Monday, December 13, 2004

Theology and Evolution

If you haven’t read the following article The Fundamentalist Agenda, by Davidson Loehr. Then do so. It will give you much insight into the enemy.
From 1988 to 1993, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences sponsored an interdisciplinary study known as The Fundamentalism Project, the largest such study ever done. More than 100 scholars from all over the world took part, reporting on every imaginable kind of fundamentalism. And what they discovered was that the agenda of all fundamentalist movements in the world is virtually identical, regardless of religion or culture.

The five characteristics are

1) Men rule the roost and make the rules. Women are support staff and for reasons easy to imagine, homosexuality is intolerable.

2) all rules must apply to all people, no pluralism.

3) the rules must be precisely communicated to the next generation

4) "they spurn the modern, and want to return to a nostalgic vision of a golden age that never really existed. (Several of the scholars observed a strong and deep resemblance between fundamentalism and fascism. Both have almost identical agendas. Men are on top, women are subservient, there is one rigid set of rules, with police and military might to enforce them, and education is tightly controlled by the state. One scholar suggested that it's helpful to understand fundamentalism as religious fascism, and fascism as political fundamentalism. The phrase 'overcoming the modern' is a fascist slogan dating back to at least 1941.)"

5) Fundamentalists deny history in a "radical and idiosyncratic way."

All of this is interesting and it's interesting because it crosses all religions, cultural and regional boundries. When the scientists were presenting their abstracts, "several noted that all their papers were sounding alike, reporting on 'species' when studying the 'genus' was called for, that there were strong family resemblances between all fundamentalisms, even when the religions had had no contact, no way to influence each other."

Now, evolutionary psychology theories of the moment can be awfully facile because mostly they reinforce certain social norms that can easily be explained in other ways. (No Virginia, women do not necessarily practice fidelity and men do not "need" to spread their seed far and wide because of their alleged biological programming. It's a lot more complicated than that.) Still, this explanation for fundamentalism --- and more importantly perhaps, why it rears its ugly head from time to time is very thought provoking:
The only way all fundamentalisms can have the same agenda is if the agenda preceded all the religions. And it did. Fundamentalist behaviors are familiar because we've all seen them so many times. These men are acting the role of “alpha males” who define the boundaries of their group's territory and the norms and behaviors that define members of their in-group. These are the behaviors of territorial species in which males are stronger than females. In biological terms, these are the characteristic behaviors of sexually dimorphous territorial animals. Males set and enforce the rules, females obey the males and raise the children; there is a clear separation between the in-group and the out-group. The in-group is protected; outsiders are expelled or fought.

It is easier to account for this set of behavioral biases as part of the common evolutionary heritage of our species than to argue that it is simply a monumental coincidence that the social and behavioral agendas of all fundamentalisms and fascisms are essentially identical.

What conservatives are conserving is the biological default setting of our species, which has strong family resemblances to the default setting of thousands of other species. This means that when fundamentalists say they are obeying the word of God, they have severely understated the authority for their position. The real authority behind this behavioral scheme is millions of years older than all the religions and all the gods there have ever been. It is the picture of life that gave birth to most of the gods as its projected champions.

Fundamentalism is absolutely natural, ancient, powerful—and inadequate. It's a means of structuring relationships that evolved when we lived in troops of 150 or less. But in the modern world, it's completely incapable of the nuance or flexibility needed to structure humane societies.

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