5 Reasons To Shun Fundamentalist Thinking

I was much more conservative when I was younger. I thought the world and my religion had a strict set of rules that I had to follow. But fundamentalist thinking only led me down a road to closed-mindedness and fear.

Here’s the definition of fundamentalism:

  1. A form of a religion, especially Islam or Protestant Christianity, that upholds belief in the strict, literal interpretation of scripture.
  2. A strict adherence to the basic principles of any subject or discipline.

I’m not an overly-religious man. I do believe in the basic tenets of the Christian faith. But I used to take much of the Bible literally. I read that book at least four times through in my 20s and early 30s. And you know what? It scared the shit out of me. If we really take Christianity or any other religious doctrine at 100% face value, we’d all be dead or damned. 

1. Fundamentalist Thinking Breeds Contempt

It doesn’t matter what religion or discipline you adhere to: if you create a strict set of rules and guidelines, you’ll also create contempt. We can see this clearly today. Whether we’re talking about Christians, Muslims, or minimalists, we all know people who are so adherent to a strict set of rules that they show contempt for those who are different from themselves. We’ve seen hate fueled by gender, race, religion, sexuality, and more. Whenever we set up systems of belief that include black and white thinking, we induce hate. In their most fundamentalist forms, both Christianity and Islam would have us believe that death and hell are the only alternatives to strict belief. We’ve seen thousands of needless murders and many wars all in the name of fundamentalist religion.

2. Fundamentalist Thinking Kills Creativity

If you truly want to be an artist, you have to think outside of existing structural systems. New forms of art and music start with innovative thought. Fundamentalism hinders innovative thought. Fundamentalist thinkers see the world in black and white. You can’t color outside of the lines. It’s against the rules. I’ve always been a creative person. But the deeper I go into creativity, the less I can stomach fundamentalism. When I was a kid, I was in a cult. We followed a very strict set of rules. After I escaped the cult, I leaned toward fundamentalist thought for the next 10-15 years. But I discovered something. The more I thought I had to follow a strict set of guidelines, the more I lived in fear. It was only when I began to consider alternative interpretations for many of the ideas I took literally that I began to see things differently and let go of many of my unfounded fears.

3. Fundamentalist Thinking Creates Paranoia

I’d like to invite you to read the first few chapters of my book, A Train Called Forgiveness, for free. It’s the story of my experience as a kid in a cult and how that experience affected me as a young adult. I can sum up the biggest effect in a single word: paranoia.

When we are told we must behave in a certain way or suffer consequences we begin to fear our every move. We think the slightest variation from the rules will lead to punishment. After I escaped the cult, I believed my life was in jeopardy. I struggled with thoughts of hell and damnation for years. These kinds of paranoid thoughts stemmed from a religion that promotes absolute rules and division. You’re either one of us or you’re not.

4. Fundamentalist Thinking Breeds Closed-Mindedness

When I was 30 years old, I decided to go to college. It took years of education to help me see that much of the fundamentalist thought I’d grown up with had great limitations. Science has proven many things that fundamentalists used to hold fast. If not for science, we’d still believe that the Earth is flat. Oh that’s right, there’s a resurgence of that old belief. And guess who’s at the head of the line? Fundamentalist thinkers.

When we get stuck in one line of thinking, we’ll close our minds to other possibilities. I see this happening in the minimalist community. There are some minimalists that want us to apply strict definitions and rules to minimalism. But that will only lead to a closed-minded version of a lifestyle that when practiced with an open mind can have great rewards.

5. Fundamentalist Thinking Is The Enemy Of Love

We’ve all heard the phrase, unconditional love:

Unconditional love is known as affection without any limitations or love without conditions. This term is sometimes associated with other terms such as true altruism or complete love.

How can we love anyone unconditionally if we set rules that would have them killed or damned for not adhering to those rules? Either the term unconditional love is an oxymoron and is an unattainable fantasy, or fundamentalist thought is in contradiction with love.

If I spend my time studying and applying a set of rules that would damn my brother and my neighbor but I still claim to be a loving human being, I might be fooling myself. I have absolutely no right or power to make assumptions or decisions about others’ fate. My place in this world is only to control my own behavior and to love others to the best of my ability. As soon as I apply a strict set of rules to others, I’ve become judgmental and unloving.

Nobody Is Perfect

So should we completely disregard all fundamentalist values? I don’t think so. There are some fundamental truths within any philosophy or discipline. We can learn from those truths. But there is also no perfect system. And there are no perfect followers to any fundamental belief.

I don’t have all the answers. But I can clearly reason that strict fundamentalism can be a potentially dangerous path, especially when it’s taken by the masses.

I encourage you to consider your own systems of belief. Are you willing to ask questions? Or are you stuck adhering to a strict code?

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James Ewen
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