Thursday, November 27, 2014

Beyond Dictionary Fundamentalism

Leaving fundamentalism behind can be a tough process.  Getting fundamentalism to stop following your around after you left can be even harder.

This week I was involved in a very rowdy online interfaith discussion on fundamentalism.  Specifically the claim that fundamentalist Atheists are just as difficult to interact with as fundamentalist Christians.  There were a lot of different opinions on that but interesting to me was the fact that a lot of people claimed the question itself made no sense because there's no such thing as a fundamentalist Atheist.  I'm going to be a total hippie here and disregard everything the dictionary has to say about fundamentalism and give you my personal take on what I feel fundamentalism means and why you can apply it to Atheists.

To me a fundamentalist is someone who values their ideas more than people.  Simple as that. A fundamentalist Christian for instance would be someone who feels telling the world how sinful homosexuality is, is more important than their relationships with the gay people in their lives.  They may recognize the hurt this causes amongst their gay friends and relatives but they will stick to their guns nevertheless because the idea matters more to them than those relationships.  To a fundamentalist Christian it's more important that you know you're going to hell than that you be their friend.  In fact they get taught not to be people pleasers but to fear God more than man. Same with atheism. 

If it's more important to you that people around you know exactly how dumb you think faith is than for you to have a good relationship with them, then you're a fundamentalist atheist.  Simple as that.  If ridiculing your friends' faith means more to you than their friendship, then there is no difference between you and fundamentalist believer.

This goes way deeper than just faith and atheism.  This type of thinking can infect everything from the serious to the innocent.  Feeling that you're right about something can be quite a high and sometimes that high turns you into a mean drunk.  But it doesn't have to.  

Not saying you should change your ideas, you can keep them all.  You can be passionate about them, talk about them, discuss them with all who would listen.  Just don't lose sight of one simple truth - people matter.  It is relationships, not ideals, that make life worth living.  In the quest to be right, don't lose sight of that.


GumbyTheCat said...

I totally agree with your definition of fundamentalism. I also agree that there are fundamentalist atheists - I see them every day online. I was on the way to that way of thinking myself, having for a while thoughtlessly gone along with PZ Myers' vicious version of New Atheism. As you know I've long had a snarky attitude toward fundamentalists. But for a while there I was mindlessly cheering PZ and his commenters on as they gleefully savaged anyone of any faith at all. I didn't wake up until he started identically attacking those in atheism who didn't agree with his tactics or politics. It was then that I realized that PZ-style attacks weren't about religion, they were about any and all ideology. When PZ started publicizing groundless accusations of rape and sexual assault against people who he just so happened not to like, I gave up on him and that way of thinking entirely.

It made me stop and think how easy it is to throw skepticism out the window and get caught up in the fervor of anti-(fill in the blank) firebrands, and how when it's targeted at your own "kind" it doesn't feel so nice. PZ went totally off the rails, and in a way I really benefited from the miserable example he sets - I'm much nicer and more tolerant with regards to the religious now, because I realize now that that kind of behavior towards others isn't just limited to "other people". I wish I could say I could have learned that lesson before getting sucked up into someone else's infantile pettiness, but it is what it is. At least I learned, right?

Skepticism is hard, especially when applied to oneself.

Eugene said...

You hit the nail on the head there Gumby! Skepticism is real easy when applied to everyone else, not so much to your own beliefs. Live and learn!

Hope you had a good Thanksgiving!

GumbyTheCat said...

My Thanksgiving was a good one. I prepared a nice turkey feast for my mother and my girlfriend, and a nice day was had by all.

Now, for the interminable month of crass commercialism that is Christmas. Funny how I've detested that holiday as both a believer and an unbeliever. In any case, I hope yours is a good one!

GumbyTheCat said...

Just dropping in to say hello! Been a busy time for me... I had to put my mother in a nursing home... she passed away Nov. 25. Lots of stress. How have you been bud? And why have you not been keeping your blog active just for my benefit? *shakes fist*

Eugene said...

Hi Gumby! It's been too long! Sorry to hear about your mom, that's rough. Condolences.

I'm as well as I can be in the current climate and if I knew someone was still reading this I'd have written more! I may get back to it at some point, there's certainly no shortage of inspiration!