Day 5 – Fear, Faith, Fundamentalism, and Doubt (part 2 of 2)

(This post is part of the 30 for 30 challenge)

Well, this post comes a day late.  Why?  Well, let’s just say that sometimes life gets in the way of one’s own creative pursuits, and we have to make time for those we love.  Now, back to the post at hand.


As I mentioned at the end of yesterday’s post, I heard something on the radio this past weekend that really got me thinking about the whole problem of fundamentalist certainty that is seemingly awash in our current political discourse.

The radio program is the Ted Talk Radio Hour, and the subject of the show was “Faith and Doubt”.

The part of the program that most intrigued me was given be author, and agnostic Jew, Lesley Hazelton.  A self prescribed “accidental theologian”, Leslie took it upon herself to research and write a book about the prophet Muhammad, titled “The First Muslim”.  In the five years she researched the project, she looked back to some of the earliest known biographies of Muhammed, and realized that there was one very key thing about him that modern conservative interpreters of the religion seem to assert.  Namely, that Muhammed never doubted what he experienced was real, let alone Divine.  Quite the contrary.  As Hazelton puts it:

In his own reported words, he was convinced that what had happened couldn’t have been real. At best, he thought, a hallucination – a trick of the mind…at worst, possession…and when he found himself still alive, his first impulse was to finish the job himself – to leap off the highest cliff and escape the terror of what he’d experienced by putting an end to all experience.”

In short, she says, “He came down from the mountain that night not overwhelmed with conviction, but by doubt.”

You may be wondering what this has to do with my previous post in regards to our current politics of fear running rampant not only in the U.S., but the Western Europe.

Just as with fundamentalist thinking in religion, which as argued by Ms Hazelton is the absence of faith, so to is fundamentalist political rhetoric  – rhetoric designed to stoke the fears of the populace –  absent of perspective that allows one to realize they do no have all the answers.  And, quite likely, that one is wrong about most assertions of the world.

In the context of faith, Hazelton says:

Doubt is essential to faith. Abolish all doubt, and what’s left is not faith, but absolute, heartless conviction. You’re certain that you possess the Truth — inevitably offered with an implied uppercase T — and this certainty quickly devolves into dogmatism and righteousness, by which I mean a demonstrative, overweening pride in being so very right, in short, the arrogance of fundamentalism.  

I read this quote and can quite easily extrapolate that sentiment onto the current political climate, most especially in that of the conservative candidates for U.S. President.  

An absence of doubt, and the inability to acknowledge one just might not have all the answers, is not only the height of arrogance, it is dangerous.   It places us in a very dangerous position globally when the one person potentially with their finger on “the button” is absolutely sure that all Syrian refugees are Islamic terrorists in disguise, and that most Mexican immigrants are criminals.  Could there be anything more nuanced and complex than people’s reasons for immigration? People like Donald Trump (and others who get less press) are currently speaking about these subjects in an irresponsible way.  The dangerous consequences of their rhetoric is currently bearing fruit in the form of increased incidents of violence against Muslims.  It also demonstrates their utter inability to recognize political nuance and their own fallibility.

We are currently living in a time of fear in the United States. Fear, as an emotion, creates highly irrational behavior in people.  When people are afraid, they look to the easiest and most seemingly certain answer possible to eradicate that fear.  Rational thinking goes out the window, and matters quickly devolve into an “us” versus “them” mentality.  Suddenly, in this environment, economic inequality is due to Mexican immigrants taking all the jobs, healthcare costs are high because of immigrants as well, and terrorism is something to be suspected of by anyone who looks foreign. Even though economic inequality and healthcare costs are complex, multi-faceted issues, and the majority of terrorist acts in the U.S. since 9/11 have been by people who are considered “right wing” and non-Muslim, the aforementioned rationales are easily accepted as having greater significance than they should.  When fear is the motivating force, all bets are off.

Some will read this and claim that I am excusing or downplaying the recent actions of terrorist groups claiming to be inspired by Islam.  Absolutely not.  Am I claiming that their actions, or the sudden frequency of them are not a serious problem for the governments of the world to contend with? By no means.  I am simply pointing out the fact that there are a preponderance of political leaders choosing to focus on this issue unfairly, presenting it in a way that is loose with the facts, thus creating levels of fear and hysteria that are unwarranted.    All of this ignoring the fact that we as a country have more serious (albeit less politically lucrative) problems here at home besides terrorist attacks from so called “Muslims”. But, in our climate of fear, rational thought does not matter all that much.

In short, our political leaders, our media, and we as a collective body, could very much use a heaping dose of self-induced doubt right about now.  Everyone needs to take a step back, breath, and recognize that we are humans – a group that is almost always wrong about everything at one point or another.



Author: Zack Hayhurst

New Yorker enthusiast, cartoon caption contest contender, book hoarder, cultural omnivore, writer

2 thoughts on “Day 5 – Fear, Faith, Fundamentalism, and Doubt (part 2 of 2)”

  1. Luther avocated and encouraged the burning of Jews without mercy.
    He was so full of conviction he had no mercy for them.
    Common humanity must reign.supreme above all else.
    Our faults, our failures, our education, our training, our politics, and all we are convinced of is worthless unless we are merciful.


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