“The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion that stands at the cradle of true art and true science. Whoever does not know it and can no longer wonder, no longer marvel, is as good as dead, and his eyes are dimmed. It was the experience of mystery—even if mixed with fear—that engendered religion. A knowledge of the existence of something we cannot penetrate, our perceptions of the profoundest reason and the most radiant beauty, which only in their most primitive forms are accessible to our minds: it is this knowledge and this emotion that constitute true religiosity. In this sense, and only this sense, I am a deeply religious man... I am satisfied with the mystery of life’s eternity and with a knowledge, a sense, of the marvelous structure of existence—as well as the humble attempt to understand even a tiny portion of the Reason that manifests itself in nature.” —Albert Einstein
I read the first part of that quote the other day. I was in the smallest room of my house reading Woman’s Day. It was the only magazine available. Really. I found the complete quote in the essay by Einstein, The World As I See It. It can be found online at numerous sources. Google is my friend. The quote got me thinking about how people do not like mystery, unless it is in the form of a paperback novel. Mystery is the currency that art and science live by, it is the mystery of the unknown that keeps artist looking forward to new works, and the mystery of why, how and the unknown that keeps scientists working away. It is also the sense of mystery that powers religions. And when they attempt to put a forth a literal answer to the mystery that creates fundamentalism. When I say “fundamentalism,” I mean in all walks of life. Every branch of religion has fundamentalists, every branch of science, and every arts movement. Fundamentalism kills mystery. A person extrapolates a universal meaning from an individual experience. Then the fundamentalist verbiage gets strapped on, the words that try to kill mystery, “The problem is that you don’t believe like we do. If you believed what we believe, you would know the truth, and there would be no problem.” (I’ve read that, or similar sentences in Buddhist, Muslim and Christian writings that I can think of off the top of my head. And I’m sure it is in more.) And where is the mystery in knowledge of the “truth?” This of course creates an immediate us vs. them condition, (believers vs. non-believers) and anything you might say fuels their belief and falls into what “they” (of the infamous “them”) want you to belief. Conspiracies abound…paranoia grows…orthodoxy defined…heretics denounced and destroyed…all in the name of fundamentalism. It never ceases to amaze me, we see this behavior in so many groups: from UFO believers to religious to dietary to political believers…it is the same behavior. As a musician, I’ve run across different kinds of fundamentalism recently. I’d like to coin a term, “geographic fundamentalism.” I experienced this in regards to music, and it always shocks me. I was recently told that if you are a jazz musician and you don’t live in New York City, you don’t know anything. I was pretty shocked. Because, yes, NYC has some great musicians, but so does Los Angeles, Paris, San Francisco, Chicago, London…even Tehachapi.
There seems to be a part of the human psyche that needs to know, wants to know concretely about the eternal mysteries of life. (Should I list them?) Some part that needs to be able to claim the special knowledge and special experience that gives the right to tell all that our specific individual experience is valid universally for everyone. Of course, in the telling it invalidates differing individual experiences. The truth is, a specific individual experience is just that. It has truth and validity to that individual. And that is good. But when individuals start saying their individual experience is better, more real, more powerful, and more truthful than others then the mystery and variety of human experience get torn apart, invalidated, and the value of the individual is lessened. Fundamentalism of this type fuels destruction in everything from personal relationships to wars that are tearing countries apart.
So, after looking over this column I realize I’m fundamentally against fundamentalism.
So I guess I’m a fundamentalist, too. But is this sort of fundamentalism creative or destructive?