Om Sweet Om

Om Sweet Om


The Fundamentals

posted by Vineet Chander

I fashion myself a pretty tolerant and accepting guy, but there is one “religion,” I must admit, that I simply can’t stand.  Its doctrines and practices make my blood boil. Its champions bug me, its devotees test my patience.

So its not surprising that a recent attempt to dialogue with one of them left me feeling like I’d just spent time acquainting my head
with a brick wall.

Last week, my program at the university hosted a book reading,
featuring guest speaker Radhanath Swami, reading from his autobiography
The Journey Home.  On the afternoon of the event, while preparing the room, I ran into a first-year student I’d met a few times before.

“Wow, what’s going on here?” he asked, noticing the set-up of the room and me running around making last minute adjustments to it.

“We’re
having this great event this evening,” I said, handing him one of the
last few fliers advertising the program. “Please try to make it if you
can.”

His eyes scanned the flier, hit the picture of our guest speaker in his saffron robes, and then rolled up. “Oh yes, this event.  I’m fundamentally opposed to this event.”

Did you just say what I think you just said?


“You’re…?”

“Fundamentally
opposed to this event. So for the sake of my morality and principles,
I’m not going to attend.” I could see him tensing up, perhaps expecting
a fight.

“Well, you don’t have to attend, of course,” I said, trying to simultaneously process what he just said and not alienate him.
“But, just out of curiosity, you’ve never heard him speak before,
right?”

“Right.”

“And you haven’t read his book?”

“No, no I haven’t.”

“And yet you know, for a fact, that you are opposed to it? Fundamentally?”

He
smiled uneasily and slowly mouthed his next words as if I were a
semi-retarded child who needed it explained to me in the simplest of
terms. “Look, I’m from India. I know what these Swamis are all about.
Trust me, I know all about it. So, save your breath– you’re not going
to change my mind.”

Ouch. “I wouldn’t dream of it. But I just wonder—”

“Hey,
listen, I’ve gotta go.” He nervously eyed the door, ready to bolt
should I try to brainwash him or stage an exorcism. “See you later.”

With that he was off — yet another card-carrying member of this world
religion with thousands (perhaps millions?) of adherents.

Sure, they may come in all shapes, sizes, colors, and
flavors. But whether its the Christian preacher condemning us to eternity in hell for not recognizing his way as the only way, or the haughty atheist who denies God’s existence with just as much self-righteousness and dogmatism, the real faith being practiced here is goes by a simple name.

Fundamentalism.

I know that there isn’t one neat and tidy definition of “fundamentalism“, but for me some of the hallmarks of this religion are:

  • Stubbornly
    maintaining the exclusive validity of one’s set of beliefs over the
    beliefs of others, especially when confronted with a differing
    viewpoint;
  • Consistently favoring dogma over dialogue or discussion;
  • An
    inability to give another the benefit of the doubt or open oneself to
    the possibility that one might have something yet to learn from the
    other.

My student friend unwittingly admitted as much when he told me, proudly defiant and rolling up his sleeves for a fight, that he was fundamentally opposed to attending the lecture.

Of course, nobody is arguing that he doesn’t have a every right to choose which events to attend and which not to attend. But consider his reasoning for a moment. What
if the guest speaker had been a mathematician or a scientist? Would
anyone talk about being “fundamentally opposed” to the event? Could a
student of one of the most prestigious universities in the world expect
to be taken seriously while saying stuff like I’m fundamentally opposed to hearing from a physicist or I already know what all these geologists are all about, and you’re not going to change my mind?

I’m aware of the irony here: the student in question would probably object to being labeled a fundamentalist, and may even argue that such a label would be better placed on religious leaders like our guest speaker (or, for that matter, on me). And I know that in labeling him a fundamentalist, I run the risk of being one myself.

So I think I’ll email him and invite him to a cup of tea. Who knows… we might actually learn something about one another. It may be a long shot, but I’m not fundamentally opposed to trying.
 



  • oldfuzz

    Ironically fundamentalism may be a misnomer. Granted it is in wide usage as meaning “the interpretation of every word in the sacred texts as literal truth”, but in the strictest sense it means returning to fundamentals.
    Fundamentalism is required in most fields, especially science and technology; however, in religion it leads to distortions of “truth” because the facts are elusive.
    For instance, in genesis we are treated to a creation story which describes a flat earth with a dome of the sky; however, fundamentalists do not proclaim this to be true. In the New Testament, Jesus is born of a virgin, but only in Matthew and Luke, not in Mark and Paul’s letters. Why? Fundamentalists ignore this.
    Some suggest it was because the claim was not made until Christians were pushed out of Judaism after the fall of the Temple (about 68 CE). Both Mark and Paul’s writings predate this. It is also suggested by some that the claim is made to match the claim that Caesar was also born of a virgin.
    Fundamentalists adhere strictly to a literal reading of the scripture except when it is problematic. There’s a word for that…

  • Anan E. Maus

    Swami Vivekananda said, “In East Bengal, the avatars grow like mushrooms.”
    It was true 100 years ago and it is still true today, that there are, indeed, many false teachers.
    It is a sad truth, but a sad truth nevertheless.
    Sometimes judgment is a rash decision, made without reflection. Sometimes it is not. Sometimes it is simply a well reasoned decision.
    While it would be nice to think that every teacher is well intended, it is, unfortunately not the case. So, in that sense, judging some teachers may simply be exercising our own spiritual wisdom.
    It is not so very very hard to distinguish the false teachers from the real ones. People who would deceive others as being a representative of God, sin at such a great level, that it is rare such a fraud can go through life without committing overtly criminal acts. Most fraudulent teachers evade taxes and violate all kinds of laws. And not just moral and ethical ones, but actual criminals ones.
    As Christ said about false prophets, we know them by their actions. Saints are saintly. They are honest, humble, pure, caring and have every expression of divinity. Frauds are arrogant, sneaky, vindictive, and generally express a wide range of negative qualities.
    Namaste

  • Dennis

    All of which again points out that the main problem with religions and “true believers” is that they actually take it seriously! Amazing!

  • clearlight

    until we go Beyond them, differences won’t dissolve . .
    it is only in Union with Who/What We Truely Are that the silliness ceases . .
    maybe do something with the one we think we oppose – or who we think opposes us – that does not involve a discussion of differences . .
    share a meal, a cup of tea, some laughter . .
    Opposition is dangerous to Immortality, a sage once said . .
    Rest where opposition is Impossible & let the gunas act among the gunas . .
    they will anyway ;)

  • http://blog.beliefnet.com/omsweetom/2009/12/the-fundamentals.html#post Matthew

    Great article (blog). I don’t usually read too many blogs, as there are so many on so many too many topics that I would never get anything done. Nonetheless, I am glad I latched onto yours. I really like your straight-forward sensibility and touch of humor.

  • Jeff Grunden

    Don’t bother. You’ve already got him nailed. Just smile and try to be the best person you can.

  • Abambagibus

    According to Sri Chander, weaver of this web, as he wove against the fabric of fundamentalism, “Sure, they may come in all shapes, sizes, colors, and flavors. But whether it’s the Christian preacher condemning us to eternity in hell for not recognizing his way as the only way, or the haughty atheist who denies God’s existence with just as much self-righteousness and dogmatism, the real faith being practiced here is goes by a simple name.”
    That he, a representative, apparently, of significant Hindu thought, has singled out the sinfulness of Christians and of Atheists gives me pause. From him one might infer that Hindus, too, love to criticize the Christians whose willingness to care for those who hate them makes them easier to loathe, and safer too, than those he speaks no ill of, or would dare to, …for the sake of staying healthy and secure. Yet securely I proclaim that some atheists whom I’ve known and have befriended are as compassionate as he, or maybe more so, … and I, a simple Christian devoid of the complexity of those who would impugn me for my folly. To paint the particular with the universal bristles of an opinionated brush is an admirable art, especially by an artist rife with reason.

  • artemisillusion

    I needed to hear this today. Thank you for the reminder!

  • http://barkingunicorn.com The Barking Unicorn, Denver, CO

    “I know enough to know I don’t need to know any more” are a person’s dying words. ~ The Barking Unicorn

  • Bart Roderick

    I’m a Christian, but I’m posting this article on my Facebook page if I can. This is such a great message . . . I wish the faction of my religion that constantly promote division, hatred and negativity would all take this article to heart.

  • Srini

    Give the man a chance and he begins to preach
    Not caring who is in the audience and what they think of him
    He just rants and rants, on and on, thinking his wisdom is changing the world
    And if you admire him a little, his ego just hits the roof and he thinks he is a guru
    Not just that priest in church or the mullah in mosque
    Its true for most of us, me included, every time, everywhere
    To control our tongue? It flutters like a fish in the net
    While we ourselves can’t control it, we preach upon others to do so
    Ah! Give the man a microphone and see when he yields it to others
    Put him on a stage and he thinks he is the center of the world
    Put him in audience and ask him to listen and pay attention,
    And off he goes elsewhere to find some more naive listening souls
    Ah! I love the souls that are nice and gentle, sweet and caring
    They are attractive even in silence, why then should we be blaring?

  • http://Fundamentalist Satish J

    I dont understand why Abambagibus is so upset. The blog rightly identifies the 3 qualities that qualifies a fundamentalist.
    The prselytizers surely fit that bill.
    They go about preaching on the belief that their belif is more moral than others.
    Sadly they target only the vulerable sections on the society – sadly they are responsible for driving a schism between the new converts and those that do not.
    When will they ever learn – they are just as bad as Islamic fundamentalists

  • Abambagibus

    Someone seems to have the point of my petty insertion [vs]. I was simply employing the perceptible to point to the imperceptible. I was drawing an inferential line from what the overwhelmingly many love to see and hate to what they fear to see for the sake of the love of themselves. But, since the imperceptible is non-deducible, much less perceptible, to the adherents of sensualism in its philosophic sense, it really doesn’t matter, at least to them. I would emulate, if I could, the proverbial gadfly of two and half millennia ago. It is only the obvious that the throng is concerned with. And substance succumbs to form once again. Yet there are the few.

  • Lane

    Some of the comments are a little obscure. I prefer direct speech myself. The seemingly “nice and gentle souls” are often sharpening their knives as they are suppressing emotions they cannot express.
    I was a fundamental Christian and I can understand the dogmatic stand. Everyone must live their own life and some people don’t get past the dogma in this life. That’s ok.
    However, I love what Vineet wrote. Our beliefs are a great hindrance to us as we evolve spiritually. We could examine where our religious, political and philosophical beliefs originated. Most things, such as how we peg out the washing to our daily diet, are learned from others and not intuitive in any way.
    Once we tap into what we feel and what we ‘know’ in a deep intuitive sense then we can begin to live. Thank you Vineet for reminding me again to examine my thoughts and beliefs, whatever they may be at this time.

  • http://www.r4-ds.es/ dsi r4

    How does a person bring life back into balance when the imbalance becomes intolerable? Always by going back to the fundamentals, the five Ps. The first step takes honest self reflection, re-examining satisfaction with each of life’s roles and responsibilities.

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