Mayfield: Religious zealots endanger us all
I read this week that women in India are being warned to be on the watch for gangs of Hindu fundamentalists who have been physically assaulting women they deem inappropriately dressed and irreligiously behaved. Young men, traveling in packs and armed with that most dangerous of weapons, religious fervor, have been dragging women out of nightclubs and theaters, even off the street, and subjecting them to both physical and emotional violence for not adhering to a very narrow set of religious standards.
I remember reading several years ago of a big Christian church in Palm Coast, Florida whose preacher proclaimed that when terrorists are caught, the perpetrators should be executed on the spot. He went on to declare that “massive and disproportionate retaliation” should be proffered upon any nation that harbors terrorists.
In spite of the obvious fact that the preacher’s message seemed diametrically opposed to the church’s namesake, his comments were met with hallelujahs and amens from the congregation.
All of us have shaken our heads in abhorrent amazement while learning of one more religious extremist who convinced himself that strapping a belt of shrapnel around his body is the quickest and most certain route to be with God.
The recent election in Israel was filled with religious rhetoric promising God’s retribution upon any who dared defy the irrefutable evidence for a divinely sanctioned state.
The precarious prospect for lasting peace on our planet is jeopardized less by a cash-cowed crazy living in a cave somewhere in Afghanistan and far more by fundamentalists all over the world. Not just Muslim fundamentalists but Christian, Hindu and Jewish fundamentalists as well. Anyone who adheres so rigidly to a set of beliefs that allows for absolutely no compromise with others is a threat to the future security of us all.
Fundamentalism divides the world into two parts: believers and infidels. It makes no matter if the fundamentalist is Christian, Hindu, Muslim or Jew. A rigid, unvarying set of fundamentals determines who is in and who is out. There is no middle ground. Fundamentalism is at war with modernity. Adhering to a system of beliefs that no longer makes sense in a complex and increasingly connected world, the fundamentalist lashes out at unbelievers. Such violence may come via orders of bin Laden, in the vile rhetoric of a Christian preacher or an Israeli politician, with club-wielding Hindu youth or shrapnel-strapped Muslim bodies, but inevitably the justification is the same. It is us versus them.
Imagine how difficult it must be to live in a world where women are beginning to be treated as equal partners when your whole tradition teaches just the opposite. Imagine the difficulty in accepting a gay lifestyle as legitimate when you can quote sacred scripture that condemns it. Imagine trying to justify such bizarre and antiquated beliefs as creationism or the divine right of kings or a God-sanctioned nation and then being forced to confront a world that has moved far beyond such antiquated and ill-informed thinking. Imagine that, and you begin to understand the frustration that most fundamentalists feel.
This frustration is boiling over around the world. Until we realize that the war we must fight is not against Islamic fundamentalism but all of fundamentalism, we will only prolong the inevitable. We must find ways to dialogue with people who have no interest in dialoguing. We must find ways to negotiate with cultures that find negotiating repugnant. In a world where even small bands of fanatics can wreak enormous destruction, this is our only hope.
Rich Mayfield is the author of “Reconstructing Christianity: Notes from the New Reformation.” E-mail comments about this column to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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