Fundamentalism

Dear Princess ‘Ishka,

The topic of this letter is fundamentalism in dogmatic religions. Everywhere you can read of people attacking religion as the source of fundamentalism, whereas others try to defend religion detaching it from its extremist deviations, as if the two were different phenomena. I call the defenders of the former view absolute secularists, and those defending the latter absolute liberals. I won’t consider the third position defending a particular religion while attacking another, because it is self-undermining.

My aim is to argue against both views, and propose a rationalist alternative.

I start with absolute secularism. To think that fundamentalism can be tracked in the Scriptures or in the predicaments of clergymen is to think of religion as something way more static than what it actually is. We have read of Christianity, Islam and Judaism accepting slavery, corruption and massacres of innocents, even if nowadays most of our religious friends are very open minded, and share the same difficulties and hopes of the rest of the population when faced with social changes. Why? Because Scriptures are subject to interpretations, so that they can adapt to the transformation of culture.

But does this mean that Scriptures are like empty shells we can fill with whatever content we like? I don’t think so, and the reason is that religion and, say, moral principles against slavery, belong to different domains. Religion can give meaning to our lives with its books and practices, and be the light against the distress of existence. Science and rationality are of no help here, because their domain is theoretical and experimental, and they can’t work as a “social glue” the way religion does, nor do they give shelter in front of the paradox of existence.

On the other hand, moral principles are principles which apply only and insofar as reason, experience and moral intuitions tell us what is the case – no “word of God” has authority over here. Being good is a matter of morals, not of observance of religion. The proof is given by saying that you can be good without being religious or morally bad and still religious, with respect to thus and such scriptural interpretation. On the contrary, you can’t be at the same time good and immoral, or bad and moral.

Religion is not intrinsically conjoined with anything bad or good. It becomes fundamentalism when people mistake it for having authority over morals, science and reason. And the same mistake is made by thinking that its “good predicaments” are good in virtue of their being religious, whereas in fact, if they are good at all, they are good only and insofar as they are moral. Absolute secularists forget that fundamentalism comes from a confusion among domains and doesn’t belong to religion itself, which is dynamic and can adapt both to good as to bad intents, thanks to interpretation.

On the other side, absolute liberals argue that fundamentalism has nothing to do with religion and is some sort of parallel phenomenon, for which religion is simply a distraction or a label. I don’t buy this position either. If I am right in arguing for the rationalist separation of domains, we shall see what sorts of domain they are.

The domain of reason obeys only to reason, but the one of religion doesn’t obey to “religion”. It obeys to the contextual interpretations one gives to the Scriptures. This allows religion to be a powerful medium to guide society and individuals instrumentally, as to follow a certain interpretation one gives to the Scriptures. And its power relies in its “meaning-giving” role and its “social-glue” role.  Therefore, it is not a distraction from other intents. It is rather the necessary means for fundamentalism to gain supporters, reunite them and lead them to action.

Absolute secularists think religion is the cause of fundamentalism, when it is the means instead. Absolute liberals attribute improperly to religion the possibility of neutral isolation only reason has.

My conclusion is that both positions are false, and that we shall consider religion as different in nature from rationality, morality, etc. and much more malleable, also because it addresses a different realm of life. It is a constituent of our society that we can accept insofar as it stays within its domain. Furthermore, we should blame religious fundamentalists not for their being religious, but for their being extremists, keeping however in mind that, without religion, we wouldn’t even talk about them.

Forever Yours,

‘Miasha

Body

Dear Princess ‘Ishka,

Some time ago, as I was having my usual 60°C shower after training, I got joined by a tall, muscular guy I had noticed swimming in the lane next to mine. We were alone and he was very good looking. I stood still for a while, staring at my bare feet as the pouring water set new standards of silence.

He had deep, lapis lazuli eyes. Arguably they were simply blue, but somehow the association with precious stones illustrates better my imagination at that time. I was almost done, a drop of hair conditioner and adieu. I knew his skin had the colour of the sand wetted by the sea at sunset.

‘I am a spider’ I thought. ‘A skeletal, feeble, pallid spider, with rickety legs, and sharp bones everywhere’. Before my body mechanically drove me out of the showers, I had the fortune to catch a glimpse of him. A Greek deity, indeed.

I take myself to be a pretty self-confident person, at times even to an excess. But it can happen that I doubt about my physical appearance. We all do.

On a daily base, we are under fire from advertisements like:

“How to get the six pack you’ve always dreamed of in just 12 quarters of half a decade”

“Lose weight following these 5 simple steps, backward, with acrobatic flips and overdose of these pills, which will cause you chronic diarrhoea”

“CLICK HERE to discover how John built up 15 pounds of muscles in a single week (see John’s embarassing before/after picture)” … and so on.

No wonder that the number of people going to the gym is greatly increasing. And even more people are quitting any physical activity due to exasperation. Especially the first are reducing themselves to an army of identical blown up dolls.

Isn’t this frustrating? Shouldn’t we be free to cultivate ourselves in our own unique way? To reach the essence of ourselves, whether including steel biceps or not? There are so many sports, so many activities! Impossible not to find one matching our preferences, body shape and capacities.

Not everyone will grow up a Riace Warrior. But even spiders have their perks. Poison, for instance.

Forever yours,

‘Miasha

Relativism

Dear Princess ‘Ishka,

In the last letter of mine, I talked about relativism. I gave it an overall negative connotation, but relativism needn’t be negative. Depending on certain perspectives, relativism can even turn out to be a medicine against prejudice. I hope now to shed more light on my ideas.20161031_112138

Consider the picture of the Tower Bridge I took in London some months ago. Despite my skills in handling cameras are those of a three years old dealing with a bazooka, I wanted to capture an interesting angle of the architecture, like most mainstream tourists pretend to do. The result is as meagre as expected, but luckily cameras are less dangerous than bazookas.

You might be asking: what on earth has this to do with “relativism”? Well, at first I didn’t notice it, because the tower was stealing the scene. But have a look down, at the couple who casually got photographed. They are women, non-white, without any man to accompany them. Look at their clothes. Nothing uncommon, would you say? Right! It is “normal”, something which was unthinkable – to say the least – less than a century ago and still is nowadays in some parts of this planet. This unsophisticated “normality” was acquired thanks to feminist fights and the strong belief in non-negotiable principles.

London is a very good example to talk about the two sides of relativism. On the one hand, a melting pot of cultures and subcultures in never ending evolution, where the mantra of diversity jeopardises any attempt of unitary definition. On the other hand, a city forged by great philosophical intuitions, and by battles for what is right, currently culminating in the election of a Muslim mayor. This is no blind praise for a city having one of the darkest histories ever and being the symbol of capitalism and savage globalisation. In this context, it just offers a good example.

There is cultural relativism, consisting in the value of dynamic cultures, and there is relativism of opinions on moral, scientific and other theoretical principles. The former is healthy, the latter is not. You may object that I put it too easily, that universal theoretical principles are chimeras, if we are to face the variety of mankind. You would have a point, but I still think that the possibility of intercultural understanding must be based on common grounds, however constrained by our human limits. As far as I can see, relativism on those grounds makes diversity unintelligible, therefore spreading ignorance, legitimating hate speech and building walls.

Forever yours,

‘Miasha

Intentions

Dear Princess ‘Ishka,

The road to hell is paved with good intentions, or so they say, and perhaps, intending to writing you won’t be an exception. But here I am, still trying to convince myself that this is a good idea to keep in touch, after more than two years of separation.

My aim is to start an intellectual adventure. I would like to express thoughts and feelings, to talk about our lives and the world in an unpretentious philosophical fashion. I won’t be exhaustive most of the times, and I’m afraid I will also talk about matters I’m not an expert about. However, complete ignorance can be avoided if I stay focused on depicting perspectives on our multifaceted reality, with the purpose of inspiring further ideas.

Furthermore, I hope not to fall victim of the greatest enemy of philosophy and rational thinking, the “doxa”, that is the unjustified opinion. Social networks are full of it, and relativism about facts and principles appears to have lost any pure theoretical intent, degenerating into the struggle to obtain as much consent as possible, no matter under what flag or ideal. I can’t grant that the result of my letters will be any different.

Maybe I’ll still be lead to hell, in one way or another. There is only one last defence I am left with: the conviction that together with you, my dear Princess, and with all our friends, we can give our little contribution to make this world a better place.

Forever yours,

‘Miasha