While this blog is for churchless folks, we get some fundamentalist visitors also. I enjoy having comment conversations with them, even though I can get frustrated with preachiness and closed-mindedness.
Soon after I started the Church of the Churchless I wrote "How to talk to a fundamentalist." With more than four years of additional experience in this area, it's time for an update.
Fundamentalism is defined in various ways. I like this Wikipedia definition: "clinging to a stubborn, entrenched position that defies reasoned argument or contradictory evidence."
If someone is certain they're right, it's tough to have a productive conversation with them.
So it's good to learn early on whether you're dealing with a fundamentalist, since most of us have better things to do than try to open up a mind that is nailed shut. A simple question, if answered honestly, is a helpful aid:
When you hear a "yes," that's an indication of openness. It turns the conversation in the direction of offering reasons for a religious, spiritual, metaphysical, philosophical, or mystical belief.
Because if there's a possibility of being wrong, no one else should be expected to accept an assertion on blind faith. And if you are told, "no," I'd look elsewhere for conversational companionship (unless you're a glutton for dogmatism).
Fundamentalists aren't always honest in answering this question, though. They might feign broad-mindedness just to get a foot in your psychological door. Or they might not be aware of how rigidly attached they are to unfounded beliefs.
Thus often it's necessary to diagnose a fundamentalist attitude in the absence of an outright admission. "The Guru Papers" has some useful observations.
...The great psychological appeal of fundamentalism is that it offers certainty. Certainty can feel better than doubt and confusion. It can eliminate internal conflict, or at least suppress and bring relief from it.
...Certainty must be able to withstand challenges and counter-evidence -- anything that brings doubt. No combination of reason and experience can give the necessary kind of certainty, especially about the future. So faith is the key to religious certainty.
...A simple universe with a simple good (those who follow the rules), and a simple evil (those who do not), and simple explanations that can never be disproven are necessary for certainty.
It only takes reading through some active comment conversations, such as the one on this post, to see how valid these points are.
Fundamentalists, who can follow an Eastern guru as easily as a Western god, aren't used to being challenged. They don't like it.
They're accustomed to nodding their heads during talks or sermons where everyone agrees (or feigns agreement) about the tenets of their shared faith. Thus when they preach dogma in a forum like this blog where questioning and skepticism are valued, a culture clash quickly becomes evident.
What's particularly interesting is how the fundamentalist's need for hierarchy and authoritarianism gets projected onto those who disagree with them.
It amazes me (and regular visitors to this blog, I'm sure) when someone speaks of my followers or acolytes. I only wish.
I can't tell you how many times I've written a post that struck me as astoundingly wise, inspiring, and reflective of reality, then waited for my well-deserved praise to arrive through cyberspace.
And waited... and waited... and waited.
Which is pretty much what I do when I throw a ball for our willful dog, whose accommodating Lab side unfortunately is overruled by her willful German Shepherd side when it comes to retrieving.
Or when I try to convince my equally assertive wife that she should accede to one of my philosophical positions, which she's managed to resist during our nineteen years of marriage.
What's going on here, it seems, is that fundamentalist visitors to this blog can't understand how people can simultaneously (1) be deeply committed to understanding what life, spirituality, and meditation is all about, and (2) be deeply uncommitted to accepting on faith someone else's understanding. Including mine.
This accounts for all the talk in the above-mentioned comment conversation about me, and others by implication, giving up on seeking the truth merely because we're looking for it in a non-fundamentalist fashion.
That's ridiculous. But ridicule is one of the tools used by fundamentalists. In "The Guru Papers" this is one of the six strong indications of belonging to an authoritarian group:
No deviation from the party line is allowed. Anyone who has thoughts or feelings contrary to the accepted perspective is made to feel wrong or bad for having them.
So when a shaming tactic is used by a fundamentalist, throw it back at them: "Shame on you! For trying to shame me! Keep your guilt to yourself!"
Fortunately, I've found that most religious people consider their personal faith to be just that... personal.
A guy used to come to my Tai Chi classes who was a devout Christian. I enjoyed him a lot. He'd call me "Brother Brian" and bless me. He was so sincere, so humble, and so accepting of my own beliefs, we got along great.
It isn't differences in beliefs that is the problem.
It's holding onto a belief with such rigidity and certainty that alternative views are rejected out of hand, and any questioning by a skeptic is rejected as the devil's handiwork.
That's when it becomes next to impossible to talk to a fundamentalist.