Right now (quite literally) I’m listening to Bill Moyers’ podcast interview with Anouar Majid and something Majid just said reminded me of a conversation I had with my friend Rabbi Michael Mellon earlier this year. I was describing how my life’s journey as an adult has been to take myself away from fundamentalism of any kind. Rabbi Mellon gently pointed out to me how that I remain a fundamentalist on a few core issues, specifically gay rights. He was correct, of course. If you define a fundamentalism as holding a belief so strongly any idea opposing it is wrong to the core, then yes, I am a fundamentalist when it comes to the issues of allowing gays to serve in the military and marriage equality.
In the Moyers interview, Professor Majid said, “I think all of us are fundamentalist in some sense.”
Later, he expounds on this idea:
Well, what is Wahhabism? Wahhabism is a particular religious ideology that is very orthodox and strict in its doctrines. It does not allow for deviation. It does not allow for transgression. Because all deviations are punished. If Wall Street is doing the same thing, one might give it the same definition. Because fundamentalism and orthodoxy are not necessarily all religions. They can be political. They can be economic. They can be cultural. And in fact one could say we all live with a certain amount of fundamentalism and orthodoxy. Because that’s what gives us identity. But we have to be sort of mindful and careful with those. That’s why I’m say– that’s why we need those conversations.
Majid’s book A Call for Heresy: Why Dissent is so Vital for Islam and America makes the case that the Islamic world and America are in decline because both socieities have silenced their creative voices. Dissent is not tolerated; radicals are condemned as heretics. Vitality requires a constant challenge to accepted norms.
What a concept! I hope it catches on but I’m afraid that the ever-expanding array of communications devices – the internet, podcasts, blogs, etc. – only cause us to seek out the ideas that we already hold. Heck, look at me – I’m listening to Bill Moyers. Do I want to listen to Ann Coulter? Okay, extreme example, I realize. But seriously, do we listen to people who disagree with us?