Saturday, December 06, 2008

Fundamentalism Still Presents a Danger

For many years I’ve been confused as to how otherwise intelligent people can be so passionate about their beliefs in religion. They are somehow able to compartmentalize their religious beliefs so that it does not interfere with the logic and rationality they must use every day in other areas.

Religion, whatever brand, is illogical on so many levels. Its base purpose is to serve as comfort. It raises hope that, not only is there a life beyond death, but that it could be a very comfortable and eternal existence. Maybe there is an afterlife. But if there is, nobody knows about it, including what it’s like.

The fear factor of religion is that the eternal afterlife could be quite torturous. If you’re a Christian, like most Americans claim to be, you probably believe in heaven and hell. Heaven is where you aspire to go; hell is to be avoided. And the way to avoid hell is to follow the dictates of an ancient mythology as described in the bible.

But there are myriad different religious belief systems under the banner of Christianity. Some acknowledge the allegorical nature of the bible and do not attempt to interpret it literally. Others, however, believe that the bible is literal in its meaning. But even these fundamentalists don’t believe that every dictate of the bible must be followed. They pick and choose.

It’s ok to eat shrimp and ham, but it’s a mortal sin to be homosexual, even though all these are offenses punishable by death in the Book of Leviticus.

Still, those who know that they know are unswayable. And many have such a twisted view of religion’s role in society that it’s both funny and dangerous. That point started to sink in a few years ago following a debate I had with a fundamentalist about evolution.

After the debate, I stopped to chat a minute with a group of men who were supporters of my opponent. I didn’t know them, and I don’t know if my opponent in the debate knew them, but they were obviously on the side of creationism.

But the topic quickly turned from evolution and creationism toward a more generalized discussion of religion in America. Their contention was simply that this country was founded on Christianity, so it needs to be brought back into the public schools.

I quickly reminded them that this country was founded not on Christianity, but on religious freedom and tolerance of religious differences.

Then one of the gentlemen claimed that the First Amendment right to freedom of religion simply meant that we were free to choose whichever denomination of Christian church we wanted to attend. I was a little stunned at the frankness of the remark and asked him if he was, indeed, serious. He assured me he was.

I then asked him what about all the Jews or Muslims that reside in this country as citizens. Don’t they have a right to observe their religious preferences? His answer was what really sent my mind reeling.

He told me that they had a right to worship in their way, but that they should move out of the U.S. and back to the countries that have Islam or Judaism as their national religions. He said the United States is a Christian nation and there was no place for other religions here.

I told him his statement smacked of racism. He answered that he was not a racist, and that he had nothing against these people, but that he just didn’t think they should live in this country.

It then dawned on me. Although certainly not all fundamentalists believe this way, some of the most conservative of the religious fundamentalists in this country are much more than a simple annoyance to freethinkers. They may actually be dangerous.

I don’t mean to suggest they are dangerous to individuals, in the since that they might hurt or murder someone. No, the danger applies to society, and is much more insidious.

History has shown that countries who adopt a single religion, especially those who insist that their citizens subscribe to that religion, tend to be oppressive and backward. In this country, fundamentalists have lost in the courts when they tried to force their religious belief into the classroom under the guise of creation science. So they changed tactics and are now trying a backdoor approach.

They are becoming politically active, electing fundamentalist candidates to leadership positions on school boards and in state legislatures. A few years ago, they even succeeded in kicking evolution out of textbooks in Kansas, but more moderate voters replaced the fundamentalists a year later in that state. Fundamentalists are mounting campaigns in many states to infuse the public schools with their backward beliefs. A new law in Texas, for example, mandates that each school offer a course in religion with the bible as the primary source of lessons.

The elections of this year and in 2006 have pushed the fundamentalists’ views to the back burner as we grapple with economic problems, but fundamentalism is still there. And its proponents are already plotting their comeback strategies.

If they succeed, it will be only a matter of time before the U.S. will become a scientifically and technologically second-rate nation. It happened once, in the period following the “Scopes Monkey Trial” of the 1920s. But when the Soviet Union launched Sputnik in the late 1950s it was a wake-up call to get our children back on track in the science class.

Now, it is being threatened again – not with a direct push, but with stealth. It is a threat that should not be taken too casually. It’s not simply about evolution; the entire school curriculum is in danger.

Winston Churchill once said, "Some people stumble over the truth, but pick themselves back up and continue on." But others don’t even stumble over it. They simply cannot be bothered with the facts when they have a country to conquer and classrooms to infiltrate.


Celestite said...

It's not just the public schools. Look at all the 'one issue' voters who couldn't give a rat's ass whether someone is qualified to hold public office or does a good job. The only thing that matters is if he/she is the 'right kind' of Christian.
They absolutely refuse to see that they are trying to squash civil rights for anyone who disagrees with them. Because they are 'right' and it is, after all, for your own good.
It is very scary.

Jerry Wilson said...

That is absolutely correct, Celestite. That type of one-issue voting is what propelled "W." back in for a second term in 2004. It's something we need to fight hard against during the 2012 campaign. There are enough freethinkers and moderate Christians out there to hold the fundamentalists at bay if they would all get out and vote like they did this year.