Fundamentalism: A return to Dark Ages

January 23, 2005|by Allan Powell
(Page 2 of 2)

Evangelicals refer to themselves as "people of faith." Almost without exception, however, either overtly or covertly, they mean truth when they talk about their beliefs. They are unable or unwilling to understand that propositions of faith are accepted without evidence. Truth, on the other hand, applies to propositions or claims that have been established as true based on logic or facts. The significant consequence of this clarification is that propositions of faith can never qualify as truth until verification has happened.

It needs to be made clear that opposition to fundamentalism does not mean that suppression is called for. The best way to contain fundamentalism is to teach people to think. Facts and reason will, in the long run, win out over self-imposed ignorance. Evangelicals try to short-circuit this process by pulpit thumping and loud shouting. But this will not add force to their case.

If the past is any predictor of the future, the religious right will make the usual charge that secular humanists are trying to undermine all religion. However, humanists are a pitifully small number of people and are about as popular as a frog in the collection plate.


Besides, we recognize that the great mass of humanity needs religion. It has long been known that people are, for the most part, unable to cope without the hope of a more powerful "other." Unfortunately there is little agreement about the existence and nature of this source of hope. All that humanists really desire is that dominant religions work for the good of society. Is this too much to expect from the religious right?

It has been traditional to compliment people for exercising faith. Would it not be more proper to compliment people who take the effort to study, seek all the facts which have a bearing on the issue, suspend judgment until facts and understanding take place and then draw valid conclusions?

If such a regimen could become a habit, biblical literalism would become as extinct as the dinosaur. In my judgment, the unpardonable sin of the literalists is their willingness to waste a faculty that sets mankind above the whole animal kingdom. I have in mind the towering intellect of humans to think and to solve problems.

But this expectation is optimistic. If the religious right continues to grow and to use the clout at their disposal, it is possible that we may regress intellectually to a modern version of the Dark Ages. Literalism is itself a regression from modernity to the thought patterns of the Middle Ages. Don't say, "It can't happen here." It really can.

Allan Powell is a Hagerstown resident who writes for The Herald-Mail.

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