Beware of FADS

A couple of weeks ago, I was tempted to rush into print some commentary on the controversy surrounding the avowed intention of the Christian fanatic, the Reverend Terry Jones to burn a copy of the Koran in protest on the anniversary of the attack on the twin towers of the World Trade Centre. However, in the end, I decided to refrain from commentary on this bizarre situation. And as you are no doubt aware there was a lot of press about the issue.

Now that the situation has passed, and even though there has been extensive media coverage of it, I have decided to venture to share some thoughts with you on this strange and concerning phenomenon.

Most of us, I am sure, have no great ambition to burn copies of the Koran (or the Bible, the Torah, the Diamond Sutra, the Bhagavad Ghita etc – although I must confess I have been tempted to burn a copy of the Laws of Cricket.). It would be a tasteless and insensitive thing to do. So let’s make that plain to begin with.

We largely embrace a pluralistic society where people are entitled to their various religious beliefs and respect their right to practice such beliefs. If such societies are to survive they depend on tolerance and understanding.

In this particular case, I was greatly alarmed when the President of the United States intervened, pleading that the (doubtful) Reverend Jones shouldn’t burn copies of the Koran. I am sure that if some psychotic Imam in Iran had threatened to burn a bible, there would have been no press whatsoever, let alone an intervention by the head of state. Nor would there be any great outcry from the Western bastions of Christianity.

There seems to be a disproportionate blame in this occurrence. Surely it is insensitive and provocative to burn a Koran. But how much more blameworthy is it to take human lives in retribution for such a stupid act?

I am greatly concerned at the way we “pussy-foot” around the pathetic sensitivities of religious fundamentalists. Every time we do this we are shoring up the walls of intolerance rather than help to demonstrate to them that all the citizens of the world deserve our love and forgiveness, not only those of a particular fundamentalist belief.

How insecure can a person’s faith be if they could take offence by the burning of a book? Whoever or Whatever God (Allah) may be He/She can’t be so insecure as to take umbrage at the destruction of a book? Particularly when such books have been written by fallible human beings mistakenly believing or deluding themselves they are prophets! (It is worthwhile rereading Bruno’s commentary to my last blog in this regard.)

So how are we to proceed? If some fundamentalist of whatever religious persuasion suggests that they will be offended if we eat cabbage, drive on the left-hand side of the road or play music in minor keys, shall we refrain from doing so? Should our head of state intervene to advise us to do otherwise?

In my recent blog which I titled “Is Unhappiness a Mental Illness?” I documented the symptoms that the DSM-IV (the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association) purported were indicators of depression.

What if I were to generate another set of symptoms, eg.

• Intolerance of other belief systems
• Conviction of knowing the only “right” way
• A belief in magic (believing that their particular God has intervened to overturn the laws of physics in favour of His/Her believers)
• Getting personal instructions from their particular deity
• An obsession about various forms of dress, dietary requirements, and religious protocols prescribed by their particular belief system
• A predisposition to taking themselves very seriously
• A belief in a vindictive and petulant deity
• A delusion that an all-knowing, omnipotent deity needs lavish praise and unthinking obedience
• That there exists special “chosen” people on this earth
• That access to paradise can be obtained by slaughtering fellow human beings
• That issues of gender and race can render some people as inferior under their particular religious dictates
• Taking spiritual instruction from doddery old men in dresses

Now, as a learned panel of one, I am going to propose that any human being who demonstrates four or five of the above traits for more than half an hour is mentally ill. Indeed I would purport that they are suffering from Fundamentalist Affective Dysfunction Syndrome (FADS) and should be immediately offered psychological counselling. (Note I am not recommending drugs!)

14 Replies to “Beware of FADS”

  1. I don’t agree that tolerance for a regime or way of thinking reinforces that regime. In fact I think the opposite is true. I believe that the more outspoken we are and the more we oppose a belief system the more of a push back there is and the stronger it becomes regardless of how irrational the beliefs may be. Burning a symbol of a belief system that is fearful and insecure will only strengthen and harden the line. It will also in many instances result in a disproportionate back lash. Why beat the wasp’s nest.

    I see some parallels to organisational management here. We can treat everyone in an organisation equally as mature responsible adults in the expectation that they will respect the trust placed in them and behave accordingly. Experience shows that this does not work though. Some people are already there, others can be developed if given the opportunity but still others live in a paradigm of mistrust and fear and do not change. The paradigm shift that they require is rare and generally requires a seriously traumatic event. It is a bit like this with religious traditions. There are some very mature religious traditions (generalisation only) and some that are still fearful and insecure. Treating all the same is not appropriate. Attempts by the US President to stop a bible burning in Iran seem pointless where as stopping a Koran burning in the US seems much more relevant to me.

    I don’t believe that treating all people or beliefs the same results in maturing. I think the key here is tolerance, understanding, improved living standards and education. Television and radio signals passing through the Berlin Wall eventually tore it down and it will be a similar mechanism that will result in a maturing of aggressive fundamentalist religions. It is a slow process though. The high living standards of the West combined with good education and freedom of expression still breed small splinter groups of fanatics and I suspect they will always be there.

  2. Understanding fundamentalism of any kind, be it religious, political, ideological, or other, must extend beyond the superficial aspects of doctrine and behaviour.
    The doctrine is simply mobilised as a weapon to justify destructive behaviour. What drives people or groups to be so destructive is much more complex.

    The Reverend is just one more example of the resurgence of extremism in a range of forms in the US and elsewhere around the world. Obvious US examples of this include the Tea Party, as well as a ‘freedom of speech’ case currently being heard by the US Supreme Court over religious zealots opposed to homosexuality picketing the funerals of US soldiers (go to

    Extremism in all its forms is motivated by fear, but I’d argue it has less to do with any genuine fear of God (or Allah or any of their clan) and more to do with perceived fear of being significantly disadvantaged by factors outside our own control (the emergent threats of economy and geo-political domain)…and so irrationality reigns supreme and we fight to be among the ‘haves’ rather than the ‘have nots’, blind to the realisation that the suffering of others cannot be seperated from our own.

    I felt troubled recently when I heard several interviews on the ABC with a young Arab man who killed his sister, an ‘honour killing’ ( I was not only troubled by the brutality of the killing, but by the lack of depth in the coverage, a lack of depth which is typical in public discourse on these types of matters. The young man was reduced to a remorseless killer in a woefully short three minute judgement of his crime. Again it strikes me that we are all playing an active, albeit unconscious (or ignorant?), role in perpetuating destructive tendencies that polarise ‘us’ and ‘them’.
    By the same token, there are equally moving examples of extraordinary (and ordinary) compassion in the world. I try to rest my mind in these examples, which offer hope and reassurance that love still stands the better chance.

  3. A very interesting topic indeed Ted. I’d like to look at this issue slightly differently though if I may.

    What concerns me isn’t that some fundamentalist idiot wants to burn a book but rather that some editorial idiot in the media chooses to give him any sort of publicity what so ever. I fail to see why the media in Australia and the rest of the world for that matter should indulge his fantasy of publicity but rather save those electrons and spaces in the newspaper for some good news. I live here in Central Queensland and the stupidity of some little known and outspoken fool on the other side of the planet interests me not at all.

    So Ted when you say “I am greatly concerned at the way we “pussy-foot” around the pathetic sensitivities of religious fundamentalists” I quite agree with you but what concerns me more is the fact that the media feel that they have to publish this sort of drivel. Surely there are far more worthy news items out there in our great wide world rather than so much of the drivel and gloom we are continually subjected to.

    So tonight when we all watch the news, lets think about how much time is taken up with bad news and stories with negative slants on them and how much time is spent on good news and stories with positive slants on them.

  4. Ken, although I agree with your view that it is a shame to publish things like this, it is worth noting that the News is not the realities of the world but rather a very narrow slice of what is entertaining and popular. The purpose of the News is to attract an audience in order to sell advertising. This is the case for all media forms. Even state owned media outlets still want to get a reasonable audience.

    So…. the people get what they want in the News. If it was not what people wanted to hear and see it would not be included so we have only ourselves to blame.

    Just as an aside, I did some media training some time back and the emphasis in the training was on presenting your information in a way that the TV or radio station wanted it. If they did not like what you said or how you said it, it just did not get aired. In other words we were taught how to massage it into a form that people wanted it to be in. There were a few key things that made something news worthy. I only remember some and they may not all be correct:

    Disasters, Novelty, Famous People, New Inventions or Ideas, Animals, Human Conflict

    If you can’t get an animal, famous person or new invention into your story you are pretty much stuck with bad News story spin.

  5. Thank you all for your comments.

    Ken, your point is a good one and in the original draft I wrote that President Obama’s attention just provides oxygen for the likes of Terry Jones and ensures media attention.

    And Greg you know me well enough to know that I wouldn’t encourage anyone to be so provocative. But if Terry Jones is misguided enough to believe his God requires him to burn a Koran what tolerance should be afforded him?

    And I wonder where we draw the line when it comes to freedom of expression? Should we allow our freedom to be suppressed by irrational threats and and retaliatory actions as occurred when those cartoons depicting Mohammad were published in Europe?

    Some years ago when this phenomena was starting to emerge more broadly, I believed that education would be the solution. I am not so sure now that that is the case. I was surprised by the number of those engaging in terrorist activities who had the benefit of a Western University education.

    And how do you reconcile the case of Salaman Rushdie. In 1989, the theocratic head of a foreign state -the Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran – publicly offered money , in his own name, to suborn the murder of a novelist who was a citizen of another country. Those who were encouraged to carry out this bribed assassination scheme, which extended to all those whowere involved in the publication “The Satanic Verses” were offered not just cold cash but also a free ticket to paradise!

    As Christopher Hitchens has written,”It is impossible to imagine a greater affront to every value of free expression.”

    The Ayatollah had not read,and probably could not read, and in any case forbade everyone else to read, the novel. But he succeeded in igniting ugly demonstrations across the world , where crowds burned the book and bayed for the author to fed to the flames as well!

    As a result of this deplorable act several of Rushdie’s associates were beaten and his Norwegian publisher was shot.(Fortunately he subsequently recovered.)

    One would have thought that Ayatollah’s actions would have met with great condemnation. Yet in considered statements the Vatican, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the chief sephardic Rabbi of Israel all took a stand in sympathy with the Ayatollah. As result Rushdie was forced to go into hiding for more than a decade.

    Rushdie’s only crime was to write a novel about some doubtful verses in the Koran. These verses were difficult for Koranic scholars to identify with and they suggested that Muhammad had been deceived. Whereas he was normally channelling the word of God (so they believed) when writing the Koran, on this occasion the aberrant writings must have resulted from Satan deceiving him that he was in fact God!

    To Rushdie this seemed an intriguing theme to enlarge on. However his main problem with the Ayatollah was that he had been brought up as Muslim. He consequently had a good understanding of the Koran. But this in effect as far as the Ayatollah was concerned made him guilty of the crime of apostasy, which according to the Koran is punishable by death.

    I am tolerant of all belief systems but i cannot tolerate a belief that others should be killed to preserve such beliefs.

    Karen Armstrong in some of her writings quoted the Canadian Scholar Wilfred Cantwell Smith. Writing in the mid-twentieth century he observed that a healthy functioning Islam had for centuries helped Muslims cultivate decent values which we in the West share.However he pointed out that some Muslims have problems with modernity.He argued that if they are to meet the challenges of the day Muslims must learn to understand our traditions and institutions. But he pointed out that Western people also have a problem “an inability to recognise that they share the planet not with inferiors but with equals”

    Let’s say amen to that!

  6. “Now, as a learned panel of one, I am going to propose that any human being who demonstrates four or five of the above traits for more than half an hour is mentally ill. Indeed I would purport that they are suffering from Fundamentalist Affective Dysfunction Syndrome (FADS) and should be immediately offered psychological counselling. (Note I am not recommending drugs!)”

    But your friendly psychologist will prescribe them.

    For $5.40 per month if you are over 65 years of age.

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