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Spirituality And Its Primary Enemy: Fundamentalism


Antlerman
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I have been feeling a “sorting out” of things lately that I wish to put out there for others to look at and give feedback on, or challenge if you see fit to. I need to qualify a couple things. First off, I am an atheist. However being atheist does not mean being non-spiritual. It simply means not accepting, or incorporating any god symbols or mythologies into that aspect of being a human being.

 

I do not accept the Bible as the “Infallible Word of God”, but I accept that it does contain spiritual principles that can be meaningful in the pursuit of spiritual growth and human society. In no way is it authoritative, as it is a product of fallible people who themselves were seeking a means of expressing these notions, or senses, or feelings of higher ideals. It is not supernatural or unique. There are many books, writings, and authors that do the same thing, and have value as tools of spirituality. To be an atheist for me is in part, a way to strip away any notions I may have learned of some sort of authoritarian god figure who frankly, stands in the way of spiritual growth. Who exactly is it that defines this God?

 

Now to fundamentalism: In my past experience in the culture of fundamentalist Christianity, and in many of the posts I see in these forums from fundamentalists, and in our society, and in current politics, and in the media, etc., I am stuck with this observation: For those who claim to embrace the absolute truth of an eternal, loving God, they show an utter lack of the fruits of the spirit as described in the Bible. I hear arrogance, self-righteousness, intellectual dishonesty, manipulation, discrimination, intolerance, pride, boasting, and every non-spiritual principle that is clearly spoken of in the Bible. Why?

 

The claim can be made in defense of what we see that they are faulted humans, and I won’t reject that. We all are. But I feel there is a much deeper issue with the mindset of fundamentalism that fosters non-spirituality. I believe it fosters arrogance, self-righteousness, and intolerance, and actually inhibits genuine spiritual growth in its adherents. The system is anti-spiritual. Fundamentalism is spirituality’s greatest enemy.

 

Having left Christianity, I now feel more of a Christian than when I was in it!

 

I know that sounds like a really odd statement coming from someone who is an atheist! But I have found myself now feeling far freer to simply love because I choose to. I am free to choose all the courses of my actions and their consequences. I alone am responsible for my choices. I choose a path of peace, and a path of compassion and understanding.

 

Fundamentalism teaches all must adhere to a set, rigid, system of interpretations, teachings, practices, codes, opinions, etc. Those who venture are censured and anathematized. This fosters the opposite of individual growth. It promotes the loss of choice. The loss of choice causes the loss of self identity. We define ourselves through our choices, choices made by genuine free will, without the threat of divine retribution. Our sense of self is the core of our spiritual nature. If we do not make totally free will choices, we are left with somebody who is not us. How can we explore the meaning or purpose of our existence when we are not true to who we really are? And how can we define and know who we really are if we are not allow to make absolutely free choices?

 

Hearing as I have recently in a post here, someone referring to those of different points of view as being “idiots” and “pinheads”, hurts my spirit in very deep ways. Not only for the judgment of groups of people without any consideration of their dignity, but more for the soul of the one who views groups of people so awfully. How is this helpful? How does this promote dialogue? How does this possibly make anyone feel genuinely loved? How do the people who act in such ways square these sorts of attitudes with the portrait of Jesus as put forth by those who believed in the value of spiritual principles, “Call no man a fool, for in so doing you risk judgment”. “And the fruits of the spirit are these: peace, love, patience…” etc.

 

What’s going on here? For those who are so insistent upon being correct, their fruits are death.

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Life experience has suggested to me that there are 2 kinds of fundamentalism. The first is a simple dictionary definition, really: the literal interpretation and application of the doctrines of one's religion. That's it.

 

The second kind is Fundie-Mentalism, which takes the definition to its logical extreme.

 

I've met exactly one person in my life who was a fundamentalist of the first stripe. She believed literally in the Bible, and in her Xian doctrine; but though she was certainly opinionated, she never took it to the next level. I disagreed with her, but never felt condemned by her.

 

I think the first kind of fundamentalism ends up being the justification for Fundie-Mentalism. And Fundie-Mentalism isn't about spiritual development at all. It's about control, power, and making other people do what serves you and your group best, by forcing an adherence to the rules. It makes people feel good about themselves because it gives them scapegoats to look down on and blame for all kinds of problems.

 

It's not about lifting people up, spiritually or in any other way. You can't control people who are uplifted.

 

Fundie-Mentalism is about dogma. It's about rules. It's about judging other people. It's about trying to make yourself better than everybody else because deep inside, you know you're really just an asshole and you totally suck.

 

I think it's also about trying to make the world be what you want it to be because you're afraid of death. I mean if your Fundie dogma says that a tsunami wiped out 200,000 people in Indonesia because they were evil heathens and displeased god, then you can theoretically prevent the same thing from happening to you if you please god. You can act like death isn't the end and you're going to heaven to be with all the Right People.

 

Fundie-Mentalism is about exclusion. It's about being in the right Jesus Club, or Gardnerian Group, or Kali Klatch.

 

So I'm not surprised that you wouldn't find any real spiritual meaning in a Fundie group or coming from Fundies. That isn't what it's all about anyway.

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people who see things Spiritually will embrace ALL of the universe. people who see only Jesus are missing 99.999999999999999999% to the power of infinity and beyond :)

 

there's just so much to this universe, how can someone limit themselves and turn .01% into ALL, ignoring everything around them? and then they say "just look around, you'll see"

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Fundamentalism teaches all must adhere to a set, rigid, system of interpretations, teachings, practices, codes, opinions, etc. Those who venture are censured and anathematized. This fosters the opposite of individual growth. It promotes the loss of choice. The loss of choice causes the loss of self identity.

 

There isn't much I can say about this topic, from a personal perspective anyway. Since, I've never been involved in fundamentalism. But I have noticed the dynamic you are talking about in some very concrete ways.

 

1. Two teen friends of my own 15 year-old daughter are caught up in this type of religion. It is frightening to watch young minds being twisted in on themselves. One of the girls believes the "devil" is active in her life - I won't go into all the gory details. But suffice it to say the youth minister has done a real head trip on her. These girls - by the way - are the reason I found this board. Since I've never been personally involved in fundamentalism, I was trying to figure out what they were dealing with. I received a quick education upon finding this site. And I really do want to thank all of you for that.

 

2. Going back further in my life. One of my brothers is gay. Although our family accepts him unconditionally, his partner is not so lucky. His partner comes from a fundamentalist family - his father was a fundy preacher and one of his brothers is a fundy preacher. I've watched my brother's partner deal with this situation for years. It is painful to watch - and I'm sure there are many out there who can relate to this on a more intimate level than I can. But it is a classic example of, "all must adhere to a set, rigid, system of interpretations, teachings, practices, codes, opinions, etc."

 

3. On a level closer to home - I have been informed more than once - that the meditative group I'm involved in is "of the devil". The community I live in is small, and local news articles about our group and inter-faith discussion that we host - mention me as a contact person. Because of this, I am the person of choice to contact when a literalist decides we are threat to the overall community. I don't know whether to laugh, cry (for them) or get pissed. It totally confuses me - how a handful of people meditating - or participating in inter-faith dialog can be a "threat" is beyond me.

 

And what the heck does "of the devil" mean anyway? I'm so sick of that phrase. I've heard it used by the young girl I told you about in #1. Her youth pastor has told her that certain intuitive experiences in her life are "of the devil". The family of my brother's partner thinks their relationship is "of the devil". Is that just some catch all phrase fundies use when they don't understand something or are afraid of something?

 

I mean what qualifies something as being "of the devil"? Is there a rule book out there some place, or do they just pull this crap out of their heads? (Being rhetorical here - I know they pull the crap out of their heads, more likely out of the asses. But it makes me very angry - especially in regard to the teen's situation. I'm an adult, my brother and his partner are adults. But she's just a kid, where do they get off doing this to kids??????....) :vent:

 

Sorry for the vent... I'll stop now.

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I was raised to be a fundamentalist. In my heart of hearts of don't think I ever had this mindset but I would be a liar if I was to claim that I had never promoted belief in fundamentalist idea's or behaved in an arrogant, controlling way.

 

My 'heart of hearts' is something that I've recently come to recognise as the thing my Father called 'my rebellious' streak and for which I often felt the back of his hand to the side of my head and occasionally his fist to just under my chin with enough force to lift me off the ground.

 

It was the bit of me that argued with the viewpoint 'if you do not willing accept that this is right, I will have no alternative but to force you to accept it.

 

I think that fundamentalism attaches itself to a number of different mindsets including - the insecure one that masquerades false confidence (feeling 'out of control' can translate into a need to 'control' others), and the types that want a set of strict answers (feeling uncertain translates into adoption of any certainty)

 

Both these things rely on feelings of 'insecurity' - and religious fundamentalism often seems to have beliefs that fuel insecurity - so starts the vicious circle.

 

Another factor seems to whether people have the ability to see beyond the concrete and formulate and understand the abstract. These two things have been confused by those in a hurry to find 'certainty' and have resulted in the strange religion we now know as literal Biblical Christianity.

 

I loved my Father - his fundamentalism wasn't the sum total of who he was, sadly it did spoil him - as it has spoiled me.

 

I think I 'understand' how he got to the place he was in. Doesn't excuse it and make it OK, but understanding how he got there helped me get out.

 

Perhaps the most important realisation I have had in my life is that everyone is simply (in all our complexity) the sum total of our inheritence, our knowledge and our experience.

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Great posts, everyone. You guys help me remember that not everyone in the US is an ideologue. Last night I had a dream about a christian form of fascism trying to take over. I'm reading too much news, maybe.

 

I think the culture of fundamentalism is a sort of mass neurosis. I really don't understand it except when I remember the mindset I had when I was a fundy. I think it's a failed or dysfunctional response to crisis. When a culture sees itself as facing more crisis, then more people latch onto it. I think it's notable that a heavy, mistrusting us/them dichotomy of thinking seems to get stronger when people sense that their life offers them fewer, and scarier, options. The gap between rich and poor grows, good jobs are harder to find than up through the 60s, it's harder to maintain a middle class status, more people are disquieted. Their response is a little like the response of hunter-gatherers in Papua New Guinea, with whom a colleague of mine lived for two years. The people were all malnourished and often sick, died in the their forties. A huge amount of their time and effort went into rituals to placate the demons and angry ancestors that they believed were causing their sicknesses.

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I've never considered myself particularly spiritual, partly because I've never had a good working definition of the word. It seems to mean different things to different people- and is usually tied to their particular religion or philosophy. I wouldn't MIND being more spiritual- I think it might be a good thing. I've always assumed that this requires some level of belief in "spirits", though. How would you define "spirituality", Antlerman?

 

If I understood your post correctly, your definition would be similar to 'self-actualization'?

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I think of Spirituality as how I relate to myself and to others. I think of "sin" as simply an error. We all make errors that we have felt bad about which hurt another person or our self. I believe that true Spirituality is recognizing our errors and seeking to strive to correct that part of our self so we don't make the same mistakes, and at the same time recognizing the good parts of who we are and striving to build on them.

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This is a wonderful thread!

 

I was never personally fundamentalist I always preferred thinking for myself. This was a problem, as everyone else around me was pretty indoctrinated. I eventually learned to keep my thoughts and views to myself. You can imagine how much I had in common with my peers after a while......and they thought I was completely weird. No surprise, as I'd found living in my head preferrable to christian cloning.

 

But even a more "mainstream" version of christianity does damage, part of why I view "liberal" christianity with such skepticism. Not only do I see it as a "doorway" religion (like "doorway drugs......and no....NOT marijuana), I see it as being harmful to society because it is so accepting of everyone. Because to accept is to condone, and that means while they "may not believe things the way the fundamentalists do" they condone fundamentalists because they don't condemn them.

 

It's like saying you aren't racist, but you do all your shopping at the grocery shop owned and run by the KKK member, instead of the same prices and same products grocery run by the black couple down the street.

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Wonderful post Antlerman!

 

I was once a literalist and can understand the mindset that promotes such feelings of superiority. But, for a long time, I didn't know there were others out there that believed any other way. So, if I didn't know about other people's faith systems, I didn't feel superior. It was when the realization occured that it became a "I am better than you" mentality. It was also at this point that I began to question the authenticity of it. Questioning went on for several years until I could no longer accept it and totally rejected it. This was when I made the mistake of rejecting it all together. I thought if it didn't mean what it said (literally), then all of it was to be dismissed. I was wrong (not the first time!). As most here can attest to the fact that it is trash and promotes hatred when taken literally. But, it is my belief now that there are many jewels in the bible if one takes the time to remove the dirt and grime that encases it.

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Antlerman you certainly get people thinking

You make an 'Atheist spiritual who feels a bit like a Christian' sound normal :grin:

 

The thread in this post about Fundamentalists and how they can damage any good that does exist in any faith reminded me of this poem which i thought others may be interested in

 

He that has a Gospel

To Loose upon mankind

Though he serve it utterly -

Body Soul and Mind

Though he goes to Calvary

Daily for its gain

It is his disciple Shall make his labour vain

 

Kipling

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I've never considered myself particularly spiritual, partly because I've never had a good working definition of the word. It seems to mean different things to different people- and is usually tied to their particular religion or philosophy. I wouldn't MIND being more spiritual- I think it might be a good thing. I've always assumed that this requires some level of belief in "spirits", though. How would you define "spirituality", Antlerman?

 

If I understood your post correctly, your definition would be similar to 'self-actualization'?

I would not define belief in spirits a necessary component of spirituality, nor belief in any sort of god figure. A number of summers ago an atheist Existentialist friend of mine and I were sitting outside at a restaurant along a river having a couple drinks and discussing human spirituality: the pursuit of the arts; music; and the exploration of meaning in the human experience. A couple of women nearby overhead the topic of our discussion and took advantage of the opportunity to introduce themselves. The one woman said, "It's so rare to hear two men talking about spirituality! I'm also really into spirituality." She then began talking about crystals and pyramid power. :twitch:

 

Now, not to slight that trendy view too much, but this is not at all what we were talking about. The term spirit is what I would apply to, for lack of better words, that essence of ourselves or of life itself. Spirituality to me is nurturing and expanded our connection with this essence of peace, and love, or a better way to put it, thanks to Open_Minded here for this, the sense of wonder at life. Art, music, poetry, relations, love, charity, patience, etc are all expressions of this quality, a way to experience it, to share it, to nurture it.

 

Religion and religious symbols are also at their heart about this. They just use a system of symbols and teachings etc as tools to help facilitate that experience. The problem I see with that system is that it can run into rationality and set up conflicts - which is counter productive to that desired end. For myself, my current exploration is a way to respect the irrationality of mythological systems with rational thought in the experience of human spirituality.

 

It's really hard for me to put all this into words, but I hope that maybe helped explain my thoughts about it a little more. :shrug:

 

P.S. No, I don't think I would use self-actualization if it is in the sense of attaining my personal potentials. I see spirituality on a more fundamental level before achievements, if that's your meaning?

 

 

I think of Spirituality as how I relate to myself and to others. I think of "sin" as simply an error. We all make errors that we have felt bad about which hurt another person or our self. I believe that true Spirituality is recognizing our errors and seeking to strive to correct that part of our self so we don't make the same mistakes, and at the same time recognizing the good parts of who we are and striving to build on them.

You are describing humility. I completely agree with how you are looking at things. An attitude of humiltiy is an essential part of being "spritual". This is why fundamentalism can never even get off the ground as I see it. Their whole approach to just about everything fosters arrogance! The exact opposite of what is at the heart of a spritual life.

 

But even a more "mainstream" version of christianity does damage, part of why I view "liberal" christianity with such skepticism. Not only do I see it as a "doorway" religion (like "doorway drugs......and no....NOT marijuana), I see it as being harmful to society because it is so accepting of everyone. Because to accept is to condone, and that means while they "may not believe things the way the fundamentalists do" they condone fundamentalists because they don't condemn them.

 

It's like saying you aren't racist, but you do all your shopping at the grocery shop owned and run by the KKK member, instead of the same prices and same products grocery run by the black couple down the street.

This could be a long discussion, but to quickly address one point above: Are you seeing mainstream religion as "accepting" or could it be them practicing tolerance? Those are two different things. To "tolerate" is not a stamp of approval per se. But personally, I think mainstream Christianity, or Islam, or... actually are highly annoyed by fundamentalists. From everything I've heard from mainstream people is that fundamentalists are an embarrassment and a threat to their name. Back to what I've said before, literalizing mythology threatens its power to the mainstream. I don't really see them as approving of it.

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But even a more "mainstream" version of christianity does damage, part of why I view "liberal" christianity with such skepticism. Not only do I see it as a "doorway" religion (like "doorway drugs......and no....NOT marijuana), I see it as being harmful to society because it is so accepting of everyone. Because to accept is to condone, and that means while they "may not believe things the way the fundamentalists do" they condone fundamentalists because they don't condemn them.

 

It's like saying you aren't racist, but you do all your shopping at the grocery shop owned and run by the KKK member, instead of the same prices and same products grocery run by the black couple down the street.

This could be a long discussion, but to quickly address one point above: Are you seeing mainstream religion as "accepting" or could it be them practicing tolerance? Those are two different things. To "tolerate" is not a stamp of approval per se. But personally, I think mainstream Christianity, or Islam, or... actually are highly annoyed by fundamentalists. From everything I've heard from mainstream people is that fundamentalists are an embarrassment and a threat to their name. Back to what I've said before, literalizing mythology threatens its power to the mainstream. I don't really see them as approving of it.

 

A most excellent point. I do indeed see a difference between "acceptance" and "tolerance". In fact, the difference is pretty clearly outlined in the 6th season of South Park when Mr. Garrison tries to get fired for being gay.....most would know this one as the "Lemmywinks" episode.

 

And only time will tell with more liberal christianity, as it is actually fairly young compared to the more fundamentalist beliefs. Will it get squished by more hardline beliefs? I don't think so.... if tolerance towards fundamentalism is more dominant that acceptance, then the more we discover about the world we live in, and why things are the way they are, the more I see religion slowly fading out (as long a a major world crisis doesn't throw us back 500 years or more).

But if actual acceptance is more dominant than mere tolerance, I see liberal christianity getting the crap kicked out of it.

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A most excellent point. I do indeed see a difference between "acceptance" and "tolerance". In fact, the difference is pretty clearly outlined in the 6th season of South Park when Mr. Garrison tries to get fired for being gay.....most would know this one as the "Lemmywinks" episode.

 

And only time will tell with more liberal christianity, as it is actually fairly young compared to the more fundamentalist beliefs. Will it get squished by more hardline beliefs? I don't think so.... if tolerance towards fundamentalism is more dominant that acceptance, then the more we discover about the world we live in, and why things are the way they are, the more I see religion slowly fading out (as long a a major world crisis doesn't throw us back 500 years or more).

But if actual acceptance is more dominant than mere tolerance, I see liberal christianity getting the crap kicked out of it.

Yes, Lemmiwinks, the most unforgettable episode ever! :grin:

 

I had tried to have a conversation with our seemingly now ex-pal ssel, about the bell curve. Of course his response was beyond comprehension by anyone who was not on LSD, but the gist of what I was trying to comment on was how the extremes on both ends define the middle. You can never get rid of extremism, whether it is the far right or the far left. If the far right took over, this axiom of social balance would return a moderate middle.

 

The extremes create dialog, or conversation by which the middle continues to defines itself in the never ending force of evolution. There may come a time when the middle will rise up and express its voice in opposition when the extremes become too encroaching, and that time may be coming soon with the current political extremism in this country. But I am a long way from believe they condone the behavior of the freaks like Pat Robertson and company. Voting is often the way the majority speaks once the lunatics have had too much cake to it. It will balance out again.

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This could be a long discussion, but to quickly address one point above: Are you seeing mainstream religion as "accepting" or could it be them practicing tolerance? Those are two different things. To "tolerate" is not a stamp of approval per se. But personally, I think mainstream Christianity, or Islam, or... actually are highly annoyed by fundamentalists. From everything I've heard from mainstream people is that fundamentalists are an embarrassment and a threat to their name. Back to what I've said before, literalizing mythology threatens its power to the mainstream. I don't really see them as approving of it.

 

I would also add that we think fundamentalists are a threat to the world. As my own pastor (mainstream Evangelical Lutheran) says occassionally - referring to extremists from all religions - "Humanity is quite capable of ensuring that there is an Armageddon". :(

 

Also, Antlerman, you are right - we are annoyed by fundamentalists. But... they are also quite annoyed by us. Sometimes I wonder who they think will go deeper into hell, liberal, heretical Christians, or ex-Christians :lmao:

 

It's funny of the surface - but their fear of Biblical archealogy, scholarly research, of literary analysis of the Bible, of understanding the Bible in context of the time it was written, of many other things that liberal Christians take for granted - is a large part of their anger towards the world.... :shrug:

 

Wish I had something .... more positive to say. Deep inside I have hope that time and science and factual evidence will overwhelm the ignorance :)

 

I've never considered myself particularly spiritual, partly because I've never had a good working definition of the word. It seems to mean different things to different people- and is usually tied to their particular religion or philosophy. I wouldn't MIND being more spiritual- I think it might be a good thing. I've always assumed that this requires some level of belief in "spirits", though.

 

Antlerman, I enjoyed your reply and thank you for the mention ;)

 

The only thing I would add is a link to our conversation, unchainedhillbilly might get some insights as to other ways of looking at spirituality there as well :)

 

Unchainedhillbilly... the thread is pretty long - 14 pages. It picks up near page 4 or 5. Antlerman and others had been explaining the difference between agnostics and atheists to me and that led to a very interesting conversation on spiritual seeking, or knowing.

 

http://www.ex-christian.net/index.php?showtopic=5588

 

:close:

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I would also add that we think fundamentalists are a threat to the world. As my own pastor (mainstream Evangelical Lutheran) says occassionally - referring to extremists from all religions - "Humanity is quite capable of ensuring that there is an Armageddon". :(

 

Also, Antlerman, you are right - we are annoyed by fundamentalists. But... they are also quite annoyed by us. Sometimes I wonder who they think will go deeper into hell, liberal, heretical Christians, or ex-Christians :lmao:

 

It's funny of the surface - but their fear of Biblical archealogy, scholarly research, of literary analysis of the Bible, of understanding the Bible in context of the time it was written, of many other things that liberal Christians take for granted - is a large part of their anger towards the world.... :shrug:

 

Wish I had something .... more positive to say. Deep inside I have hope that time and science and factual evidence will overwhelm the ignorance :)

I have found it almost frightening the level of despising they have towards modern scholarship. It's almost that whole cultural/political thing of hating the intelligentsia. I have to stand back and conclude that they indeed are interested in the pursuit and advancement of truth, but only the truth that they have decided in advance it should be. A truth that may overturn long held beliefs are dismissed out of hand as of the devil. Their never changing ideas are the clearest indicator of their closed mindedness.

 

When I was in Bible college, one of the instructors had a saying that, "A man convinced against his will, remains of same opinion still." Of course the context was how despite all the evidence they had, people who held a difference of understanding theologically were choosing to blind themselves to "the truth". I sometime laugh that of all the things I learned there, that was the one thing that really made sense! Ironically, it made the most sense applied to them, yet they were the ones saying that! :twitch:

 

Sorry, nothing really constructive to say with all that, just venting off some frustration.

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  • 2 months later...

Hey Antlerman, some really good points you have made, and thanks guys for a good set of postings.

 

I think you are right. Fundamentalism is the antithesis of spiritual growth. It is a religious fascism of the soul. By its very nature it cannot grow or develop; it is stuck in the past.

Being of mystic persuasion I believe true spiritual growth is to be immersed in the mystery of existence. I believe that everything is unfolding from an infinite "whatever" and can only ever be relatively closer, or further away, from the Absolute truth (which can never be expressed in words or concepts, only awesomely felt for the mystery it is). What fundamentalists do is mistake the relative for the Absolute, and so commit the ultimate idolatry. They have made an idol (a conceptual graven image if you like!).

 

Because they deal with "absolute" opinions they cannot grow spiritually....for these ideas become more important than the experience of Love, Joy, wonder, playfulness etc. They kill these experiences (except for the little snippets that creep through the conceptual prison window!) because anything unlike their "idol" is of the devil.

 

The good news is........we got free, so can they........

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