10.16.17 | Religious Fundamentalism

Brenda Lafferty and her fifteen-month-old daughter Erica were murdered on July 24, 1984. Did someone say murder? Actually it was, ahem, a "revelatory removal." Jon Krakauer's Under the Banner of Heaven chronicled a world which compelled such an act. God's human mask bared its fangs that particular day.

The Church of Latter-day Saints (Mormonism) is American-born and pretty young as religions go -- a bit more than two centuries old. That makes it far more amenable to examination. The events, the people, and even the thought processes are more open to the corroboration of eyewitness and other objective accounts than are the millennia religions, shrouded in the mists of mystical happenings and mumbo-jumbo vernacular.

It will be argued that the subject of Krakauer's book is the exception, the work of nothing more than an aberrational and virulent fundamentalist splinter sect of the LDS. But the issue is not really the LDS itself. Our real discussion will center around the potential abuse and distortions which can arise out of a fundamentalist system where men presume to speak for God.

Viewed from the outside one is struck by the absolute resolve -- sometimes marked by fierceness or serenity or even beauty --  accompanying the literal interpretation of respective faiths. One wonders how anyone can be so certain about anything in this uncertain world. Maybe that's the point. There can be great comfort living within a story. The issue arises when the competing stories harden into aggressive tribalism -- the paradox of God-love -- and it becomes an under-the-banner-of-heaven phenomenon at the wholesale level.

Maybe the ultimate irony of these dueling religions is that they're all true in one way or another i.e. they are all true when understood metaphorically. Stop reading religion as prose and start experiencing it as poetry. Heaven and hell are within us, and all the gods and all the devils are within us. Joseph Campbell speaks to this in The Power of Myth, the most compelling treatise on the transcendence of God I've ever come across.    

Then comes the question of what it is that underlies religion itself. For this we may fall back on Camus who presents us with the paradox of the absurd i.e. we value our lives and existence so greatly, but at the same time we know we will eventually die, and ultimately our endeavors are meaningless. Perhaps religion is the attempt to cut through the paradox by promising the delay of the final curtain call into the Everlasting.

Be mindful, though, of Pascal's Wager: if you're a Believer and you're wrong the downside is limited; if you're a non-Believer and you're wrong the downside is some version of everlasting puritanical Hellfire. Your move.

Should be an interesting discussion. Let us hope we can maybe agree in the end to that transcendent Emersonian sentiment: I am God in nature; I am a weed by the wall.

Steve SmithComment