When we think of fundamentalism, we usually think about religion, but that’s not the only kind of fundamentalism. It’s true that pretty much every religion has a fundamentalist faction. But you can be a fundamentalist vegetarian, medical doctor, librarian, stripper, or ping pong player. Hmm. I just got a mental image of a fundamentalist librarian stripper playing ping pong.
Any way, the way to be a fundamentalist, and anyone can play, is to take any world view or set of rules, and blindly follow them without considering anything to the contrary. It’s a form of what’s also called tunnel vision, or seeing with blinders. Also known as seeing only in black and white. Shades of gray need not apply.
Why would we do this? For one thing, it’s easier. It doesn’t take as much effort to consider options and points of view than it does to be open to possibilities. In some ways, it’s a cultural thing, relating to the way we’re raised. If as a child we’re not taught to look at things from all sides, if we’re not encouraged to think for ourself, if we’re punished for speaking up, being different, or thinking outside the norm, that ability will tend to shut down inside. So we may find certain enclaves of society with fundamentalist beliefs, and a culture of fundamentalism.
Stress can factor into fundamentalism as well. If you’ve been beat down in life, and are dealing with minimal energy, fear, and trauma, it’s just too much work to deal with lots of choices. It’s easier to follow simple rules, whether or not they make sense. It provides a feeling of familiarity, safety and security.
We often see fundamentalist thinking in adolescents and teens. When we’re no longer quite children, and we’re not yet adults, we’re caught in a struggle to make sense of a bewildering world. We just want to know what to do to be right, to fit in, to be OK. So teens can gravitate toward rigid belief systems, in order to find relief from the stress of growing up.
Bruce Hornsby has a wonderful song that I love, and I imagine he wrote for his child, called Fields of Gray. Some of the words are:
In a world so uncertain
Through the clouds it’s hard to see
I will grab you and lift you
As you hold on tight and sway
We’ll go walking
Across the fields of gray
When I was younger, I saw things in black and white
Now all I see is a sad, hazy gray
Sometimes I see a narrow flash of light
Sometimes I look and you show me the way
I know a number of people with parents, relatives, or close friends who have fundamentalist belief systems, and that can be a bone of contention. The best way I’ve found to deal with these situations is to avoid the subject all together. The worst way is to try and talk someone out of a belief. People hold onto fixed beliefs for a reason, and it can be painful and disorienting to be disabused of those beliefs before they’re ready. So leave them be, love them for who they are, and enjoy the relationship you have while avoiding the stuff you don’t agree on. When they’re ready, if they’re ready, they’ll come around.
Whenever you feel stuck, and are trying to find a solution to a problem, remember that the answers are not always black and white. And sometimes answers don’t show up the way we expect them to. Keep in mind that even when things are not going well, according to our limited perspective, in a higher order, all is well. Take a deep breath, ask for higher support, and let your mind go for a while.