Sunday, June 21, 2009

The Dirtiest Word in America

A guest post from an erudite and intelligent friend. -SS

I’m a fundamentalist. There I said it. Phew…What a relief coming out of the closet. Perhaps the last taboo in America, I finally have the courage to admit it. Don’t look at me like I just said a dirty word. Carlin’s seven words may now lack shock value, but this word elicits fear, scorn, and even hate. Why do Americans consider me an abomination?

Fundamentalism threatens Americans not because of any particular ideology but due to the tendency of fundamentalists to want to impose their beliefs at all costs on everyone else. In fact, Americans can care less what I think about anything as long as I don’t expect anything from them. The problem is that fundamentalists are so convinced of their views that they want to eliminate any dissenting opinions from the national discourse. Americans do not want anyone dictating morality to them even from amongst their own ideologues.

In our efforts to avoid fundamentalism at all costs, Americans have unfortunately swung to a dangerous opposite extreme. Complete apathy for what my neighbor believes or how he conducts himself in the privacy of his own home permeates our culture. As long as our fellow citizen does not impose his beliefs on us, our only interest in his life is voyeuristic status update watching. We simply do not care how his beliefs affect him or how his actions affect his family as long as he stays on his side of the fence. The questions I ask myself are -

Can we create a society in which people have the passion in their beliefs like a fundamentalist, yet respect other views?

On the other hand can we advocate freedom and pluralism yet educate concern for what our neighbor thinks and does, even when it does not affect us?

I’m convinced that I’m right about this but I am still anxious to hear what you think. You are entitled to your opinion but I reserve the right to be concerned that your views are bad for you even if they are not bad for America. So please don’t stare at me because you think I’m an abomination. Join me as we form a line for the care bear stare - because fundamentalists care and that is not a dirty word the last time I checked.

6 comments:

Dave L said...

I don’t think that the majority of Americans care whether someone is a religious fundamentalist – they just don’t want someone killing the doctor that is about to perform their abortion or religious leaders interfering with their local public school curriculum. However, I think that there are very vocal individuals on the left, particularly in academia and entrenched in legal advocacy groups, who are hostile to any public presence of religion that suggests that one tradition or view is more correct than another. The problem I think is that some people are trying to impose the a form of French secularism, whereby freedom of religion is interpreted as the banishment of religion from the public square, as opposed to the primary American tradition of allowing religion in the public square as long as the government does not endorse or legislate a particular religion. (I will concede that Jefferson held more of French notion of secularism and was somewhat hostile to religion in general.) You can see a difference in these views of state secularism from the French ban on hijabs (and other “prominent” religious articles – but everyone knows that the real target is Muslim attire) in educational institutions. That kind of legislation would never pass constitutional scrutiny in the USA. While no one is trying to ban wearing religious articles, we are starting to see various religious positions beginning to be classified as hate speech by some.

Anonymous said...

"...individuals...who are hostile to any public presence of religion that suggests that one tradition or view is more correct than another."

A judgment that one tradition is more correct than another is by definition the endorsement of one religion over another. You don't agree?

The banning of religious clothing articles in France is pretty extreme, and in my opinion it is wrong since it clearly infringes on personal freedom of expression.

Samurai Scientist said...

@guestposter,
You raise interesting points. I'm not convinced, however, that fundamentalists are persecuted in this country. They just had a two-term president. I do think fundamentalists are sometimes insecure about their own beliefs and project those insecurities onto others who reject their philosophies ("You think I'm stupid!"). But it's all in their heads.

The more interesting stuff for me was about our apathy towards our neighbors, particularly those who don't believe the same things we do. Have we lost the ability to rebuke others?

@Dave,
some people are trying to impose the a form of French secularism, whereby freedom of religion is interpreted as the banishment of religion from the public square... head scarves

Really? No one I know wants to take away individual religious freedoms a la head scarves, abolish private schools, or restrict individual religious freedoms (whether or not that would be a good idea). Progressives in America have their hands full just trying to keep Judeo-Christian religious doctrines out of the *public* classroom and courthouse (e.g. marriage equality, creationism). I suspect it's these kinds of things our anonymous guest blogger has in mind when he talks about imposing personal fundamentalist beliefs on the populace.

Dave L said...

Anonymous - I probably wasn’t clear in my use of the term “public square.” When I referred to religion in the public square, I meant individuals and politicians expressing their religious beliefs in public and otherwise wearing their religion on their sleeve without it being considered somehow un-American or a violation of the spirit of the Constitution.

“A judgment that one tradition is more correct than another is by definition the endorsement of one religion over another. You don't agree?”
Actually, I think that it is unconstitutional for the government to endorse any religious view, including a version of Christianity or Judaism that states that no religious view is more correct that one another, is unconstitutional. So I guess that yes, I do agree.

Dave L said...

Looks like I hit the enter button too soon on my last comment. What I meant to say in my last paragraph was as follows:

“A judgment that one tradition is more correct than another is by definition the endorsement of one religion over another. You don't agree?”
Actually, I think that it is unconstitutional for the government to endorse any religious view, including a version of Christianity or Judaism that states that no religious movement is more correct that another. So I guess that yes, I do agree.

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