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The Pernicious Nature of Literalism/Dogmatism/Fundamentalism

"the Letter killeth, but the Spirit giveth Life"
2Corinthians 3:6

There is no greater foe to impartial aspiration for the Truth, and a valid understanding of reality, than Literalism. By "literalism" I mean here the dogmatic and unthinking (or only half-thinking) adherance to a particular preconceived theory, doctrine, dogma, revelation, teaching, or explanation of things, as the literal and complete truth of things. Equivalent terms are Dogmatism and Fundamentalism. Literalism is perhaps preferable because of its more precise meaning - only what is "literally" said or written down is accepted. However the extended term "Literalism/Dogmatism/Fundamentalism" will also be used, to distinguish what is meant here from constructive or pragmatic forms of literalism, such as "a commitment to strict exactness of words or meanings in translation or interpretation. A literal translation seeks to represent as accurately as possible in one language the words which were written in another." [ref J J Scott, Jr. external link Literalism]

In any form of Literalism/Dogmatism/Fundamentalism, the original explanation or doctrine may be in itself completely admirable, valid, and a viable vision of things. It may be a scientific methodology or worldview, a religious faith, an esoteric doctrine or wisdom tradition, a political or sociopolitical ideology, or, at its narrowest, a brainwashed cult. It doesn't matter, for even the broadest explanation and deepest insight can be a distortion when it is interpreted as words-only "gospel truth". Because such an interpretation demands the exclusion of every other truth that dares contradict it.

The fossil record contradicts Genesis, therefore evolution must be the foolish invention of man. (this is fundamentalism, the perversion of faith). Mystic experience and vision metaphysical realities contradict Science, therefore they must hallucination. (this is reductionism, or scientism, the perversion of science). Environmental degradation contradict profit-motive vested interests, therefore ecological concern is panic-mongering by "greenies" (this is environmental exploitation, the perversion of utilisation of natural resurces)

In whatever way it is done, taking every word and letter of some authority or pronouncement or teaching as the absolute truth, and therefore adopting the attitude that all facts that cannot be denied outright must be twisted and distorted to fit one's preconceived opinion or ideology or religion, is pernicious. It is the enemy of free enquiry, of genuine spiritual aspiration, and of any effort to better than world on any level.

The Psychological Causes of Literalism

My understanding is that Literalism/Dogmatism/Fundamentalism is caused by a combination of psychological, and at a deeper level occult, factors.


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content by M.Alan Kazlev
page uploaded 22 August 2004