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Re: Theos-World Understanding Fundamentalism: a question to Bill

Aug 03, 2006 08:54 AM
by Bill Meredith

Dear Pedro,

I apologize for the hurried answer. I will be on vacation from tomorrow until Monday of the following week, so I will not be able to continue our discussion now. I have read the other's comments and am hopeful that theos-talk can become a place of support and compassion rather than remaining a battle-field.

There is a sense in which fundamentalism can be viewed as a reaction to transcendentalism. Ralph Waldo Emerson said that transcendentalism is the casting of the very oldest of thoughts into the mould of new times. Hence transcendentalism is idealism as it appears to us today in 2006. Emerson said in 1837, "I am to new name all the beasts in the fields and all the gods in the sky. I am to invite men drenched in Time to recover themselves and come out of time, and taste their native immortal air." Each moment we breath we choose whether to focus upon the timeless or the timeful. -- whether to create ourselves anew or confirm ourselves with language of the times past. Transcendentalism is a focus upon the timeless man within, whereas fundamentalism might be viewed as a focus upon the timeful man without.

In Defenders of God: The Fundamentalist revolt Against the Modern Age, Bruce Lawrence defines fundamentalism as "the affirmation of religious authority as holistic and absolute, admitting of neither criticism nor reduction; it is expressed through the collective demand that specific creedal and ethical dictates derived from scripture be publicly recognized and legally enforced." Lawrence lists five "family resemblances" common to fundamentalism. 1) Fundamentalists are advocates of a minority viewpoint. They see themselves as a righteous remnant. Even when they are numerically a majority, they perceive themselves as a minority. 2) They are oppositional and confrontational towards both secularists and "wayward" religious followers. 3) They are secondary level male elites led invariably by charismatic males. 4) Fundamentalists generate their own technical vocabulary. 5) Fundamentalism has historical antecedents, but no ideolgical precursor.

The American Academy of Arts And Sciences funded a five year study of Fundamentalism by scholars from around the world. They list these "family resemblances" of fundamentalists:
1. religious idealism as basis for personal and communal identity;
2. fundamentalists understand truth to be revealed and unified;
3. it is intentionally scandalous, (similar to Lawrence's point about language -- outsiders cannot understand it);
4. fundamentalists envision themselves as part of a cosmic struggle;
5. they seize on historical moments and reinterpret them in light of this cosmic struggle;
6. they demonize their opposition and are reactionary;
7. fundamentalists are selective in what parts of their tradition and heritage they stress;
8. they are led by males;
9. they envy modernist cultural hegemony and try to overturn the distribution of power.

The Five ideological characteristics are:

1. fundamentalists are concerned "first" with the erosion of religion and its proper role in society;
2. fundamentalism is selective of their tradition and what part of modernity they accept or choose to react against;
3. they embrace some form of Manicheanism (dualism);
4. fundamentalists stress absolutism and inerrancy in their sources of revelation; and
5. they opt for some form of Millennialism or Messianism.

The organizational characteristics include:

1. an elect or chosen membership;
2. sharp group boundaries;
3. charismatic authoritarian leaders; and
4. mandated behavioral requirements.


The label "fundamentalist" is considered derogatory by some. Others have seized upon its definition to make the word their own in the same sense that African American's have seized the word "nigger" and made it their own. In my opinion, the definition of the a label is only as useful as our understanding of its applicability to ourselves is. Generally, it is not beneficial to call a fundamentalist a fundamentalist. It only further hardens their position and reinforces their sense of being under attack for attempting to preserve traditional values from a by-gone era. What is most useful to me is to search my own life and ferret out those aspects of myself that are fundamentalist in nature. What am I a "fundamentalist" about? What god or beast do I refuse to name anew, preferring instead to cling to the words and labels of others? There is my work for this lifetime! Somewhere it is written that we each must write our own Secret Doctrine. HPB is our example for how to transcend the old forms by filling them anew with our own spiritual energy. I believe that the process of transcending the labels and definitions of the past is the process of creating ourselves anew, i.e. writing our secret doctrine with fresh spiritual insight every moment that we breath. I am so far away from this ideal -- to far away in fact to see with any clarity the spiritual condition of anyone other than myself. So I think that I should focus upon my own fundamentalism and try and understand the meaning of my own life. Einstein said, To answer this question at all [What is the meaning of life] implies a religion. (..) The man who regards his own life as meaningless is not merely unfortunate but almost disqualified for life."


pedro oliveira wrote:

Bill, greetings from Dreamtime.

As I see the world engulfed once more in the nightmare of war and its
ensuing atrocities and unceasing suffering, I feel theos-talk can
contribute to a saner perspective about it all by, for example,
inquiring into the following questions:

What is fundamentalism? Where is its source? What nourishes it? How
does it maintain its grip on the human mind and heart? Can it ever end?

I am not referring here specifically to 'theosophical' fundamentalism
only, but fundametalism in itself. In a very enlightening interview
in 'Parabola' (Winter 2005), Professor Seyyed Hossein Nasr, one of the
most distinguished Islamic scholars in the world today, suggests that
the phenomeon of fundamentalism is basically a reaction to modernism
as an ideology. In other words, the modern mind with its emphasis on
intellect and reason, has tended to treat religion as a 'has been', as
a mere romantic-emotional exercise. Therefore, those belonging to
traditional religious environments reacted, sometimes violently, to
this perceived 'attack' of modernism on their religious traditions.
Professor Nasr also points out that the fundamentalistic response to
modernism did not come from the mystical dimension of those
traditions, but from the more theologically regimented of its members.

May we have your views on the above?

Warm regards,


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