Culture

Culture can be a powerful driver of the human condition as witnessed by the relentless spread of “Western” culture over the last several decades. To attempt a thorough examination of all cultures that could plausibly have a significant impact on the longer-range future is beyond the capacity of our 50 book limit. If one presumes, however, that the spread of Western culture will continue into the indefinite future, the one arguable candidate alternative to a Westernized future at this point in history would have to center around the Islamic religion. For thinking about the longer-range future, Islamic terrorism does little more than emphasize the importance of understanding the fastest growing religion in the world today.

The Battle for God— 2001

Karen Armstrong

From a deep and careful reading of history, noted religious authority, Karen Armstrong finds similarities across fundamentalism in the religions of today. Armstrong uses examples from the three monotheistic religions – ultra orthodox Judaism in Israel, Christian fundamentalism in the United States and Moslem fundamentalism in both Egypt and Iran – to make the case that these similarities are important in understanding religious fundamentalism in general.

Her main argument is that the rise of modernity and scientific thinking in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries led to an imbalance in modernizing societies between mythos and logos (basically faith and reason). Fundamentalism in the three major religions was a response to the secularizing of modern society and of the religions themselves. As she says, fundamentalism “rarely arises as a battle with an external enemy ... it usually begins, instead, as an internal struggle in which traditionalists fight their own coreligionists who, they believe, are making too many concessions to the secular world.”

She makes two important conclusions: the first is that fundamentalism is rooted in fear – that secularists and science will result in a world “drained of meaning.” Because it is impossible to reason away such fear or eradicate it by coercive measures, religious fundamentalism is not going to go away soon. She likens today's world to the “Axial Age” from roughly 700 to 200 BCE during which religion pulled away from paganism.

Her second conclusion is that religious fundamentalism is not a “throwback to the past,” it is “modern, innovative, and modernizing,” and those who oppose it ignore that at their peril. Armstrong sees religious fundamentalism as one way that modern societies are trying to cope with meaning in a world dominated by reason, trying to reconnect with mythos in a logos era. While she doesn´t condone the excesses of religious fundamentalism (and particularly the seeming lack of compassion), she argues that mythos and logos are both still important and that religious fundamentalism is but one skirmish in the ongoing cultural “battle for God.”


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