Updated: Mar 22, 2019
What follows are a few mistakes I’ve made in my spiritual evolution. Referring to these as “mistakes” may be unfair. What I describe below is typical, probably unavoidable, and perhaps even necessary at the time. I refer to them as “mistakes” because they don’t seem to be very productive as a regular practice, and I would not intentionally repeat them again.
The term “fundamentalism” is normally associated with religious extremism. It doesn’t just apply to ultra-conservative, fundy Christians. I’ve discovered there are progressive/liberal Christian fundamentalists, Atheist fundamentalists, Buddhist fundamentalists, Muslim fundamentalists, Jewish fundamentalists, New Age fundamentalists, and many more. What I mean by “fundamentalist” is the insistence that one’s belief system, philosophy, understandings or experiences are superior. Religious fundamentalism often leads to the objectification and demonization of the “unbeliever” but there is also a kinder/gentler fundamentalism that is still in the end … fundamentalism.
We can create a fundamentalist mindset out of any new understanding, concept, experience, or discovery. We become beholden to our latest epiphany, make it the new standard, and it becomes our new religion. You don't necessarily have to be nasty or belligerent about it but there is still a certain insistence, silent pride and arrogance to it.
You are driving down the street and notice you are about to go off the road into a ditch. Your reaction is to grab the wheel and by over-correcting, you fly across the road and off into the ditch on the other side. By avoiding one ditch, you managed to steer right into another. It’s no secret that any person who feels led astray and betrayed by their religion is likely to become it’s biggest critic. A person lives many years under the oppression of religion and in reaction to this, they make all religion wrong. Their new religion is anti-religion. I'm not saying we should not confront the toxicity of religion. However, we should go further than this and live the alternative. In my interfaith involvements in my city, I have met people from many different religious, spiritual and philosophical traditions and belief systems, and have found in our shared humanity a basis for love and solidarity, and a common desire to work together to build a world that works for everyone.
Insecurity can express itself in a strong need for your beliefs and experiences to be validated by others. How do others validate your beliefs and experiences? By agreeing with them. We view the people who don’t agree or share in our beliefs and experiences as a threat to our sense of identity. We feel invalidated. It’s very difficult to truly accept and learn from another as long as your need for validation is running the show. What happens is that you begin dividing people up on sides. You want people on “your side” because that makes you feel secure and validated. People on the “other side” are seen as the enemy. Needing to be “right” is often a issue of insecurity and needing validation from others.
I don’t mean for the word to sound as harsh as it might seem. Here’s my point. Most people want a formula or magic bullet. They are not truly willing to do their own due diligence at a soul level, and would prefer someone just give them the answer. They are hoping for a formula that promises that if you do ‘A’ then ‘B’ will happen. Paradox, mystery, ambiguity, abstraction, self-honesty, vulnerability, humility are but a few of the things many people would like to avoid if possible, and would rather just have someone figure things out for them.
The question is not whether we will make mistakes; we will. The issue is learning from our mistakes and not repeating them. Your mistakes may be very different from mine. Perhaps in certain cases you didn’t go far enough, or held on to long, or allowed fear to control you. Deconstruction is often a messy and volatile process. For fifteen years I've been working individually with people in recovering from harmful religion, and forging a different path of meaning and fulfillment. I also created a Life After Religion course that guides people through the deconstruction process. You can learn more about these here.