Fundamentalism & Rhetoric

As I’ve written here before, the term “fundamentalist” is as tricky a moniker as they come. Paul Marshall, a senior fellow at the Center for Religious Freedom, has written an excellent piece (subs. req.) in last week’s Weekly Standard that should help all of us forge new ground regarding the use/abuse of the term.

Citing the widespread use of the term in a pejorative manner by such culprits as the New York Times editorial page, Joe Biden, and Al Gore, Marshall examines whether or not “fundamentalists” really are the scourge of the world that they are made out to be. Marshall aptly defines the term:

Take the vacuous term “fundamentalist.” Despite academic efforts to give it content, in practice the word signifies only “someone firmly committed to religious views I do not like.” It’s an epithet depicting people as abject objects to be labeled rather than listened to, dismissed rather than engaged in discussion.

Marshall gives a long list of those who could be labeled fundamentalists or extremists:

But there are also “religious extremists” I remember fondly. One I had the privilege of meeting believes he is the reincarnation of generations of religious leaders and was destined to lead his people. I don’t share his views, but I find him wise, with a delightful sense of humor. He is the Dalai Lama.

Jehovah’s Witnesses annoy many people by ringing our doorbells while we’re having dinner. But the growth of religious freedom in almost every Western country owes much to the Witnesses’ peaceful quest to be allowed to be conscientious objectors to military service.

The current lashing out by the left (who are ironically themselves, by and large, fundamentalist secularists) towards people of committed belief has led to a gross misrepresentation of who the really dangerous people really are. When Bob Jones University grads are lumped together with the Taliban, confusion occurs. The atrocities of the Taliban are minimized, and the misapplication of biblical principles is equated with fascism. Sure, BJU students have to have a chaperon to go to the bathroom, but at least they’re paying good money to have the chaperon. Those under the Taliban didn’t have a choice. Marshall observes:

In the face of this range of beliefs, it is well nigh meaningless to define bin Laden and his ilk as “fundamentalists” or “religious extremists.” He may be both, but so are billions of peaceful and gentle people.

The difference is obvious: The key is not bin Laden’s conviction or certitude, but the content of his creed. We are opposed not to “religious extremists” per se, but only to the type of religious extremists who believe in flying planes into buildings and beheading “infidels.”

In doing so we are allied with, and in large part defended by, people secularists label “religious extremists.” This includes a significant proportion of the American military, especially the Marine Corps, who are, by most accounts, more evangelical than the population at large. Are the New York Times et al. seriously suggesting that the war on Islamofascism is at root a war on people like those in the U.S. armed forces?

Marshall is right, of course—however, I suspect that certain parties on the left are not just opposed to “the type of religious extremists who believe in flying planes into buildings and beheading ‘infidels.'” In reality, they are opposed to any ideology that poses a threat to their own secular fundamentalism.