Fundamentalism: A Disease of the Mind?
Disclaimer: This article is my opinion only, based on my own literary and theoretical research (M.A. in Lit.) and is not intended as “scientific research” or “rhetorical argument.” It is not a proscription against Christians in general, nor should it be implied as a “remedy.” It is a description of my thought processes out of Fundamentalism. Please don’t infer anything else.
The more I interact with Christian fundamentalists, either in church or on the Internet, the more I become convinced it is a disease of the mind, or at least a self-replicating meme or “mind virus.” Having been a Christian fundamentalist myself, I can honestly say that you aren’t in your right mind when you are caught in the throes of religious fundamentalism. As a fundamentalist you close your mind to anything but what ancient texts say. You only listen to certain things and filter everything through the lens of your chosen religion. How can this be normal when we are born without filters of any kind (except pain and pleasure)? Being a fundamentalist is like confining all your thought to the works of Archimedes or to Shakespeare (that might not be a bad idea) and refusing to accept information past that point. It’s like insisting that Greek culture is the only true culture and channeling all of your efforts to seeing that it becomes our culture now.
That being said, there is a certain thrill in suddenly “waking up” and realizing you’ve been deluding yourself for many years. What I once did to become a fundamentalist, I have now done in freeing myself from it’s grasp. You slowly begin to grasp that the fundamentalist rituals you are using are designed solely to keep those delusions fresh and ever present in your mind so that you will quickly fall into line if you have doubts. Hell is an ever present threat. You pull out pat phrases and use terminology of the group rather than honestly grapple with questions that come your way. It’s brainwashing, pure and simple. Why? Because of two simple mental tricks foisted upon the weak of mind and ingrained over time:
1) Never trust your mind or your spirit
2) If it’s not in the “scriptures” don’t trust it.
Using this memetic device over and over, you are guaranteed to become a mental and spiritual robot, willing to take orders from those who will gladly tell you what to do and how to do it. The bible is used as the mimetic tool. Your brainwashers will interpret society and the bible for you, don’t worry about that. You may read the bible, but don’t think about it too much. If you refuse to trust your own thoughts and feelings and keep repeating to yourself that “satan” is trying to lure you away when you read other things, then you have successfully stunted your growth for the rest of your life. Is it any wonder that fundamentalists are stuck in the adolescent stage of life? Is it any wonder that they cry and bawl if they don’t get their way? Is it any wonder that when faced with opposition, they cajole, threaten, use stock phrases and when these tactics won’t work, they become violent and hateful? There’s nothing more evil than the false smile and the “God bless you” of a fundamentalist who won’t accept your view of the world as equally as valid as his. I know! I’ve done it myself and recently too! Because it’s so EASY and so smugly self-satisfying.
I’m over-generalizing here, but many Fundamentalists are people who have had rough lives and are looking for unconditional love. Every fundamentalist I’ve ever met talks of being “saved” from drug dependency, alcoholism, depression, abuse, or suicide. Or a fundamentalist speaks of feeling love for the first time in his life. Rarely does a fundamentalist come from a happy family, unless said family is already steeped in fundamentalism and the believer knows no other happiness. Why? Because happiness does not need the remedy fundamentalism provides: a tightly knit group of like-minded people who resist the larger culture in which they find themselves. Fundamentalists cannot cope with the world as it is. They must invent an ideal world that shelters them from chaos.
In a way it’s admirable that we can divert our attention this way to try to “heal” ourselves, but it is only a tiny, tiny step to full fledged mental health. And, turning to religion is not a necessary step to heal ourselves. There are other routes. Religious fervor is not a cure but a band-aid. Its effects should be temporary, but some never grow out of the fundamentalist mindset and choose to remain in ignorance. The fundamentalist worldview is basically an ideal. These ideals, like political ideologies, don’t really exist in the real world as we experience it with our bodies. These ideas must be invented and grown from revolutionary-like movements, spurred by revolutionary-like messiahs. It’s very, very hard to change the brainwashing of fundamentalism. It requires a strong sense of self and determination and the drive to be aware; to wake up! It requires education, formal or otherwise. This is why trying to reason with some fundamentalists doesn’t work. But I believe it can be done. The fundamentalist can change if they allow themselves to rethink and analyze why they believe. They can change if they perhaps allow themselves to imagine just a tiny bit that their scriptures were written ages ago by men who didn’t have all the answers and who weren’t right 100% of the time. The fundamentalist can change if they can see that their worldview is not necessarily the only “correct” worldview, or that the god they worship does not exist except in their own minds, or that the promises the church keeps teaching them will work, in fact do not work in practice. One has to pull oneself up by the bootstraps, so to speak, and realize the damage done to individuals and to families who fall victim to this mind virus. But it’s also very painful to wake up and not something people willingly take on without a serious jolt to their belief system.
For some, this kind of strength would precipitate a mental break that can’t be borne. For others, mere argument here on this site will not achieve what we hope it will, an enlightenment into reason and hope and a break from the false strictures of religion. It takes so much time to reason with rote answers. It also takes a huge dose of patience and humility to allow others to de-convert at their own pace. But, I’m willing to do it. Look at it as an intervention to save my life. Why? Because I’ve gone through the process and am still going through the process. I want to wake up.