Standards of Truth
On my early morning walks, much mistier and cooler now than in the summer, I'm still thinking about fundamentalism. It is a question that doesn't seem to go away, even after I have paced it through morning after morning.
For the past two days, I have been thinking about the standards of truth, and I have come to this conclusion.
People who live in today's scientific, rational world have a natural standard of truth based on experience, sense information, testing, researching, comparison and contrast, deduction, and induction. We've been raised this way, our education has formed us this way, and that's how we come to conclusions. We must understand an idea and test it against standards before we accept it. And when there are contradictions, we probe further--there must be an error, an omission, deliberate or incomplete misinformation: for two truths cannot contradict each other and yet still be true.
Now, someone who is a fundamentalist--and it doesn't matter what kind of fundamentalist--has to switch to using a different standard of truth for religious matters. This religious standard of truth is based on whether something appears in a book or a doctrine, or whether it has been stated in a pulpit. If experience, sense information, testing, researching, comparison and contrast, deduction, and induction suggest something different, fundamentalists are supposed to block those ideas from their mind out of devotion to this religious truth standard. They call this faith. If there are contraditions, they must either ignore them or delicately step around them.
Yet these two standards of truth are mutually exclusive. They are polar opposites. Moreover, you can't switch standards of truth on and off like lightbulbs; and you can't do both at the same time. Deep down, you have only one standard of truth.
I think it's the superhuman effort to maintain two mutually exclusive standards of truth in the same brain that pushes fundamentalists to extreme action. They have to prove to themselves that they think according to the religious standard, when deep down, they think according to the natural standard. They have to distract themselves from the discordance in their own minds and from the natural-type truths that must be nudging them.
Perhaps this is why converts are often the most extreme of fundamentalists. They have to work harder to shove their natural standard of truth aside to make room for the religious standard of truth.
Quakers have that old sentence from Fox about knowing things experimentally. Fox's idea was (or appears to have been) that religious truth must be true by natural standards. Reading even revered books demands scholarship and academic discipline, the same as everything else. He seemed to have scorn for people who quoted scriptures to justify their beliefs (You say the apostle says this, and Paul says that, but what do you say?). I believe he was advocating against having a different (and lower) standard of truth for religion. For Fox, religious experience as a natural experience had to be the foundation of religious beliefs and doctrines.
A fundamentalist friend once told me that experience was the basis of fundamentalism. I replied that a religious experience doesn't come with a name tag. It comes simply as a sense of Something Out There or Something Within, or a Nudge or a Beckoning. It's vague and formless, even though it is compelling. You can't have an experience of a doctrine of a trinity, or a duty to wear a burqa.
If one believes that their is only one Being out there, then religious experience must be the same for all religions. (Unless one rationalizes that God speaks to my religion, and the Devil speaks to everyone else's!) So it's the differences that have to be maintained by the religious standard of truth.
Perhaps this is why the world's religions are polarizing into two camps: the moderates, who focus on the commonality of religious experience, and the fundamentalists, who focus on the differences of doctrine.
M. Scott Peck, the author of The Road Less Travelled, wrote another less well-known book called The Lie, about the nature of evil. Peck suggests that all evil proceeds from lying. It's an interesting thesis. Lying can take many forms--running away from truth, abusing truth, masking truth, deliberately distoring truth, omitting truth, and especially lying to oneself and self-delusion. Lies from government, powerful classes, middle-class complacency, myths, and outmoded ways are the spawning grounds of crime, poverty, injustice, violence, and of course, more lies.
One has to lie to oneself in order to hold two opposite standards of truth.