Michael Dowd and Connie Barlow (America’s Evolutionary Evangelists) have published a new, as always excellent, podcast. Among other things, they talk about Blasphemy Day and ways of relating to religious fundamentalists.
There are many ways to relate to fundamentalists, and as usual, these are all mirrors for ourselves. We can find it here, in our own daily lives and right here & now.
We can agree with religious fundamentalists, identify with the same views, and it may give a sense of safety, of being part of a cohesive and supportive group, and of being right. At the same time, when ideology is set above most other considerations, it can easily harm people, including ourselves. Stories are tools, and when taken as absolutely true, easily become weapons.
We can take a reverse position, an atheist or anti-religious fundamentalist position, and do the same although with different belief content. This has the same function of giving us a sense of group cohesion and of being right. But it also serves to polarize and inflame the situation, and although the starting point may be seen as more informed than the religious fundamentalist position, the stories themselves are not used in a much more wise or insightful way.
We can see it as not very important and focus on other things. This is the approach I am most familiar with, having grown up in a country where fundamentalism is nearly non-existent and not much of an issue. But in a more connected world, we do eventually need to address it in some way.
We can wish to engage in a sincere dialogue, appreciation the value in their position, while coming from some concern about the harmful effects in their views. We can, in other words, approach then as if they are as considerate and well-meaning as we are. When we live in a country where this is the norm and works very well within our own culture, this a natural way of beginning the interaction. In the meeting with fundamentalists thought, it may relatively quickly run into some problems. We may notice that fundamentalists don’t play using these rules and instead try to take advantage of it, which may lead us to refine our approach slightly.
We can set firm boundaries and speak up about the harm we see coming from their views and actions, yet with recognition, sincere respect, and a sense of “us”. This may be best done through working with more moderate elements to find a range of strategies that will prevent or reduce the harmful effects of fundamentalism in ways that are less likely to polarize the situation further, and then refine and adjust this as we gain more experience. It is a mix of stopping the most obviously harmful effects, while working at mutual understanding and reducing polarization, and also showing that we respect their views although still set boundaries for certain actions.
Going slightly further, we can use a mix of all of these approaches and refine and fine-tune it over time. For instance, we can take the insults of the anti-fundamentalists and put it in a “us” context, from a recognition that we are all in the same boat. We can set firm boundaries and act fundamentalist there, as long as it seems helpful, even if we know they are arbitrary and come from cultural values. We can sit back and not take the fundamentalist issue all that seriously, at times, and especially for more peripheral facets of the situation. We can engage in a sincere dialogue, seeking to understand where they are coming from, the function fundamentalism serves for them, how it is understandable in light of their history and experiences, and so on (it may be their way of protesting against what they see as amoral secular society, or – in the case of Muslims – a very understandable protest against western cultural/economic/political/military imperialism).
This last approach comes naturally when we recognize all of them in ourselves. When we actively use the world as our mirror, recognizing in ourselves the views and actions we see in others. Wen we become more familiar with that terrain in ourselves and our own daily life, by noticing and actively exploring these approaches here.
What do I see them doing? What should they be doing differently? What is not OK about what they are doing? How do I do the same, in my daily life? Can I find three or more specific examples? How do I do the same right now, in how I view and relate to them? What do I fear would happen if I didn’t hold onto my beliefs about them? What is more likely to happen? How would it be to live without those stories? What is the validity in their views? What is the validity in the reversals of my own views? How would it be to live from the most juicy one of those in my own life?
Their conversation encouraged me to look at it for myself.
We can agree with religious fundamentalists, identify with that view, and it may give a sense of safety, of being part of a cohesive and supportive group, of being right. We can take a reverse fundamentalist position, a fundamentalist atheist or anti-religious fundamentalist position, and basically do most of what they are doing – only with different belief content. We can be indifferent and ignore fundamentalists, not see it as very important and be concerned with other things, which I know mostly from my own culture where fundamentalism is nearly non-existent. We can wish to engage in a sincere dialogue, appreciating the value in their position and also the harm it causes. Or we can set firm boundaries, speak up about the harm we see coming from their views and actions, yet with recognition and sincere respect, a sense of “us” and of holding and allowing the different positions.
Maybe most simply, we can acknowledge that we are all in the same boat. We are all fundamentalists in our own way, in some area, and at some times, in our life. This is not about us and you, but about all of us.
We can speak up about what we see over there, the effects of their fundamentalism. This may be especially appropriate in discussion about policies and laws, and if done with genuine respect, can also invite them to take a closer and more honest look for themselves. (If not done from respect, it will more likely polarize the situation and make them dig further into their trench.)
What are the effects of your fundamentalism? What are the real life effects of how you hold your views? How does it impact others? Is that how you want to live your life?
What do you hope to get from holding those views in the way you do? What are you afraid would happen if you didn’t have those beliefs? Can you be certain they are true? What if they are not? How would it be to hold the same views in a different way?
Maybe most importantly, we can demonstrate such a sincere inquiry. We can find our own fundamentalism, examine its effects, and see what they alternatives are.
- blasphemy day
- function: to create friction between their beliefs/actions and other’s beliefs, they all invited to notice their own beliefs and its effects
- many ways of relating to fundamentalism
- agree, identify with – function: safety, in-group, being right
- belittle, insult (caught up in own fundamentalism, polar opposite)
- ignore, not see as important (most used to from my culture) – concerned with other things
- sincere dialogue, appreciate the value in + acknowledge the effects of fundamentalism
- firm boundaries, firm stance about the harm it is causing, often vocal + sincere respect, appreciation (maybe most mature, possibly most effective – especially in the long run)
- each, a tool – helpful in some situations, less in other + each with valuable elements, valuable function
- use elements of each
- agree with – find validity in
- insult –
- firm –
- or, more simply….
- we all are in the same boat, we are all fundamentalist in our own way
- and, take a look at the effects of your beliefs, the real-life effects – is that how you want to live your life? To find your real beliefs, your real guidelines, look at your life. (Not your words or conscious thoughts.)
– find here now, do what encourage them to do
– stop harm + acknowledge function, value + tell how see it (the benefits, harm) + explore alternatives
I usually stay with the simple, and – from many perspectives – perhaps quite naive, when I explore these things for myself, but sometimes the simple and basic can be useful too, especially if applied in our own lives and with some sincerity.