The fundamentalist takes everything way too seriously and way too personally and way too literally. He divides the world into two camps, those who agree with him and those who don't. There is only one right way to interpret the world, and a million wrong ways. Correct belief is the only virtue.
To the fundamentalist, the liberated imagination is a sinful taboo. He not only enslaves his own imagination to his ideology, but wants to enslave our imaginations, too.
And who are the fundamentalists? Let's not remain under the delusion that they are only the usual suspects -- the religious fanatics of Islam and Christianity and Judaism and Hinduism.
There are many other kinds of fundamentalists, and some of them have gotten away with practicing their tragic magic in a stealth mode. Among the most successful are those who believe in what Robert Anton Wilson calls fundamentalist materialism. This is the faith-based dogma that swears physical matter is the only reality and that nothing exists unless it can be detected by our five senses or by technologies that humans have made.
Life has no transcendent meaning or purpose, the fundamentalist materialists proclaim. There is no such thing as a divine intelligence. The universe is a dumb accidental machine that grinds on endlessly out of blind necessity.
I see spread out before me in every direction a staggeringly sublime miracle lovingly crafted by a supernal consciousness that oversees the evolution of 500 billion galaxies, yet is also available as an intimate companion and daily advisor to every one of us. But to the fundamentalist materialists, my perceptions are indisputably wrong and idiotic.
Many other varieties of fundamentalism thrive and propagate. Every ideology, even some of the ones I like, has its share of true believers -- fanatics who judge all other ideologies as inferior, flawed, and foolish.
I know astrologers who insist there's only one way to do astrology right. I know Buddhists who adamantly decree that the inherent nature of life on Earth is suffering. I know progressive activists who sincerely believe that every single Republican is either stupid or evil or both. I know college administrators who would excommunicate any psychology professor who dared to discuss the teachings of Carl Jung, who was in my opinion one of the greatest minds of the 20th century. I know pagans who refuse to consider any other version of Jesus Christ beyond the sick parody the Christian right has fabricated.
None of the true believers like to hear that there are at least three sides to every story. They don't want to consider the hypothesis that everyone has a piece of the truth.
And here's the really bad news: We all have our own share of the fundamentalist virus. Each of us is fanatical, rigid, and intolerant about products of the imagination that we don't like. We wish that certain people would not imagine the things they do, and we allow ourselves to beam hateful, war-like thoughts in their direction.
We even wage war against our own imaginations, commanding ourselves, sometimes half-consciously, to ignore possibilities that don't fit into our neatly constructed theories. Each of us sets aside certain precious beliefs and symbols that we give ourselves permission to take very seriously and personally and literally.
Our fundamentalism, yours and mine, may not be as dangerous to the collective welfare as, say, the fundamentalism of Islamic terrorists and right-wing Christian politicians. It may not be as destructive as that of the CEOs who worship financial profit as the supreme measure of value, and the scientists who ignore and deny every mystery that can't be measured, and the journalists, filmmakers, novelists, musicians, and pundits who relentlessly generate rotten visions of the human condition.
But still: We are all infected, you and I. We are fueling the war against the imagination. What's your version of the virus?
Try to remember. We are reverent insurgents " convulsive beautifiers " rowdy avatars. We have more mojo at our disposal than we realize. But if we hope to navigate our way through this peculiar turning point in the evolution of our 14-billion-year-old master game, we will have to summon previously untapped reserves of that mojo. We will have to keep our imaginations wild and hungry and free, and make sure that all of our fellow messiahs, even those who volunteered to play the roles of ignorant deceivers, have the chance to keep their imaginations wild and hungry and free.
How might we start curing ourselves of the fundamentalist virus and move in the direction of becoming more festive and relentless champions of the liberated imagination?
For starters, we can take everything less seriously and less personally and less literally.
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