Religion 21st Century

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Religious Fanatics

Religious and political groups often include subgroups of militants that aggressively advocate group values and attack members of other groups. Scholars often treat fundamentalism as a social construct and limit their view to recent history, and familiar cultures. Religious historian, Karen Armstrong, for example, argued that “modern fundamentalism” had its roots in 15th century Europe when the discovery of the New World began to change old beliefs. At the end of the 15th century, all Jews and Muslims were being expelled or killed by Christians in Spain, as Spain was colonizing many areas of the planet by ship and guns, beginning an era of genocide in the "New World". Their example was followed by England, France, Germany, Portugal and Holland. Armstrong, like many scholars of European and Biblical history, has no sense of events going on in the rest of the world and no sense of human evolutionary history. While the 15th century marked the beginning of a new assault by Spanish Christians on a succession of non-Roman Church groups, they did not invent fundamentalism. The Spanish Catholics were ignorant, belligerent and amoral; their actions were consistent with human nature before and after.

The root of fundamentalism is ancient; it arises from group membership and mimesis - the copying of behaviors and stories that are memorized and repeated. We have recognized that hate stories treat outsiders as aliens who are to be feared and despised. Hate thrives on misinformation. The benefits of hate are to enhance the readiness of a group to defend itself and to motivate attacks on rival groups. A fundamentalist is someone who cannot or will not join this discussion. A fundamentalist is someone who would become angry when confronted with a rational description and analysis of his or her beliefs. A fundamentalist is someone who would want to punish me for writing this book. A better description would be fundamentalism = group loyalty=dogma=imprisonment in a cognitive box.

The view that the good and the bad are products of a society is now yielding to the deeper insight that the dialectical nature of the human mind is built it. This dialectic generates culture not the other way around. Aggressive advocacy of group values is characteristic of human groups and fundamentalism is a deeply imbedded feature of the human mind. It is increasingly obvious that only a small number of humans cope well with modern complexity and few can master the intricate skills and detailed knowledge that is required to maintain a complex society. The rest of humanity is more comfortable living in small groups, utilizing older and simpler technology with a distinct preference for the simple explanations of old myths and folklore -- all features of fundamentalism.

Sociopaths gravitate to political and religious organizations and sometimes become fundamentalist leaders. They adopt the costumes, slogans and beliefs of the group. They often act recklessly and obtain belligerent followers by reciting dogma and inciting hate. Sociopathic leaders are often not held accountable even when their criminal behavior is revealed. They can turn reasonable people into warriors or suicide bombers who believe that dying for a just cause is virtuous and noble and will be rewarded in some fictitious afterlife.

One undeniable role of most religions is to justify the most horrible acts of destruction, imprisonment, torture and killing. There will be no easy solution when angry, fanatical humans with religious disguises practice hate and threaten others. Fanatics will attack communities of nicer, more rational humans. New "religions" emerge with fanatical roots and threaten more civil and rational neighbors. The term "cult" describes the groups that recruit and control new members and establish boundaries that separate cult members from the rest of society. Many cults confuse politics with religion and claim rights and privileges for obedient members that exceed all other groups. In the worst case a cult has authoritarian leaders who are skilled at mind control and develop strict communal organization. The cult may employ aggressive proselytizing and severe forms of indoctrination. Some cults tend toward criminal acts to control members and suppress opposition: kidnapping, brainwashing, psychological abuse, sexual abuse and mass suicide. The tendency is for nice, rational humans to become fanatical in response to cults. The law of Karma is that conflict escalates and everyone loses. The law of revenge, Lex talionis, produces an endless cycle of revenge killing.

You can argue that human nature can change and permit sustainable, free societies. Or you can argue that a number of social constructs can identify and constrain the bad guys, leaving the good guys time and space to enjoy peaceful lives. Or you can argue that human nature will not change and bad guys cannot be constrained by any combination of social constructs. A study of the chaotic, paranoid response in the US to the September 11 2001 attack on the twin towers in New York, USA does not support an optimistic view of social constructs. US war making has led to ongoing, deadly conflict in the middle east.

History records an interminable series of wars of revenge. Wars are contagious. Social order and peaceful intentions fade as belligerence increases. The wealth of every great civilization has been squandered on war. The results are predictable – death, destruction, and sooner or later, the collapse of warring states. There are no winners. The main lesson from the US in the 21st century is that belligerence can prevail in “free” societies and assumes many forms. Countries with big investments in military equipment and armed personnel are primed to fight the enemy and will seek opportunities to go to war.


  • Religion for the 21st Century is available as an eBook download. The book is intended for an educated reader who is interested in a world view of religious expressions past, present and future. The main theme is that each religious group has its own claims and stories and will tend to reject others. A reader committed to one point of view may not accept the egalitarian review presented here. Innate tendencies are expressed as religions and in the past have created conflicts that hinder progress towards the real and true. The book examines paths for religious renewal in the 21st century.

    The author is Stephen Gislason

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