Religious Fundamentalism Reflects Tribalism At Its Worst

(Posted 3/14/06) - I've given some thought to news media and pundits' recent observations that (I paraphrase): The American street, as contrasted to the Arab street, is at a tipping point regarding their tolerance for Islam.

There appears to be an increasing American and European belief that followers of Islam are prone to acceptance of violence done to non-believers (due to certain Koranic strictures and references to Jihadic responsibilities by their mainstream clergy). I don't really want to talk about whether this appearance is fact or fiction; I do want to share an observation about Religious Fundamentalism.

Is your idea of what constitutes Religious Fundamentalism the same as mine? I would characterize anyone as a Religious Fundamentalist who exhibited all of the following:

  • Belief that an omnipotent entity can (and does) intervene on one's personal behalf (Deus Ex Machina).
  • Belief that certain books contain divine instructions which must be followed to avoid some form of retribution by the omnipotent entity.
  • A conviction that those who do not share one's belief system are lessor people who can and should be manipulated to further the believer's ends (including conversion).
  • An angry reaction at any attempt to inject 'secular human rights' into a religious fundamentalist system: Especially as it applies to non-believers.

Notice that this definition applies equally to all major theistic religions. There are folks who form fundamentalist cores in each of: Christianity, Islam, Zionism, and Hinduism. These folks are extremely intolerant of those that do not share their belief system.

This religious xenophobia is currently being played out on the world stage by violent persons of the Muslim faith under the label of Jihad. The original Jihad was akin to the Crusades; meant to free lands and peoples from city-governments that held opposing religious views. Today's bastardized version of Jihad is nothing similar to the Koranic view. Terrorism by its nature is antithetical to Jihad. It is not a "just war" against non-believing city-states, but an agry lashing out at innocents who become targets of opportunity to frustrated fundamentalists who cannot wage war against equals (army to army).

Amidst this backdrop we see each nation attempting to tread a precarious path which grants sufficient individual rights while allowing their dominant religious insitution's room to operate. Secular-humanist oriented governments which successfully separate religious instituions (church) and state are often referred to as adopting a "Western View."

There are however nations which have embedded religion into their government (Israel, Egypt, Saudi-Arabia, Syria, Iran, etc.) Is it any surprise then that these are the very nations that breed personalities (religious fundamentalists) with a penchant for violent confrontation with neighbors of a different faith?

You may be concerned that I included Israel in my sample list above. My point is not that a religious state must be bad by definition. My point is that such environments give greater lattitude to those of the fundamentalist mind-set. That mind set leads to confrontation that is more likely to be violently resolved.

It appears that the USA has a growing entanglement between federal government and fundamentalist religionists. The last two presidential elections have been increasingly about "values." I see that as a code word for saying that religious institutions in the USA are stepping up their fight to make us all toe their line. Their 'moral codes' hope among other things to:

  • institute mandated Christian prayer in public schools,
  • mandate teaching of non-science philosophical topics as alternatives to the experimental sciences,
  • screen otherwise qualified individuals from public / private service if they are homosexual,
  • eliminate the right of women to determine whether to bring a fetus to term.

Read your daily newspaper to see how the list goes on and on. Secular humanism in the USA is not going untested. We too must be vigilant or we may one day find ourselves suffering from religious terrorists bred in our own backyard, calling themselves the Moral Majority.

As a closing thought, I've included a link to an Aljazeera interview with a Syrian ex-pat working in the USA. Dr. Wafa Sultan is a practicing psychologist who went from devout Muslim to secular humanist as a result of witnessing a religious hit-squad kill her mentor in Syria. She was taught to 'hate the Jew'; but after attending University found them to be as human as she. The point is she used her intellect and experience to filter out the bottom two items in my list defining "Religious Fundamentalism" and is now attempting to spread words of reconciliation to the "Arab Street."

Here's an excerpt from an Aljazeera interview in which she confronts a fundamentalist cleric on the subject of tolerance: Click To View.