Thursday, November 16, 2006

Fear is at the Root of Fundamentalism



Fear of uncertainty.
Fear of ambiguity.
Fear of meaninglessness.
Fear of insignificance.
Fear of death.

26 comments:

CyberKitten said...

At the most basic level all religions are a response to the fear of death. Everything else is garnish.

BaconEating AtheistJew said...

God and the devil are also fall guys for when disasters strike or bad things happen.

beepbeepitsme said...

Reliigon is the superlative example of the logical fallacy - appeal to emotions.

Agkyra said...

I don't know what JA means by fundamentalism, so I don't know whether I'm included in that category or not. Nevertheless, I have a few objections to make, as you might have come to expect.

First, beepbeep, what religion makes its appeal to emotion? Even Schleiermacher, the Christian theologian who came closest, took pains to distinguish his "feeling of absolute dependance" from an emotion. Do tell.

Second, for JA to claim that fear is at the root of fundamentalism is profoundly disrespectful because fundamentalists can and do give reasons for what they believe. You may not agree that their reasons are good ones, but that doesn't entitle you to dismiss them with a wave of the hand and name calling. What if I were to make a similar claim about your beliefs. No matter what reasons you may give, I just say, "Atheists are motivated by [pick a vice]." It's a thinly veiled insult.

I'm sure I don't need to point out to you that making personal attacks (the ad hominem) is itself an informal fallacy. I don't know whether fundamentalists, whoever they might be, are motivated by fear, but I do know that when one side in an argument resorts to name calling, it's because they've run out of good arguments.

Jewish Atheist said...

I don't know what JA means by fundamentalism, so I don't know whether I'm included in that category or not.

I roughly am referring to people who believe in Biblical inerrancy, young-earth creationism, etc.

You have a point that I don't like when people start coming up with psychological "explanations" for atheists, usually having to do with having issues with one's earthly father. Maybe this post is out of line.

I'm sure I don't need to point out to you that making personal attacks (the ad hominem) is itself an informal fallacy.

It's only a fallacy if I'm using it to prove a point, e.g. that fundamentalism is false. I'm not doing so, just trying to explain the fundamentalist mindset.

Agkyra said...

I see your point, that it's not part of an argument, therefore not fallacious. I would suggest that on blogs like yours and mine, all of our posts that talk about "the other side" constitute an extended argument. The context of the whole blog points toward "argument" rather than "explanation."

At the same time, as a theologian, I do give theological explanations for things, including atheism. That's what I do. I am a theologian, and so I employ theological concepts, categories, and arguments, and use theological sources.

I doubt that "fear is at the root of fundamentalism" has any genuine explanatory value. Your saying that doesn't make the lights go on for anyone. You're not donning the garb of a professional psychologist, sociologist, or some other discipline, and speaking from within that professional tradition using its categories, arguments, or sources, to explain fundamentalism. At least it's not apparent that you are.

Your point about when something that looks insulting is an ad hominem and when it's just an explanation is a good one. I just think it looks more like polemics than explanation.

XGH said...

Hello??????

http://extremegh.blogspot.com/2006/11/its-all-about-fear.html

Jewish Atheist said...

agkyra:

I doubt that "fear is at the root of fundamentalism" has any genuine explanatory value. Your saying that doesn't make the lights go on for anyone.

You're right in that just stating it with no explanation is probably useless.


XGH:

Crap. I seem to be stealing people's posts lately. I think my mind's going. Sorry.

Fundamentally Sound said...

While I wouldn't be as carelessly broad as you were in your post, I think that

Atheism often arises out of a fear of actually having to curtail one's actions, proclvities and, let's face it, urges.

Ezzie said...

Maybe this post is out of line.

Yeah, kind of. For the reasons agkyra said. It didn't bother me much, I just thought it was a bit stupid - atheists hate it when people say "atheists choose to get rid of God so they can do as they see fit without guilt" or the like.

beepbeepitsme said...

RE agkyra:

An Appeal to Emotion is a fallacy which may have the following structure:

Favorable emotions are associated with X.
Therefore, X is true.

Or, - Favorable emotions are associated with a god concept.
Therefore, god is true.

"Appeal to emotion" is a logical fallacy which uses the manipulation of the listener's emotions, rather than valid logic, to win an argument.

This kind of appeal to emotion is a type of red herring and encompasses several logical fallacies, including:

Appeal to consequences
Appeal to fear
Appeal to flattery
Appeal to pity
Appeal to ridicule
Appeal to spite
Wishful thinking

XGH said...

I think appeal to consequences is quite reasonable behavior from a secular point of view. If there are nothing but positive consequences if I believe X, then I should believe X. It doesn't matter whether it's 'true' or not. A desire for truth is just an evoltionary adaptive mechanism, which should be discarded if there are benefits.

Jewish Atheist said...

I'm not sure I can disagree, XGH, although personally, I'm terrible at lying to myself.

your ok im ok said...

i love ur blog. u come off as a very inteligent man. im a questioning jew. i dont believe in anything the taught me, doubt god and so on. how old are u. u seem way to smart to be in ur 20-30's. do u have a family, if so how do u manage, do u have opposing views?

Agkyra said...

Beepbeepitsme: You've correctly articulated the propositional form of the appeal to emotion. You have not answered the question of which religion uses it. Which religion claims that its tenets are correct because they're associated with good emotions? Which religion says, "Hey, Atheists, our religion is true because it makes us feel good"? I don't know of any. I presume that you don't either.

cipher said...

I'd like to defend JA. People like Martin Marty, who have spent years studying the phenomenon of what we call fundamentalism, generally say the same thing - fear is the foundation, or is at least a strong component.

If JA had said, "Boundless compassion is at the root of fundamentalism", no one would have been bothered by it, even though he didn't have the academic credentials to back it up.

JA, for the record - I agree with you, and I've been in the comparative religion game for over thirty years (Agkyra - just about as long as you have been alive!) - however, I don't have the academic chops, either.

Agkyra said...

With all respect to your experience, Cipher, I think you're mistaken that people wouldn't have been bothered by a "boundless compassion" explanation. The whole point is that fundamentalists in general have reasons for what they believe. The reasons rarely, if ever, have to do with personal emotions of any kind. The only civil way to deal with someone's beliefs is to address his reasons in good faith.

I haven't read Marty, but you can see how it would be disrespectful of me to reduce his reasons for thinking fundamentalists are motivated by fear (if indeed you are representing his views correctly) to a statement about his fear or boundless compassion or anything of the kind.

Sorry to keep harping on this dead issue.

cipher said...

Agkyra,

I'm not even sure what we mean in this discussion by the term "reason". After many years of observing people of faith, I've come to feel very strongly that emotion accounts for a large part of most people's belief systems. Can we say that's the "reason" they believe?

Human beings are extremely complex. I'm not sure that we can dissect an individual's motivation, parsing out which percentage is rational, how much is irrational, etc.

I don't know that I'd call you a fundamentalist, but you seem to be conservative, theologically. Why do you take that position? Why are you not liberal? Is it all carefully reasoned out, or has personal preference played a part? If so, is that emotion?

Fear may not be the basis of your belief system. However, in the case of people who clearly are fundamentalists - people like Jerry Falwell - who have polarized our culture and who view those who disagree with them as agents of evil, I think that fear is quite obviously a large part of the equation. Social scientists who study the phenomenon of fundamentalism generally seem to come to the conclusion that fundamentalists are, cross-culturally, characterized by deep-seated fear – fear of modernity, profound existential angst. My own observations have led me to agree. The kind of anger they display is almost always (if not always) the result of fear. Within the Jewish world, our own fundamentalists manifest the same patterns of behavior, and, ostensibly, for the same reasons. Whether or not their fear is an appropriate reaction to the reality with which they are confronted is another matter – perhaps we would disagree about that – but, in my opinion, fear it is.

Agkyra said...

Cipher, I certainly agree with some of what you write: people are complex, they are not purely rational beings (which I think is good), and so emotions or feelings or some kind of subjective personal experience does influence their beliefs.

My disagreement with you is this: you can't see what motivates someone. You claim to have observed that fundamentalist anger is the result of fear. I can say with unqualified certainty that you have observed no such thing. It is impossible to observe such a thing, and the closest you could come would be to take the person's word for it if he says, "I'm angry because I'm afraid."

That's what I mean by "reason." A "reason" is what someone would offer in response to the question of why. Why are you angry? Why do you position yourself in opposition to the larger culture? I don't know many true fundamentalists, but of those I do, I have never known any to offer fear as a reason for any of their beliefs.

Since you can never be sure what's going on in a person's heart or head unless he tells you (ah, the idea of revelation!), the minimum courtesy is to ask a person for reasons and accept them in good faith, so long as they cohere with his actions. To dismiss a person's stated reasons and impute some emotion, good or bad, in their place, is just hubris. It implies that the person is either (a) too dim to know what's really going on inside of himself or (b) a liar and. It further implies that you, by contrast, know precisely what is going on inside the other person.

When I see images of a bunch of angry Palestinian men on the evening news, it's easy to imagine that there's a certain amount of fear behind the anger. I don't think fear motivates them to believe what they believe, though, and their alleged fear doesn't make their beliefs right or wrong. The best we can do is ask them why they're angry and then assess the goodness or badness of the reasons they offer.

Does fear characterize fundamentalists? Perhaps it does. Perhaps a habit of eating smoked fish for breakfast is also characteristic. That doesn't say anything about their reasons or motivations and the goodness or badness thereof.

When we're evaluating beliefs, we need to evaluate reasons. Only if there were no reasons whatsoever would we be dealing with irrationality and thus entitled to impute something else as the motivation. We must respect other people by taking their reasons seriously.

beepbeepitsme said...

Basically, an appeal to emotion can work according to a variety of emotions.

Certainly, the christian religioun (in various forms) makes an appeal to fear.

That appeal goes something like this: If you don't believe in jesus and that he cme to save you from sin, you will burn in the depths of hell for eternity. That is one appeal to emotion which is based in fear.

Another appeal to emotion is one which is based in providing psychological comfort.

No matter, what you have done in your life, except for the one unpardonable sin of blaspheming against the holy spirit, you can be saved and go onto a wonderful life after you are dead.

Most people are not too keen on being no more. That their lives are over upon death, is a frightening concept for many people. So, a religion which makes an appeal to this fear by providing an "alternative" to death, is an appeal to emotions. People basically want to feel safe, secure, wanted and loved. An appeal to these emotional needs is at the crux of many reliions.

beepbeepitsme said...

ooops - religions

beepbeepitsme said...

RE: fundamentalists

Top 10 Signs You're A Christian Fundamentalist
http://beepbeepitsme.blogspot.com/2006/11/top-10-signs-youre-christian_20.html

Agkyra said...

You seem to be confused, beepbeep.

Christianity does proclaim a future judgment, yes, and that should be cause for fear! Christianity emphatically does not, however, base the truth of its claims on a feeling of fear. In fact, it's exactly the opposite. Any fear a person experiences should only be the result of believing that judgment is coming, not the basis for believing it.

If a physician tells her patient that he has cancer, the patient will feel fear. The patient doesn't believe he has cancer because he's afraid but because the physician, who is in a position to know, told him so, and it's a prior belief in the physician's word that is the basis for the fear. The patient doesn't have to believe the doctor, of course, and may choose to forego treatment.

I think if you go back and re-read what you wrote earlier, when you correctly described the appeal to emotion, you will see where you have gone wrong.

cipher said...

Agkyra - if it isn't an invasive question, and if the answer wouldn't be too complex for this arena - why do you believe the things you do? Any why, do you think, those who disagree with you believe the things that they believe?

beepbeepitsme said...

RE agkyra

So, the basis for believing it is what? If people do not believe in religions based on an emotional psychological need, why do they believe?

Why would people believe if it wasn't based on an appeal to emotions, either negative emotions or positive ones?

Religion plays to all facets of emotional appeal. Not just the ones based in fear or negativity.

Krystalline Apostate said...

Agkyra:
Christianity does proclaim a future judgment, yes, and that should be cause for fear!
'Bout time you admitted it.
Christianity emphatically does not, however, base the truth of its claims on a feeling of fear. In fact, it's exactly the opposite. Any fear a person experiences should only be the result of believing that judgment is coming, not the basis for believing it.
That's really the silliest damn thing I've heard yet.
Since your 'gospels' have infested the world, it's 'saved if you do, damned if you don't'.
This 'either/or', be saved or burn, is not really much of a choice at all, is it?
If a physician tells her patient that he has cancer, the patient will feel fear. The patient doesn't believe he has cancer because he's afraid but because the physician, who is in a position to know, told him so, and it's a prior belief in the physician's word that is the basis for the fear. The patient doesn't have to believe the doctor, of course, and may choose to forego treatment.
Or get a 2nd opinion. There's always that.
I think if you go back and re-read what you wrote earlier, when you correctly described the appeal to emotion, you will see where you have gone wrong.
No, she got it right. Re-explaining it to retrofit your pet theories doesn't change the fact of the matter.
Believe or burn. That simple. All the sophistry in the world can't change that simple message.