“All our problems, all our disputes, all our disagreements can be resolved quickly to mutual satisfaction if we address the question.” Benazir Bhutto
A church confessional stands draped to protect it from the elements. A sanctuary is empty and unused. The Mary Queen of Peace Church in Habbaniya Cece lies vacant in a city which was once vibrant in its diversity and life. Today Christians are leaving the cities in Iraq and elsewhere due to fundamentalist violence despite living for generations in peace with their Muslim neighbors. However, not just Christians, but Muslims, Arabs and Kurds, Sunnis and Shiites all lived together for decades without friction in cities like Habbaniya Cece. Now it is no longer satisfactory to be an Iraqi, a Muslim, an Arab, a Kurd, Sunni or Shiite. One must choose the right label to coexist. Exits from ancestral homes are occurring not based on national origin or religion, but based on the prevailing view of the “correct” perspective of faith as enforced by coercion and power. See: Last Christians Ponder Leaving a Hometown in Iraq.
As tragic as this story is, it is symptomatic of the last gasps of a dying world view. As Harvey Cox proclaimed in The Future of Faith, “fundamentalism is dead” That is not to say that fundamentalism has been eradicated. Instead, when threatened, power fights back with an unequaled vengeance. The rise of terrorism born of fundamental belief is evidence of its death struggle. However, it cannot survive as a prevailing political force.
Habbaniya Cece demonstrates why this is true. When the circle of acceptance is drawn in ever decreasing size, eventually only I stand inside its permissive bounds. And I have doubts about even me. Absolute agreement on every “jot and tittle” is impossible. Our ability to comprehend absolute truth requires us to accommodate our differences and learn how to generate dialog about the things on which we disagree in the pursuit of more complete understanding. Fundamentalism make the faulty assumption that there is no room for diversity.
Once we accept that diversity is the nature of life and all living things, we are forced to discover how to accommodate and explore the differences. Doing so requires us to embrace and learn to appreciate the differences in the search for relationship among opposing thought.
Neuroscience is teaching us that the brain processes the conflict of disagreement by learning how to listen and seek understanding. Fundamentalism as a brain function operates at the level of fear (fight/flight/freeze) in the brain regions of the amygdala (autonomic) and hypothalamus (emotions) as unconscious “thought” processes. Higher level thinking which occurs at the frontal cortex of the brain can assimilate contrary ideas and create meaning from the tensions of opposing thought. The path to the frontal cortex requires discussion, dialog and respectful listening. Thinking people are not victims of their emotions and the reptilian responses to conflict. Physiologically, respectful conversation changes the thought processes of the brain and invokes frontal cortex thinking which is creative and prone to problem solving.
Disagreement is the first level of conflict which if not addressed can escalate through increasingly hostile responses to the point of violence. Fundamentalism permits no disagreement. Difference of opinion becomes an enemy which must be denied or destroyed. Failing to address disagreement is the path to increased conflict and ultimately the violent use of force to eliminate the potential for divergent thought.
In contrast, those who promote peace are proponents of dialog and discussion. Moving people out of fear and into executive level thinking is the work of conflict managers and peacemakers. Fundamentalists are threatened by conversation, sharing ideas and seeking agreement. That is why they cannot survive. They are victims of their own primitive thinking.
Martin Luther King, Mahatma Ghandi, Benazir Bhutto and countless others have given their lives in the pursuit of peaceful, thoughtful dialog. Others will follow. Although many will die in the pursuit of peaceful co-existence, the alternative to respectful consultation which seeks understanding stands no chance of survival. Fundamentalists of any persuasion, whether Christian, Hindu, Muslim or Jew, destroy life and their own prospects for living in the process. Fundamentalism is not sustainable.
Will we chose thoughtful dialog, or will we run everyone out of town with whom we disagree? The answer should be obvious.