By Rudy Barnes, Jr.
Radical religion is fundamentalist religion. Jewish, Christian and Islamic forms of fundamentalism are reactions to advances in knowledge and reason that have become threats to libertarian democracy, human rights and the secular rule of law. Fundamentalism seeks to reverse the libertarian politics of the Enlightenment and restore the theocratic politics reflected in ancient scriptures and holy laws. Radical religion could well be the demise of democracy.
Roy Moore and the evangelical Christians who support Donald Trump represent a Christian version of radical religious fundamentalism that seems pervasive among Republicans. The Islamic version of radical religion (Islamism) is prevalent in the Middle East and Africa, while Jewish fundamentalism is gaining strength and threatening democracy in Israel.
The current controversy over Roy Moore’s candidacy for the U.S. Senate goes beyond allegations of sexual harassment. It has revealed radical religious beliefs held by Republican conservatives who seek to restore ancient Biblical values that are remarkably similar to those of radical Islamism. That’s because the Hebrew Bible and the Qur’an share a common Semitic cultural background and an emphasis on obedience to holy law as a standard of legitimacy.
The ancient religious laws in the Bible and Qur’an are authoritarian standards of legitimacy and incompatible with democracy, human rights or the secular rule of law. Religious fundamentalism is a relatively recent phenomenon that did not become a formidable force in Judaism, Christianity or Islam until the early 20th century; but since then religious fundamentalism has grown to be a threat to libertarian democracy in religious nations.
American politics are polarized by a radical right Republican Party supported by fundamentalist Christians and a radical left Democrat Party defined by identity politics. There is no longer a moderate center to preserve a stable democracy. A politics of reconciliation is needed, and since 70% of people in the U.S. claim to be Christians, reconciliation must begin within the churches that shape U.S. standards of political legitimacy.
A politics of reconciliation should be based on the greatest commandment to love God and our neighbors—including our neighbors of other races and religions—as we love ourselves. That’s a common word of faith for Jews, Christians and Muslims that is needed to prevent the further demise of democracy.
Radical Christian fundamentalism undermines democracy with ancient values that legitimize bigotry and hatred. It promotes “family values” and a prosperity gospel that contradict the altruistic teachings of Jesus; and it promotes extending the individual right to the free exercise of religion at the expense of providing for the common good.
In Islamic nations, radical Islamism denies the fundamental freedoms of religion and speech with apostasy and blasphemy laws, and denies women and non-Muslims equal justice under law. Radical Islamism is on the rise. It promotes authoritarian regimes in the Middle East and Africa, and is undermining libertarian democracy in Indonesia and Turkey.
There is a symbiotic relationship between religion and politics, and radical religion has undermined American democracy. A politics of reconciliation is needed to prevent the further demise of democracy, and it should be based on the altruistic teachings of Jesus summarized in the greatest commandment. It is a common word of faith that can oppose the threat of radical religion to democracy in America and around the world.
On the Roy Moore controversy, see Dana Milbank: Roy Moore and Republicans, taking the Bible literally but not seriously, at https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/roy-moore-and-republicans-taking-the-bible-literally-but-not-seriously/2017/11/10/07f57c6c-c61f-11e7-84bc-5e285c7f4512_story.html?wpisrc=nl_popns&wpmm=1; also, Nicholas Kristof: God should sue Roy Moore, at https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/10/opinion/roy-moore-sexual-assault.html?rref=collection%2Fcolumn%2Fnicholas-kristof&action=click&contentCollection=opinion®ion=stream&module=stream_unit&version=latest&contentPlacement=1&pgtype=collection; also, David Atkin: The curious defenses of Roy Moore betray the evangelical culture of child sexual abuse, at https://washingtonmonthly.com/2017/11/11/roy-moore-and-the-evangelical-culture-of-child-sexual-abuse/; also, Christians: Our silence on Roy Moore isn’t enough, at https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/christians-our-silence-on-roy-moore-isnt-enough/2017/11/14/1d459cda-c96e-11e7-8321-481fd63f174d_story.html?undefined=&wpisrc=nl_headlines&wpmm=1.
Michael Gerson has commented on the role of religion in democracy in describing how America can overcome its egotism, citing Jacques Maritain: “Right political experience,” he said, “cannot develop in people unless passions and reason are oriented by a solid basis of collective virtues, by faith and honor and thirst for justice.” In particular, it is the “urge of love” that allows us “to surmount the closed borders of the natural social groups — family group and national group — and extended it to the entire human race.” In the absence of a “democratic state of mind,” Maritain warned, “nothing is easier for political counterfeiters than to exploit good principles for purposes of deception.” “And moreover,” he said, “nothing is easier for human weakness than to merge religion with prejudices of race, family or class, collective hatreds, passions of a clan.”
On how Trump gets religion, evangelicals say, and now wants to broaden his reach, see https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/trump-gets-religion-evangelicals-say-and-now-wants-to-broaden-his-reach/2017/11/12/b33e8e88-bf3f-11e7-959c-fe2b598d8c00_story.html
Fareed Zakaria has commented on how the cancer of Islamist extremism spreads around the world, at https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/the-cancer-of-islamist-extremism-spreads-around-the-world/2017/11/02/30162342-c005-11e7-959c-fe2b598d8c00_story.html?undefined=&wpisrc=nl_headlines&wpmm=1.
(12/8/14): Religion and Reason
(12/15/14): Faith and Freedom
(1/11/15): The Greatest Commandment: A Common Word of Faith
(1/18/15): Love over Law: A Principle at the Heart of Legitimacy
(4/12/15): Faith as a Source of Morality and Law: The Heart of Legitimacy
(5/3/15): A Fundamental Problem with Religion
(8/2/15): Freedom and Fundamentalism
(8/9/15): Balancing Individual Rights with Collective Responsibilities
(1/23/16): Who Is My Neighbor?
(1/30/16): The Politics of Loving Our Neighbors as Ourselves
(2/27/16): Conflicting Concepts of Legitimacy in Faith, Freedom and Politics
(4/30/16): The Relevance of Religion to Politics
(5/7/16): Religion and a Politics of Reconciliation
(5/21/16): Religious Fundamentalism and a Politics of Reconciliation
(6/18/16): A Politics of Reconciliation with Liberty and Justice for All
(8/5/16): How Religion Can Bridge Our Political and Cultural Divide
(9/10/16): Liberty in Law: A Matter of Man’s Law, not God’s Law
(9/17/16): A Moral Revival to Restore Legitimacy to Our Politics
(11/19/16): Religion and a Politics of Reconciliation Based on Shared Values
(11/26/16): Irreconcilable Differences and the Demise of Democracy
(1/21/17): Religion and Reason Redux: Religion Is Ridiculous
(2/25/17): The Need for a Revolution in Religion and Politics
(3/4/17): Ignorance and Reason in Religion and Politics
(3/18/17): Moral Ambiguity in Religion and Politics
(4/22/17): The Relevance of Jesus and the Irrelevance of the Church in Today’s World
(6/24/17): The Evolution of Religion, Politics and Law: Back to the Future? http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2017/06/the-evolution-of-religion-politics-and.html.
(7/1/17): Religion, Moral Authority and Conflicting Concepts of Legitimacy
(7/15/17): Religion and Progressive Politics
(9/2/17): The Evolution of the American Civil Religion and Habits of the Heart http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2017/09/the-evolution-of-american-civil.html.
(10/21/17): The Symbiotic Relationship between Freedom and Religion
(10/28/17): The Moral Decline of Religion and the Seven Woes of Jesus
(11/4/17): What to Believe? Truth or Consequences in Religion and Politics http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2017/11/what-to-believe-truth-or-consequences.html.