Wed Feb 15th, 2006 at 07:14:14 AM EST
It today's breakfast thread there is a frank and forthright debate going on about the cartoons again. One of the issues that has come up a few times is the misunderstanding of fundamentalism.
Let me try and explain the phenomenon a bit.
Karen Armstrong has written a lot about fundamentalist religions and she seems fairly widely respected.
Her thesis is that fundamentalism is a new form of religion that is a reaction to the modern world. It is not, as it's sales people would have it, a return to some purer, earlier form. It is something new branched off older religions and depending on modes of thought only possible to modern people.
There was, in her opinion, a distinction made between two modes of thought; mythos and logos. Logos was the rational, reality and fact based way of thinking. Mythos was the symbolic, spiritual way of thought that need not have literal truth in this world. A person that makes the distinction does not expect that religious or spiritual texts will really apply to this world nor that religion can be explained scientifically. The idea is silly.
Her contention is that the modern world concentrates entirely on the objectively true and devalues mythos.
Fundamentalism arises when a religious believer takes the mythic events of their religion and applies modern thinking to it. Either it's false and "just a myth" or it must be objectively true. If they take the second approach then they form world views that are bizarre mixes of the objectively true and objectively false. Generally these strange alloys are formed under pressure: anti-Semitism and displacement for the Jews, the slow collapse of the Caliphate and the ascension of the barbarian West for the Muslims, the rise of secularism and democracy for the Christians.
The fundamentalist religions have in common: a belief in the literal truth of some very strange myths;
a belief that they are under siege from evil, unjust forces which leads to anger, fear and defensiveness;
sharply drawn lines between us and them; a total disregard for the history of their religions or their traditional teachings.
They've also all been exploited for personal and political gain by some truly nasty people.