How do you explain the rise of fundamentalism?

Jon Meacham: I think that literalism – fundamentalism – is the refuge for people who are fearful. I think that it’s much easier to put on a coat of amour and stand still, or to fight blindly or reflexively, than to judge the slings and arrows of fortune as they come because that part’s scary. It’s hard to try to reconcile . . . I believe in a god who ultimately is a force of love and justice, and yet children have cancer and children starve. I mean that’s an utterly . . . they seem utterly incompatible. And that’s very hard, and it’s a mystery, and I have no earthly idea how to reconcile them; but I’m gonna try because to be fundamentalist on either side is to foreclose whole realms of experience, and thought, and potential illumination. If one’s entirely secular, then you foreclose the possibility of the miraculous. If you’re entirely fundamentalist in Christian terms, then you are accepting as inerrant a book and a tradition that is clearly the product of human hands and hearts. So that, to me, is an irrational reaction to scripture. Scripture is fascinating, but it’s a historical document; and it’s as flawed as any other historical document. So my sense of fundamentalism is people who want a comfortable way to react to an ever-changing world tend to seek refuge in a more fundamentalist world view than I’m comfortable with. Literalism. Literalism. Yeah, that’s good a moment ago. Islamic literalism. It’s Christian literalism. It’s this idea that we have access to the complete truth and all the answers, and that those who do not agree with us are somehow subhuman, are infidels, are justifiable targets. And we got in trouble in epically tragic terms in the 20th Century when various people, various systems dehumanized others, and that’s essentially what we’re living with now. And the engine of that dehumanization is a fundamentalist view in one’s own virtue and one’s own . . . the correctness of one’s own. So to me the largest story of our time will be a reformation, a moderation of forces of extremism around the world, including some at home, but chiefly around the world. Because people are sometimes a little, I think, too sanguine about terrorism. The idea is, well, al-Qaeda is “small beer”, I think the Economist put it recently. Yeah, unless you lost someone, or unless there’s a weapon of mass destruction that falls into the wrong hands. So whatever we can do to reduce the oxygen flow to those pockets of hate and destruction, I think we’ll be what this generation is remembered for or not.

 

Recorded on: 7/3/2007

Literalism is a refuge for those who are fearful.

LinkedIn meets Tinder in this mindful networking app

Swipe right to make the connections that could change your career.

Getty Images
Sponsored
Swipe right. Match. Meet over coffee or set up a call.

No, we aren't talking about Tinder. Introducing Shapr, a free app that helps people with synergistic professional goals and skill sets easily meet and collaborate.

Keep reading Show less

In a first for humankind, China successfully sprouts a seed on the Moon

China's Chang'e 4 biosphere experiment marks a first for humankind.

Image source: CNSA
Surprising Science
  • China's Chang'e 4 lunar lander touched down on the far side of the moon on January 3.
  • In addition to a lunar rover, the lander carried a biosphere experiment that contains five sets of plants and some insects.
  • The experiment is designed to test how astronauts might someday grow plants in space to sustain long-term settlements.
Keep reading Show less

A world map of Virgin Mary apparitions

She met mere mortals with and without the Vatican's approval.

Strange Maps
  • For centuries, the Virgin Mary has appeared to the faithful, requesting devotion and promising comfort.
  • These maps show the geography of Marian apparitions – the handful approved by the Vatican, and many others.
  • Historically, Europe is where most apparitions have been reported, but the U.S. is pretty fertile ground too.
Keep reading Show less

Love in a time of migrants: on rethinking arranged marriages

Arranged marriages and Western romantic practices have more in common than we might think.

Culture & Religion

In his book In Praise of Love (2009), the French communist philosopher Alain Badiou attacks the notion of 'risk-free love', which he sees written in the commercial language of dating services that promise their customers 'love, without falling in love'.

Keep reading Show less