Ending Fundamentalism, Beginning Direct Knowing

August 4, 2003

In this issue:

Newsbrief: Article by John published in Executive Excellence

August Editorial: Ending Fundamentalism: Beginning Direct Knowing
Newsbrief: Internet Agenda Deactivated
Next Month: Transcending Left Versus Right


Article by John Published in Executive Excellence

Executive Excellence magazine published John’s article on Conscious Leadership in its June 2003 issue; entitled “Conscious Leaders: Search for New Leadership,” John makes the distinction between authentic and what John calls “bogus” leadership qualities in light of the recent failures in business, church, and government leadership worldwide.



Have you ever wondered why extremists of all persuasions – right and left wing, hardcore activists, hellfire and brimstone evangelists, and others who advocate extreme positions get so worked up over their points-of-view? It often seems like their point-of-view is an extension of who they are and that any notion that challenges their viewpoint is taken as a personal insult, even though it is rarely meant that way.

With all the media headlines about violence around the world in recent months, there has been a lot of talk about extreme fundamentalism, with finger-pointing to extremists at one end of the spectrum by their counterparts at the other end of it. Extremism and fundamentalism seem to go together. The dictionary defines fundamentalism as “a strict interpretation of core beliefs” or very “strict and literal adherences” to those beliefs.

I recently had a revelation about the roots of fundamentalism – be it religious (where we most usually associate the term), the law, business, music, medicine or any practice where strict adherences to core beliefs exist. The person who is most prone to becoming a fundamentalist is the person who is emotionally and intellectually attached to their beliefs about how things are supposed to be. They become very fixated and obsessed with a literal translation about how the practice is to be, regardless of which discipline they function in. Their worlds are very black and white, all based on a “strict interpretation” (usually created by someone else) rather than any actual first-hand experience.

One reason that people become so attached to beliefs in this way is that their unwanted realities become a bit more tolerable. The circumstances they find themselves living in might be a bit more endurable if there’s a belief to console them – be it going to heaven, doing God’s work, martyring themselves for some good cause, “just following orders,” or any other explanation that helps them tolerate or endure things easier. Fundamentalism doesn’t require a person to be responsible for their reality. In many ways, it lets them off the hook. Latching onto a belief is an easier way than sorting things out for oneself – like a shortcut.

People who do not rely upon such interpretations and who have had a personal experience they can relate to, perhaps a previous or ongoing experience that has affected them deeply, are more tolerant and flexible in their responses to life and their practice. They do not need to rely upon anyone else’s interpretation of “the way it is supposed to be” because they have an innate knowing that “this is right and this is wrong” – a far less rigid way of relating to their practice, be they lawyers, doctors, ministers, politicians or business people. This “direct knowing” can involve God, justice, healing or commerce.

As we know, there are plenty of people who take extremists’ POVs on many issues. You can hear many of them on the so-called talk shows (which could be better labeled “scream shows”) so popular on radio these days. Most of them are usually citing someone they believe to be an authority – someone who’s beliefs they agree with – and they adamantly defend these beliefs as if their lives depended upon it.

This adamancy is due to self-identification with the beliefs they are cherishing. They don’t usually have the direct experience or knowing that would allow them to be more accepting, tolerant and compassionate when it comes to anyone whose approach or philosophy isn’t entirely aligned with theirs.

Fast Company magazine recently ran an article about fundamentalism in business that I found intriguing. It was entitled “The Threat of Pigeons and Other Fundamentalists” and was written by Seth Godin, author of the recently published book Purple Cow: Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable. He writes that fundamentalists are characterized by two traits: “they live according to a large body of superstitions. Second, they believe that they are right and everyone else is wrong…Fundamentalists decide whether they like a new piece of information based on how it will affect their prior belief system, not based on whether it is actually true.” Godin defines a superstition as “a compulsion to take an action that has no influence on the desired outcome.” Many managers these days act according to superstitions – out of a belief, not because it works – which makes them fundamentalists.

It is most certainly a time to end fundamentalism of all sorts. It divides us at a time when there’s an epidemic of human disconnection. The times call for personal consciousness, a consciousness based upon experience not beliefs, direct knowing instead of reliance upon other people’s ideologies, self-monitored responsibility not adherence to dogma.

Killing one another over whose interpretations about God are more right than the another’s is one of the results of this extremism. A far more civilized approach would be for people to rely upon their own experience of a relationship with the Divine, not fused with anyone else’s gospels or translations or how they are in turn translated by the hierarchy of those religions who traffic in fear and insecurity.

Fundamentalism thrives in times of fear and stress, which explains its current rise in popularity. People are desperate to have some value to identify with, even if it is indirectly franchised or second hand. In this new post-September 11 “terror economy” we are currently experiencing, fundamentalism has found new roots – in all areas of society. Business takes Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” to extremes – even to the extent of cheating and lying to make profits. Religions take their differing dogmas to extremes – even to the extent of killing people to be right. Law takes the “letter of the law” – even to the extent that injustice is frequently the outcome. Politicians take their differing philosophies to such extremes that they insult and ridicule each other, waging war with their colleagues instead of serving their constituents. Our healthcare system – consisting of medicine and healing professionals – has become so dysfunctional that more people catch illnesses in hospitals than anywhere else.

Fundamentalism is not working! Continuing to tolerate fundamentalism and allowing it to thrive is evidence of our own flawed thinking. Extremism fosters a divide among us at a time when coming together is what is most sorely needed. We can end this trend toward greater and greater separation by 1. shifting the context from a fear-based, separatist culture to one of acknowledged interconnectedness and 2. valuing direct experience over dogma, direct knowing over indoctrination.

We can shift the context of our society by making choices that serve to connect members of the human race rather than separate or estrange them. Choices made from fear are separating choices, leading to conflict and contention. Choices that connect us serve to reconcile our differences and heal old wounds.

Valuing personal experience over dogma empowers the individual, freeing us from the interpretations of others who are held in higher esteem. Direct knowing is possible for all people and the pretense that only a few selected people know the truth is an outmoded idea. Wisdom is now available to all. As British futurist Peter Russell predicted over twenty years ago in his book The Global Brain , we are entering a new era, what he calls the “Age of Consciousness” where we don’t need to rely on learned beliefs or defer to the teachings of others; we have the ability to know directly – to have those self-empowered transcendent experiences that make fundamentalism obsolete.

So why continue giving legitimacy to fundamentalism – a system based on beliefs and superstition rather than direct knowing and the facts? It certainly isn’t giving us the experience of a world that is safe, loving and secure. In fact, fundamentalism seems to be delivering a reality based on terror. Is this what we want? Do we honestly think this is working? Are we convinced that this is the best we can have? Why not shift to a new consciousness that allows for direct individual empowerment, a reality based upon conscious choices, and a world in which we honor and respect each other as interconnected spirits?

Next Month’s Editorial: Transcending Left Versus Right


Internet Agenda Deactivated

“The 21st Century Agenda for Business” – the Internet resolution started by John and several dozen other colleagues in late 1999 – has finally been officially deactivated, partially for technical reasons and partially for waning interest; co-signers were adding themselves in lowering numbers in the recent year and much of the required programming was lost during a recent change of web servers; John sent out an email in early July informing co-signers from dozens of nations that their support for the initiative demonstrated widespread acceptance of the principles which were defined in the Agenda.

About John Renesch

Better Future NEWS is prepared monthly by John Renesch, a San Francisco writer, business futurist, and consultant/executive coach.

His latest book is Getting to the Better Future: A Matter of Conscious Choosing. For a list of all the SERVICES John offers, go to Services.

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John Renesch

John is a seasoned businessman-turned-futurist who has published 14 books and hundreds of articles on social and organizational transformation.

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