Faith Column: The fundamental problem with religious fundamentalism
Issues with interpreting sacred texts
It’s that time of the year again: fundamentalist Muslims are violently rioting because someone had the guts to depict and criticize Muhammad.
This response, which has thus far resulted in the deaths of four Americans stationed in Libya and the deployment of U.S. Marines in Yemen and Sudan, is unfortunately as predictable as it is abhorrent: radical leaders have twisted the origins of the film, Innocence of Muslims, claiming the it was created by the American government and is being shown in theatres across the country.
This all comes back to how religious fundamentalists interpret so-called “sacred texts”; the teachings within such books — whether it be the Bible, Qur’an or Tanakh — are understood as unquestionable truth.
For example, although there are no prohibitions of depictions of Muhammad in the Qur’an, some have interpreted a few hadiths (the reported sayings of the prophet) as condemning the act. It’s just like Christians and gay rights.
Little critical thought is applied to the logic, validity or authenticity of teachings in “sacred texts” by fundamentalists, and they are subsequently digested as undeniable truth and regurgitated in the form of murder and hatred.
Unfortunately, the results capture far more attention than the majority of the religion’s believers, who in this case have chosen to peacefully protest or recognize the idiotic nature of the film. But such reactions to religious disagreements are certainly not limited to Islam, as this is how fundamentalist religions fundamentally work.
Similar acts can be witnessed in Christianity, such as the ironic murder of abortion doctor George Tiller by pro-life activist Scott Roeder in 2009. Or, try the burning of evangelical missionary Graham Staines and his family by Hindu radicals in 1999.
If that’s not enough evidence, filmmaker Theo van Gogh was assassinated by a fundamentalist Muslim for directing the 11-minute film Submission, which spoke out against the oppression of women in Islam. All of these acts inherently represent what Bishop John Shelby Spong labels as “tribal religions.”
The notion of “tribal religions” — that the religion one subscribes to is unquestionably the correct one and the deity of that particular faith favours its believers over all other people —seems to be intrinsically linked with the value that one places in the “sacred texts” of a particular faith.
A literal and fundamentalist interpretation of ancient writings is an obviously dangerous and highly problematic act, especially for anyone concerned with universal human rights or progressive thought.
This kind of religion — one that proliferates discrimination, violence and division — must die. There is absolutely no room for it in a modern, relatively egalitarian society which values human rights and freedoms over bigotry and hatred.
In order for this kind of fundamentalism to disappear, the twisted roots of the problem must be addressed. “Sacred texts” can no longer be valued as absolute truth.
This column is far too short to explain how such a monumental feat could be accomplished, but it’s unquestionable that literature written centuries and millenniums ago cannot be treated as undeniable facts resistant to any form of academic criticism.
Fundamentalists must work to catch up with the times, otherwise divisions between tribal religions will never resolve and these riots will only continue.