Saturday, December 5, 2015

Fundamentalism Its Own Religion?

I have been reading David Brooks of the New York Times writing about the Religion of Fundamentalism. Almost all religions have their own fundamentalist groups. They have so much in common that they could be their own religion. I do not mean to paint all people who identify themselves as fundamentalist with the same brush, but most follow the same pattern.

Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist or Hindi fundamentalists see themselves as the "True Faith." They are literalist and are not tolerant of any one who does not think like they do. They lack compassion for those who are different and unwilling to convert. Often, they are willing to kill those who are different, seeing them as a threat to the true religion. Quite often they attack members of their own faith who are moderate.

As one who has studied world religions, it appears to me that fundamentalists become so ridged that they wind up going against the founder of their faith in order to promote the narrow view of their particular group. The preaching of hate and killing in the name of god must be countered by faithful people of all religions who know that the true faith preaches love God, love others, and get the word out.


  1. The pragmatist in my says, "Yes, kick the fundamentalists out of the Christian boat so everyone else in the religion can get on with being normal, good people." I am, after all, happy for every Christian who is willing to eschew literalism for reason and temper fervor with compassion. When I talk to my non-fundamentalist Christian and Muslim friends, they tend to have vastly more in common with me in terms of philosophy, outlook and ethical judgement than they have with their fundamentalist peers, so a case can certainly be made that we could reasonably re-partition religious identities between "fundamentalists" and "everyone else".

    But at the same time, the rationalist in me says this is a No True Scotsman fallacy ( ) and entertaining it has some serious consequences. First, it can lead one to write-off people who come to fundamentalism from an honest place, which does everyone a disservice if we fail to engage them using the arguments that we ourselves find convincing. Especially since this kind of theological amputation mutes the spectrum of religious belief that might make one person more reachable than another. Also, it's worth noting that fundamentalism is a perfectly valid expression of any religion, even if it is neither practical nor in the service of human wellbeing. They are using the same holy book, same teachings and stories, just editorializing differently (everyone editorializes). Pretending this is otherwise could have the effect of allowing moderates withing that religion to abdicate their moral responsibility to acknowledge and challenge both the extremist elements withing that religion as well as the problematic elements of that religion's essential teachings.

    Reza Aslan is a good example of how this can go wrong. He is a liberal Muslim and western scholar who is unintentionally giving cover to both extremism and some of the most fundamental problems with Islam today by pretending that Islamic extremism isn't a problem born of Islam or its teachings, but is a sociopolitical phenomenon separate from Islam. Besides being plainly false, this is a perfect example of the "No True Scotsman" fallacy. He likes to say things like, "The womens rights issues in Saudi Arabia are a Saudi problem, not a problem with Islam. Look at Bangladesh, which has had a female PM for 24 years," ignoring the fact that Saudi Arabia is a theocratic monarchy and their policy on women's rights is based more closely on Quranic law than Bangladesh's secular government's policy. He is also ignoring the fact that things get worse for women and non-Muslims as these countries become less secular. Also ignoring the fact that the Bengali government has been systematically ignoring a reign of murderous terror against atheists in that country at the hands of mechette-wielding extremists for the past 2 years. Mr. Aslan would have us believe that Islam plays no role in either Saudi women's problems or Bengali atheists' problems, that Muslims have no responsibility to push back against this problem because it's not a "Muslim problem," and that is a moral travesty of the highest order.

    Sorry for the length, this post just really got me thinking. :)