Synopses & Reviews
In this examination of religion's influence on society, an anthropologist critiques fundamentalism and all mindsets based on rigid cultural certainties. The author argues that the future can only be safeguarded by a global humanistic outlook that recognizes and respects differing cultural perspectives and endorses the use of critical reason and empiricism. Houk coins the term culturalism to describe dogmatic viewpoints governed by culture-specific values and preconceived notions. Culturalism gives rise not only to fundamentalism in religion but also stereotypes about race, gender, and sexual orientation. Turning specifically to Christian fundamentalism, the author analyzes the many weaknesses of what he calls a faith-based epistemology, particularly as such thinking is displayed in young-earth creationism, the reliance on revelation and subjective experiences as a source of religious knowledge, and the reverence accorded the Bible despite its obvious flaws. As he points out, the problem with such cultural knowledge generally is that it is non-falsifiable and ultimately has no lasting value in contrast to the data-based and falsifiable knowledge produced by science, which continues to prove its worth as a reliable source of accurate information. Concluding that there is no future to the fundamentalist mindset in a diverse world where religion often exacerbates conflicts, he makes a strong case for reason and mutual tolerance.