from The Worldview Literacy Book   copyright 2009            back to worldview theme(s) #9


#9A: Theologians distinguish religions built on myths ("mythos" in Greek) from those built on reason ("logos" in Greek, although that translation is disputed).  Myths provide metaphorical descriptions of important and mysterious aspects of Reality, while reason attempts to provide actual, literal, factual descriptions of these same things.  By holding onto literal interpretations of sacred religious texts, religious fundamentalists are demanding that mythos be taken as logos, such scholars assert.  Other analyses of such fundamentalism see it as a testament to faith and note how its narrow worldview seemingly simplifies life.  By attaching monumental importance to ancient words and taking them literally, one doesn't have to seek out wisdom more applicable to 21st century life, nor think about what exactly the ancient words mean. And by living in obedience to the absolute moral authority of such scripture one can avoid the nuances of depicting a modern ethical dilemma (that one might otherwise wrestle with) in shades of gray and instead paint it in the black and white of absolute certitude.

     Most religions have their fundamentalists.  Protestant Christian fundamentalists literally interpret the Bible concluding the world was created in six days as in the book of Genesis.  Added to their belief in a young (less than 10,000 years old) Earth, are beliefs that God parted the Red Sea, virgins give birth, the dead can be resurrected, and that God can personally perform miracles for them. They reject much of what modern science offers, including a 4.6 billion year old Earth, evolution, and geologic time scale.  They see Noah's flood as a key event in shaping the Earth's surface.  They battle those who object to teaching Biblical creationism alongside evolution in public schools, those upholding separation of church and state built into American democracy, those objecting to book burnings they've sponsored—in general those holding  diametrically opposed views stated in "Global Vision," "Scientific Method," "Secular Humanism," "Intellectual Freedom" and other themes.                                                      

     While most Jews believe the Hebrew Bible can't be interpreted literally, Orthodox Jews and Hasidic Jews see the content of some of Judaism's other sacred texts as the infallible word of God, and often live more sober, traditional lifestyles.  The Qu'ran, Haddith, and Sunnah, are sacred texts revered by Islamic fundamentalists, who typically prefer theocracy to democracy and living under Sharia (religious-based) law rather than a secular legal code. Notable here are the Taliban of Afghanistan and Pakistan, those preaching Wahhabism who run schools known as madrassas, and most of those who perpetrated the 9 /11 nightmare (Figure #8a).

     In clinging to a literal interpretation of ancient holy books, religious fundamentalists are hardly modern in their worldview.  Their beliefs and related behavior has been critiqued as a psycho-logical disorder.  Yet, while from a rational perspective defending such a worldview seems challenging (see Figure #9a), tens of millions of American adults seem comfortable with it.  Fundamentalist or not, hundreds of millions more turn to religious holy books for comfort and inspiration (Figure #9c).



Figure #9c


#9B:  Like many true believers, religious fundamentalists often embrace apocalypticism.  Many Christian fundamentalists believe that the events of the prophetic book of Revelation need to occur before God's plan can be fulfilled.  Some lament current events and believe, citing various omens, the End Times have startedwhat Judeo-Christian tradition holds will be a period of great upheaval, trial and tribulation that precedes the prophesized coming (or second coming) of the Messiah.  Many await that with intense feeling and passion known as messianic fervor.  Some expect the Messiah to lead the forces of God and good in a climactic final battle against the forces of the Devil and evil  (what their Armageddon theology promotes).

     Of course just as one doesn't need to be religious to be a fundamentalist—many of those embracing "Scientific Materialism" (worldview theme #5A) and narrowly clinging to scientism qualify—one doesn't need to be a religious fundamentalist to subscribe to "Apocalypticism."  Those who do have fears falling into three  categories: 1) God's wrath or the Devil's victory over God bringing the end of the world, 2)  some manmade global catastrophe—perhaps all out nuclear war or irreversible environmental disaster, and   3) cosmic catastrophesevents happening in space or objects arriving from there that conceivably could end life on Earth.  Those working to avert the Apocalpyse recognize another, more subtle danger: people being so sure the end is coming soon that they employ an "end of game strategy" and treat neither other people nor the environment very well.  In this scenario, the end comes from self fulfilling prophecy.               

Figure #9a

Problems With Literal Interpretation of Holy Books as God's Divine, Infallible Word

1) internal contradictions

2) translation errors

3) scientific errors or contradictions with modern  scientific findings

4) historical errors or contradictions with non-religious primary historical sources

5) unity of style that would suggest a single author (God) is often lacking

6) certain passages seemingly condone behavior that universal moral principles condemn

Figure #9b

Reconciling Holy Books and Science

"Could Holy Writ be just the first literate attempt to explain the universe and make ourselves significant within it?  Perhaps science is a continuation on new and better tested ground to attain the same that sense

science is religion liberated and writ large."

E.O. Wilson,  in Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge



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