Antidotes to fundamentalism

 

I have read a few portions of Karen Armstrong’s The Bible so far, and found the history of Christian fundamentalism especially interesting.

(Listen to an interview and read the preface at NPR, and read an interview and review in The Guardian.)

One antidote to religious fundamentalism is knowledge of the history of our religion and its scriptures. Another important antidote is knowledge of how the faithful have viewed our religion and sacred texts through the times. Both are fluid, always changing, so why assume that the views (and versions of the scriptures) we have today is the final word or somehow privileged in terms of validity?

Why, for instance, is this early Bible so different from our contemporary versions? And isn’t it interesting that Christian fundamentalism, as we know it today, is a relatively new invention – from the 1800s?

Another antidote is respect and coming from a sense of “us”. I can respect where they are coming from, be receptive to learning from their views and insights, and also suggest alternatives and point out problems with their approach (historical, theological and practical). The more I find in myself what I see in them, the more I can come from a genuine sense of us. And within this sense of us, I can still choose strategies from building bridges (yin) to cutting through (yang).

This is much more comfortable than being caught up in shadow projections, and more likely to create a genuine dialog as well.

Yet another antidote is identifying needs behind fundamentalism, and explore other and attractive strategies to meet the same needs.

For some, the universe story meets some of the same needs. It gives a deep sense of meaning and belonging. It generates a set of ethical guidelines aligned with the golden rule and the ten commandments. It is aligned with science and spirituality.

Initial draft…

Another antidote is respect. What is likely to happen if I dismiss their views or put them down? Maybe increased polarization? Resistance? Despair? Even, if pushed far enough, desperate actions? What may happen if I instead come at it from respect and recognition?

It is fully possible to engage in these issues within a sense of “us”. I can suggest alternatives and point out problems with their approach (historical, theological and practical) from a sense of us, and even do it in a quite cutting way if that seems appropriate.

Even the intention of coming at it from a sense of “us” may reduce polarization and create interest. And to the extent I have done my homework (shadow homework) and am familiar with my own fundamentalism, I can come from a genuine and felt sense of us.

(Isn’t secular fundamentalism and its intellectual and factual distortions a mirror of religious fundamentalism? And although it may be enjoyable for a while for the drama it creates, what comes out of polarizing the situation further? Is it helpful? Is it skillful? Why not do my own homework and approach it in a more skillful way?)

And finally, which needs do we try to meet when we go into fundamentalist views? What do I find for myself? And what do Christian fundamentalists try to get out of their particular approach? Is there another, equally or more attractive, approach that will meet those same needs?

For me, the universe story – popularized in a brilliant way by Michael Dowd – is a star example of how some of the needs we all have can be met in a way that is fully aligned with both science and spirituality.

It gives a deep sense of meaning and belonging. Clear ethical guidelines come out of it, aligned with and illuminating the golden rule and the ten commandments. It gives and creates a deep sense of community with people, the earth and the universe. And it is free from the cognitive dissonance that comes from trying to take (our contemporary version) of the Bible literally, and also from battling science.

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