By Debby Gregorash
The murders in France by Islamic extremists, or fundamentalists, have certainly shaken up the world.
We’re not allowed, according to some, to criticize each other’s religions. But this is a prime example of why we need to at least have a discussion on religions that are extreme and hurtful.
Fundamentalism, whatever the religion, has been defined as the demand for a strict adherence to certain theological doctrines. There is a rejection of diversity of opinion and extreme pressure for members to adhere to strict, literal interpretations of specific scriptures, dogmas, or ideologies — no matter how out-of-date and illogical they become.
Sadly, too many religious leaders feel all members of their church must think alike, never question, and are forced to toe the line or be shunned or excommunicated in some way. So, who knows how many millions of people are out there pretending to think like others in their religious group. They are just too frightened to speak out for fear of upsetting the illusion their way of interpreting their holy book is right and everyone else is wrong.
Fundamentalism is dangerous because so much emotion is involved. Nobody likes to be proved wrong about long-held beliefs. Where spirituality seems to be a simple, personal approach to becoming a better person, fundamentalism is group-think. The most extreme fundamentalist churches stick to themselves and refuse to allow their adherents to explore ideas or musings of any other person outside their own religion.
The religion of Islam, as a whole, is not like the fanaticism being shown by a few individuals such as the men who perpetrated the murders in France last week. The Christian religion, as a whole, is not like the right-wing fundamentalist groups that, to me, show none of the love, understanding, compassion and healing ability of Christ.
Both fundamentalist interpretations of their holy books seem to be more about punishment, control, and intolerance.
The glue is fear, but I hope someday, understanding and sharing will wash all that negative ideology away. I think the hallmark of fundamentalism of any kind (I’m thinking political, economic, scientific, and social — as well as religious fundamentalism) is the intolerance to new ideas. They say, “It is this way it is and there is no room for discussion. We are not open to other possibilities.” Sorry, but change is natural and good. Things can change slowly or quickly and the smart thing is to prepare for change. Be graceful about it. Fear not, for fear is the opposite of faith. I remember reading about an experiment with baboons in the wild. A new food was introduced (mangoes, I think) and the first to try them were the young females, then the older females, then the young males and the final holdouts — who found maintaining status quo was best for them — were the older males. Look around. Who hates change more than old men in power? From what I have observed, fundamentalist ideologies come down heavily on women. Extremism kills women world-wide. The burden of everything seems to fall on women who are not allowed to reach their intellectual potential in life and must submit to the narrow ideologies of men. Of course, if you are female and raised in a confined atmosphere where you are automatically a second-class citizen, then you know no better. If you are a young girl raised in isolation in a cult that marries off young girls to older men who want a harem, then you know nothing else. The men involved will work hard to keep the cult in isolation, so nothing changes. If your religion dictates you must never marry outside your religion and you see a young girl murdered because she does, that is certainly an incentive to obey.
Not because it is right in your heart, but because you are forced to do as you are told. It takes courage to break free from spiritual incarceration.