March 6, 2006

Religious Fundamentalists

I have discussed this topic in several books from different points of view:
This discussion is updated from tow books, Surviving Human Nature and Religion for the 21st Century.

With reluctance, I have accepted that religious fundamentalism is a deeply embedded feature of human nature and not an ad hoc social construct. The view that the good and the bad are products of a society is now yielding to the deeper insight that the dialectical nature of the human mind is built it. This dialectic generates culture not the other way around. Aggressive advocacy of group values is characteristic of human groups and fundamentalism is a deeply imbedded feature of the human mind. Religions and political groups often include subgroups of militants that aggressively advocate group values and attack members of other groups.

Scholars usually treat fundamentalism as a social construct and limit their view to recent history, and familiar cultures. Religious historian, Karen Armstrong, for example, argues that “modern fundamentalism” had its roots in 15th century Europe when the discovery of the New World began to change old beliefs. At the end of the 15th century, all Jews and Muslims were being expelled or killed by Catholics in Spain, as Spain was laying claim to and beginning an era of genocide in the "New World". Armstrong like most scholars of European and Biblical history have no sense of events going on in the rest of the world and no sense of human evolutionary history. While the 15th century marked the beginning of a new assault by Spanish Catholics on a succession of non-Catholic groups, Spanish Catholics did not invent fundamentalism. Armstrong repeats a common argument that the emergence of science and rational humanism caused religious fundamentalism as “a reaction to threatened loss of old beliefs. “

A fundamentalist is someone who cannot or will not join this discussion. A fundamentalist is someone who would become angry when confronted with a rational description and analysis of his or her beliefs. A fundamentalist is someone who would want to punish me, probably by killing me, for writing a book that describes the arbitrary and delusional nature of religious beliefs.

The root of fundamentalism is group membership and mimesis - the copying of behaviors and stories that are memorized and repeated. We have recognized that hate stories treat outsiders as aliens who are to be feared and despised. Hate thrives on misinformation. The benefits of hate are to enhance the readiness of a group to defend itself and to motivate attacks on rival groups.

It is increasingly obvious that only a small number of humans cope well with modern complexity and few can master the intricate skills and detailed knowledge that is required to maintain a complex society. The rest of humanity is more comfortable living in small groups, utilizing older and simpler technology with a distinct preference for the simple explanations of old myths and folklore -- all features of fundamentalism.

Sociopaths gravitate to political and religious organizations and sometimes become leaders. They adopt the costumes, slogans and beliefs of the group. They often act recklessly and obtain belligerent followers by creating dogma and inciting hate. Sociopathic leaders are often not held accountable even when their criminal behavior is revealed. They can turn reasonable people into warriors or suicide bombers who believe that dying for a just cause is virtuous and noble and will be rewarded in some fictitious afterlife. They can start wars with plausible excuses and cause great harm, often without fear of punishment for their reckless belligerance.

From Survivng Human Nature by Stephen Gislason MD

Also See Religion for the 21st Century

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