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Friday, September 25, 2015


Taking on the fundamentalists

by Tom Sullivan

Quotes from Pope Francis' speech to Congress yesterday are all over the Net this morning: The 9 most notable; The 10 most important; The 10 Most Political, etc.

One passage that is getting less attention than those more easily spun as partisan is the section on fundamentalism:

All of us are quite aware of, and deeply worried by, the disturbing social and political situation of the world today. Our world is increasingly a place of violent conflict, hatred and brutal atrocities, committed even in the name of God and of religion. We know that no religion is immune from forms of individual delusion or ideological extremism. This means that we must be especially attentive to every type of fundamentalism, whether religious or of any other kind. A delicate balance is required to combat violence perpetrated in the name of a religion, an ideology or an economic system, while also safeguarding religious freedom, intellectual freedom and individual freedoms. But there is another temptation which we must especially guard against: the simplistic reductionism which sees only good or evil; or, if you will, the righteous and sinners. The contemporary world, with its open wounds which affect so many of our brothers and sisters, demands that we confront every form of polarization which would divide it into these two camps. We know that in the attempt to be freed of the enemy without, we can be tempted to feed the enemy within. To imitate the hatred and violence of tyrants and murderers is the best way to take their place. That is something which you, as a people, reject.

Or we would like to think so. Some Iraqis might argue otherwise.

People will hear that passage according to their own proclivities. With the international press focused on ISIS and on Al Qaida, most Americans will hear it as a warning against Islamist terror. But "any other kind" and "simplistic reductionism" are not limited to those.

The thing that most people miss about fundamentalism is this: fundamentalism is not about what you think, but how you think. Having spent many years in the American South among religious fundamentalists, having watched the Midas Cult's callous disregard for the common good in blind obeisance to its economic ideology, and having on occasion encountered left-wing fundamentalists, I find they all have this in common: you are either with them or against them. They are rigidly ideological, doctrinaire, single-minded, obsessed with purity, and not much fun to be around. They see the world, as the pope said, in black-and-white terms: "the righteous and sinners." They simply disagree about who is whom.

Loss of the ability to laugh at yourself is the first warning sign of fundamentalism. So when it comes to religion, or to economic or political ideology, yeah, they are pretty humorless, too.

Francis continued:

The challenges facing us today call for a renewal of that spirit of cooperation, which has accomplished so much good throughout the history of the United States. The complexity, the gravity and the urgency of these challenges demand that we pool our resources and talents, and resolve to support one another, with respect for our differences and our convictions of conscience.

A couple of weeks ago, some volunteers showed up to do some building and grounds work at the local Democratic headquarters. Overnight, the front doors had been spray painted with "Death to the DNC." Pretty inside baseball. Your typical wingnut would have used "libtards" or "Democracks." Check your fundamentalism.