I don’t mind people disagreeing with me, in fact I actually enjoy it. I like talking to people with other views, even “out there” perspectives (unless they’re assholes about it of course). I just did a blog about a civil discussion with a birther the other day and I just debated in two blogs with a 9/11 truther. I don’t dislike people for disagreeing with me. So when I say I don’t like fundamentalism it’s not because I’m not a fundamentalist and “we” don’t like “them” or any of that entrenched ideological BS.
The problem with fundamentalism (strict, literal adherence to a doctrine such as the bible) is that it virtually always means ignorance or hypocrisy or both, and is almost always accompanied by closed-mindedness. I will try to explain why. It is nearly impossible for someone with a strict, literal interpretation of scripture to go year after year not being exposed to something which invalidates that theological premise. If we took the bible completely literally we would think the world is flat and has four corners. We would think illness is caused by demons and witches are real (and should be killed on sight). We would believe many absurd things.
We would also take passages about moving mountains as saying that believers have fearsome telekinetic powers.
And we would interpret Jesus’ words at the last supper as a call to cannibalism. The idea that the bible (or any similar text) is to be taken strictly literally is, I posit, self-evidently absurd. What separates a fundamentalist from a non-fundamentalist is how they react when they come across these things. A fundamentalist with become all entrenched and go into “rationalize and compartmentalize” mode. A moderate, reasonable person will honestly look at the evidence and objectively think about it. They will care more about finding the truth (whatever it is) than maintaining their own belief.
This is the difference between a fundamentalist and a non-fundamentalist, and it is also the difference between a reasonable person and an unreasonable one. More often than not fundamentalists are not honestly trying to adhere to a literal theology, they are just going into panic-mode and refusing to consider other points of view. I have never met a fundamentalist who did not immediately say some parts of the bible are metaphors or shouldn’t be followed when pressed about a controversial point (thus it is hypocritical). Fundamentalists decry the absolute will of god that must urgently and fervently be obeyed… but only when dealing with scripture they agree with. This may not be entirely due to hypocrisy however, as many fundamentalists have simply not been exposed to the whole of scripture, and so they think the bits they’ve been raised with (which they agree with because they’ve been raised to believe in them) are 100% good and thus honestly believe out of ignorance that 100% of scripture is agreeable.
But most fundamentalists in my experience are aware of bits of scripture that they do not agree with and secular evidence that contradicts a literal interpretation, and/or come across them in discussion. Those fundamentalists do not strive to follow every letter of scripture or believe in it literally, but invoke the idea of fundamentalism to justify claims they cannot defend any other way. This may be why fundamentalism is associated more with the nastiness of organized religion, anti-civil rights movements and general Phelps-family-like behavior. You don’t have to invoke god’s will to justify an idea or policy which is perfectly reasonable, most people will easily agree with you. But invoking things like god’s will or nationalism is often the only way to gain support for unreasonable policies and ideas.
This leaves closed-mindedness (of the things I mentioned earlier). I have taken an interest in why people believe the things they do for many years now, and I have found that faith is more often than not a very emotional and psychological phenomenon moreso than a philosophical one. When I say psychological I do not mean to imply that religious people are insane, everyone has a psychology. In my experience people tend to believe in yahweh over allah or allah over vishnu etc for one of two main reasons – the first (and most common) is simply how they were raised.
Have you ever thought about the math of the religious makeup of a country? If 70% of a country’s people are christian, about 70% of the next generation will be christian. If 90% of a country is muslim, about 90% of the next generation will be muslim, and so on. This to me suggests very strongly that religious belief is by and large a thing of chance, because if you were raised by hindu parents you would almost certainly be hindu, and the same is true of other faiths. And this is due to the psychology of youth, when we are young we do not have the capability of critically thinking about what we are taught. We are impressionable, easily molded.
Maybe 90% of the time people believe what they were raised to believe. But that does not account for all believers. In my experience those who convert in adulthood without any indoctrination always see their faith as a profound tool not just for happiness, but emotional survival. This is why faith is often compared to a crutch, many religious people openly admit to feeling they need faith to get through their day, and think that they would collapse without it. Many of these types of believers are or were at one point, fundamentalist. Whether someone sees a belief as a vital way to cope with life’s difficulties, a way to have a sense of direction, a way to feel safe, or whether it’s just important to their sense of identity, they will see anything that jeopardizes that belief as a threat. This is why fundamentalism tends to be very closed-off and fundamentalists tend to not be interested in other points of view.
I saw a video on youtube awhile ago that got me thinking, and eventually lead me to write this blog. It was a video attacking evolution. The transcript for the video was in the comment section, and it began:
“FIVE SIMPLE QUESTIONS If you cannot answer these questions with scientific fact and scientific accuracy – then perhaps you might wish to rethink your own beliefs regarding evolution. (BTW – no evo believer has done it, yet.)”
The “questions” were all easily answered and were very hackneyed objections I had seen refuted many times, and refuted many of them myself… many times. Out of curiosity I scrolled down to see what the responses in the comment section were, and found:
“Adding comments has been disabled for this video.”
The video author demanded answers, then blocked people from giving them. I was not surprised, this mentality is very, very common among people with fundamentalist views. And I think it is because they see things which contradict their views as a threat. Whereas I see things which contradict my views as an opportunity to learn something new. And that to me seems the crux of the issue. It’s not about whether you think there’s a god or you don’t or you call it allah or call it yahweh or accept science or don’t. The important thing is not that you reach a particular conclusion, it’s your fundamental attitude toward reality – do you want to know what’s true, even if your “truth” is proven false? Or do you just want to be left alone to believe what you believe?
Most atheists (there are exceptions) tend to be open-minded, but I do not believe this is because atheism somehow makes you open-minded. It is rather because in this country at least, at this precise point in history, most atheists were not raised atheists, but changed their mind at some point in their life – mostly for rational reasons. Atheism is I believe the symptom of open-mindedness, not the thing itself.
No one should be a fundamentalist if they care about the truth. And while life can be horrific at times, for some more than others – most of the time it is not a nightmare. And so for anyone who puts these kinds of walls up to protect themselves or clings to a set of beliefs, just know that you can let go.
And no I don’t mean stop being christian. I just mean stop clinging to a belief or idea or mentality for dear life.
Because the world has enough rigid, intractable people. And can always use more open, reasonable people.
I hope I didn’t offend anyone with this blog, that was honestly not my intention. I am just delving into some of my thoughts on the issue.