I’ve never liked religions or movements that try to blot out their competition. Book burning, for instance, is just the lowest level humanity can achieve, that is unless they are inhuman enough to start burning the bodies of their enemies. The truth is, when the former starts, the latter is sure to follow.
Why? Why is it so important to a religion or a movement that their followers not learn anything that might contradict it? The Catholics burned thousands of Jewish books and manuscripts, cleansing the world of Jewish knowledge, wisdom, criticism, insight. The Crusaders thought it good sport to burn houses and kill people of the Jewish and Muslim faiths because they weren’t Christian. The inquisitors felt it necessary to torture people until they converted to their religion. The Nazis burned books of Jews and others who they felt were “undesirables.” Why?
This, to me, does not spark images of confidence, but rather the opposite. Who self-conscious, how weak must a religion or movement be if it must delete everything that might challenge it?
Judaism is not devoid of this curse either. The shtetls, the isolated Orthodox communities, the Ultra-Orthodox shield themselves from science, logic, reason, rational thought, evolution, biblical criticism, combatting theologies. And why? So they can blind their residents, having them shout Torah verses like the fundamentalist Christians who shout Bible verses at passerby’s?
The more a religion or movement denies, the more it denies its followers the attempt to study dissenting opinions, the weaker it is at its core.
A religion or movement that is strong stands face-to-face with criticism, alternate theories, scientific fact, archaeology, and says, “my religion/movement can withstand this.” It doesn’t, as the fundamentalists and ultra-orthodox do, close its eyes, put fingers in its ears, and say “la la la I’m not listening to you la la la.”
I’ve thoughtfully and calmly brought up notions of multiple manuscripts, evolution, archaeological finds, and literary criticism, all which challenge notions within the Torah and Tanakh, to say nothing of the New Testament. Every single fundamentalist I have come across, no matter how calmly I bring these things up, no matter how kind I am, how curious I am, the listener always erupts in anger, standing in front of me, yelling scripture and talking down to me as if I just don’t understand. This isn’t a sign of strength; it is the action of a small child who is not getting his way.
I refer to these reactions to competitive notions as “religious hissy-fits.” Children have hissy-fits, jumping up and down, yelling, and scowling when they are presented with evidence that counter their arguments. Religious movements do this too.
Competition is healthy. Tell me that my theory has some holes in it, and we’ll talk about it. Present to me some good well-defended arguments against my views, and you might actually convince me. You know how I know? Because years ago people convinced me to think the way I think now. Fundamentalist forget that they weren’t born this way. Someone or a group of someones taught them to think certain things, shaped their world, and wired their brains. It’s not a gift. It’s just a part of life.
We say the world is polarized politically, because we can’t even have discussions anymore without one of us getting angry at the other. But it’s been this way with religion for a long time. Long before politics.
So stop telling your fold to not read certain books. Stop telling your congregants to only read certain books. You’re not creating a strong people. You’re creating narrow minded, uneducated, blind followers. But maybe that’s what some movements want.