THE POLITICS OF RELIGIOUS EXTREMISM: Zealots Must Be Stopped from Imposing Their Beliefs on the Rest of Us

By Conway, John F. | CCPA Monitor, June 2005 | Go to article overview

THE POLITICS OF RELIGIOUS EXTREMISM: Zealots Must Be Stopped from Imposing Their Beliefs on the Rest of Us


Conway, John F., CCPA Monitor


Most Canadians don't take religion very seriously, and typically avoid religious confrontations. They are not zealots or proselytizers. We can all work together on projects in this world-justice, equality, peace, poverty-and accept that our deeper motives might differ between the secular and the spiritual. Some of the most principled and dedicated social activists among us are motivated by the teachings of Christ in the New Testament. Others are motivated by a secular humanist view that the only heaven there will ever be will be the one we construct in this world. But we agree this world can and should be made a better place.

Let's face it: A literal belief in many Christian doctrines can become a frightening delusional thought system. Resurrection from death; life everlasting; heaven and hell as actual places; miracles; divine visitations; divine interventions in this world-these are largely harmless beliefs, even comforting to many, when they are merely matters of personal religious faith. But in their extreme and literal form they can be dangerous when people begin acting in this world on such beliefs or begin zealously imposing them on others.

But the modern world solved this problem. After many bloody confrontations over hundreds of years, church and state were separated. Religion concerned itself with matters of faith, the spirit, and the world hereafter. The secular society, symbolized by the state, governed according to human laws and principles. This worked reasonably well. In democratic societies, the consensus became, "You can believe whatever you want, but don't try to force your beliefs on others through secular laws and state power, and in your religious practices don't violate the laws that govern the secular world." If you believe abortion is murder of the unborn, don't have one, but don't try to stop me from having one. If you believe that homosexuality is a sin against a god, pray for the sinners in your churches, but don't use laws and state repression to punish homosexuals or to deny them equal rights.

That consensus, however, is breaking down. Many fundamentalist and evangelical Christians, swept up in their zeal as true believers with a direct pipeline to God, are determined to save us all from sin and Satan by winning state power. They would use the law to impose their beliefs and behaviours on all of us, deeply convinced it is for our own good and ultimate salvation.

The case of Terri Schiavo was a wake-up call. A small band of fiercely devoted U.S. fundamentalist militants, led by prominent anti-reproductive-choice activists, tried to prevent Schiavo's husband from having the feeding tube removed from his wife to allow her to die after 15 years in a vegetative state. Repeated appeals to the courts were tried. President George W. Bush and his brother, Florida governor Jeb Bush, themselves fundamentalist Christians who politically cultivate the Christian right, systematically abused the powers of their offices in attempts to impose their religious views on Terri Schiavo and her husband, Michael. …

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