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Religious Fundamentalism

October 25, 2013

I’m on the last few pages of Karen Armstrong’s book The Battle for God.  Her focus is on maintaining a balance between mythos and logos, and each in its proper realm.  Her technique is to describe the history of each fundamentalist group or leader, and then to offer criticism of their activities, often in terms of mythos and logos.

Before starting this book, I obtained some information on mythos and logos.  I also acquired more on mythos from the book.  The only way to incorporate information from myths is through experience.  It cannot be obtained through logic and rational thinking because those are alien to mythos.  As well, a cult accompanies each myth.  It’s by performing the rituals of the cult that you experience the myth.

The book deals with four fundamentalist movements, beginning in 1492, the year of the Christian reconquest of Spain.  These eventually lead to the growth of a Jewish fundamentalist group in Israel, a protestant fundamentalist group in the United States, a Shia fundamentalist group in Iran, and a Sunni fundamentalist group in Egypt.

Although these groups are all quite different, I was looking for common elements in all of them.  I found quite a few.  These groups appear in response to a perceived threat, a threat of annihilation both of the people and of their culture and religion.  This threat generally comes from secular groups and rational ideas, which are seen as anti-religious.  The group then seeks renewal by a return to the fundamentals of scripture.  They practice the rituals exactly.  From the scriptures they discover new principles and discard outmoded traditional beliefs.

They also create an ideology, based on a single idea, and simplified so as to be understandable.  This ideology is always suited to the modern situation.  The rise of this fundamentalist group caused a split in the greater society, one in which the two sides could not understand each other’s positions.  In order to achieve political power, the fundamentalist group was forced to compromise on some of its principles.  That way, it could attract more followers or join with other groups.  In power, it often took immoral actions that were contrary to their principles but deemed necessary for the greater good.

There were many differences between groups, of course.  Each fundamentalist group is distinct from the others because they have responded to a different threat and have a different history.  Consequently, they have arrived at different religious principles from a different interpretation of the scriptures.

I recommend this book.  There is a great deal of historical information, much of it background to the current situation.  Even though some of it required exacting reading, I found her explanations clear and easy to understand.


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