23 July, 2005

Blurring the Lines on 'Fundamentalism'

For some reason recently, I've been the recipient of more than the usual background dose of liberal 'secret handshakes', shared on the assumption that I'm one of them. One of the more galling is the notion that "all fundamentalism is bad" - Christians, Muslims... all fundamentalists are really the same. Often, what's bound up in this seemingly simple invitation to head-nodding (i.e., we're not fundamentalists are we?), is a vast array of unstated assumptions, including:

Any fixed universal doctrine must be wrong. The problem with this is twofold. First, it implies that the only correct 'doctrine' is that of one's own perspective, of one's own mind and thoughts and shifting perceptions. I.e., that 'truth' is to be found in an endless journey without commitment to anything in particular... looking at the spiritual salad bar and tentatively nibbling from each bin, without ever settling on the final composition of the meal itself - much less the act of eating it. What this boils down to is approach-avoidance atheism - a choice I respect and acknowledge, (having been there myself). It puts individuals in the driver's seat of universal truth - a scary proposition in that the world is then filled with eight billion micro-fundamentalists, whose only doctrine is 'me'. Ayn Rand would be pleased, but so would Satan. Second, it equates books with ultimate truth. If one believes in God, then there is a fixed, universal doctrine - just one. The problem lies not with that ultimate truth, but with man's perception and interpretation of it, including the ambiguous translation, misinterpretation and outright misuse of narrow bits of scripture - a small point on which there may be common ground with the folks I'm complaining about.

All conservative Christians are essentially fundamentalists. This one hardly warrants refutation. To a great degree, 'fundamentalist' is really a code word and slur for referring to 'non-liberal Christians' - the implication being that Jesus would campaign for Howard Dean if he came back tomorrow. This view simply demonstrates ignorance of the wide range of thought and belief within a vast bloc of Christians who voted for the winning presidential candidate last November.

Chsitianity is essentially equivalent to Islam. Having not read the Koran, I'll be the first to acknowledge that I'm ill equipped to perform an academic take-down of Islam. That's not my intent in any case. What irks me though, is that the folks who hold this view seem either to buy into the first notion (i.e., it's all just religion, and all religion is bunk, so who cares if the red team or the blue team is right?), or they fail to look at the evidence. (More on that in a moment.) Where this argument starts is with the grain of truth that horrible things have been done in the name of God by pretty much every religious group out there. (And yes, this includes Buddhists, at least to the extent that one believes that deliberately burning oneself up in public is a horrific, un-Godly act.) No one is clean. We are all fallen and prone to evil deeds.

Yet it's hard to look at what is being done in the world today that's driven by religious doctrine and specific incitement to violence and conclude that the two are equivalent... that the fruits they bear are equally sweet. Where my liberal debating partners try to regain a foothold is by calling the war in Iraq religiously motivated because the president is a prayerful man who's accepted Christ into his life. Stop. There is a vast and yawning chasm between a government going through a thoroughly secular eighteen month deliberative process of debate and planning with the intent of liberating millions from oppression and torture while using tactics designed to minimize casualties at the expense of American lives, and an individual being told by an imam in a mosque that it is his or her duty to strap explosives to himself and kill innocents at random.

If making that distinction makes me a fundamentalist, then bring it on baby. Bring it on.

Finally, there's the specious argument that folks like Timothy McVeigh and David Koresh and Eric Rudolph, are tainted as white Southern men who probably hang out with fundamentalist Christians, so lets throw them in the hopper with mad Islamic suicide bombers and call it even. NY Girl has a nice little take-down of that line of 'reasoning' with regards to Rudolph. For this and other great posts, I've added her to my blogroll and my regular reading list.