Religious and political groups often include subgroups of militants that
aggressively advocate group values and attack members of other groups. Scholars
often treat fundamentalism as a social construct and limit their view to recent
history, and familiar cultures. Religious historian, Karen Armstrong, for
example, argued 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
Christians in Spain, as Spain was colonizing many areas of the planet by ship
and guns, beginning an era of genocide in the "New World". Their example was
followed by England, France, Germany, Portugal and Holland.
Armstrong, like many scholars of European and Biblical history, has 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
Christians on a succession of non-Roman Church groups, they did not invent
fundamentalism. The Spanish Catholics were ignorant, belligerent and amoral; their actions were
consistent with human nature before and after.
The root of fundamentalism is ancient; it arises from 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.
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 for writing
this book. A better description would be fundamentalism = group
loyalty=dogma=imprisonment in a cognitive box.
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. 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 fundamentalist leaders. They adopt the
costumes, slogans and beliefs of the group. They often act recklessly and obtain
belligerent followers by reciting 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.
One undeniable role of most religions is to justify the most horrible acts
of destruction, imprisonment, torture and killing. There will be no easy
solution when angry, fanatical humans with religious disguises practice hate and
threaten others. Fanatics will attack communities of nicer, more rational
humans. New "religions" emerge with fanatical roots and
threaten more civil and rational neighbors. The term
"cult" describes the groups that recruit and control new members and establish
boundaries that separate cult members from the rest of society. Many cults
confuse politics with religion and claim rights and privileges for obedient
members that exceed all other groups. In the worst case a cult has authoritarian leaders who are skilled at mind
control and develop strict communal organization.
The cult may employ aggressive proselytizing and severe
forms of indoctrination. Some cults tend
toward criminal acts to control members and suppress opposition: kidnapping,
brainwashing, psychological abuse, sexual abuse and
mass suicide. The tendency is for nice, rational humans to
become fanatical in response to cults. The law of Karma is that conflict escalates and everyone loses. The
law of revenge, Lex talionis, produces an endless cycle of revenge killing.
You can argue that human nature can change and permit sustainable, free
societies. Or you can argue that a number of social constructs can identify and
constrain the bad guys, leaving the good guys time and space to enjoy peaceful
lives. Or you can argue that human nature will not change and bad guys cannot be
constrained by any combination of social constructs. A study of the chaotic,
paranoid response in the US to the September 11 2001 attack on the twin towers
in New York, USA does not support an optimistic view of social constructs. US
war making has led to ongoing, deadly conflict in the middle east.
History records an interminable series of wars of revenge. Wars are
contagious. Social order and peaceful intentions fade as belligerence increases.
The wealth of every great civilization has been squandered on war. The results
are predictable – death, destruction, and sooner or later, the collapse of
warring states. There are no winners. The main lesson from the US in the 21st
century is that belligerence can prevail in “free” societies and assumes many
forms. Countries with big investments in military equipment and armed personnel
are primed to fight the enemy and will seek opportunities to go to war.