Some religion news…

The Church of England is holding its General Synod. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, gave a presidential address in which he continues to try to keep his religion together, with the result that he gets flack from both the progressives and the fundamentalists. He addresses most of the usual issues on which conventional religion is foundering: ordained women, homosexuality, and a strong opposition to the notion that the Church should follow secular human rights. The synod has been widely reported in the English press.

Williams is a nuanced, highly spiritual, and intelligent man, struggling to cope with an impossible situation. The problem is that the fundamentalist agenda – anti-gay, anti-human rights, anti-equality – is more or less the default setting of most religions. If you say change will only happen if the fundamentalists are happy, they’ve won – forever. They can can simply continue to say, ‘We’re not happy with this change’, and the liberals, for whom being reasonable to unreasonable people is the highest precept, will wring their hands in agony and never ever do anything.

The Archbishop calls eloquently for all participants in the debate to treat each other as persons with ‘3 dimensions’:

“Seeing something in three dimensions is seeing that I can’t see everything at once: what’s in front of me is not just the surface I see in this particular moment. So seeing in three dimensions requires us to take time with what we see. It may help us look more critically at solutions that seek to do much all at once; and perhaps to search for structures that will keep open the ability to learn from each other.”

Which is of course wonderful as a mode of dialogue; but it founders like a magnificent Titanic against the reality of the fundamentalist mind – it’s simply not three dimensional. From Savitri Hensman in the Guardian:

But on the same day that Archbishop Williams was addressing Synod, Archbishop Henry Luke Orombi of the Church of Uganda was issuing a statement that underlined the strong refusal of some hardliners to listen to fellow-Anglicans, scholars or indeed God. International Anglican gatherings have repeatedly endorsed the importance of human rights for all and “deep and dispassionate study of the question of homosexuality” drawing on scientific research as well as the Bible. This was in keeping not only with Anglican traditions but also Jesus’ call to love one’s neighbour as oneself. On 9 February, however, Archbishop Orombi proclaimed support for most of the principles behind a draconian anti-homosexuality bill, while urging “proportionality” in sentencing and confidentiality for clergy and counsellors. This would criminalise not only lesbians and gays but also those seeking to promote mutual listening and sharing of knowledge on sexuality.

While liberals like Rowan Williams call ever more plaintively for us to recognize the humanity in each other, fundamentalists are busy getting dehumanizing bills passed through parliament. I wonder which will be most effective?

A major statement from Anglicans opposed to women’s ordination protests that they are not ‘anti-woman’, but simply that they do not ‘agree that women should have the overall leadership of a church’. Someone needs to explain to them that sexism is precisely not being ‘anti-woman’, but being ‘pro – women in their place’, i.e. underneath men. The all-too-familiar rhetoric has it that women are no less valuable than men, but they have a separate role (which just happens to be a lesser role). The Church should not bow to the pressure of society and make women equal – where have I heard that before?

Meanwhile, a teacher in the US has been sacked for teaching Creationism – and possibly worse – in school. And a Singaporean pastor has made a humble apology following his silly attempts to ridicule Buddhism in public. The matter is reported on the Buddhist Channel, which also posts the original talks – this is in rather poor taste, since Pastor Tan has apologized and asked for the videos to be no longer circulated.


28 thoughts on “Some religion news…

  1. I believe that breaking the chained loop of poverty –> ignorance –> poverty –> ignorance ad nauseum is the only way to eliminate fundamentalism – they breed each other into strong and mutated forms, and fear gets a free ride on the whole show. ❤

    • David,

      Assuming that fundamentalism is necessarily the product of poverty is both simplistic and inaccurate. This is a dismissive stereotype that is usually propagated by educated, relatively affluent, and frequently (though not always) socially liberal people as a means of distancing themselves from people who’s views they find untenable and distasteful. In the United States, cocktail party conversations about Christian fundamentalists often include off hand jokes about banjos and cousin marriage.

      The reality is that American Christian fundamentalists come from a wide variety of socio-economic backgrounds. Most of them are reasonably well educated and a good number of them are middle – upper class. Some of them are politically very well connected. The ones that recently traveled to Uganda and had a significant role in the resulting Anti-Homosexuality Bill are certainly from this group.

      Something else is driving fundamentalism. Fear is absolutely a factor; fear of modernity is most likely also a factor. I’m not going to go on – some of this was covered in a previous post.


      Bruce claims that “fundamentalism is a rational response of traditionally religious people to social, political and economic changes that downgrade the role of religion in public life.”

      Have a look at this page; I can’t get the whole article to link, but the first page highlights the gist I was attempting to make about poverty (citation included:)

      Certainly more research is needed, by me as well as by the larger academic, political, and religious spheres involved in order that causes and conditions of fundamentalism can be eliminated. Those causes and conditions include, but are not necessarily limited to, poverty and education.

      Simplistic and inaccurate? Perhaps my facts are cherry picked; I’m always willing to read new research, however.

    • Ooo, I don’t know about that. It seems to me that the fundamentalists with wealth are a driving force in creating and spreading fundamentalism. I don’t mean to disagree with you totally, I think there is certainly a correlation between poverty, education, and fundamentalism. But most people in most of human history have been poor and uneducated, but not fundamentalist. Fundamentalism is purely a modern problem.

    • “But most people in most of human history have been poor and uneducated, but not fundamentalist.”

      Well, the word wasn’t even in the Oxford dictionary until 1950, but I suggest that fundamentalist beliefs and behaviors have very likely been the prevailing (pre-)historical norm for human populations (with respect to outsiders, not the in-group) as we don’t need the term to have the behavior to which it refers.

      As to its roots, I suggest the following chain of events: first was the formation and conflict surrounding the Cult of Reason during the French Revolution (1792-94); seeing this bloody “religion vs. reason” so soon after the formation of the States (1783), I am not surprised that only 35 years after the French Revolution we see the rise of Dispensationalism in the States (~1930). This was an early evangelical tradition, and it is this group that would eventually host the Niagara Bible Conference (1878–1897) which defined those things that (to them) were fundamental to Christian belief – and which is where the term ‘Fundamentalism’ has its roots.

      In short, I suggest that ‘fundamentalism’ is a socially-evolved world view common to the human species that only began to undergo a complex dichotomization process during the Age of Reason, which continues today.

      As to the rich being the movers and shakers of it all, I refer to the Calvinist idea that one of the signs of being among the Elect is worldy success, which of course means that an evangelical Xian with some modicum of success might become attracted to this theology, both then as well as now.

      Broad strokes all around, but I hope the gist is conveyed.

  2. Fundamentalism is just another form of Dukkha, and so will always exist.

    However I am a concerned with labelling entire groups of people with the same pejorative term. It is an expression of ill will.

    Defining religious people who are antiwomen or antihomosexual “fundamentalist” is inaccurate. They can still be fundamentalist and not antiwomen. The can be antiwomen and not be fundamentalist. Nor is all “antiwomen” sentiment amongst religious groups the same. It is one thing to believe women have an important role in the home, and another to advocate their execution for going out unsupervised with a man.

    Our frustration with groups we perceive as “fundamentalist” has to be seen for what it is – ill will towards those we disagree with.

    Sorry if I am stating the obvious.

    • Hi wtp,

      i don’t think you’re stating the obvious at all, and there’s no need to apologize – this forum only exists because of people willing to share their views.

      You’re quite right, labelling people with a pejorative term is a dangerous thing. For myself, I am very aware of the problems, yet after considerable reflection and study, i choose to keep using the term fundamentalist. The basic point for me is that fundamentalists choose to be so. It’s their decision, unlike race, gender, sexuality, and so on. I think fundamentalism is essentially a moral failing – it’s born of cowardice and ignorance.

      Yes, I get annoyed with them. But that does not mean that criticism of fundamentalism is nothing more than ill will – that’s a reductionist argument. I don’t take issue with fundamentalism simply because i happen to disagree with it, but because I believe that it cause great harm. Fundamentalism is used as an ideology to support militarism, violence, environmental destruction, persecution, and intolerance. And as long as it does so, we have a moral obligation to contest and resist its spread.

      You say: “Defining religious people who are antiwomen or antihomosexual “fundamentalist” is inaccurate.” I agree, that’s why I haven’t done this. Fundamentalism is a much more complex and pervasive thing. The use of the word ‘antiwoman’ was taken from a statement by a group called ‘reform’, who are arguing against women Bishops. My point was that ‘sexism’ (I didn’t use fundamentalism in this context – if you want to criticize an inaccurate use of generalizations, terrific, but please be careful how you use terms as well…) is not inherently ‘anti-women’ but ‘pro-women in their place’, a place defined for them by men.

      I did say that the fundamentalist agenda is ‘anti-gay, anti-human rights, anti-equality’. This was in the context of the present synod, where the conservative forces are arguing precisely these points. Nevertheless, it’s also fairly typical of fundamentalists generally. However, I would define fundamentalism primarily not in terms of its tenets – Buddhist fundamentalists hold quite a different set of tenets, although there is some overlap – but in terms of its methods and attitudes, such as revulsion to modernity, scriptural literalism, and so on.

      Of course it’s hard to define it precisely, but we use the same term for very different groups, not to say they are identical, but because we recognize very distinct and clear similarities. It seems obvious that the issues and arguments that are being heard today in the Anglican synod are very similar and relevant to the arguments in Buddhism over women’s ordination. I think it’s important to learn about these different situations so we have a more realistic idea of how to proceed in our own given situation.

      I would love to be able to engage in a more human and meaningful way with fundamentalists. I’ve dialogued with them on and off for over twenty years, and have never have the slightest degree of success. Many times I have brought this issue up and asked for help and feedback, and still I can’t find anything that helps. If I sound frustrated, that’s because I am. What can you do when you raise an issue like women’s ordination politely and reasonably again and again, only to have it thoroughly ignored every time; and then they say, ‘But we weren’t consulted!’

      I do feel that it’s important to keep the channels open and respond whenever we can. But we also have limited time left on this precious planet. Trying to placate fundamentalists, as Rowan Williams is doing, is noble but will go nowhere. I think the issues are too important to let them get bogged down like this.

    • But Bhante, I’m a suttanta fundamentalist, a Samma Samadhi fundamentalist and a vossagga fundamentalist. I hope that does not make my ilk a blight on Buddhism…

    • Ok. I accept that. But I feel the ill will in myself in these discussions and worry about it. Labels worry me. They are so often used as a way to dismiss others by the very groups that are being criticized on these boards.

      I didn’t mean to say that using the term “fundamentalism” was “simply ill will”. I meant to say that using the term is, at least in part, an expression of ill will. If, on reflection, you feel it is justified in the circumstances so be it.

      I have to ask do you really believe “fundamentalism is essentially a moral failing – it’s born of cowardice and ignorance.”?

      I find it hard to ignore the effect of culture, upbringing and education in those we might call fundamentalist. I am not sure it is just a matter of choice. That would seem to be counter to the teaching of conditionality. I would expect there would be a good chance that with their upbringing I would hold similar beliefs.

      Ignorance I can accept as a criticism – but cowardice? And a moral failing? More a moral delusion in my view.

      Still I have not had to put up with 20yrs of trying to dialogue with these types of people and I can only guess at the fustration this would cause.

    • Hi WTP,

      For sure, ill will is a factor, and as practitioners we should be aware of it and dispell it when we can.

      I was not suggesting that we ignore the influence of culture and other factors. But these should not be used to somehow excuse the moral choices that fundamentalists make. People from very similar upbringings and influences sometimes make very different choices, while those from different cultures makthe same choice. We’ve been tol, for example, that the current anti-gay legislation in Uganda is backed not only by the Anglican church in Uganda, but by American fundamentalists. Closer to home, the leadership in opposition to bhikkhuni ordination is partly from an Australian monk whose upbringing and conditioning are similar to mine, while many Thai monks have been very supportive of what we’ve done. At the end of the day, we are responsible for our own choices. Culture must be studied so that we can understand why people make the choices they do, but it can’t be used as an excuse.

      I am using cowardice in the sense of fear of modernity, fear of change, fear of examining our beliefs and practices in the light of new perspectives and information. You’re quite right, ‘moral delusion’ is a good way of putting it. Using the darkness to ignore the harm that one’s actions are causing.

  3. There’s an interesting article that I came across related to this issue in a Facebook group called ‘ex-nuns’ entitled “American Nuns Under the Vatican Microscope”.

    “The Vatican is investigating US Women religious, concerned that nuns are not in line on issues like same-sex love, women’s priestly ministry, and interreligious dialogue.”

    I think you touched on the subject in a previous post…

  4. I guess I agree with Ajahn Sujato’s last sharing:

    My sense is that there is ignorance, attachment and fear. Ignorance and attachment are a <>more difficult to deal with ( we are very obstinate with our ideas and beliefs ), but with fear there is a possibility to help, that is, we need to be able to fully acknowledge their feelings ( I’m sorry if this sounds naive ). It’s like a person who worries a lot, you tell him not to worry and he will worry more, one needs to fully sense his worry, you are in touch with it, and having been in touch with it you can share with him or her from that place, you have received his/her worry or her/his fear and it’s ok, you understand and she/he feels understood.
    I’m not saying here that I have a ” solution ” to <>
    I would like to share some thoughts bout my experience in the US.
    We have two monasteries in the US ( one on each coast ). I lived in the US for 4 years ( 2000 to 2004 ) and our tradition is called <>, of course I found that living in the US was very interesting, there is a good amount of samsara for every one to practice with. I found that there is a deep ( perhaps even dangerous )division in this country. The right wingers/conservatives/Fundamentalists? ( Republicans ) on one side, and the Liberals, or progressives ( Democrats ) on the other. This is more or less a general view. At some point I wondered if there was going to be a civil war, specially under the ( I would say: criminal ) Bush administration. For many conservatives, my sense is that there is a deep unease ( I’m talking about normal folks ), the world is changing so rapidly, abortion feels threatening, technological and science advances are touching places that question fundamental beliefs and way’s of recognizing the world,even life it self; this often crosses a line where we don’t know if this is ethical or not, or whether the world is just becoming a complete foreign place. Do the people who a constantly pushing the limits of science and technology care about how people feel about these things?, my sense is: no they don’t ( look at Monsanto, or other big multinationals. Under such pressure and uncertainty, it’s easy to react, easy to become a ultra-conservative, or go fundamentalist. The anti-abortion are at war with the pro-abortion, both sides a fundamentalists in their own way. For the liberal and progressive side, the world should be open, we should operate according to these ways of seeing the world, there should be no limits to progress. Both sides oppose each other, there is little dialogue, there is little understanding as where they coming from, for what their genuine concerns are. This situation is exploited by the politicians in a shameful and detrimental way ( for the whole country ). I remember participating on a peace march with other Buddhist groups and with about 700000 people, at Washington D.C. it was very moving to see people of all ages, from different backgrounds walk together for a cause they felt was important. It was just before the US invasion of Iraq. I remember seeing, by chance, a poster with a photograph of two men, one pro-invasion and the other against-invasion, having a candid and friendly conversation with each other over a bridge ( quite symbolic I thought ), this is what i felt the country needed, a genuine sharing of how each other feel about the situation, not to push our agenda, but to take seriously the concerns of the other, there we would realize that some of his concerns have value, that some of her concerns also have value. Whether we should go in to Iraq or not go, was not so much the question as how are we feeling right now and can I express it. Fundamentalists exploit the areas of fear, ignorance and uncertainty, so we should know how to disarm them, we can be very concrete and direct even if we risk being attacked, but we also need to be non-violent, and this non-violence must run very deep for it to be successful. Fundamentalists are often small groups but some how manage to infect a growing number of people, but why do they manage to do so?, because the environment is ripe for that. It’s ripe in the US, it’s ripe in the Middle-East. The general environment is so hot with very emotional things, it’s a very challenging situation.
    Sorry for my lack of eloquence.

  5. Oh, on the subject of fundamentalism…..hmmm….

    I have to share the following video on American Christian groups that are willing total bloodshed and devastation in the Middle East….so that the Messiah will return. I am absolutely shocked that anyone can find anything even vaguely religious and loving in these kinds of Judaeo-Christian movements.

    If people like these have influence in America and the ME , then I really feel concerned.

    Watch the ‘Rapture’ video here —

    “Max Blumenthal’s latest takes us on a shocking and at times bizarre tour of right-wing Pastor John Hagee’s annual Washington-Israel Summit, blowing the cover off the Christian Zionist movement in the process. Starring Joe Lieberman, Tom DeLay, Pastor John Hagee, Ambassador Dore Gold and a host of rapture-ready evangelicals praying for Armaggedon.”

    All of it looks so self serving, dysfunctional and full of hatred and ignorance — Why do people follow these groups in such large numbers? Anyone?

  6. Totally agree, fundamentalism creates a one-minded, black-or-white, extreme and narrow kind of thinking. Some fundamentalist groups that come to mind are cults (Jim Jones and David Koresh for example), Nazism, Klu Klux Klan, terrorism ..etc

    • Other than the parenthetical religious cults, I’m pretty sure none of those are specifically Fundamentalist ideologies.

    • Bhante, towards the end of Ajahn Sumedho’s ( previously linked ) Dhamma talk, he explains that he is handing over the ‘leadership role’/Abbott post to Ajahn Amaro.

      It’s difficult to tell whether he feels weary, delighted, sad or relieved to be going. I guess we’ll soon know via the ‘Dhamma telegraph.’

      Judging from the over all mood of the talk though, it sounds to me that at 75,he just feels a bit old for all the activity inherent in the post, which if that is the case, sounds fair enough.

  7. Further on the Anglican synod: a resolution has been overwhelmingly passed that affirms that science and religion are not incompatible. (

    I was struck by the following quote by Oxford physicist, Dr Anna Thomas-Betts:

    “What is faith but a series of hypotheses verifying the truth of what we believe?”

    A very curious definition, which leaches out the emotional content of faith. I hope that a science-compatible religion doesn’t mean an emotionally drained spirituality.

  8. Happy Lunar New Year, everyone!

    I’ve been working on a Abbidhamma style schema of factors to help me understand the dynamics of current religious affairs – mostly a digest of my readings of Wilber and Sujato. Here’s a quick run down.

    Religiosity can be thought of in terms of:

    A. pre-modern/modern/post-modern (vertical development)

    B. dysfunctional/functional (horizontal characteristic)

    C. leader/follower (horizontal characteristic)


    Pre-modern: Technological development is extremely limited, and life hardly changes over the centuries. Elders are unquestioned because the very idea of questioning tradition has not arisen. Tradition provides all the thought structures necessary to deal successfully with a largely unchanging environment. Theory and interpretation are undifferentiated. Everything is subsumed under what is necessary to day-to-day concrete subsistence.

    Modern: Technological development starts taking a marked effect on society and accelerates change – the move from hunter-gatherer to agricultural is landmark. The rate of social change accelerates so that it can be discerned within a single life-time. In order to negotiate this new reality, the difference between theory and interpretation emerges. Religious theology allows for a sense of stability, while interpretation is a mechanism for dealing with the concrete reality of change.

    Post-modern: Technological development explodes and social structures and expectations morph at such a rate that people feel that the very ground is slipping from underneath them – there is a constant feeling of ‘needing-to-keep-up-to-date’. In a world where everything is up for grabs, the very foundations of religious authority and epistemology are questioned – archeology, textual studies and direct mystical experience come to the fore.


    Dysfunctional: A thing is dysfunctional to the extent that it is a manifestation of greed, hatred and delusion.

    Functional: A thing is functional to the extent that it is a manifestation of non-greed, non-hatred and non-delusion.


    Leader: A person is a leader to the extent that s/he has self-confidence and vision.

    Follower: A person is a follow to the extent that s/he relies on the self-confidence and vision of others.

    Using this scheme, I think a fundamentalist group is a group of people who follow a leader or leaders whose religious doctrines are post-modern and dysfunctional. The leaders are post-modern in the sense that to them, religious epistemology is a conscious issue. They are dysfunctional in the sense that their epistemology is anti-historical and anti-factual (delusional). They are also dysfunctional in their intentions towards their followers (greed), and to outsiders (hatred). The followers of fundamentalist leaders are not necessarily fundamentalists themselves, but are often coopted into fundamentalist movements due to social gravity and the (dysfunctional) self-confidence and (dysfunctional) vision of the leaders.

    Given that for most people on the earth, the question of epistemology has yet to emerge, I think that fundamentalism is driven by a relatively small number of highly sophisticated, and usually well-educated leaders. These leaders have become immensely powerful. Practically speaking, for those interested in making the world a significantly better place (non-compulsory!) effective counter-balances to fundamentalist forces need to be generated and integrated.

    If we define fundamentalism as dysfunctional post-modern religiosity, what should we call functional post-modern religiosity? I think it is legitimate to criticise ill-will in the sense that it leaves us on the back-foot and defensive. Would it not be more effective to emphasise, develop, integrate and make strong the wholesome (without falling into denial)? A positive label – a rallying cry of sorts – can help in this regard. Something cool would be … uh … cool.

    Any suggestions? Whatever it is, I reckon it should be pithy, sassy, playful and equally applicable to different religious denominations.


  9. I had an idea last night about training university students of various faiths to teach religion in schools, & am appealing for help from anyone who is interested.

    I went to my son’s school and they spoke about how scripture is compulsory, but they only have teachers for Christianity (this is a very multicultural school with a lot of Muslims) so they encouraged parents to allow their children to take the Bible classes even if they not religious.

    I know the Christians teaching in this school as I attended the local Anglican church last year. I didn’t realise how fundamentalist Sydney Anglicans are (maybe I should follow the news more!) and I was quite surprised to be told that they believe all non-Christians go straight to hell, etc. Actually the teaching in the church had some very good aspects to it, but what my children were taught in sunday school I found very disturbing, very black & white, Jesus portrayed as a superhero similar to the cartoon ones they follow in an attempt to brainwash the kids into it, etc.

    I know there is a program in Sydney training people to teach Buddhism in schools and I mean to contact the Buddhist Council later today to discuss this.

    I have a new job at the University of Western Sydney to get clubs and societies started up (especial, ethnocultural and religious clubs) and I think that running a such a training program would complement that role. I have the rooms and resources available to recruit and run training. The other thing I want to do on campus is have a lot of speakers from different faiths, inter-faith dialouges that sort of thing.

    • Dear Heidi,

      This is a terrific idea, you have my total support – please let me know if there’s anything I can do to help. There has been a lot of murmuring about the need for more Buddhist chaplains and teachers in schools, but it seems to founder on the lack of trained teachers. I have spoke of this many times and encouraged the Buddhist lay community to educate themselves in Buddhism so that we can provide these services. One of the difficulties, I think, is that traditional Buddhists are used to leaving education to the monks, but we have very few monks, and they are generally not great at teaching Ozzie kids. New Buddhists, on the other hand, are usually more interested in Buddhist practices for their own development, and are not so interested in teaching Dhamma. The Buddhist communities that have, I think, done the best job here are the Chinese (incl. from Malaysia, Singapore, etc.) and the Sri Lankans. But it’s always a struggle.

      Yes, Sydney Anglicanism is pretty fundamentalist. I would encourage you to immediately complain to the relevant authorities if your children are subject to these kinds of teachings.

    • Thanks Ven. Sujato, I will do some more research into this, contact Mitra & the uni Buddhist societies, etc. I think it would be a great thing for uni students to take on because they are more likely to be free during school hours than workers and it is something that will look great on their resume, develop skills that will enhance their studies, as well as increasing their knowledge about Buddhism, making merit, meeting fellow practitioners & enjoying themselves! I will be staying at Santi in a few weeks so we might be able to chat about it then.

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