I understand fundamentalists

…Well, not really. But hopefully that got your attention.

What I mean is, in some ways I understand fundamentalist religious people more than liberal religious people. Sure, they may think that their prophet read a nonexistent language by looking at a rock inside a hat. They may think that there was once a talking snake that tricked a man and a woman made from that man’s rib into eating a magical fruit that gave them the ability to tell right from wrong, and that this is the reason why giving birth is painful. They may believe that their god wants them to have more than nineteen children. They may believe that if they don’t carry out an inordinate number of daily rituals in an extremely precise fashion, their god will be furious with them. They may believe all sorts of incredibly counterintuitive, ultimately nonsensical things.

But they think they have found the truth, through some means or other, and they are willing to stick to those premises they think are true and follow them to their logical conclusions. (Yes, yes, to whatever extent a conclusion based on ridiculous premises can be called logical.) When they say their holy text is the word of God, they act like it and they stand by all of the text.

As much as I appreciate from a practical standpoint the religious people who are willing to let go of the more absurd aspects of their religion — the ones who let their daughters go to school, who respect LGBT folks as fellow human beings, who are willing to associate with people not of their religion, who are willing to admit something less than total certainty about the contents of their holy texts — I find them frustrating from a philosophical standpoint. In some cases, they are more frustrating than the fundies.

The way-out-there fundamentalists, I can to some extent dismiss as irrational. They simply lack the discernment to be able to tell that their religion was obviously fabricated in order to control people (sometimes for good and sometimes for bad). They are too gullible, and lack confidence — perhaps rightly — in their own critical thinking skills. But the liberal ones, the ones who admit that this or the other part of their scripture is not to be taken literally? They’ve shown themselves to have the necessary critical thinking skills. They’re able to find a few of the implausible, or the self-contradictory, or the outrageously immoral parts of their religion, and actively disavow them. And for some reason, they stop there. They continue to claim that their religion as a whole is true — just not this part, or that part. Or this other part. But still, they claim, it’s true.

If you’ve found some part of your religion’s teachings to be not worth following, why limit it to that one part? What distinguishes that part from the rest of your scriptures and doctrines? Nothing, except that you happened to notice that part first. How did you pick? You applied your own moral reasoning, and your own logical analysis. You don’t need the pared-down skeleton of your religion to provide that for you; you had it all along. You’re so close. Just let it go.

This post originally appeared on this site in April 2010. Usually I put this note at the top, but breaking up the title and the first line was confusing this time around.

One thought on “I understand fundamentalists

  1. Having been raised liberal Presbyterian, I totally agree with your point. And I think that may be why mainstream religions have been losing members even faster than fundamentalist ones. Since they don’t insist that every part of the bible is to be taken literally, they have to pick out the parts to be followed, and which can be ignored. And once they start trying to figure out a consistent method for doing this, it becomes clear that there isn’t one. Plus, liberal religion isn’t as controlling and authoritarian as the fundamentalists are, so de-converting is less mentally painful and socially easier.

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