Thursday, April 19, 2007

During the last two years I have read a number of books by Thomas Moore. Moore is a popular lecturer and writer in North America and Europe. At one time Moore lived as a monk in a Catholic religious order for twelve years and has degrees in theology, musicology, and philosophy. In the last decade or so he has written numerous books about the "soul" and it's need for care and it's relationship to religion, sex, marriage, and life in general. His most popular book, The Care of the Soul was on the New York Times bestseller list for forty-six weeks. I have always appreciated Moore's writings because he integrates religion, philosophy, the arts, psychology, mythology, and sociology in a way that make his writings and reflections unique and interesting. Over the years I have noticed that the social sciences are particularly prone to attempts to trump and compete with each other, philosophy against religion, psychology against sociology, religion against psychology, and so on. Moore makes no attempt to assert one discipline over another but rather to illustrate how they each are intertwined together and have something important to contribute to the human experience.

Yesterday while reading his book Care of the Soul I was intrigued by what Moore had to say about fundamentalism and spirituality and I would like to pass along for every one's consideration some of Moore's comments. Moore says this about what he means by fundamentalism, "There are many kinds of fundamentalism--Jungian-Freudian, Democrat-Republican, Rock Blues", etc...he goes on to add these critical comments about the "nature" of fundamentalism, spirituality, and religion in general. "Often, when spirituality loses its soul it takes on the shadow-form of fundamentalism..."The intellect wants a summary meaning--all well and good for the purposeful nature of the mind. But the soul craves depth of reflection, many layers of meaning, nuances without end, references and allusions and prefigurations. All these enrich the texture of a an image or story and please the soul by giving it much food for rumination. Rumination is one of the chief delights of the soul. Early Christians theologians discussed at length how a biblical text could be read at many levels at once. There were literal meanings and allegorical meanings and anagogical (concerned with death and afterlife) meanings. They typically explained the Exodus, for example, as allegory about freeing the soul from imprisonment in sin. But this was not the only meaning of the story. This practice suggests an "archetypal" reading of the Bible, regarding its stories not as simplistic moral lessons or statements of belief, but as subtle expressions of the mysteries that form the roots of human life...If we deprive sacred stories of their mystery, we are left with the brittle shell of fact, the literalism of a single meaning. But when we allow a story its soul, we can discover our own depths through it. Fundamentalism tends to idealize and romanticize a story, winnowing out the darker elements of doubt, hopelessness, and emptiness. It protects us from the hard work of finding our own participation in meaning and developing our won subtle moral values. The sacred teaching story, which has the potential of deepening the mystery of our own identity, instead is used defensively in fundamentalism, to spare us the anxiety of being an individual with choice, responsibility, and continually changing sense of self. The tragedy of fundamentalism in any context is its capacity to freeze life into a solid cube of meaning"....and finally he concludes with this comment: "When spirituality loses contact with soul and these values, it can become rigid, simplistic, moralistic, and authoritarian---qualities that betray a loss of soul".....I find these latter comments pregnant with hope and endless potential possibilities....Bilbo


julieunplugged said...

So fabulous! I think I would love Moore much more now that I've nearly finished grad school. I remember when I first read him, my brain could not modulate out of the fundamentalistic thinking no matter how hard I tried. it's taken four years of concerted effort to read with new eyes and to receive complexity as a given (not as a problem to solve) before I could think differently.

Moore's comment about reducing mystery or mythology to defined beliefs as a betrayal of soul rings especially true for me.

Thanks for continuing to bring Moore to the blogging table. I hope more people will interact with this entry.


Dave said...

Julie, we've discussed it a bit over at the pomoxian list... which I know is not where your attn. is focused these days... but we are eager for the day when you are able to come back and join us there! :o)

I will post my reply to Bill in a separate comment box.

Dave said...

I'm not sure how my thoughts at the moment about fundamentalism correspond with the Moore quote you provide here, but I'll post them anyway. As I read through this, I got to thinking about how fundamentalism seems to be an outgrowth of our need to quantify and measure ourselves with some precision about whether or not we fit in, meet criteria, conform to expectations, pass muster or in some other way minimize our risk of failure within a given power or control system.

Whether that's adopting the specific tenets of an authoritarian religious or political movement, or more idiosyncratically reshaping our lives to fulfill the expectations of God that we believe God has placed on us individually, fundamentalism seems to be a predictable response to such an outlook on life. Of the two options I mention here, I suppose that "movement" fundamentalism is the more objectionable in that the individual is subsumed into a cultural pattern that often does not work in the best interests of either that person or the larger society as a whole. The problem with fundamentalism is its insistence on pushing the diversity of human existence into a limited set of narrowly defined roles and expectations, irregardless of the misery suffered by the misfits who ultimately fail to fit the patterns set out for them.

So I wonder about the connection between today's highly commodified and regulated society, with its emphasis on commerce, materialism and mobilized blocs of population under various degrees of political control, and the phenomena of mass fundamentalist movements that typically exist as idealistic alternatives to the otherwise-inescapable grid that most of us live within. It's like we need an equally strong, unyielding and highly controlling counter-power, whether that's "in the heavens" from the religious side, or "in history/evolution" from the political, that diminishes the apparently all-encompassing grip of the current worldly status quo, whatever our role or place in it.

Fundamentalisms of various sorts then, become useful resources to those worldly power-brokers in our societies who accomplish the trick of aligning themselves with the ideals, dreams and visions of the fundamentalist followers while primarily focusing on the advantages that their allegiance creates for them in the here-and-now.

Anyway, that may be a lot more of me just thinking than a bona fide response to Thomas Moore. But thanks for posting it here and getting my wheels turning a bit!

Bilbo said...

Hi Julie,

I think you would like Moore's book The Soul of Religion but I know you are up to your eyeballs in other stuff. Moore's writing style and depth of integration is unique which keeps my coming back to him again over the past couple of years. I have read four or five of his books now and I appreciate his attitude towards religion, psychology, philosophy, etc. If you and anyone else is interested I'll try to post some more blog entries on some his thoughts again in the near future. Good to see you popping in and dittos with Dave regarding when you get time to join us at Pomoxian...