Religious Fundamentalism at its Core

Religious fundamentalism is a recurring problem  – indeed it’s an all-too-familiar subset of the even greater problem of recurring religious wars.  No matter how hard we try, it seems nothing  gets better.

“Leaked documents released by al-Jazeera TV suggest Palestinian negotiators agreed to Israel keeping large parts of illegally occupied East Jerusalem.” (excerpt from yesterday’s news)

In that light, I thought it appropriate to reexamine what’s really going on.  Although written in 2006, the following article does just that.  Maybe there’s something we missed the first time around?  Or maybe there’s something we didn’t want to see?

Religious Fundamentalism at its Core

By Debra Moolenaar

© 2006

Nothing much happened during the years 1506-1508, except that a rather ill tempered monk named Martin Luther took his vows in an Augustinian monastery in Erfurt.  After that, Western culture was never the same.  Luther asked some unprecedented questions about the nature of man’s personal relationship to God, Church, and State, opening the door to an individualism of truth that still drives Western society today.

Oddly enough, it was also during those very same years that the planets Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto were last in exactly the same astrological configuration they’re in today.  As an astrologer, I’m not surprised to find the same questions resurfacing, albeit in a different guise.  Planetary cycles never leave us in the same place where we began.  What good would it do for the baby chick to return to the egg from which he hatched?  This is growth.  This is evolution.  It’s programmed in the genes.

The visionary Jesuit Father and palaeontologist Père Telihard de Chardin would seem to agree.  In his acclaimed book The Phenomenon of Man (1959), he suggests that man and the universe participate together in an intelligible evolutionary movement toward unity and individualisation.  Such an apparent contradiction in terms does not faze him.   He posits there are two major evolutionary trends, one towards extreme individualism, and the other towards interrelation and co-operation.  What’s more, he’s defined the conditions of our advance – a global unity of awareness coexisting with a high degree of variety.

Consider what, for example, might underlie the recent controversy over the Danish cartoons depicting the prophet Mohammed?  Or certain ‘crimes’ committed in the name of religion, such as the London bus and tube bombings in the July 2005?  What underlies the cataclysmic backlash? What’s the pattern and where does it lead?

In the recent prestigious Gifford lectures in Edinburgh, the guest speaker Jean Bethke Elshtain, Professor of Social and Political Ethics at the Divinity School at the University of Chicago, delivered a series of talks entitled ‘Sovereign God, Sovereign State, Sovereign Self’.  Elshtain argues that, although once God alone was the sovereign in all things, over time his sovereignty became ‘privatised’.  Such sovereignty was usurped first by the State, and then by the ‘self’.  It would seem that the sovereignty of ‘he’ evolved into that of ‘we’, and then solely to ‘me’.  The boundaries between politics and religion blur.  Where once I prayed to God for Z.Y, and Z, I now demand it from the government.

Like Luther, Elshtain asks uncomfortable questions.  If we disobey the state, in the name of who or what do we do so?  Is it possible to defy state sovereignty in the name of God’s sovereignty?  If so, what kind of sovereignty must that be?  Should we be subject to an obedience unbound by human law?  Can a privatised God sustain us into the future?  Like Teilhard, she deals with apparent contradictions.

Teilhard considers that our evolutionary challenge is to ‘see’ or ‘perish’ in the sense that man cannot survive unless he understands the bigger picture of who and what he is.   For Teilhard, ‘seeing’ is not the same as ‘believing’; indeed they are mutually exclusive.  Beliefs are all too often an excuse to bury our heads in the sand.  Beliefs are narrow, pigeonholed, and dead-end.  Evolution requires a broader view.  It requires us to consciously transcend our individuality.  The truth lies before us if we choose to see it.

Religion throws up enormous questions with which it’s difficult to cope.  It’s comfortable to demand certainty where there’s none to be had.   This is religious fundamentalism at its core.  And who is best placed to provide the answers – ‘he’, ‘we’, or ‘me’?

That’s the question that we must answer if – as sovereign societies – men are to survive.


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