August 28, 2003

Fundamentalist Angst

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I have to admit, I am greatly troubled by the anger and anguish demonstrated by those protesting the removal of the Ten Commandments monument in Alabama. The people have been shouting, crying, and generally reacting with powerful negative emotion at the state action to remove the monument. They claim the removal is bigotry against them, that they are being attacked and betrayed.

I have a great respect for individual religious beliefs, and I am without doubt that most and perhaps all of the people here are earnest and well-intentioned. However, they are also dead wrong, and the vehemence of their protest is disturbing. Bigotry against your faith is when your faith is treated worse than others, held below other beliefs, or is unduly denigrated. The removal of the monument is not bigotry against Christianity; rather, it is the reverse. If the monument were being removed with disrespect or animosity, that would be bigotry. If there were all manner of monuments in the courthouse--Hindu, Muslim, Atheist, Buddhist, Jewish, and so on--and the Christian monument were the only one being removed, then that would be bigotry. But these are not the case.

Instead, Christianity has held a special, elevated position in our government, a place that it should not have, as the government was designed to be secular. Either all belief systems must be represented equally or not at all, but Christian testaments like the monument in Alabama have been snuck in over time, just as Roy Moore snuck his monument into the building, late one night, to the chagrin of his colleagues. As I discussed before, "In God We Trust" replaced "Liberty" and "E Pluribus Unum" on money over many years of time; "under God" was added to the pledge of allegiance during anti-communist fervor; "so help me God" was tacked on to oaths of office and testimony in courts. None were there originally. All, by the way, were chiseled into the Alabama monument, which made it even more a religious-political statement, as it represented a history of Christian appropriation of governmental special representation. No other faiths or belief systems were represented or elevated in such ways.

It is this special elevation of Christianity that represents, if anything, bigotry against all other belief systems, as if to say that Christianity alone is worth praise and worship, that other belief systems deserve less respect. Removing the monument represents a level field where all are equal. But Christians--not all, of course, but like those seen at the courthouse--have become so used to the idea of elevation that anything less then dominance feels to them as if it were an attack against them.

There were many such people demonstrating outside the courthouse, on the ground, face-down, crying hoarsely into microphones, wailing to God, imploring Him not to abandon them to their enemies (those are the exact words used). To put it lightly, they are overreacting. The removal of the monument is not the End of Days, in fact it is little more than real fairness to others.

That is why it is so scary to see these people reacting so: if they become so anguished and vehemently angered when their special advantage is nulled just a little bit, then what is in store for the future? How radical will their reactions become if Americans decide that we bring our nation back to the secular state it was intended to be? These protesters seem to be of the same stripe as those who are vehemently opposed to abortion, to the point of approving of the murder of doctors who carry out the procedures, and the frightening harassment of anyone seeking the services of a clinic.

But there is something even more disturbing: for these fundamentalists, this is not just a protest--it is a rally cry to elevate their religion even higher. That their intentions are good, that they feel they are on the path to saving us all, is little comfort; from such intentions, Crusades are fashioned (as well as certain roads to certain places).

It should be noted that despite the immense media coverage these people are enjoying, there are only several hundred participating, despite the calls of evangelists for all to come and stand with them. However, it is not uncommon that an enraged, committed minority can, by being loud and highly public, gain concessions out of proportion to their numbers and true importance.

The reaction to this enraged pocket of fundamentalism must be calm but openly, widely and firmly expressed opposition to religious encroachment on the state, an affirmation of both the freedom of religion and the political principle of separation that protects that freedom.

Posted by Luis at August 28, 2003 11:52 AM

Amen on all of that above! I was listening to that justice's fighting words speach on the radio, and i was struck by how much it sounded like a revival meeting, what with all of the amens and hallelujahs coming from the crowd. Very intimidating.

Posted by: jmarc at August 29, 2003 01:36 AM

Unfortunately, that is exactly the word for it--intimidating. From within, I am certain it all seems so reasonable and right. But from without, it is frighteningly arrogant and threatening. Essentially, "what we say is the word of God and if you don't believe with us you are evil and damned to burn for all eternity." It really puts the "fun" into "Fundamentalism," doesn't it?

Posted by: Luis at August 29, 2003 01:43 AM