The events in France this past week have led me to share once again some reflections about religious fundamentalism, especially when it becomes radical fanaticism. Religious fundamentalism — whether Muslim, Christian, Jewish, or any religion — is a problem that will not be solved this week or next. If we are going to live on this planet together, however, it has to be solved and it can be solved.
Reflections about Religious Fundamentalism
Religious fundamentalism is fundamentally flawed because it takes one element of the truth and proclaims it as the WHOLE TRUTH.
Fundamentalists pick and choose from their scriptures, using certain texts to justify their narrow vision and actions. Religious fundamentalists place such a high priority on their own perceived doctrinal conformity and obedience to doctrinaire spokespersons that they sacrifice those values basic to the world’s great religious traditions: love, compassion, forgiveness, tolerance and caring.
In their overwhelming seriousness about their exaggerated religion, fundamentalists do not hesitate to intervene in political and social process to ensure that society is forced to conform to the values and behaviors their basically static worldview requires. For fundamentalists cultural change is the great threat to their identity.
Fundamentalists are their own justification.
Fundamentalism appeals for a variety of reasons.
For people who feel unimportant or insignificant, fundamentalism says you are important because you are God’s “special messenger.”
For people who feel dislocated in a “foreign” culture and who see their identity threatened, fundamentalism says the foreign culture is their enemy and God’s enemy.
For people who are fearful, fundamentalist leaders say: “you can’t be saved without us…join and be saved.”
For the confused, fundamentalism says one doesn’t have to think about doctrine nor even be educated in it. Just agree and obey.
Fundamentalism makes the fundamentalist feel good about himself or herself. It is self-stroking.
Fundamentalism justifies hatred of one group of people for another, because it believes that God hates those who do not conform to the fundamentalist’s worldview.
For people burdened and hopeless about their socio-economic status, fundamentalism says: “It is not your fault but the fault of the ‘foreign’ world out there. ‘They’ are the oppressors.”
Fundamentalism appeals to people burdened by guilt and shame because it exempts them from responsibility for situations or actions that cause guilt and shame. Fundamentalism says…if you are one of us, you are OK.
Fundamentalism excuses people from honest self-examination; and it justifies their prejudices, zealotry, intolerance and hatefulness.
What should we do about fundamentalism?
The best way to confront ignorance is not through indoctrination but through real education that emphasizes critical, analytical thinking skills. Real education stresses the importance of gathering evidence and then proceeding to conclusions. Fundamentalists work in opposite fashion.
In all religious traditions we need to stress the importance — the absolute necessity — of an historical critical understanding of all sacred scriptures and religious teachings. And we need to help people understand that change is a fact of life…whether secular or religious.
In the Muslim world, an historical critical understand of the Quran — across the board — is essential for the survival of a healthy Islam and essential for our survival as well. Here, particularly, non-fundamentalist Muslims bear a heavy responsibility.
We need to establish channels for dialogue and institutions that promote multi-cultural knowledge and understanding.
In our parishes and community centres, we need to establish inter-religious study sessions, discussion groups, and shared prayer. We need to combat the kind of religious arrogance that makes one religious tradition “true,” and the others “false.”
In our world with its great migration of peoples we need to study what cultural identity means today and the process of cultural assimilation and change. The great migration of people’s is not going to stop.
We in the West need to practice a genuine humility that enables us to really see the rest of the world and the rest of the world’s socio-economic needs.
We need to translate our vision-gained-from-humility into concrete and achievable socio-economic actions and strategies.
None of this will come easily……..Right now people in France are huddled in grief and fear. My thoughts and heartfelt sympathy go out to them……..A big challenge stands before us; but it is a challenge none of us can sidestep.