Death and Political Fundamentalism
There are religious and political fundamentalists. Some people are both. Right now, many people are of the latter.
Based on the works of Ernest Becker, a connection can be made between death and fundamentalism. Richard Beck, in his book The Authenticity of Faith (which I’ve been reading of late), writes this about the relationship between death and fundies. This quote is like ice cream … if you eat it too fast, you’ll get a brain freeze, but if you eat it slow, you may find it delightful.
Human personality and culture are inherently about the denial of death, about helping the human animal achieve day-to-day equanimity in the face of our existential burden and helping us manage our instinct for self-preservation in the face of a cognitive awareness that we are bound for death, that we cannot run away or escape our fate. Death activates a fight or flight response in us, but we have nowhere to run. No one to fight. So the anxiety just sits there, churning away. To handle this anxiety, we repress death awareness or sublimate the anxiety it causes by working on projects our culture deems significant and valuable. Through these efforts we attach our life stories to goods that can outlive us. And by doing so, we achieve both self-esteem and a symbolic immortality. We feel that we made a difference. And our culture declares our life meaningful.
…. This daily exposure to alternate hero systems threatens our belief that our particular cultural heroics, our way of life are eternal and timeless. As noted earlier, in our modern, pluralistic society there is a fragility of meaning. We see now that this is largely due to the clash of worldviews we encounter on a daily basis. Pluralism hints that worldviews are relative and not timeless and eternal. And if this is so, is anything to be counted on? Where am I to find meaning, truth, and significance in the face death if the foundations have all turned to sand?
The fear inherent within modernity, the anxiety that the ideological Other calls my worldview into question, is one explanation for rise of fundamentalism in the modern ear.
Religious and ideological fundamentalism, then, appears within modernity (perhaps paradoxically) as a defense against these questions. Fundamentalism, of all strips, is the individual and collective effort to defend the truth of your worldview against the relativization inherent in the existence of the Other. Becoming a true believer is one way to defend against the existential predicament of modern day pluralism. And this leads to a surprising conclusion. Rather than making humanity less religious, as Freud believed, secularlism is driving an increase in religious fundamentalism and often violent fundamentalism. Modernity is shaping up to be less an age of reason than a violent battle between ideologies, ways of life and worldviews. Pages 75 – 77
Support your symbolic immortality.