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The Threat of Religious Extremism and Radicalized Individuals to the Common Good

The Threat of Religious Extremism and Radicalized Individuals to the Common Good

The lack of critical thinking skills, open-mindedness, and prejudice leads to inhumane behaviour. TQP219

Critical thinking is not about being judgemental of other people for their ideas or beliefs. Instead, critical thinking is the practice of impartiality — attempting to suspend opinion, subjectivity, or outrage — while practicing logical, open-ended questioning and sometimes dialectical reasoning.

The dictionary definition of critical thinking is, “The objective analysis and evaluation of an issue in order to form a judgement.”

We need to be mindful in the practice of critical thinking to focus on the “critical” aspect of the thinking process toward a clear, objective, and decisive analysis or evaluation of a situation. We must also think of “judgement” as the “ability to make considered decisions or come to sensible conclusions” — not subjective judgement or opinion.

Learning how to be less judgemental is something I used to struggle with, big time.

I used to think that because I went to university, that made me smarter than other people who hadn’t. Yet, I barely graduated from high school and had to wait several years before I was admitted to a university because of those low grades. I had an inferiority complex about not being smart enough. Then, when I performed impressively at university — maintaining an A-minus average throughout my entire tenure, receiving financial awards, and bursaries, as well as being on the Dean’s List every single year, well, it went to my head for a while. Thankfully, I got over myself!

Certainly, the more education one has, especially of the type that challenges how you think, the easier it is to practice critical thinking. But it dawned on me in my contemplation of the Tao Te Ching that impartiality and compassion should be requisites for critical thinking. The simple reason is that those values, and the conscious practice of those values, support understanding and universal connection.

Impartiality and compassion should be requisites for critical thinking.

The willingness and openness to understand another person — without prejudice — is a form of humility.

This is how we support each other in dialogue together to get clarity — to understand — what each person is trying to communicate via their ideas, statements, or beliefs. This doesn’t mean either of you has to agree. Instead, you seek to understand each other and how your ideas or beliefs impact what each of you perceives to be true for the common good.

Think of the common good as free-flowing, unimpeded communication. The root meaning of communication is to commune, which means to share your intimate thoughts or feelings with someone else. This practice requires vulnerability which moves towards trust, which is a form of acceptance and connection. The more we trust another person, the closer the connection. The deeper your connection with another person, the more you will accept and be willing to understand that person.

Unfortunately, what we more often see, especially online, is a total absence of communication. Instead, we see talking over, talking at, shouting, ignoring, cancelling, and so on. None of those forms of communication are skillful. Since they start from prejudice, they do not support dialogue or constructive debate. They act as a metaphorical wall instead of a bridge to connection.

Perhaps the most significant challenge with critical thinking is the intersection and potential conflict of one’s beliefs.

If you don’t know why you believe what you believe, you will not have critically held beliefs. The more dogmatic, unquestioned, ideological, and fundamentalist your belief systems, the greater your prejudice, judgement, and unwillingness to practice critical thinking. This is blatantly manifest in the United States with what religious freedom zealots inappropriately term, “sincerely held religious beliefs.”

Unfortunately, I am not convinced that the feeling expressed by this sentiment is sincere in a thoughtful, compassionate, or impartial sense. “Sincerely held religious beliefs” are nothing more than a form of self-defence for prejudicial beliefs and choices that fly in the face of universal human dignity. If you don’t believe that every single person is a priori deserving of human dignity — irrespective of issues of equality — you place yourself in a category of “superior” that substantiates crimes against humanity.

“Sincerely held religious beliefs” are nothing more than a form of self-defence for prejudicial beliefs and choices that fly in the face of universal human dignity.

For example, in one of the most glaring examples of inhumanity, religious-freedom laws in the United States have been used to grant the right to refuse life-saving health care to someone who identifies as LGBTQ. This is (not-so-simply) because the medical professional is a ‘god-fearing christian’ (lowercase intentional) who doesn’t support the LGBTQ ‘lifestyle.’

There is no critical thinking present in “sincerely held religious beliefs.” These are beliefs based on faith without reason or logic. Such beliefs are based on a book called the Bible, a book that is inconsistent at best. Historically, it has been re-written, badly translated, falsely translated, or interpreted for personal gain, and entire sections have been omitted while others have been supported. One might as well believe that “Alice in Wonderland” actually happened.

Here is my “sensible conclusion.”

There are some laws on the books — not just in the United States — that allow a select group of people to act inhumanely because of their hatred and fear.

We cannot reason from a place of hatred, threat, or fear. This is why those who fight for their “sincerely held religious beliefs” are — defacto — fighting. I’m not going to cite neuroscience but simply put, we can only make logical decisions based on critical thinking when we have a calm heart and mind — when we don’t feel under threat or stress.

To add a personal observation, if you live your life based on the belief that you need to follow a set of (questionable) moral rules in order to be “saved,” you have surrendered your ability to think rationally and for yourself. You live in fear of a never-witnessed (fictional) higher power who grants salvation at HIS will. Talk about a patriarchal, top-down hierarchy!

This is an exceptionally challenging problem. It means that religious fundamentalists and radicalized individuals cannot think critically — or that their ability to reason has limits, after which they will go into defensive mode. At that point, they cannot reason with calm impartiality and are thus a threat to any individual or group they deem a sinner, unworthy, or less-than-human. Essentially, at the extreme, they are a threat to the universal common good.

Darren is a certified MindMap Mastery Coach, specializing in the areas of behavioural and change science relating to lifestyle and transformational coaching. Darren empowers LGBTQ+ creatives and thought leaders to become more skillful at making a difference in the world. Every week, I hold a live Community Forum on Zoom where you can ask me anything.