by Dr. Denise R. Ames
Why can’t we just get along? This is a question that I have been working on in my new book, Divided: Colliding Ways We See the World. This series of blogs looks at five worldviews that each have defining characteristics. Understanding the five worldviews—indigenous, traditional, progressive, globalized, and transformative—is a necessity in this complex and rapidly-changing world. The next several weeks I will be examining the traditional worldview, an often misunderstood and demonized worldview. I would like to share with you some ideas that I have been exploring.
“Tradition is a guide and not a jailer.” ― W. Somerset Maugham
Religious Fundamentalism, Part 1
When we respect our blood ancestors and our spiritual ancestors, we feel rooted. If we
find ways to cherish and develop our spiritual heritage, we will avoid the kind of alienation that is destroying society, and we will become whole again. … Learning to touch deeply the jewels of our own tradition will allow us to understand and appreciate the values of other traditions, and this will benefit everyone.” …
Thich Nhat Hanh, Living Buddha, Living Christ
An Introduction to Fundamentalism
A form of religiosity, popularly known as fundamentalism, is part of the rejection of modernity. Fundamentalism refers to a belief in a strict obedience to a set of basic principles, often religious in nature, which is a reaction to perceived compromises with modern social, ideological and political life. Fundamentalism is a commonly used term referring to a widespread and complex phenomenon. Many fundamentalists have strong opinions about social, economic and political issues and some voice their opinions in a forceful and sometimes violent manner.
Fundamentalism has largely retained its religious references, but the term has more recently been generalized to mean strong obedience to any set of beliefs in the face of criticism or unpopularity. Some writers refer to any literal-minded philosophy with the pretense of being the sole source of objective truth as fundamentalist, regardless of whether it is called a religion. For example, some people hold the belief—called market fundamentalism—that market capitalism is best and can correct all of society’s ills.
Extreme fundamentalists who have assassinated several abortion doctors believe their act of murder is justified to save the life of the unborn. On the other hand, in France, the imposition of restrictions on public display of religion has been labeled by some as “secular fundamentalism.” French officials have proposed a bill that would ban women from wearing a head scarf in public, a policy directed towards Muslim women who wear a head covering as part of their religious tradition.
The application of the term fundamentalist to both religious and social-political approaches and actions, in my estimation, seems appropriate. However, I will primarily concentrate on religious fundamentalists, since this group seems to be the most identifiable and forceful.
Religious fundamentalism is a rejection of and reaction to the modern concepts of secularism and humanism. The shift to secular and humanistic beliefs started during the Enlightenment era of the eighteenth century and intensified in the twentieth century.
Secularism is the concept that government or other entities should exist separately from religion and/or religious beliefs. For example, the separation of church and state is a secular belief. Humanism attaches importance to human dignity, concerns, and capabilities, and particularly to reason. It emphasizes humanity more than the religious and rejects the supernatural or magical elements of religion. In the twenty-first century humanism tends to strongly endorse human rights, including reproductive rights, gender equality, social justice, and the separation of church and state.
Secularists and humanists have often attacked religious doctrines as scientifically unproven and incompatible with scientific principles. As a result, many fundamentalists feel assaulted by the secular and/or humanist movement and strive to stem the tide of its influence.
About the Author
Dr. Denise R. Ames is a long-time educator, grade 7-university, author of seven books, and president of an educational non-profit, Center for Global Awareness, based in Albuquerque, New Mexico. CGA provides books, resources, and services with a holistic, global- focused, and perspective-taking approach for their three programs: Global Awareness for Educators, books and resources for educators and students grade 9-university; Gather, Global Awareness Through Engaged Reflection, a self-organizing study and conversation program for adults focusing on seeing different perspectives of pressing global issues; and their most recent program Turn, Transformative Understanding and Reflection Network, which encourages lifelong and transformative learning to help us arrive at a place of personal and global well-being using a seven “path” approach.
For more about worldviews see Dr. Ames’ book Five Worldviews: How We See the World. $9.95