Thursday, December 24, 2015

Annals of Religious Fundamentalism (American version)

Insufficient energy has been dedicated to discussions of fundamentalist belief and action by the Islamic State, ISIS/ISIL, the Sunni and Wahabi sections of Islam and related religious zealots. It is worth remembering that religious fundamentalism is a very big tent. In fact, it is global, color blind and open to all. Once the tent is entered, then it is highly sectarian, as believers split into hard shell insiders, for  whom belief is clear, safe and secure.

Too little is discussed of religious fundamentalism and how it operates.

There are complexities that function at the individual level:
 - weak mindedness resulting from an absence of education, especially the qualities associated with critical thinking and social science's analytical skills, or the empathetic qualities that flow from Humanities and Liberal Arts instruction
- downward pressures at a domestic and social level - family ideals and related social structures, authoritarian processes and power relations
- societal forces best understood through sociology and critique - such as hopelessness, shame and despair through underemployment and unemployment, immiseration and poverty.

Fundamentalism takes these and other forces and redirects the energies into self-denying success.

Into this complex of energies, inevitably, are key religious texts (The Bible, Quran) that offer solutions to personal challenges in the context of totalizing lifestyles. In a perfect equation, the personal is fully embraced within literal claims made in those texts. Self and context merge in the otherness of the solution, brought by a suffering (super) human and his agents. The forces are difficult to resist when attached to the myths of redemption in an afterlife.  

These forces contribute to religious fundamentalism all over the world. And there are people more than happy to lay claim to the keys to the kingdom of the supreme being or g/God, if willing souls will sublimate themselves to belief in the text and the main messenger.

A critical analysis informed by a commitment to human dignity, equality, shared ownership of production and resources across society, has to look at every expression of religious fundamentalism in order to recognize its ubiquity and the a-front it is to civil society. This includes western types, of which there are too many.

In fact, the US has a troubling history of its own religious fundamentalism. There is a significant absence of public discussion about this field in mainstream US media, probably because it is considered private and no one's business but your own.

Here is an item from my local newspaper the Newton, Massachusetts Tab, December 23, 2015. Thankfully, most US society has moved far beyond this approach:

The Puritans who founded Massachusetts refused to celebrate Christmas because the Bible does not give a date for the birth of Christ, and a winter solstice holiday came from pagan traditions. Furthermore, they thought British celebrations of the holiday encouraged gluttony and excessive drinking. The Massachusetts Bay Colony actually outlawed Christmas celebrations in 1659, punishing anyone caught feasting or taking a day off work with a fine of five shillings. This law was repealed in 1681. 
These days, Christmas trees, lights and alcohol, fun and merriment are part of the celebrations . yet for millions of people around the world, religious fundamentalism offers little joy.