A fundamental aspect of living is the undeniable reality of individual mortality and the temporary nature of individual existence. This aspect of existence necessarily invokes fear and trepidation within the self-conscious human brain. The individual is faced with a number of alternatives when faced with this inherent truth. It can be embraced as being an essential aspect of existence or an attempt can be made either to negate its reality or soften its significance through the creation of alternative belief systems.
These alternative belief systems fall into a number of categories –
Primal Superstition – a state of mind that was particularly prevalent in early human societies when there was little scientific understanding of the human and natural worlds and everything seemed mysterious and dangerous. As a result, equally mysterious forces were invoked to explain what seemed terrifying and uncontrollable.
Religion - Within the fabric of most world religions there is a strong belief in a god(s) that is perpetually interested and involved in our own welfare in a world that is so devoid of any real evidence of divine intervention. A corollary belief that is often invoked is the existence of an afterlife – where the “soul” lives eternally once freed of the limitations of the body.
The god concept came into being when humans thought that they were the universe and that the universe was inexplicably hostile. It is an extraordinary testimonial to the human imagination, given the current understanding of the immensity of the cosmos, that there still persists the idea of a personal savior - a supernatural being that can be called upon to help to meet our worldly needs or deliver us from suffering; a savior that is intimately aware of all our thoughts and actions, needs and desires; a savior that is so caring and so powerful, yet somehow strangely unable to make the world a less bloody, less violent and a less treacherous place.
What makes religious belief especially poignant is the fact that so many have died throughout history as a direct result of differing beliefs about god. To this day, god is invoked by all sides in military conflicts. It seems that those who differ strongly enough in beliefs to kill each other are looked upon with equal favor by the creator. This makes absolutely no sense by any measure of rational and reasoned judgment.
Religious institutions, like all other human institutions, are readily corrupted by the allure of power. The powerful must dominate and coerce those beneath them in order to sustain their privileged positions. Throughout history, the so-called “houses of god” have gone down this road. It is an inescapable aspect of the human condition. The Spanish Inquisition, the Crusades, the many conflicts in Europe between differing Christian sects following the Protestant Reformation are but a few examples of the powerful influence and deleterious effects of religious institutions and beliefs. Would the Jews have ever suffered the horrendous fate they endured at the hands of the German Fascists; would the crazed ideas of Adolph Hitler have ever been listened to or followed, if there hadn’t been an extreme religious hatred against the Jews in the first place?
Gods come in all forms: the human-like gods of the Greeks and Romans, the animal-like gods of the Hindus and Egyptians, the omnipotent god of the Jews and Christians. Many of these gods have come to earth in wholly human form. According to the various mythologies, these gods are often destroyers as much as creators. They are gods of unspeakable wrath as well as boundless love.
A belief in god has not substantially advanced human progress but rather has helped to retard its development. Human civilizations have continued to go through the same cycle of birth, development, ascendancy, decline and dissolution leaving mountains of dead and incredible destruction in the wake of history, regardless of the gods they sacrificed or prayed to. This, in itself, suggests that god is either a fabrication or a very ineffectual reality.
It is my considered opinion that the practice of religion removes the responsibility for the state of the world from where it truly belongs - on the shoulders of humans. It is the human species that has made this world what it is, and it is humanity that must make it right. Religion often frees its practitioners from personal moral responsibility. Furthermore, extreme religious belief is often tied intimately to jingoistic patriotism. This was readily seen in both the Vietnam and Iraq Wars where Christian Fundamentalists were strongly in support of waging war and never displayed any qualms when millions of innocent people were slaughtered in these engagements. This is quite ironic since it is this same extremist faction that claims to occupy the moral high ground, holding all life as sacred and that looks on non-believers with such contempt and disdain. Anyone with even a miniscule understanding of the life and teachings of Jesus Christ would readily conclude that the one they claim to be their master would be utterly appalled at the actions and behavior done in his name.
Great teachers such as Christ, Muhammad, Buddha and the prophets of the Old Testament are paid mostly lip service by the vast and powerful institutions that have arisen out of their original teachings. What these advanced thinkers sought to instill in the human heart: love, compassion, understanding and generosity of spirit, has been more or less ignored by those in power, who call out the names of their gods with such purported reverence. Though millions upon millions of humans visit their houses of worship regularly, they still live their lives based on the tenets of self-aggrandizement and are more than happy to accept the gross inequities and injustice embodied in the status quo, especially since it is in their interest to do so.
Religion exploits the intrinsic fear of death in the minds of its followers, and offers up a cathartic menu of empty promises, including life eternal, heavenly rewards for their obeisance and detailed rules and guidelines regarding acceptable human behavior. Life is not possible without death and to suggest that humans are especially deserving of an afterlife that stretches into eternity establishes a particular set of expectations that are not amenable to verification. A belief in the existence of such an extraordinary reality that can never be proven does not diminish the reality that we are but another species on a biologically diverse planet, and our ascendancy can be readily explained by well-established principles of biology and evolution.
Religious Fundamentalism can be found in all of the world religions including, Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism and Judaism. It is an extreme form of religious belief in which the followers passionately believe that they embrace immutable truths and principles upon which not only their personal salvation depends, but also the fate of the human kind.
As a consequence of this kind of irrational and highly charged thinking, intolerance of human behavior outside of the particular belief system comes to represent normative behavior. Those individuals within groups based upon fundamentalist principles necessarily adopt conformist attitudes and lifestyles and adhere to well-delineated sanctioned behaviors. Within this myopic worldview there lies the concept of a people chosen specifically by god to embody his teachings. This concept is either implied or explicitly stated.
It is not unusual and often quite likely that ingrained thought patterns that embrace fundamental religious ideology lead to aggression and violence towards those who hold differing beliefs – such individuals are invariably seen as a threat to the existence of the constricted universe in which true believers reside. This kind of hatred has its origin in fear.
The data that continuously streams into consciousness from the external environment informs the mind that the universe is chaotic; that life is, by its nature, ephemeral; that change is ever-present and can often be abrupt and unexpected. By its nature, fundamentalist belief systems impose a constraint upon the acceptance of this reality and, therefore, demand conformity. Survival, thereby, becomes equated with belief and all who do not accept the underlying principles are feared for their existence suggests that the universe may, in fact, operate on different principles.
Politics, Race and Ethnicity - As a way of thinking, fundamentalism does not reside only within the domain of religion; it can also be found in the arena of politics, race, ethnicity and so-called, “intentional communities.”
Fundamentalists can be found fanatically embracing secular ideologies such as communism, democracy, socialism and libertarianism. Although there are many individuals who identify themselves with these various political philosophies, fundamentalists display an obsessive, extreme and blind adherence to the philosophy they espouse at the expense of reason.
Fascism, as an example, is a special case on account of the fact that its underlying philosophy embraces racial or ethnic superiority and by its very nature is predisposed to radical fundamentalism.
Regardless of the nature of the belief or system of beliefs, fundamentalism is extremist in nature and the fundamentalist mindset cannot accept compromise or ever take into account the legitimacy of opposing points of view. From this self-righteous perspective, those who believe otherwise can and often regarded as inherently dangerous. In this way, wars of aggression are readily justified and sanctioned.