We hear a lot, particularly from the “new” atheists and their supporters, about the danger of religion, which–we are told–too often encourages a murderous fundamentalism. Such “tolerant” great thinkers as Rosie O’ Donnell have suggested that “radical Christianity is just as threatening as radical Islam.”
I am inclined to think that radical anything, by its very narrowness, must give one pause and that zealotry can too often stumble into something unthinking, and therefore open to carelessness and exploitation, so both deserve a measure of reserve–a raised eyebrow of alert distrust, if you will–from the non-radical rest of society.
The rap against religion as an agent-of-mayhem has been enjoying a wide dissemination. Shortly after 9/11, talk show hosts like David Letterman deplored the violence done “in the name of religion” (which is certainly worth condemning, whenever it happens) but that righteous indignation has puffed itself up in a peculiar way; increasingly, all religions are being castigated (particularly the Christian church) as cauldrons of simmering violence only awaiting a kindling excuse to boil over.
We have seen our unimpressive Attorney General suggest to the U.S. Congress that “anything” could be responsible for the terrorist threats that still plague us. When Faisal Shahzad left a bad bomb in the middle of Time Square, the press, the Mayor of New York City and the US Government were all stymied as to why he might have planted it, and when he publicly self-identified as as a “Muslim soldier”, that did not seem to ring any particular bells.
Shahzad’s radical beliefs and associations, after all, were to the press and this government not so very different from those “radical Christians” who are “just as threatening as radical Islam,” and might at any send their children forward from Tea Party gatherings strapped with explosives meant to tear down America’s financial, military and political centers of operation, because . . . well, it can’t convincingly be argued that they hate America, so, it must be the religion-thing again. A lot of those tea-partiers are God-lubbers, after all, and therefore capable of anything in the name of their deluded creeds.
That is not to say that Christians are incapable of radical and deeply mistaken zealotry, themselves. While Christianity in general has been pretty peaceful for the last couple of centuries, the crew at the Westboro Baptist Church engage in such a radical interpretation of the Gospel as to be antithetical to it, and recently a pro-life activist embraced a deadly radicalism whose reprehensible result was quickly and appropriately condemned throughout the pro-life movement.
Radicalism diminishes everything to which it is applied, no matter how good its initial intentions, because it ignores the boundaries of reason and common humanity in its own conceit of self-regard. When it is mixed with religion, it is particularly toxic.
I wonder at what point radical environmentalism and radical feminism will be identified as the narrow-minded, fundamentalist-activist-transcendentalism (let’s call them religions, already) that they clearly are. In radical environmentalism, we have all the required religious accouterments normally ascribed to God’s Dupes; it comes with its own liturgies, rubrics and rituals, its own sins, laws and saviors. In the case of radical environmentalism and feminism, these religions even have, in Al Gore and Gloria Steinem, their own infallibly “pontifical” voices.
And these secularist religions have their violent radicals, too. The Earth Liberation Front, a little irony challenged, has burned Hummers in an attempt to save the Earth from air pollution and deadly carbon. And some abortion-stalwarts say they’ll give up their lives to insure the right of every woman to procure violent death within her own womb. Antonia Senior of in the Times of London, who–to her immense credit–is utterly honest about what abortion is and does, visits the Tower of London; after pondering martyrdom, Senior identifies what she will not die for (dolphins, England) and writes:
“I could think of one cause I would stake my life on: a woman’s right to be educated, to have a life beyond the home and to be allowed by law and custom to order her own life as she chooses. And that includes complete control over her own fertility.”
Any other conclusion is a convenient lie that we on the pro-choice side of the debate tell ourselves to make us feel better about the action of taking a life. That little seahorse shape floating in a willing womb is a growing miracle of life. In a resentful womb it is not a life, but a foetus — and thus killable.
As ever, when an issue we thought was black and white becomes more nuanced, the answer lies in choosing the lesser evil. The nearly 200,000 aborted babies in the UK each year are the lesser evil, no matter how you define life, or death, for that matter. If you are willing to die for a cause, you must be prepared to kill for it, too.
That last line should resonate profoundly with horrified anti-religionists everywhere, if they are consistent. I wonder if Rosie O’ Donnell or David Lettermen would find it troubling, what even secularists will do, in the name of their fundamentalism.