24 May 2006

Indonesia: fundamentalism on the march

The trememdous success of rational thought in delivering material progress has marginalised the place of religion in the contemporary world. Rapid social change cause many to feel their lifestyles and beliefs under siege. The thought-habits of the modern world has in turn changed how religion is accessed. Together, these give rise to the phenomenon of religious fundamentalism that we see today. Full essay.


KiWeTO said...

Hi Alex,

thanks for putting down in clear language and the appropriate context what I've come to realized about fundamentalism but could not articulate.

Simply brilliant ;-)


Ael said...


I have followed your blog quite closely for the past few months and have found your comments to be very interesting and refreshing. Today's article has also provided me with a fresh viewpoint.

However, I would disagree with some of the views in the article. The most important of which is that fundamentalism has arisen because we have started mixing mythos and logos. I agree that it may be ONE explanation for fundamentalism but it does not explain the crusades, the inquisition, and the many abuses of religion in the past where the Logos has not achieved its current ascendancy.

My view is that it is an inescapable human condition for a majority of people to need an explanation for the unknown, for life after death, etc. If you read the article in the Straits Times over the weekend on the worldwide reactions to Da Vinci Code, the author spoke truly when he said that few people can bear the burden of uncertainty.

Religion provides this 'certainty'. Whether it is a true or false certainty, who knows? And do people care? However, the very act of believing in one thing often requires a person to reject everything else. It is difficult for one to say that your one god or religion is the true path to certainty, salvation, paradise, nirvana, etc if another religion preaches that there is another way? But who is to say that one belief or religion is more 'true' or 'right' than another?

In my view, certainty in a cause or belief is the root of much evil. A man who is certain he is doing the right thing (e.g. for the greater good) when commiting a crime can be much scarier then a man who knows at heart and acknowledges the guilt that he is committing a wrong deed.

So am I advocating uncertainty? Maybe yes, insofar as it teaches tolerance, as it teaches us humans that we cannot claim to know everything, as it shows us for the narcissistic fools we can be sometime. =)

However, the flip side is that we cannot live life by being indecisive and uncertain always. Ah...the human condition.

Anyway, pretty random rambling and maybe some food for thought. Cheers

Yawning Bread Sampler said...

In response to ael:

Not wanting to make the article longer than it already was, I decided against adding a discussion about the difference between religious militancy (which in its extreme form includes terrorism) and fundamentalism. It's a rather bad habit that comes from a lot of Western media to confuse the two.

Militancy is when a group of people who identify with one religion go to war (including mataphorical war, e.g. censorship and funding political campaigns) against another group of people. The crusades, I'd say, are more an example of militancy than fundamentalism.

Fundamentalism is when a subset of a religious group choose to go back to "fundamentals" because they think some other co-religionists have betrayed the faith by straying too close to the "enemy", whether that enemy is another religion or secularism. It's an internal campaign for the "soul" of the religion. The inquisition that you mentioned, unlike the crusades, are probably an example of the beginning of fundamentalism. You are no doubt aware that the inquisition was a response by the guardians of the Catholic faith against the early intrusion of logos into mythos, as when Galileo said the Earth revolved around the sun, and not vice versa as previously believed.

As for your comment about the need for certainty, even if only mythical certainty, I entirely agree with you. Perhaps for this reason, militancy is very often a hand-maiden of fundamentalism. The latter speaks to a certainty of ideology, and the other goes out to defend that ideology against "enemies".

SneeringTree said...

I think we need to be aware of two different strains of fundamentalisms here, although they are both assertive positions that sought to insert the importance and/or relevance of religion in human life.

There is a traditionalist strain of fundamentalism which basically calls for a retreat from "modernism". Traditionalists are fundamentalists in a somewhat literal sense because they wish to preserve orthodox norms and values to the fullest possible extent. In other words, they want to live as far as possible the way Muslims have lived in the "beginning". It is thus effectively a withdrawal from society. A good example of this is the Amish community.

Needless to say, such traditionalism involves a fair bit of imagination and interpretation in the first place.

And then there is the revivalist strand of fundamentalism. This is an attempt to insert religious values (in this case Islamic values) and spirituality into human life by reviving the fundamental sources of Islam. So pan-Islamic movements, Islamic banking etc are part of this revivalism. In a way, this form of fundamentalism not only insists that religion (e.g. Islam) can provide the roadmap for Muslims, it implictly holds that the same roadmap can be beneficial to non-Muslims as well.

However, needless to say, without sufficient political and economic clout in the global stage, this revivalism will hardly grow.

There is now a confusion (or rather blurring) between these two types of fundamentalism. Fundamentalists are caught in a bind- refusing to retreat and unable to advance. In this difficult position, we often see somewhat inconsistent messages that swing from traditionalism to revivalism.

homer said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

While I agree with most of what you say, it seems to me that you have overlooked a crucial point when it comes to Muslim fundamentalism. Yes, logos and mythos, fair enough, but how about the underdog reacting to a bully? Many moderate Muslims have turned to fundamental Islam or sympathise with it in a sort of outraged reaction to what other Muslims have to put up with. Innocent Afghanis being tortured in Guantanamo, cruel sanctions imposed on the Iraqi people for ten long years resulting in God knows how many deaths, and now this senseless war in that hapless country that is taking more innocent lives. And not forgetting the way Palestinians are treated by the American-backed Israelis. And so the under-dog tries to hit back. And goes fundamental. Not only is he trying to seek vengeance for his wronged brothers, but going back to the roots of his religion allows him to escape the unpleasant reality that he is virtually powerless against the bully. Sadly, this understandable reaction is often manipulated by the hard-core fundamentalists to bring about a situation that the under-dog did not bargain for. And you get boys marching in Jakarta carrying placards with words that they hardly understand.

Anonymous said...

This is just a power play by the jihadists in indonesia.

We must fight these fanatics with everything we have, whether by offing them in Iraq or through legal means in Indon.

I do not want to live under sharia law, and these jihadists basically want to conquer the world and make non-muslims into their concept of slaves(dhimmi).

Some internet resources that are interesting are lauramansfield.com, she is an american who married an egyptian, had a bad experience, and now works as a fighter against pro-jihadist material on the internet.

One of the London jiahdist bombers who called himself "007" on the internet(he was the Al Qaeda's internet resource manager, according to Laura)was so harassed by her on the internet, that he threatened to capture her and "marry" her.

Until he got caught. Now I guess he has to marry someone in his prison.


burgers and durians said...

Hello. This essay of yours really got me thinking and i started writing a comment. It became quite a bit longer than i initially expected though, so i decided to post it on my blog instead...www.burgersandurians.blogspot.com

Tasty Kaya said...

Hi Alex!

You wrote "Yet, rationality does not have to stop at the scientific. It can and did penetrate into questions of society, such as why should kings claim a divine right to rule? Why shouldn't all men be equal? And while we're on the subject, why not women?" (21st para)

Sorry to quibble on your cogent essay but I believe you're aware that it's inaccurate to chart global development in a lock-step pattern on a single timeline. Indeed, various cultures & civilisations bloom & retrograde at different times in different places.

Case in point, recorded history indicates that democracy made its advent in ancient Greece, notably Athens, while matriarchy can be found in technologically (and by inference less "logos"-centric) societies.

Apologies if I seem to be splitting hairs, though.

Tasty Kaya said...

Hi Alex! (me again ... pls insert this comment to my earlier one - was too impatient to get my 2 cents in without reading your complete article)

... I like your analogy of scripture as an instruction manual. Makes me feel like some software application or worse, a toaster, no? LOL ... but seriously, your statement is a tragic indictment of human nature.

Most are not schooled in the rigorous study of logic and objective analysis. Fewer who are bother to engage in it unless it serves their purpose. What's worse, many do not read widely and critically to form an informed opinion.

Would it be unkind for me to assert that most humans look only to the path of least resistance, gladly accepting pre-digested and customed-packaged soundbites that sit well with their unexamined and pre-conceived notions?

Because careful thinking require research, analysis and objective scrutiny - that means hard work, albeit of a mental nature. They'd rather have someone TELL THEM what they are already comfortable with. Prejudice and assumptions, once formed, requires awareness and effort before it can be redressed.

Sadly too little effort is expended by people in this area. Can't be harsh with them though. Many are struggling just to get by - me included. But somehow, empirical experience debunks Maslow hierarchy of needs. One can have hunger for food and thirst for ideas at the same time - without the need to have the former sated before embarking on the latter.

Let The Truth Shine Forth!

Anonymous said...

1) Religion is easily exploited by power hungry people:
I actually agree that Muslims have been somewhat shafted in the last half century, mostly because they live in poorer parts of the world and the major powers are ruled by people with a somewhat 'different' (I'm not going into how they are the same and are different...) religion. I think the sad fact is that religion has become a very useful tool to advance worldly/material agendas simply because (a) people choose not to think, (b) modern teachings of religion seldom teach people to think and (c) people are then woefully misled by religious figures. This neatly leads into...

2) People choose not to think:
I also agree that most people refuse to think. Many just want certainty and comfort and reassurance. Many are led only by their emotions. Many cannot accept that others do not believe in what they themselves have blindly accepted without thinking. Not sure if humanity can ever transcend this. If not, we will eventually annihilate ourselves (hopefully not in my lifetime though).