Beyond Religion: Part 6 – The fundamentals of fundamentalism

Part 5, I argued that social behaviors are intimately tied to the level of consciousness of a particular individual, group or society. How can we best use this knowledge to better understand and deal with religious fundamentalism?

When form outweighs content

Ever since the dawn of humanity, shaman, gurus, sages and prophets have been on a quest to better understand our role in the universe. Their teachings have helped humanity attain higher levels of consciousness. Unfortunately, their wisdom has lost most of its original richness and depth when it was codified into sets of practices and texts that, in turn, were institutionalized into “cults” and “religions”. If these texts are further interpreted at the first level, form inevitably outweighs content, and the resulting message can only be a pale copy of what it was originally meant to be. Jews, Christians, and Muslims who rebuff to contextualize, criticize or re-interpret their scriptures because they view them as revealed, sacred and perfect are fundamentalists and belong to the Conformist-Amber paradigm (refer to diagram below). Among them, the Islamists (i.e. radical Muslims) adhere to a particularly rigid and aggressive form of fundamentalism that makes for a great case study.

World peace through conformity

Ever since 9-11, not a day has gone by without grim reports of religiously motivated massacres making the headlines. Claiming to be divinely inspired, a growing number of zealous faith followers are embracing terrorism as a way to fright the infidels with the goal of imposing their view to the rest of the world; deeply convinced that once fully aligned with Islam and under Sharia law, humanity will be at peace.[1]

Stages of consciousness

When considering the above diagram, one can better appreciate how organizations such as al-Qaeda, Boko Haram and ISIS are operating from the Conformist-Amber paradigm, but rely on Impulse-Red strategies to achieve their goals. They are radical, utopic and violent, and consider that the end justifies all means.[2]


Contrary to popular belief, deep faith and commitment into Islam is not a predisposition to jihad. Recruitment also rarely takes place among the marginalized, poor and illiterates, but rather among the well educated, sensitive and disillusioned young man and women that are attracted by the prospect of transforming a world they feel they no longer belong to, and by joining a band of brothers and sisters ready to sacrifice themselves to a higher cause. In fact, there are probably just as many politico-sociological factors motivating an individual to join, than there are candidates.
As part of their indoctrination strategies, jihadist organizations tap massively into conspiracy theories and pseudo-science. Anyone can be easily self-radicalized by listening to the host of brainwashed and emotionally charged discourses on the Internet. There are very few resources with which to resist the waves that are sweeping up vulnerable prey. Reason fails to stand firm against the tide of blind faith. And in the absence of rational thinking and scientific evidence to oppose pseudo-science, subjectivity has free reign.
By successfully exacerbating the shadows of the modern Western world through efficient propaganda and by proving its “Big Lies” (i.e. its obsession for materialism and the failed US international policies in the treatment of Palestinian and Arab populations), jihadists movements appeal to individuals that have given up on the Achievement-Orange paradigm and might just need a little push to fall back into the Conformist-Amber one. However, these individuals will become little more than supporting members after joining the group as their personal experience often proves difficult when they wake up in the face of a harsh reality that is dominated by lower levels of consciousness.
It has also often been noted that a fair number of jihadists were previously part of street gangs or imprisoned for petty crimes. These individuals are used to operating from the chaotic Impulsive-Red paradigm. As jihadists movements adhere to a Conformist-Amber politico-religious ideology, these individuals are gaining access to a new level of consciousness, and this might very well explain the fascination exercised by these groups on this particular audience and the reason they produce its most committed and agressive members.
But if deep faith cannot be a trigger in itself, it would be foolish to ignore the fact that religious fervor plays a critical role among jihadists. By exacerbating paranoia with conspiracy theories and by ascertaining the infallibility of the Qu’ran with pseudo-science, jihadists heat up the “Allahu Akbar!” cry into the branding iron that puts the group into action by marking it with a sense of transcendence, readiness for self-sacrifice and heroism. And while there should be no doubt that the roots of indoctrination extend far beyond the doctrines of Islam, the Qu’ran or the hadiths[3], there should also be no denying that faith and the promises of divine blessings represents an economical and formidable motivational fuel that enables its most agressive members to completely dismiss the very basic and universal moral code that prevents any normally constituted human being from perpetrating gruesome acts against innocent and defenseless victims.

How to respond?

The most instinctive response to blatant cruelty is a visceral Impulsive-Red reaction that is handled in our societies through a military response of the Conformist-Amber paradigm – “you are either with us or with the terrorists!” However, such military responses are not only proving astronomically expensive, but are playing into the game of the radicalized ones. Jihadists rely on a strategy of long-term chaos and military attrition of the superpowers. By engendering destruction, fear and hatred among local populations, warfare creates fertile grounds for jihadists that rush in to extend their foothold by implementing social services, and by establishing stability and security through the imposition of Sharia law.
In opposing religious fundamentalism, it is fruitless to criticize it or to fight it with weapons or external arguments as no amount of threat, energy or argumentation can bring a person to open up to a more complex stage of consciousness. While the international community argues and tries to figure out the best way to deal with the problem[4], deradicalization programs are actively being instituted throughout the West to help individuals leave radical groups or renounce their violent ideology or discourse.
As anyone involve already knows, the challenge of deradicalization stems from the fact that change can only come from a very personal an intimate process. When discussing the motivation required to seek a new stage of consciousness, Laloux explains:

“… the trigger for vertical growth always comes in the form of a major life change that cannot be resolved from the current worldview.”[5]

By placing a radical person in a position to experience the terrible impacts of his or her actions through the eyes of victims or former radicals, the Pluralistic-Green psychosocial intervention programs have proven to be somewhat effective. Regrettably, these programs require a highly individualized approach that can hardly be deployed at a large scale.
Throughout history, true spiritual leaders who’ve managed to achieve higher stages of consciousness had no other choice, but to develop metaphorical interpretations of their scriptures. Drawing on a sincere spiritual yearning and a strong desire to overcome the limitations of their worldview, these leaders gave birth to more spiritual forms of religions, such as Kabbalah and Sufism. Combined with various meditative and breathing practices, they can provide access to Achievement-Orange, Pluralistic-Green, Evolutionary-Teal and even higher levels of consciousness.
Unfortunately, anyone comfortable in the Conformist-Amber paradigm will be quick to reject and criticize any speculative interpretation that deviates from the literal words of God. “If God had meant something different than what’s written, why wouldn’t He have chosen to say so in the first place?” For them, a literal interpretation is far more valuable than any metaphorical interpretations, which are, for all intents and purposes, only seen as signs of weakness. Advocating deradicalization through an Achievement-Orange/Pluralistic-Green moderate religious discourse will therefore always prove to be an uphill battle.

Seeding a pebble

Given scriptures sit at the core of any fundamentalist’s concern, they might also represent an Achilles’ heel and perhaps the  best hope for change. It is far easier to engage into a dialogue with fundamentalists by apprehending the text literally, because this is the level they trust and are most comfortable with. Premises, postulates and conclusions can then be respectfully questioned and reexamined in their historical context in order to argue for a more logical, realistic and psychologically plausible scientific explanation.
The brain easily accept irrational propositions, as long as it validates an existing belief. However, it is also capable of comparing the merits of two propositions when evaluated side-by-side. By showing fundamentalists how all textual, archaeological and chronological evidence come together to corroborate the fact that Abraham made a covenant with a mortal overlord rather than a divine entity, they will see their worldview threatened to collapse and they will experience various levels of cognitive dissonance. They can either accept the evidence or reject it. Acknowledging the evidence will be nearly impossible as would imply accepting the fallibility of their scriptures and associated belief system. Dismissing the evidence will allow them to remain in their comfort zone, but at the cost of an increased cognitive distortion with reality, from which varying levels of destabilizing doubts may persist. And like a pebble in a shoe, even the smallest doubt can wear out confidence over time…

Photo (c) Peter Will – Getty Images

Looking back over the course of history, one can easily appreciate how science and rational thinking has contributed to pacifying the world by offering more objective, verifiable and consensual answers to questions that had until then remained subjective, and thus source of argumentation, conflicts, and hostilities. All along, science has acted as an emulsifier, which has allowed people with varying backgrounds, cultures and levels of consciousness to smooth out their differences around the interpretation of objective facts and evidence.
This is why I believe that the demythification of biblical stories, and that of Abraham in particular due to his unique position as founding father of the three main monotheistic faiths can act as an enabler to help those stuck in the Conformist-Amber paradigm let go of their dogmatic beliefs and move towards a higher stage of human consciousness.

[1] We all have a natural inclination to impose our values onto others because it reduces opportunities for conflicts and frictions. However, history has taught us that imposing our values on those who think differently can only yield to war, not peace (see Part 1).
[2] According to Islamic doctrines, the Khalifah is inevitable. It will unite all Islamic lands and subjugate the rest of the world for achieving ultimate peace. Their long-term strategy is to create chaos amid superpowers in order to win by attrition.
[3] Second only to the Quran, the hadiths are collections of texts claiming to be reports of what the prophet Muhammad would have said on a wide variety of subjects.
[4] The failure of NATO and EU to agree on a common response strategy is tied to the fact that these organizations include states and countries operating from different stages of consciousness.
[5] Laloux, Frédéric. 2014. Reinventing Organizations: A Guide to Creating Organizations Inspired by the Next Stage of Human Consciousness. p. 39