FAITH AND FOOLISHNESS
Ruminations on "Fundamentalism"
The following is a discussion of the role of faith in human affairs, the role of scripture in the expression of faith, the relationship between faith and human organization, and the phenomenon popularly referred to as "fundamentalism."
In my preparatory thinking for this piece I found myself developing arguments specifically pointed at certain aspects of Islam, which, if interpreted "literally," encourage military evangelism. In examining the situation further, I found myself reminded that no organized faith, when placed in the context of organized militaries, has ever prevented those militaries from doing what they were designed to do. Not even Buddhism. The problem of people using violence to advance their faith is not confined to any particular formulation of faith. It has been a general human practice that people in possession of armed power have used appeals to the faith of their people to accomplish their particular piece of mayhem. It is this aspect of human behavior that I hope to present, with, hopefully, as is my constant wont, suggestions for ameliorative action.
That hope for a universalist approach having been stated, I find that there are certain aspects of what I will call the "Three Quarrelsome Monotheisms" that make them, in historical terms, worse when it comes to the production of missionary militarism than other formulations of faith. I find further, after what has turned into several decades of observation and some formal study, that the kid brother of these three formulations is in many ways the most stiff-necked.
It is my thesis that a certain particular tenet of each of the Three Quarrelsome Monotheisms makes it impossible for them to evolve, that this tenet promotes their use of war in their evangelical activities, and that it is a fundamental misreading or tampering of the scriptures that each faith quotes to justify its existence and claim to supremacy in the faith olympics. If you are a person who believes in the inerrancy of your particular scripture what follows will be, in religious (not sexual) terms, x-rated.
I will now take a look at one of these faiths, referring to the others as applicable. In the current circumstances I think it's reasonable to do this examination using the example of the kid brother - Islam.
I formally studied Arabic and Farsi in college, took the mid-eastern history courses, read most of the Qur'an, some of it in Arabic, have read all kinds of Islamic literature, including law books, prescriptions of daily life, lives of the saints, etc. This to explain that I am not writing from a position of total ignorance. This is what I've found.
Islam has a revealed scripture - the Qur'an. It came out of the Prophet Muhammad's mouth piece by piece over a number of years, being his memory of words spoken to him by the archangel Gabriel the night before. It came out as exquisitly rhymed poetry, considered the best poetry ever made in Arabic. Muhammad was not a poet, he composed nothing on his own. That this amazing poetry should come out of his mouth was considered a miracle by his contemporaries.
Muhammad was illiterate, which condition was not considered a detraction in that place and time. A lot of the Qur'an did not get written down immediately, and different versions eventually were recorded. The definitive collection was not prepared until several decades after Muhammad's death. At the time there were accusations that some of the verses had been tampered with for political and personal reasons. Blood was shed over this.
Beyond the Qur'an, which is considered divine, the collected sayings (Hadith) of Muhammad are considered useful as guides to life and the formulation of Islamic law. Again, the sayings were mostly not written down at the time, so numerous versions were extant. They were collected through a couple of centuries in the format of "this person says that that person told him that his grandfather knew one of the Prophet's companions who told him that the Prophet had said..." The sayings were ranked according to reliability, and there were arguments about them. At a certain point they stopped gathering them and declared the collection closed. This was argued about as well, but the Hadith business has been over and settled now for more than 1000 years.
Beyond Hadith there are commentaries by great scholars. These too were formalized and the "grand commentary" enterprise shut down around 1000 years ago. From the commentaries were made corpi of laws that serve as the basis of the several branches of Islamic law that are generally accepted as valid. The law formulation process has also been closed for many centuries.
From a contemporary perspective, Islam is sort of set in stone as far as bases, interpretation, and expression. Anything that does not fit into one of the "authorized" traditions is fair game for being labeled as heresy.
A similar situation pertains with the scriptures of the "older brothers." The Old Testament has not been added to for 1500 years or so, and was the product of an editing committee. The New Testament was edited, fought over, etc. and mostly settled in the 4th century AD. That's the Greek version, or rather one of several, and of course the Catholic New Testament is different from the Protestant. The English "King James" version, regarded by some Protestant formulations as inerrant, was prepared under political patronage from a selected Greek version. All the exegeses and interpretations of those faiths proceed from these sandcastle scriptures, descended to us after passing through the sieve of politically organized committees.
I find it strange that the last 2400 years of Jewish history do not have their chapters in an "Old Testament Annex." Surely the 20th century deserves one, don't you think?
Among the various "accepted" interpretations of the basic Islamic material there are some universal agreements:
1. Muhammad is the last of the line of prophets that began with Adam, and continued through Noah, Abraham, Ishmael and Jesus. These older prophets are considered to be Muslims. It is considered that their followers interpreted their teachings erroneously, and that from their errors arose the faiths of Judaism and Christianity. Islam is the "correct" and original version.
2. There will be no further prophets or other revelations.
Christians as well tend to believe that their religion is the highest and end point of all faith. Jews merely have it on good authority that they are "the Chosen People," which comes to the same thing.
Certain formulations follow from those basic tenets of Islam. One is the concept of "toleration." Muslims are called upon to allow Christians and Jews to keep their faith and customs. The god of the "older brothers" is recognized as the same god as the god of Islam. The scriptures and customs of Jews and Christians may be imperfect, but they are from the same source, so they are to be "tolerated."
Another is the notion that any religious formulation that arises after the perfection of Islam is heretical. After all, here's the perfect religion, something comes after, there's no tradition to be tolerated, it has to be satanic by definition.
The penalty for heresy is death.
Yet another formulation is the notion that Islam, as the final and perfect religion, is destined to spread throughout the world, then to become the dominant religion in the world, then to become the only religion in the world. This is not written in any of the core texts, but has been taken to logically proceed from previously accepted tenets mentioned above.
It is not mentioned in the core texts that Islam is required to be actively spread, by force or otherwise. But it is explicitly stated that it must be defended. Not only it (the faith), but the practitioners as well must be defended. Warfare between Muslims is explicitly forbidden. Technically only warfare against unbelievers is legal, and only in defense.
However, Muhammad himself made war against his non-Muslim neighbors. All of his military exploits are deemed to have been defensive, even the massacre of all the males of a certain tribe (who made a treaty with him then broke it, and who happened to have been Jewish). From the time of his death until the day you read this war by Muslims against both non-Muslims and other Muslims has been a normal part of human life. Some of this intra-Muslim violence has been justified by resort to religious formulations (jihad, etc.), but more has been no more than power politics, warlordism, vendetta, etc., the normal crude reasons. Peace is the Islamic ideal. War is the reality.
And, to be fair, the older brother religions made war when they could. The Old Testament is full of wars made by the Hebrews on their neighbors. They took populated Canaan by force, etc. The Christians got violent as soon as they had a territorial government (Rome). Islam had a government from the start, so its tendency to violence is only a matter of degree. All of the Three Quarrelsome Monotheisms have within their core a tendency toward militancy, and violence seems to be something that (some) humans have always liked to do.
A further examination of the Islamic concept of "toleration" is in order in light of the fact that Islam has always had a government and an army. Islam is deemed by itself to be the perfection of faith. By extension Islamic standards of government and law are deemed to be perfect as well, even though they are derived functions rather than core tenets. Therefore the tolerated faiths and their practices are imperfect, inferior, and must not be permitted in any way to take precedence over Islam, or the practices of Muslims. So in the Islamic state Christians and Jews were forbidden to ride camels because that would place them above Muslims, could not engage in certain trades, and were subject to other petty restrictions designed to enforce and emphasize their subordinate status. They also had to pay a special tax for protection.
After Muhammad died a number of tribes left the main body of Muslims. Some of them produced their own "prophets." The main body of Muslims decided that these tribes were "apostates" and that it was legal to make war on them to bring them back to the faith. When the apostates were captured or defeated they were given a choice: Islam or death. Death has become the standard penalty for apostasy.
Leaving the faith is apostasy. Allowing another Muslim to leave the faith is also apostasy. The penalty is death. From the prohibition of apostasy come the marriage and parenthood laws. A Muslim male may marry non-Muslim females, who knows, maybe they'll convert. But a Muslim female may not marry a non-Muslim male lest she leave the faith. And the children must be brought up Muslim. Not to do so would produce an apostate, since they were born Muslim.
Who has left the faith is a matter for the Islamic courts. I know a number of people, born Muslim, who would be subject to the penalty for apostasy if they went to an Islamic law country because they have abandoned Islamic practices, are raising their children as other than Muslims, etc. The Baha'i religion, having arisen from the preachings of a former Muslim, is a heresy in Islamic law, and its practitioners are apostates. That the government of Iran does not immediately kill every last one of them is considered an act of forebearance by that government.
Muslims are enemies of "idolatry." Before Islam many Arabs worshipped in front of statues of dieties. When Muhammad reentered Mecca he went to the Ka'aba and destroyed every object of veneration except the "Black Stone." Iconoclasty has been a theme of Islam ever since. When the wars of conquest began about 20 years after Muhammad's death the Muslims found Christians and Jews in the conquered territories but also the miscellaneous old believers, worshippers of Serapis and Athena and Zeus and so forth. These "idolators" were not "tolerated." They were given the choice of Islam or death. "Toleration" was extended to Zoroastrianism when the Muslims conquered Iran, but when they got to Afghanistan and found Hindus and Buddhists with all their statues they categorized them as "idolators" and gave them the join-or-die choice.
When they got to India they found so many "idolators" that killing them all was a logistical impossibility. Policy vacillated during the 1000 years of Muslim control of northern India, murdering fanatics alternating with pragmatists. The fear of retribution by Hindus for 1000 years of religious murder on the part of Indian Muslims was a prime motive for the creation of Pakistan.
Throughout history there have been gentle, compassionate, ecumenical Muslims. Some nations were controlled by them at certain times. But for all of Islamic history the orthodoxy has tended toward the more exclusivist and supremacist expression. The "nice" guys would frequently be harassed by the orthodox, occasionally killed. Narrow orthodoxy has been, in most places and most times, the dominant strain of Islamic thought and behavior, the center of the bell curve as it were. Perhaps the curve has been displaced a bit toward the militant side most of the time; reformist (i.e. conservative) jihads have been fairly common occurrences in Islamic history, with concomitant repression of the ecumenicists.
I also heard from a guy who obtained conscientious objector status on the basis that his religion, Islam, forbade him to participate in any war that involved the death of human beings. This to show the wide range of possible interpretations of the basic material.
Christian governments have not killed to propagate the faith for a "long time," at least 50 years (or is it 5? Shall we call the Bosnian war a religious conflict?) Jews haven't been in the habit since about 500 BC, except for the medieval Khazar kingdom, created by nomadic Turkish warriors who had converted.
(I have a basic problem with a basic tenet of all of the Three Quarrelsome Monotheisms. This is their insistence that their formulation is the final one. This cannot possibly be true. It would be an insulting limitation of God's power were it to be true. Revelation cannot have ended in 500 BC, nor could Jesus have been the end of all revelation, nor could Muhammad have been the last prophet. Revelation has to be ongoing. What else is history for? The recorders must have heard it wrong. The texts must have been tampered with. And anyway, to paraphrase Gandhi, the scriptures are just words, it's what's in the heart that counts.)
It seems that every "religion" without exception calls its adherents away from some aspects of the culture in which it finds itself and into a behavioral regime that it deems to be better for the practitioner in terms of some results that are deemed to be worth seeking. The practices always include abstention from certain behaviors and practice of others. The rewards are certain states of mind and/or realization of certain social situations and/or enhanced hope of improved position for the "soul" (or similar formulation) after the death of the body.
Concomitant with the exhortation to engage in these various practices is an excoriation of non-practitioners. The non-practitioners may be ignorant, or damned, or evil. In any event, they are different from the practitioners, and are to be avoided when possible except as prospects for conversion.
I think every human organization is built around the concept of hierarchically ranked nested circles. The deeper the circle the greater the information content and power. That's the concept at least. The center consists of a leadership group, occasionally a committee, more often a strongman (rarely a strongwoman) and his buddies, most often an anonymous string puller putting a puppet leader through its paces and his buddies. This inner group will establish doctrine and ideology, set policy, make executive decisions, delegate responsibility, etc. Immediately outside of the inner group will be an administrative sector of greater or lesser complexity. The function of the administrative sector is to organize the implementation of the policies set by the inner group. Beyond the administrators are the implementors, soldiers if you will, whose job is to actually perform the actions by which the policies are expressed. And finally there are the people outside the organization upon whom the policies are wrought.
The psychology of the people inhabiting the various levels is different. The people outside of the organization, in the outer darkness as it were, do not even know what the terms of discussion might be, perhaps even what the words mean. "Power," for example will mean one thing to a physicist and another to a Pentacostal evangelist. The "outies" need to have things explained to them again and again, like a child being taught how to tie shoes. Hopefully, eventually they will understand the terms, try out the stuff, see if it works (if of course, they are not to subjects for conquest and domination). To the insiders the outsiders are like babies, or perhaps trainable animals, or occasionally, dangerous wild animals.
The "soldiers" ideally should possess the attribute of blind love and obedience to their superiors so that they should flawlessly carry out their missions. In the absence of love fear will be an acceptable substitute. All sorts of methods have been employed to produce useful "instruments," hard on the outside and soft on the inside. Most of them work on some people and not on others. Some subjects will be trainable under a wide range of regimens, others will be untrainable under any circumstance. It is considered ideal for "soldiers" to have limited "intelligence," both in terms of brain power and factual knowledge. They should not feel the need to question the way things are, what they are doing, why, etc. It is for these people that "fundamentalist" approaches to life are devised. Everything is simple questions, the answers are right there in the book. Nothing else matters. For them to think about things would diminish their effectiveness.
Administrators are string pullers by definition. They cannot help experiencing a certain degree of cynicism in their work, because they see some of the psychological games necessary to make the organization function. They are recruited into the administrative sector either from the soldier pool or from outside. Their attributes include enhanced intelligence in both the senses mentioned above. Ideological committment is less necessary than in soldiers and will typically decrease in inverse proportion to increased responsibility. Blind committment and belief actually becomes a detraction at the upper executive levels, because the job at that level is almost exclusively promotion of the wellbeing and mission of the organization. It is helpful though for the administrators to have a basic belief in the goals and methods of the organization. Administrators will naturally get unhappy with their situation, but it is preferable for them to express their anxiety in an ongoing quest for improved efficiency rather than in questioning the basic principles of the organization for which they work. Administrators should "believe," but their belief should be an "adult," "eyes open" kind of belief, as opposed to the "childlike," "eyes shut" belief of the soldiers.
Members of the inner group formulate and administer the belief system of the organization itself, and therefore cannot help being cynical, because they see the things that tie the ideology together. They cannot help knowing that many of the tenets they are propagating are arbitrary, and because of this they will often welcome scriptural authority, which answers the question "why?" with "God said so, look, here it is in black and white." (In non-religious contexts such as business enterprises the scriptural authority is self-referencing, typified by the phrase "It's in the manual, nothing I can do about it.")
Some inner group people sincerely believe what they say, others are playing power games, but it doesn't matter, What does matter is that the inner group people possess either the quality of superlative effectiveness or personal relation with the people who do.
The problem with hierachical organization of intelligence is that the inner circle has a constant tendency to monopolize what it considers to be highly ranked information. Since it ranks all the data that come in it will inevitably miss important stuff since it is only looking for the stuff it knows is important, based on past experience, which by definition can only cover contingencies already experienced. This resistance to important data up the line is experienced by organizational grunts all the time, who see things going wrong at the operational level, send word upstairs, and either nothing happens or an order comes down that makes things worse.
Concomitant with limits on the value of intelligence is the lack of feedback at the top. Since the outer sectors are shut out of the decision making process and have crucial information withheld the inner group trains itself to trust only itself. The psychological mechanism goes: "we have the inside scoop, therefore what we don't have isn't trustworthy." No matter how much the insiders may depend on their agents, they will always feel at some level that they know better, therefore they are limited. As time goes on and they continue to be successful the insiders will tend to believe themselves more and more. They may come to think of themselves as infallible, divinely inspired, etc., and are thus set up for an overreach. Such organizations and their leaders come to think of themselves as uniquely placed in the universe. Only they can do what is necessary. Now or never. The enemy is at the gates. From there it is one step to the doctrine that the end justifies the means. History is littered with the wreckage of such organizations.
At the same time as this fever or fervor is being propagated a counterpoint is being played out by the organizational cynicism described above. The leaders find themselves in a sort of intellectual manic-depressive cycle in which extreme piety is accompanied by some sort of excess functioning as an emotional safety valve, these leaders being just humans after all. The usual outlets are either sensory, often sexual, or sadistic, the latter resulting eventually in lots of corpses.
Many discussions of so-called "cults" describe the various benefits that are obtained by practitioner/members that induce them to remain within the fold, acting strangely according to "norms of society," and occasionally making great personal sacrifice up to and including the ultimate in furtherance of the goals of their faction. It is generally considered that no one ever does anything without expecting some "payment," and I find that in general I have to agree. Whether it's money or peace of mind every living thing does what it does in the expectation of some result deemed positive by the organism.
In all religious contexts the major promised rewards are intangible while the reliably delivered rewards are all very tangible.
The intangible rewards lie in two categories:
1. an "enhanced" state of mind involving some transcendence beyond the normal responses of conditioned organisms to their everyday environment
2. "salvation," usually defined as good placement of the "soul" in the "next world" after the death of the body (or, for the reincarnation crowd, improved situation in the next rebirth).
I will not discuss the "salvation" reward, since it is entirely a matter of faith. All stories of people returning from the "other side" are anecdotal or apocryphal. No testable method has ever been proposed to verify the hypothesis that the "soul" survives the death of the body, or that it "goes" "someplace," or that that "place" will vary depending on one's moral quotient when in a body. I, a thinking human, have my own opinions of the situation, some of which may bear some resemblance to some aspects of some scriptures. Matter of faith, not knowledge. Nothing to talk about. I certainly don't make any claim to being "correct" in regard to the "soul," heaven-hell, reincarnation, etc. None of this supernal stuff is provable except by reference an "inerrant" scripture, which inerrancy is a matter of faith. Closed loop. Nothing to talk about. Take it or leave it.
The "enhanced" states, I can personally attest, are real.
Subtle, yes. Easy to attain, some yes, others no. Easy to pretend
you have attained them, sometimes. Satisfying - very. They
-a good-feeling state of varied depth. The lighter levels can be reliably produced by simple breathing exercises. In most instances the exercises are set in the context of a very simple prayer repeated aloud thousands of times. Breath is controlled and the thinking function preoccupied. When the thinking function is preoccupied and unable to dwell on its habitual worries for some certain number of minutes a degree of physical relaxation occurs, interpreted by the feeling function of the mind as "feeling good." One can take this feeling good function way far. It can be better than anything you've ever felt before. Very impressive.
-the ability to think two things at once, or to think one thing and do another. A typical first step in developing this is to do the basic prayer (or whatever) enough times that it goes on "automatically." One "hears" the prayer in one's "mind" rather than actively saying it. Maybe one hears it in one's dreams. It continues all day while one is performing one's ordinary activities. Later on, if one's program encourages it, one can separate the "dual thought" ability from the prayer on which it was built and use it in other contexts: doing one thing and thinking another. This is not to say that everyone does not do this all the time, but things done with conscious intent have different causes and results than those done without consciousness. The ability to deploy this function gives one a feeling of being "in control," observably more so than the other people one is surrounded by. The feeling of being in control is very satisfying, and the feeling of being more competent than everyone else is very satisfying as well.
-enhanced states of consciousness and awareness progress and deepen in the direction of the "paranormal" and the "unexplained." Such things actually do occur and are recorded in the following categories: unexplained remission of disease, unexplainable short-term abnormally superior performance, knowledge at a distance, ability to live without food or sleep for unusually long periods, and personally beneficial unlikely outcome. Such results are never repeatable. There are also specialty trainings that can produce an abnormal degree of resistance to burning and electric shock, and the ability to produce directed electrical current and even fire without the use of tools. The following categories are NOT reliably recorded: levitation, reanimation of the truly dead, bilocation.
The tangible benefits provided by "cults" are psychological and social. The social supports supplied by a community of like-minded people are obvious and measurable. Churches take care of their members. The emotional satisfaction derived from both the giving and the getting are obvious and commonplace. The feelings of contentment derived from being in the company of people whose opinions jibe with one's own are very pleasant and equally commonplace. Opposite of stressful. Such psychosocial mechanisms are present in the most mainstream of churches as well as in the most extreme of sects.
There is also the very common feeling of superiority that comes with the belief that one's own opinion is correct, and the opinion of someone else is wrong. It is a very pleasant feeling, is it not?
The enhanced states are pleasant and/or useful. The psychosocial benefits of the extension of "family values" to the expanded "family" of one's church are real, laudable, fun, useful.
Problems arise when the machinery of the production of these results is embedded in an arbitrary scriptural structure and overseen by a typically human "inner circle" type hierarchical organization. Invariably (and I include Buddhism), the core scripture is only tangentially related to the actual practice of the group that venerates it. Invariably the imposition of hierarchical control modifies the function to the group to provide for the successful continuation of the group and its ruling structure. In extreme cases the protection and exaltation of the charismatic "leader" becomes a separate and sometimes leading goal. Unfortunately, extreme cases are common as weeds.
The more time I spend with this article the more I am struck by the resemblance of my unique subject ("fundamentalism") to normal life. We are all upset these days with the turd currently on our dinner plate - religious absolutism, specifically a certain flavor of absolutism of a particular religion to which most potential readers of this piece do not adhere. 20 years ago the attention of such potential readers was occupied by a political absolutism (Marxism-Leninism). Look everywhere down to the level of the sole proprietorship with a single employee and there is that attempt to recreate and enforce by threat of sanction the (relatively) absolute authority of the boss, abetted by the craven acquiescence of the under-person, who needs something that the boss can (or claims to be able to) provide. It is only a matter of degree.
The thing that is provided is security. The over-person offers to shield the under-person from the naked force of apparently impersonal fate. In many or most religious formulations fate is given a personal face that is called "God." It would seem that the personalization is assigned for the sole purpose of being able to propitiate it and beg it for favors and mercy, just as one does with a boss. The rules that follow from the organization of a particular personalization of fate vary in their particulars, but always contain the requirement of obedience to higher authority. Even movements built around the concept of resistance to currently constituted authority have the same structure of leaders and followers, and take steps to institutionalize that structure and impose it on outer or "lay" populations when or if they acquire broad social power.
I find myself becoming more and more cynical as I examine this above-below relationship. The rules requiring faith and unquestioning obedience evidently proceed from the indubitable facts that over-people cannot infallibly protect the under-people in their charge and that prayers are not always answered. When the ordained insurance system fails the explanation of "God's will" is invoked. Whatever happens is for the best, or if the magnitude of disaster is too great then it is someone else's fault: the devil or the devil's agents.
The reality of the situation is of course that things happen as they happen and that social organisms like dogs and humans organize themselves in hierarchies. Solitary organisms do not respond to their environment by organizing in hierarchies. I do not believe that a cause and effect relationship exists between the environment and the possibility of social organization. I think it is a genetically induced tendency, socially reinforced, with no moral or other "higher" component.
In all hierarchical relationships the limiting factors on the power of the above-person are the tangible reality that that person cannot provide unlimited protection and the intangibles of compunction and humility in that over-person. The thralldom of the under-person is limited by that person's observational ability and self-respect.
Hierarchy is an inherently unstable structure. It's natural form is visible in the actions of baboons and wolves. Top animals maintain their status by physical power until their physical strength fails, at which point they are replaced. Among humans doctrines supporting hierarchy are designed to preserve the power of the top individuals past the time when their physical strength fails or in situations in which personal physical strength is irrelevant. Human history has been a process of deemphasizing physical strength in favor of the organizational strength of masses of people. Today personal physical strength is utterly irrelevant to the exercise of power among people. Social position is everything.
The source of social power comes from the ability to allocate resources to people who do not have them. Resources are acquired by luck, labor, force, or the application of charisma to other people who then put their resources at the disposal of the person deploying the charisma. Purchase is not a separate method of acquisition, being the exchange of a crystallized form of personal resource for some other necessary thing.
Luck is not worth discussing. Labor is the obviously the root of all resource production. The only important thing to note about it is that one's personal labor rarely produces enough power to put one in a leadership position in a hierarchy, while the control of other people's labor reliably does. Force in the area of resource allocation comes in two modes: theft of material and theft of labor. Temporary theft of labor is called "forced labor," while permanent theft is called "slavery." Additionally, force can be overt with the threatened or actual use of physical punishment, implicit, where the threat of destitution by discharge from work compels the donation of labor, or covert, in which "force" is deployed as a shield defending the under-person from external threat. These days and in most places implicit and covert applications of force are the normal way of getting people to do things they could reliably be expected not to do in the absence of coercion. Overt force is still deployed to obtain labor in conditions of desperate poverty such as are found in numerous places in the world.
Charisma is the function that bears the closest scrutiny. At bottom it is the production of an emotional state that trumps intellect, producing some level of trust in a particular under-person for a particular over-person. This trust is unrelated to any particular qualities that over-person may have in regards to the ability to satisfy the needs of the under-person who is infected with that charisma.
There are techniques that can be learned and deployed in the production of charisma, but the essential ingredient is a "natural" or inborn trait, similar in its congenital nature to musical ability, the ability to wiggle one's ears, excellence in sport, etc. Some people have it, some don't. There are probably pheromonal aspects. Sedulous application of technique by a person who lacks the trait produces a mediocre result, while a person with the trait does not need the techniques.
The application of charisma produces the quality of attraction in a person who is susceptible to the action of that person's charisma. Not everyone is susceptible in any given case, and some people are not susceptible under any circumstances. Additionally, most people's susceptibility to charisma is conditioned by social factors. These include one's upbringing, age, gender, the susceptibility of people one considers one's peers, etc. Charisma penetrates or develops over various time periods ranging from instantaneous ("infatuation") to long. The end result is a feeling of trust unrelated to results that may or may not be produced.
Some people possess charisma but lack the desire to create a social hierarchy. These people may have interesting personal lives, but they do not produce social movements. Social movements come about either when a charismatic person develops social ambitions or when a non-charismatic socially ambitious person acquires power over a socially naive charismatic person and deploys that person as an instrument of power.
Some degree of charisma is present in the smallest sole proprietor employing a single person. The employee believes that the boss will perform as promised, paying the employee and shielding the employee from the risks and liabilities business. The employee is convinced that service to the boss is worth the 50% reduction in regular income that comes from being employed if there is a concomitant 50% reduction of risk. In practical terms this means that in a bad week the boss is still going to pay the employee. The employee cheerfully or grudgingly trades some degree of autonomy for that security.
It is of course the social movements spawned around charismatic leaders that contain the greatest possibility for change, and the change may be constructive, destructive, or both, in absolute and relative terms. But social movements involve by definition masses of people (i.e. more than a few) and a variety of controls must be deployed to keep a majority of them in line. This is done with the construction of a hierarchical structure as described above. The over-person has a secretary (or, just as often, the secretary "has" an "over-person") who controls access, a body guard, a quartermaster, a personal masseuse, and so forth.
In various ways and to various degrees the under-people are propagandized regarding the positive qualities of the over-person. In extreme cases the over-person is declared to be infallible and the under-people are urged to give everything up to and including their property, self-respect, and life for the over-person.
ISOLATION, or WHO YA GONNA BELIEVE - ME OR YOUR LYING EYES?
I was at one time briefly involved with a sect that had a fairly well-run internal propaganda operation, though there was a weakness in the charismatic and supposedly divine puppet that caused him to give up after a few years, his abdication wrecking the organization built around him, which functioned mainly as a modest cash cow for his handlers. The organization issued a sheet of simple rules to follow: get up early, wash thoroughly, no sex, no drugs, avoid certain situations, perform certain rituals... - difficult but not impossible. One of the rules was "Leave no room for doubt in your mind."
I believe that exhortation sums up the essence of fundamentalism in all its forms. Belief trumps logic, inquiry, finally all other considerations. If the process proceeds to an end point belief is advertised to trump normal reality and one can wind up in truly wierd situations such as Jonestown or that of the people who committed suicide so their "souls" could join the alien space ship that was supposed to be hiding behind the Hale-Bopp comet. Or, for that matter, one could allow onself to be convinced that deliberately killing oneself in order to kill "enemy" non-combatants, two actions explicitly forbidden by one's religion, are actually praiseworthy and will get one into "heaven."
When one succeeds in leaving no room for doubt in one's mind it doesn't matter what is being said or done. One has already made up one's mind and there's nothing left to discuss. "Not my will, but thine."
One usually comes to that state of mind not by intellectual inquiry but rather by the application of Goebbels' "big lie." The big lie is essentially a total immersion propaganda technique. The propagandizee is bombarded by the "correct" point of view at all times and in every way, leaving no time for rest and reflection. We see attempts at the employment of this method everywhere and all the time. Usually they are inept enough to be ineffective in swaying most of the intended targets, but somebody will fall for the message, whatever it is, and many propaganda campaigns are effective enough with a mass audience to get the job done at least once or twice: sell the tickets, sell the war, sell the corporate image, find a volunteer for the mission, etc.
As mentioned previously, there are people who are more than usually susceptible to being propagandized. Some of these people have a high degree of cognitive ability and great skill in various things, yet they have a soft spot that allows also them to absorb the propaganda with their typical efficiency.
The administrators of fundamentalist organizations look for these people. They draw up profiles of the people they want to recruit, having centuries of prior experience to go on. When they find these people they will give them training as special tools. Typically a portion of the training will be conducted in isolation from the outside world. Lack of sleep for prolonged periods is a common component of this training, accompanied by many hours of repetitive propagandizing. The idea of the repetition is to get the appropriate phrases deep in the mind. Such a placement is considered preferable to intellectual certitude. The goal is to have the formula pop out in appropriate situations without conscious thought, literally "leaving no room for doubt in the mind."
This kind of repetitive training is the normal way of acquiring skill in most endeavors, especially in athletics. At a certain point in training the response becomes "automatic" and one is considered "ready to roll." What happens to the swimmers on the block waiting for the starting bell is the same thing that happened to the hijackers before they started their dance of death. A normal human process turned to a specific end.
When looked at solely in terms of organization "fundamentalist" organizations are not different from "mainstream" organizations. In what way is the CIA, or the Boy Scouts, or any business, Enron, for instance, different, other than in the complexity of their organization? All have a doctrine, a mission, a nested hierarchy. The organizational structure is the constant. Tweak the doctrine and the mission changes. Put someone with charisma in a key position and the organization is ready to roll.
Skepticism is the primary tool used to demolish the culture of organizations, therefore skeptics are enemies who need to be expelled or eliminated. People who like to think for themselves and ask questions are not welcome.
TIME TO MOVE ON
I could go on with details of fundamentalist training techniques and the transformations that the trainee undergoes and make a good sized and interesting book out of the result. If a reader wants to offer me a contract to write that book I will gladly consider it, as there is a kid who will be going to college soon. But for now this short exposition must serve.
I started writing this piece 3 months ago in a state of anger against a particular sect of a particular faith and have found that the principles and methods employed in the productions of that sect are merely particular applications of processes that exist in all corporate human endeavors. It had been my aim to reveal the traits exhibited by fundamentalists and their organizations to those who do not consider themselves such so that they could be recognized in others and themselves. Every writing project is an educational adventure for me and I have been most strongly and emotionally enlightened during this project to find that the basic principles that motivated the villains of September 11 are present in all people, not least myself, and are manipulated by power seekers of all kinds at all times. That is, in fact, the particular thing that they do. To be utterly crass and distasteful, as I so love to do, President Bush, in his recent and therefore topical 2002 State of the Union address, crudely employed the normal rhetorical techniques in an attempt to appeal to our urge to simplify and objectify, which is the aim of fundamentalist approaches. "Axis of Evil" indeed, with its inappropiate invocation of the memories of World War II and the "Good Fight."
Fortunately for America and the rest of the world, Bush has no natural charisma at all, so the result, as outlined previously, had to be mediocre. This rhetorical failure will not interfere with the deployment of the power that Bush and his handlers possess by virtue of the positions they hold in the various overt and covert hierarchical structures they inhabit. But a popular movement will not be generated because there is no charismatic leader. Come a Hitler beating the war drum and there's a problem.
My final analysis, since I must end this train of thought and go on to something else, is that the fundamentalist mindset does not exist outside of the human hierarchical organizational structure, and that it is used as a tool to propagate and maintain that structure. It is an intellectual entity separate from the piety that might dwell within an individual. As long as humans wish for certainty in an existence which does not provide it, and as long as they are willing to allow manufactured products to substitute for hard research and analysis, we will find ourselves presented, for good or ill, with sectarian true believers.
11/7/2004 - AN ADDENDUM
Since this piece was written Bush has indeed developed a degree of charisma, or perhaps it is better to say that he has grown into a position of charisma. The situation having changed, the fitting of my central thesis to current events must be modified. But that will not happen tonight. Soon, though. I have found this piece to be useful in the last 2 years. I shall continue it.