Ron, I agree that there is most definitely a linkage between religion and extremism. Any system of belief that places an absolute set of values over even say, reality, well, that's frightening. And that more of these people are coming into power is even more worrisome.
I want to point something very fundamental out here, however (no pun intended). There is a "religious fundamentalist" in every single human being. Not that every human being follows a specific mass religion, but that in every human being is the tendency to the extreme. It's part of desire and want. I want to possess, obsess, and I want to devour everything that looks, smells, tastes good, and I don't want anything but what I want. There is a deep-seated little ruler that holds a little throne in every one of us, so those super bright people who became "dumb" really just had their emotional button pushed that made them hook before their sense of discriminative thinking could kick in.
Emotions are a powerful logic and force in most people's decision-making, whether we like them or not, think there should be laws banning them or not, the point is human emotion is the partner of intellect, but neither is in control, yet as they are the heart of duality made manifest, they matter in every day conventional you and me interaction.
Apologies for an atrocious run-along-sentence, it was a long thought.
You may not get hooked on god, but I bet you someone in your life had you hooked. They tapped into that fundamentalist/extreme energy that is potentially present in any human being. Your button might just look different. Mine does. It's not god. It's Leonard Cohen.
I swear I go stupid when it comes to him. He has that kind of effect on me. I think I'm a Leonard Cohen fundamentalist in some ways. I find him to be the epitomy of transcendent poetry that captures the essence of a man telling the story of what it's like to live the life of a man.
Sometimes this lofty place I've put Leonard Cohen in my heart is a hindrance as it's just the giant cluster of my own self-imposed expectations onto a man who is an artist who is my hero, and I use this energy to push myself to continually create. Especially in music composition, poetry and writing. It's a good place for my energy to go, that's the plus side. I've spent many years honing my skills for these forms of expression. The minus side is the frequent feeling that my material is never quite adequate or up to snuff, that grade of purity that is poetry made composition. To me the process of composition itself is poetry.
Hey, you might laugh, but to me, music and art are like a religion, and sometimes I recognize, facts first, desire to believe later. But my passions are strong and I can get just as bigoted as the next gal in line waiting for the 'validation' bus to roll by. My task in life is to make my practice one of releasing my mind from self-importance and it's been a really liberating process thus far. So many things, you don't need to have an opinion about, not because you're not smart, but because the thing doesn't need an opinion for you to recognize what its nature is.
That I find, the stripping of the dirt off the gem, is the dharma in motion. I have every confidence the young bright people in my generation COULD make a difference in terms of setting more humane values than our predecessors in things like environment and renewable energy systems and sources. The only problem and the question that has not yet been answered is, are they (myself included) going to step up to the plate and say screw it, who cares whose fault it is or isn't, let's fix this darn planet.
I don't know... that's where I don't have much hope. Fortunately change and growth are still taking place. Look at these forums thriving with bright people who really reflect on and contemplate on the nature of life and reality. This is good. This is where the journey of discovery starts, with a child's curiosity.