Fundamentalism in religion is primarily the result of a literal interpretation of a sacred text. This is where it starts. This is how it is fueled. It is an approach where compromise is unacceptable, where the whole text has dominance over any individual passage. Consequently, in the fundamentalist’s mind, everything in their sacred text is pure, right, and infallible.
The Christian Bible, the Muslim Koran, the Jewish Torah or Old Testament, are the three primary sacred texts that are often taken by their individual groups of believers as literally true in every word. Hindus have the Bhagavad Gita but they do not worship it in the sense these other religions do their Books. Buddhists have no holy text but instead are guided by sutras or the sayings and teachings of Buddha. Rarely do you see fundamentalists among Hindus or Buddhists.
I have read from all of these sacred texts. The Bible is the only book I have read completely through and it seemed to take me forever to do it; which was years ago. But all of them have beautiful, powerful, wise and insightful teachings.
There are, however, with the exception of the Gita and the sutras, passages of violence and cruelty in all of these texts. There is patriarchal dominance. There is the justification of slavery. There is the subjugation of women. There is prejudice. And these violations of humanity and others are, if you take a literal approach to these holy texts, supported by God, by Allah, and by Moses and Paul.
This is how Islamic fundamentalists justify their brutal killing sprees today. This is how Jewish fundamentalists have no problem committing the wholesale slaughter of Palestinians in Gaza. This is how Christian fundamentalists feel righteous in bombing abortion clinics, murdering abortion physicians, threatening and bullying abortion workers, and stopping all abortions for any reason. Their holy books tell them this is how, under certain circumstances, their God operates. And they are to go and do likewise.
One would hope that at some point in the obedience of these fundamentalist believers they would stop and ask some questions. Does the God of their sacred texts really want them to hurt or threaten or destroy other human beings in the name of their God? Isn’t there a higher obligation to humankind in these texts than revenge, violence and hate? And shouldn’t believers follow those loftier instructions instead?
The majority of Muslims, Jews, and Christians do follow a higher standard. The majority do find ways to put aside the questionable passages of their holy texts and focus on the beauty, the wisdom, the grace and love their texts teach.
In the end, don’t we go to religion to more fully inhabit our lives, to open ourselves to the sacred and the transcendent, to learn to manage our terrible urges, to rise to a place of love for our neighbors, to feel the hurts of people in pain and find how we can help, to experience inner healing, to wake out of selfishness, and to in some way protect our world and keep it out of the dark abysses of hate?
Shouldn’t that be the consequence of religion, to empower its followers to care for this world so they might be less apt to destroy it and one another?
Emerson, the wise essayist and thinker, once wrote, “Make your own Bible. Select and collect all the words and sentences that in all your readings have been to you like the blast of a trumpet.”
I take Emerson to mean one would collect the things that stir their soul, enlighten their mind, guide them to bigger and more useful living. I don’t see how that could be any less desirable and certainly much more sensible than for one to accept their sacred text so literally that is allows them to do the worst things possible.
© 2014 Timothy Moody