seriously, while the fanatics simply believe every word. They don’t back down from the idea that the entire thing has a divine warrant. Fundamentalism seems to have a moral clarity about it that “reformed” religions lack.

But this turns out to be wrong.

Take a look at what the fundamentalists do. Their actions clearly show that they believe that some parts of holy scripture are the word of God, and that others are not. For example, although scripture clearly says that if someone strikes you on the cheek you should turn the other cheek, fundamentalists generally advocate an immediate escalation in violence. The idea that they believe every word is simply not true. Fundamentalists don’t get their rules from a literal reading of scripture. Like every other kind of religious “believer,” they take their orders from a parasitic caste of old men.