Why We Need Fundamentalists
"It is a psychological rule that the brighter the light, the darker the shadow..."
C. G. Jung
These days we hear a lot about Christian, Islamic, Jewish, Hindu, and Buddhist fundamentalisms. What these groups most often have in common is a radical and forceful return to the religious "fundaments" or foundational beliefs and practices of their various cultural traditions. One derisive comedian said a fundamentalist might be defined as "a person who hates fun, damns everyone else, and has lost his mentalreasoning abilities!" Many of us sympathize with this critique and have nothing but disdain for anything related to fundamentalism.
However, from a soul-making perspective, every "fundamentalism" is an archetypal rejoinder to a potentially dangerous personal and/or cultural pattern of consciousness. You see, fundamentalisms have not only dangerous aspects, but healthy aspects as well. They are always compensatory, archetypal responses to personal and cultural imbalances. Not understanding this psychological axiom keeps us from seeing the important insights embedded within a particular
fundamentalism. Fundamentalists act as modern sibyls proclaiming the loss of mystery while rigorously championing cosmic and psychological enchantment. In his bestselling book, The Soul's Code, James Hillman has praise for fundamentalism:
"Fundamentalism attempts, literally and dogmatically, to recover the invisible foundations of culture. Its strength lies in what is seeks; its menace is in how it proceeds..."
With his usual mercurial dexterity Hillman captures the light and shadow of fundamentalism in a single sentence. In 1948 theologian Nels Ferre--while recognizing the dangers of radical religionists--said every religious fundamentalism is also a:
"...defender of supernaturalism, has...a genuine heritage and profound truth to preserve.... We shall some day thank our fundamentalist friends for having held the main fortress while countless leaders went over to the foe of limited scientism and a shallow naturalism."
Hillman and Ferre both recognize a fundamentalist as a person who is not afraid to stick their finger in the eye of the messianic political sophists, the pretentious secular media and the reductionist academies. These annoying radicals rightly criticize modern culture for leaving no room for mystery. And of course the methods of the often pretentious and even murderous fundamentalists may be menacing, but their deeper archetypal mission is to restore the invisibles to their rightful places in a frenetic world reduced to statistical facts and socio-political ambiguities. One may disagree with their theologies, revelations and menacing methodologies while remaining prescient enough to let them remind us to take the imaginal realm seriously in a world reduced to anthropic scientism and materialist absurdities. They may literalize and dogmatize their myths, but at least they fight for the essential reality of mythic truth while many of us remain silent, or try to impress others by bloviating about esoteric metaphysics, or waxing scholarly about arcane mythic trivialities. Archetypal reality is fundamental to every thought, feeling, dream and action. If we lose these fundaments, our personal, relational and cultural lives will perish. In the words of Hillman: "The great task of a life-sustaining culture...is to keep the invisibles attached..."