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Related Words, Beliefs, Background

Worldview Theme #9A: 

               Religious Fundamentalism

  Worldview Theme #9B:   


Contrast Worldview Themes #9A and #4 --    these themes involve orientations, beliefs or behavior that are (more or less) diametrically opposed!  

Contrast Worldview Themes #9A and #6 --    these themes involve orientations, beliefs or behavior that are (more or less) diametrically opposed!  

Contrast Worldview Themes #9A and #10 --    these themes involve orientations, beliefs or behavior that are (more or less) diametrically opposed!  

Contrast Worldview Themes #9A and #30 --    these themes involve orientations, beliefs or behavior that are (more or less) diametrically opposed!       

absolute moral code -- absolute or universal standards of what is ethically or morally right or wrong. For many religious people, particularly fundamentalists, the word of God as it appears in sacred texts, provides this absolute moral authority. The opposing belief, that no such absolute or universal standards exist, is termed ethical or moral relativism.

Biblical creationism--belief that the world was created in six days as literally described in the book of Genesis, as fundamentalist Christians typically assert, and that the Earth is less than 10,000 years old.   Historically, this view has roots in the work of Bishop Ussher, a 17th century Biblical scholar who counted generations in the Bible and determined that the world was created on October 23rd at nine in the morning in the year 4004 BC.  Biblical creationists reject much of the modern scientific conceptual framework starting with evolution and the geological time scale.  They see Noah's flood as an important event in shaping the Earth's surface. 

blasphemy-- in general, irreverence toward something considered sacred; in particular using the name of God (or other sacred deity) in an insulting, contemptuous, or defaming way.

creationism -- a belief shaped by religious sacred texts that all life and most notably the human species resulted from a specific act of creation performed by a supreme being, rather than from processes involving evolution. Biblical creationism attributes all creation to God, a modern revision of it to an “Intelligent Designer”.

ethical (or moral) relativism -- the belief that ethical guidelines or moral rules cannot be evaluated outside of the particular cultural / ethical setting to which they belong. It holds that there are no absolute or universal standards of what is ethically or morally right or wrong.  Fundamentalists abhor ethical relativism. For them, the word of God as recorded in sacred religious texts provides not only rules to live by, but an absolute authority on moral questions. 

evangelicalism, new--a Christian activist movement that broadens evangelicalism beyond its past focus on converting others to Christianity, pro-life and other issues important to the religious right, to also include pro-poor, pro-social justice issues important to the left. This "new social gospel" brings with it a global perspective

evangelism -- involving a militant or crusading zeal, for example, evangelical Christians efforts to convert others to Christianity. According to Rick Warren, that was one of God's purposes in creating human life.

evolution -- the ongoing process of physical, chemical and biological change that can be traced from the beginning of the universe, to the lifeless Earth coming into existence 4.5 billion years ago, and to its current state of teeming with a diversity of living things. Biological evolution refers to the process by which the individual members of a species, and species themselves, slowly change due to changes in genetic makeup, environmental circumstances, etc.

faith -- firm belief, complete confidence and trust in something for which there is no proof, often associated with religion and typically linked more to the one's  feelings / emotions  than one's rational / analytical side. Some give this concept a deeper meaning.  Christian  philosopher Paul Tillich connected it with "ultimate concern" as in what should be the ultimate concern to which one's life should be devoted.  In his book Stages of Faith, James Fowler views finding faith as ultimately finding "an overarching, integrating and grounding trust in a center of value and power sufficiently worthy to give our lives unity and meaning." 

fundamentalism, the poor and social justice-- the failure of the government to do much for improving the plight of the poor has resulted in those people in many parts of the world turning instead to religious fundamentalist groups--particularly Islamic-- for help. As William Dalrymple describes it, "...much of the Islamists' success in Pakistan and elsewhere comes from their ability to portray themselves as champions of social justice, fighting Westernized elites."

historical metaphorical interpretation--the practice of interpreting sacred texts from both historical and metaphorical viewpoints, rather than from a literal / infallable God viewpoint. Biblical scholar Marcus Borg has most notably used this practice in interpreting the Bible.

intelligent design -- is, according to the Discovery Institute which has promoted it, the belief that "certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection”

jihad–an Islamic term, linked to religious duty, which seemingly has two meanings: 1) spiritual (greater) jihad: refers to striving in the way of Allah, promoting Islam, fighting injustice, and nonviolent religious struggle;     2) (lesser) jihad of the sword: holy war  against the enemies of Islam aimed at defending and expanding the Islamic state.

Judeo-Christian-Islamic Conception of God -- this is based on likening the relationship between man and God to the relationship between a child and his father. Of course a child eventually grows up and becomes independent of his father, whereas, here, man does not: he is always subject to God’s authority and must obey his commands. 

madrassa--a fundamentalist Islamic religious school.

myths--stories about divine beings, heroic human figures, animals, and nature that can hold an important place in the worldview of a particular people by providing explanations for certain beliefs, practices, natural phenomena, etc.  Myths are part of all sacred traditions. Creation myths, which attempt to explain how the world began, are especially popular. 

prophet--an inspired person who supposedly speaks the word of God or communicates divine revelation 

religion, definitions of--one of those difficult to define terms. In his classic, The World's Religions, Huston Smith defines it broadly as "a way of life woven around people's ultimate concerns" or more narrowly as "a concern to align humanity with the transcendental ground of its existence."  Synthesizing, and building on these, religion can be defined as involving beliefs, behaviors, feelings and devotion or obligation to faith in the divine or what is held to be of ultimate importance. Two narrower definitions are: 1) the worship of, and service to, God or the supernatural, and 2) a belief system associated with traditionally defined or formally institutionalized ceremonies or rituals.  

religion, two kinds of-- One can distinguish religions built on myths (mythos) from those built on reason       (logos).  Myths provide metaphorical descriptions of what are often important and mysterious aspects of Reality, while reason attempts to provide actual, literal, factual descriptions of these same things.  In this regard, the (over 2500 year old) creation story in the book of Genesis can be contrasted with modern astrophysicists' efforts to provide an account of evolutionary history starting with The Big Bang.  By holding onto literal interpretations of sacred religious texts, religious fundamentalists are demanding that mythos be taken as logos.

righteousness—a moralistic, theological term, important in Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, that refers to the quality of acting in accordance with moral law or divine plan, and thus being free of sin and harboring no guilt.  For example, in the Old Testament of the Bible the guiltless are said to be righteous, while the guilty are judged. 

sectarian--beholden to a particular sect (e.g. religion, political party, faction, etc) and thus typically narrow and limited in character or scope, often bigoted

sectarianism--involving the asserting of rigid sectarian dogmatism and inflexibility--which often leads to conflict between sects (e.g. religions, political parties, factions, etc)

separation of church and state -- refers to keeping separate institutions of government and religion, thereby minimizing or preventing the "meddling" of one institution in the affairs of the other. Adherents to this doctrine believe that it protects both freedom of religion and democratic principles. In a theocracy such separation can disappear.  

Ten Commandments, The--behavioral and moral rules found in the Old Testament of the Bible and important to Jews and Christians. They are traditionally believed to have been written by God and given to Moses on Mount Sinai over 3000 years ago.

theocracy -- government by those who claim to or are believed to be divinely inspired. In its most extreme forms, there is no separation of church and state.

word of God--many monotheistic religions view their sacred text as being the word of God, if not literally, then certainly providing a lesson or message inspired by God.  Another interpretation of this phrase connects with the creation of the universe and the Greek term logos--which some Christians translate as "word". Thus the first verse in the Christian Bible (translated from Greek) can be read as "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." Others in the West have connected logos with thought, reason, logic, the underlying order of reality, etc; in the East it's most notably been linked with tao and dharma.


angel -- a bodiless, spiritual being, limited in power and intelligence, but nonetheless superior to man. In traditional belief in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, good angels live in heaven , are able to visit Earth (in both visible and invisible forms), are sometimes depicted with wings, and sometimes provide messages and / or offer protection. Dark angels, living in Hell, are the evil counterparts of good angels.

Armageddon theology -- religion based on awaiting and preparing for a climactic final battle between the forces of good and evil, God vs. the Devil.

catastrophism--view that Earth's geologic and life history has been mostly shaped by catastrophic events with global affects such as cosmic impacts,  large volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, floods, etc.  Influenced by theology / Biblical events  such as  Noah's flood, this was the prevailing view up until the mid-19th century.  For the opposing view, see uniformitarianism

cosmic catastrophes--Events can happen in space or objects arrive from space that bring catastrophe to planet Earth--conceivably the end of all terrestrial living things.  Catastrophic events include supernova explosions of nearby massive stars that send deadly, life-threatening radiation toward Earth. The probability of this happening in the next millennium and significantly impacting terrestrial life is very low, but considered over a time frame of millions of years it is certainly a possibility.  Dangerous objects arriving most notably include large chunks of rock (asteroids) and "dirty snowballs" with rocky cores (comets).  While asteroids of the size (around 6 miles across) that most probably hit the Earth 65 million years ago and killed off the dinosaurs are obviously to be feared, smaller objects (tens or hundreds of meters across) are also of concern. The probability of such a catastrophic impact happening in the next millennium depends on the size of the object: it is very low for mile-size objects, and much much higher for the smaller objects.

Devil, the--conceived of in various religions as the supreme supernatural evil being and enemy of God.  Often depicted (especially in Judeo-Christian-Islamic traditions) as tempting humans by offering them something they desire in exchange for their soul, the Devil is supposedly assisted by evil spirits or demons.  Most people who believe in the Devil conceive of God as a moralist.  The Devil has long served as a scapegoat: those who did evil acts can claim they were possessed and blame it on him!

ditheism -- belief in two equal gods, one good and one evil

end of game strategy -- a strategy that can be adopted by a participant in either games or real life interactions with others in which belief that the game is about to end determines the strategy employed. Examples: 1) if you are certain you’ll never see a particular person again, you may decide that it’s okay to cheat that person out of something , and 2) if you are certain that Armageddon is fast approaching, you’ll have little incentive to care about the long-term environmental health of the planet.

End Times--in Judeo-Christian tradition this is a future period of great upheaval, trial and tribulation that precede the prophesized coming (or second coming) of the Messiah.  Supposedly various omens will be seen confirming prophecy and ushering in this era (which some feel has already begun!)  

eschatology--the part of theology concerned with the end of the world and events which Christians call "The End Times"

evil, the problem of -- this problem has plagued philosophers at least as far back as the ancient Greeks. Epicurus (341-270 BC) appears to be the first to consider it at some length. Simply put, it has two aspects, one religious, one secular, that can themselves be stated as questions, First, why does an all powerful, all knowing God allow evil to exist in the world? Second, how should society fight human’s wicked and evil acts -- won’t fighting them with evil (violence, vengeance, capital punishment, etc) just result in more evil? Those who embrace non-violence, forgiveness, and oppose capital punishment basically feel that good can not come out of evil. Others argue that if evil is left unchecked and unpunished, and not countered with strong action, then more evil will result.

exorcism -- a religious ritual performed to rid one of an evil spirit

extraterrestrial life--although efforts--most notably looking for artificially produced signals using huge radio telescopes--have been ongoing for nearly 50 years, intelligent life has not been detected!   Beginning in the mid- 1990s extra-solar planets have been detected. There are now hundreds of such discoveries, allowing astronomers to conclude that, most likely, the majority of stars possess planets.  Given that there are hundreds of billions of galaxies, and that galaxies each typically have hundreds of billions of stars, odds seem good that at least one of these (besides our Sun) has a planet where (like Earth) there is intelligent life.  One might even guess that such life is commonplace...But then (as physicist Enrico Fermi asked), "Where are they?"  Some have suggested that the lifetime of advanced civilizations is short (they destroy themselves, like we may!) and this explains the nil results of project SETI (search for extraterrestrial intelligence).  Of course, no reputable astronomer believes that unidentified flying objects represent alien spacecraft visiting Earth! 

manmade global catastrophes--Human actions can bring catastrophe to planet Earth--conceivably the end of all terrestrial living things.  Such human caused catastrophic events include most notably all out nuclear war and environmental disaster.  Based on what could have happened during the Cuban missile crisis at the height of the Cold War in 1962, one concludes that the probability of a future global nuclear catastrophe is not so low as to be negligible.  Possible manmade global environmental disasters of greatest concern in recent years most notably include destruction of the atmospheric ozone layer, which shields Earth from excessive deadly ultraviolet radiation, and global climate change resulting from greenhouse gases that burning of fossil fuel and other human activities put into the atmosphere.  Given the development of modern technology and the potential for accidents or deliberate evil acts, many other candidates for such disasters exist including 1) biological hazards / germ warfare / plague,  2) chemical hazards / poison gas warfare / irreversible pollution, 3) genetic engineering related misadventures,  4) nuclear radiation hazards, etc.

messianic fervor -- intense feeling and passion created by the religious belief that the long awaited return of a beloved messiah is imminent. While some promote the wished for return as a symbolic event, many literally expect the messiah to return and lead a battle to defeat the forces of evil.

nuclear war, environmental effects of--begin with radiation from the blast and radioactive fallout (some can last for decades), causing mutations and irreversible genetic damage to living things, and conceivably could extend to include the end of human life on Earth.  All out nuclear war–by injecting massive amounts of sunshine-blocking particulate matter into the atmosphere–could produce a "nuclear winter." Agriculture would collapse; extinction of the human species could result.  A 2008 study indicated soot from burning caused by even a small nuclear war could destroy 70% of Earth's protective ozone.

nuclear terrorism--generally refers to terrorists using or threatening to use either nuclear weapons or dirty bombs (which disperse radioactive material). It could also include their attacking nuclear power plants in an effort to cause release of ionizing radiation into the environment.

nuclear weapons--explosive devices that unleash nuclear energy and thus are typically around one million times more powerful than explosives involving the same amount of mass but based on chemical reactions (like those involving TNT). The first such weapons--atomic bombs involving nuclear fission reactions--were tested and used in 1945 by the United States to help end World War II. By 1954, thermonuclear or hydrogen bombs--involving nuclear fusion reactions--had been tested by both the U.S. and the Soviet Union. Whereas the former typically are equivalent in explosive power to (at most) hundreds of thousands of tons of TNT, the latter's explosive power can be measured in millions of tons (megatons) of TNT.  Such hydrogen bombs can be delivered by missiles that can strike targets thousands of miles away in less than an hour.  A one megaton bomb striking a major city like New York would immediately kill an estimated four million people; another three to four million would be dead from radiation exposure / fallout after two days. While the U.S. and Russia still have the bulk of the world's nuclear weapons--together possessing around 25,000 warheads--seven other countries have them. 

occultism--refers to the study of the occult and thus the pursuit of hidden knowledge.  Occultism is to be distinguished from mysticism in that, unlike the latter, the former is concerned with magic, alchemy, astrology, numerology, strange rites, secret formulas, etc. and is sometimes associated with malevolent supernatural  beings.

religious dualism -- belief that a good spirit (God ) and dark spirit (Devil) battle for control of both the universe and people’s souls.

Revelation, book of--the last book of the New Testament of the Bible is sometimes referred to as the Apocalypse of (its author) John since it provides an account of the last days of the Earth / God's harsh judgment based on his vision.  The contents of this controversial and difficult to understand book represent a prophecy of end times built on vivid imagery, metaphor (the four horsemen of the Apocalypse being the most famous) and use of magical numbers--most notably 7 and 666 (the latter representing the number of the beast).  



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