Fundamentalism and Me

This first post in what will be at least a two-parter takes a tangent that may feel like a change of tone and pace. It’s a reflection sparked by John Beckett’s 9 Things You Can Do To End Fundamentalism, posted earlier today. And I’d say read that post first, and you may not need or want to read this one.

View of Rice Terraces
What terrace am I currently working on?;

Long-time readers of this blog know that often I try turning these things onto myself, especially “things” like this topic, because my inner Fundamentalist is alive and well. I assert that we all have one, and where he’s most active (Fundamentalism feels sexist, so I’m happily calling it a “he”), he can likewise be most revealing to examine.

John’s post is partly a response to a friend’s question about how to “end Fundamentalism”. I’m going to trust Jesus on this one: “the poor you will always have with you”, and by analogy it sure looks like that’s true of Fundamentalism, too. We won’t be “ending it” any time soon — I’m not ceding any ground here, but merely acknowledging realistically a feature of human behavior, the better to strategize about “OK, so what then?”

One of the prime definitions of Fundamentalism is “strict adherence to the basic principles of any subject or discipline”, and if it just ended there, we’d be in a different place and space. But there’s also that annoying corollary, “… and you must adhere, too”. Fundamentalism has just one story to tell about the cosmos, and a corollary hatred of any competing stories.

The Last Bow Book
What are your stories?

Like ignorance or anger or lust, these orientations to human existence don’t “go away” through the effort of supposedly more enlightened people like you or me. As long as the tendencies are present in each of us — and I assert that they are — such things send out runners and spores, seed packets, shoots and burrs, and doggedly persist and re-root. That very energy and vigor is revealing of things I hope to cover in a subsequent post.

Part of the good news is that we can work to limit them and rein them in, starting first with ourselves, and returning there as a default setting in the face of any moralizing we — I — feel inclined to do. Beware the soapbox, I hiss to myself. The poor, the “fundamentalist tendency”, the human propensities toward laziness, selfishness, lust, anger, attachment, vanity — we have these with us always. Again, this isn’t any admission of defeat, or reversion to a “dead morality”, but an attempt to describe some aspects of a larger reality, and maybe even develop an actual workable set of strategies in response. (After all, that’s what things like Christianity and Druidry — and Fundamentalism, too — all claim to be: responses to Things As They Are.)

Paganism and Druidry often struggle with evidence of human evil, one instance where Christianity has developed some peculiarly profound insight. One tacit Pagan or Druid assumption seems to be that if we’re in touch with natural rhythms, most of our actions will be harmonious and balanced, in imitation and synchrony with those rhythms. It’s a pleasant conclusion, but is it accurate or helpful?

Even the naming of such things anger, lust and ignorance as “human evil” can sound quaint, faintly ironic, or old-fashioned, irrelevant to the Woke among us who’ve supposedly “moved on” from such labels, improving ourselves in the best American tradition of bootstrapping our way to Utopia. (Somehow, generation to generation, we just keep failing to arrive.)

Photo of Pathway Surrounded By Fir Trees
Sometimes a label would help a lot.

But whether we like to admit it or not, ignorance, anger, lust and so on are heightened expressions of innate human mechanisms with a certain value, or they wouldn’t persist in human behavior over such long time periods. We see equivalents of them in animals, which should red-flag them for us, not as “bad” but as structural or even genetic — part of our inheritance, just like the mixed bag we inherit from our specific ancestral lines.

While meme theory tells us that memes propagate by themselves, like viruses, regardless of how maladaptive they may be for “human thrival”, the capacity in us that both memes and fundamentalisms* hijack and exploit is what interests me more, because I see it in all of us. It’s not just the despicable behavior of some Other (“The evil ____ will destroy this nation if elected!”), mysteriously detached from my own experience, but also inherent in me, too. (Note that Fundamentalisms excel at Othering.)

To pick on just one secular response to such human “bad choices”, the “Values Clarification” exercises popular in some schools decades ago, and still a current therapeutic practice, don’t automatically lead us to make better choices. Such things seem to operate from faulty assumptions about the source and pathways of behavior.

If some form of Fundamentalism wasn’t there in me, albeit in what’s hopefully a less virulent, milder form, I wouldn’t keep pushing ritual and spiritual practice on you, dear readers. Yes, I’m trying to “improve” you the best way I know. Hence my concurrent strategy to turn these things back on myself, to try to walk my talk as best I can, in public, on a blog, for everyone to see who cares to, and hopefully learn from. Some days a blog can feel like a spiritual hit-and-run accident. Other days it’s like the best picnic ever. You learn to roll with these things.

I know that Fundamentalism as we see it now is often simplistically labelled “a response to modernity” and hardly dates to earlier than 150 years ago or so. But if I take even a cursory look at previous centuries, oddly enough I see a set of behaviors that look awfully similar, behaviors largely indistinguishable that I’m including here under that label Fundamentalism/One-Way-ism for my purposes. These behaviors just kept manifesting in things like the Inquisition, pogroms, Crusades, internment camps, the Islamic State, Native Reservations, Satanic Panics, and a host of similar phenomena.

I’d like to close this first and very probably deeply depressing post with the briefest suggestion for where I’m planning to go in the next post: toward a revisioning of Fundamentalism as a positive, a set of basics that form a powerful and productive core response to finding ourselves here, now, alive, and trying to tackle what playwright Arthur Miller [at link, go to eleventh paragraph] called our “single problem: how may a man make of the outside world a home?”

/|\ /|\ /|\

*fundamentalisms, plural. We’re seeing them, in case we forget, in India with the Hindutva movement Modi is exploiting, in forms of Islam in the Middle East as we’ve witnessed for decades, in Buddhism, and elsewhere.

Posted 20 August 2020 by adruidway in Druidry

%d bloggers like this: