Conclusion: The Most Dangerous Fundamentalist in America


We come now to the end of our series on defending ourselves from fundamentalism. Today’s lesson is perhaps the most important, and that is how to spot the most dangerous fundamentalist of them all.

It is fairly easy to see when others are being fundamentalists. The problem is that fundamentalism is contagious. We pick up the same traits and don’t even realize it. As we saw in the first essay, fundamentalism is our human survival instincts, so, all of us fall in and out of fundamentalism. We humans often don’t feel our emotions, but instead see a world defined by anger or fear. So the most dangerous fundamentalist in your life, may live in the mirror

Our task today is to learn how to catch ourselves when we are slipping into fundamentalism.  So here goes. I know I am being fundamentalist when:

 I reduce the world to a melodramatic struggle between heroes and villains. In real life our roles are never that clear. When I cannot feel my own mixed motives, when I feel like I or my group is humanity’s last hope against some apocalyptic evil, it is usually I who has become a fundamentalist.

I think in polarized categories of black and white. When life seems dangerous or frustrating, I am tempted to simplify my mental map. I will ask either/or questions to reduce the information to bite size bits. To myself, I will feel like Socrates bringing razor sharp clarity to the confused and muddled idiots around me, but in truth I am turning off my color vision and reducing the world to a binary clarity never found in the real world.

When I believe the past was better than the future. Fear of modernity is a central part of fundamentalism. But time does not have a reverse gear so we must say yes to change. We are officially old on the day we hear a popular song and mutter, “that’s not music.” We are officially fundamentalist when we believe the ancients had all the good ideas.

When I use any scapegoat to organize my worldview. There is a difference between critical thinking and just being critical. If I have used anger at Bush or Obama as an organizing principle, I am probably being fundamentalist.

When I think that labeling a group of people is understanding them. We need labels to think, but no living being can be understood objectively, why? Because a living being is not an object.  So whenever I think calling someone a “liberal”, a “conservative”, or even a “fundamentalist” has negated their argument, I am probably being fundamentalist.

When I think my group is right by definition. We all know people who think that their country is always right because they were born in it, and that their religion must be God’s favorite because they belong. Fundamentalism is so tricky that we can join a group specifically to fight against it, and end up doing all things described the above.  Fundamentalism is the most contagious disease of all, because it lies in our tissue. Being spiritual is refusing to believe the world as described above. So, even this little series on fundamentalism is fundamentalist, if we ever forget that, in the words of Fireside Theatre, “We’re all bozos on this bus.”