Does the idea of mixing with individuals out of your circle of beliefs frighten and disgust you? Do you find yourself rooting for the deaths of individuals who, strangely enough, happen to have opposing religious and political views than you? Do you often fall into the habit of painting entire ethnic, political and religious groups with one color? If you’ve answered yes to these questions, stop here! You may be entering the dark and violent world of fundamentalism. The frightening thing about extremist beliefs, is that it can be difficult to distinguish between what is extreme and moderate. Judging this can be very subjective as even the most dogmatic individuals would not view themselves as having ‘extreme’ beliefs. However, fundamentalists do seem to exhibit similar behaviors, language and mentalities, and its important to be able to spot these and immunize ourselves from any extremist ideology. This is especially important during this turbulent day and age as extremist ideologies seem to be unfortunately gaining a great deal of momentum and can manifest themselves in many groups such as ISIS. So, how can we stop ourselves and those we love from becoming susceptible to fundamentalist ideology and propaganda? Here are some tips on how we can develop a healthy relationship with our own beliefs and the beliefs of others.
1- Learn to question your own beliefs.
This is by no means a call to abandon any particular belief system. However, understanding and realizing the shortcomings of your own views can help you become more tolerant of the views of others. It requires a huge amount of arrogance and overconfidence to be able to kill another human in the name of a belief. So be humble in your views as they will never be without fault.
2- Don’t monopolize the Truth
Anyone who tries to sell you the complete ‘Truth’, is, very simply, either ignorant or a liar. No one religious or political group has a full grasp of the entire Truth. People who think in this way should be viewed with suspicion.
3- Study philosophy and other humanities subjects
This might seem strange but is very important. The humanities, unlike some other subjects, train individuals to think in a non-linear way. Linear thinkers can be at times narrow in their grasp of certain ideas and more prone to buy simple linear equations such as: we kill this bad man=better world. Non linear thinking that is developed by studying the humanities views things in a more complex manner and trains you to realize that there is no one correct answer to a given scenario. Philosophy is especially important as it also makes you aware of the fragility of your own beliefs and helps you to become a much more tolerant and broad minded thinker.
4- When it comes to religion, move away from a purely scriptural approach.
Anyone can say ‘the Bible says’ or ‘the Koran says’. Scripture can be interpreted in different ways and hence can be manipulated easily. Any religion, should be analysed on deeper theological and philosophical levels. Its important to be aware that you can sell any individual any idea using a Holy book and so scripture alone should never be used to justify a certain religious or political stance.
5- Understand and appreciate the opposing arguments
Respecting other people’s opinions is impossible if you don’t understand their views and are unable to objectively assess their strengths and weaknesses. Educating oneself is key here.
6- Never confuse politics with religion
These two concepts are almost always intertwined. However, if someone is selling you salvation in the afterlife if you do so and so, stop and think for a moment. Is this individual sincere or using you as a tool to further his political agenda?
7- Never idealize, romanticize or blindly believe
Many political and religious figures are charismatic and intelligent, and will often try to sell you some romantic ideal. But this does not mean that they should be idealized or followed blindly. These individuals are not infallible and their views should also be rationally and objectively assessed. You don’t want to fall into the trap of becoming the foolishly trusting and mindless groupie of an individual; and compromise basic ethical principles in the process.
8- Learn to spot propaganda and extremist discourses
It is important to be able to sift through the vast amount of information that reaches us through various media outlets; and be able to spot propaganda. Be wary of individuals who use grand statements, generalizations and romanticized language. Information you accept should be backed by evidence and not be emotionally driven. Basically, think twice before buying anything being sold to you in the media.
9- Watch you own language.
You might think insulting another group is harmless, but words can quickly turn into action. So don’t buy into extremist language or use it yourself.
10-Make friends with individuals with opposing beliefs to you.
Fundamentalists are very successful at dehumanizing the ‘other’, and this is why they find it easy to commit some of the most atrocious crimes. Befriending individuals who are different to you will help you see the humanity in them and will remove any misconceptions you may have. Travelling and charity work can also broaden your perception of others and help you tap into the softer and more merciful sides to your character.