Battle to Regress

I finally completed The Discoverers and have begun to read The Battle for God by former nun, Karen Armstrong (NYT book review). She first traces the historical backdrop to the evolution of fundamentalist movements in the Abrahamic monotheistic religions. (I have only reached the chapter on Christianity, and might post more later.)

I shall use color to distinguish between her ideas and mine. Armstrong is an engaging and convincing writer. She makes two basic points: human thinking can be characterized as governed by mythos or logos, and fundamentalism is a modern phenomenon that has arised out of religionist fear of secularism.

Modern Western societies since the Enlightenment and Scientific Revolution have increasingly embraced rational thinking: logos. Armstrong points out that this shift to evidence-based thinking has necessarily pushed mythologies into the background.

"Myth was regarded as primary; it was concerned with what was thought to be timeless and constant in our existence. Myth looked back to the origins of life, to the foundations of culture, and to the deepest levels of the human mind. Myth was not concerned with practical matters, but with meaning. Unless we find some significance in our lives, we mortal men and women fall very easily into despair. The mythos of a society provided people with a context that made sense of their day-to-day lives; it directed their attention to the eternal and the universal. It was also rooted in what we would call the unconscious mind. The various mythological stories, which were not intended to be taken literally, were an ancient form of psychology."

Unfortunately, despite also advocating tolerance and compassion towards others, religions do not, in fundamentalist practice, actually promote healthy human psychology. Instead they issue authoritarian, moralistic edicts concerning prescribed behaviors that are of more benefit to control-needs in the prescriber than to those whose behavior is dictated. Societies and groups witin societies reflect the collective emotional psychology of their members. The influence of the "Baby Boom" generation is a case in point — the relatively disproportionate numbers of those born between 1946 and 1964 had an unprecedented impact on society, particularly in the US.

Fundamentalism appeals to those who react to others with fear and intolerance, and who wish to impose a rigid morality on others and on the political scene.

Concerning the difficulties experience by societies in navigating the transition from agrarian to technological secularism:

"As a result, men and women are trying to find new ways of being religious; like the reformers and prophets of the Axial Age, they are attempting to build upon the insights of the past in a way that will take human beings forward into the new world they have created for themselves."

Interestingly, Armstrong cites the Shabbateans as an example of the negative impacts of attempting to translate mythos into logos, of acting out millennial beliefs in political action.

fundamentalism, Christianity, Islam, Judaism, society, Karen Armstrong, The Battle for God.

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