Is There a "Left Wing Fundamentalism?"

"Fundamentalist" is a term sometimes used to refer to anyone who is intolerant of other's beliefs. Fundamentalism is "not so much an ideology as it is an attitude, an attitude of intolerance, incivility and narrowness," says Walter Shurden, professor of Christianity and director of the Center for Baptist Studies at Mercer University. "It is an attitude that says, 'We have the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, and we are going to impose it on you and control the system so that you will have to knuckle under to it.'" As anyone who has ever attended a meeting of two or more activists can attest, that attitude can be found at all points on the political and religious spectrum.

Any society sets ethical norms and "controls the system" so that everyone has to "knuckle under." At one point in the history of the United States, respect for one person's ownership of another was an ethical norm, legally enforced. Then, in what is generally considered an advance, the ethical norm changed to classify slavery as wrong. Now the refusal to allow one human being to own another as property is legally enforced. Are we "fundamentalist" to consider slavery to be out-and-out wrong, and to control the social system so that there is no room in it for those who wish the right to continue practicing their own beliefs when they support slavery?

The Boy Scouts of America have defended their right to refuse to allow homosexuals in the Boy Scouts because it is against their religious beliefs. Those who would deny the Boy Scouts public funds or the support of public institutions (being allowed to use public school resources, for instance) because they practice this discrimination are criticized for restricting freedom of religion, for imposing their own moral beliefs about homosexuality on others.

If the Boy Scouts decided to uphold the Biblical acceptance of slavery, would we allow them to under "freedom of religion?" Would we allow someone to call himself an Aztec and affirm his right to cut his neighbor's heart out on top of the roof at sunrise, or would we impose our society's morality on him at the expense of his religious freedom?

A society will enforce its ethical norms, or it is not a society. We are not in a cultural conflict today over whether society will enforce ethical norms. We are in a conflict over which norms will be enforced. The same arguments used to say that protecting homosexuals against discrimination is of higher importance than protecting the religious freedom of Boy Scouts are the ones used to say that protecting an embryo's right to life is of more importance than the civil rights of women. Those of us who defend a woman's right to free access to abortion are imposing our morality on those who believe that abortion is murder. Abraham Lincoln imposed the morality that stated slavery was wrong on those who believed that taking a man's slave was theft.

Those of us who hold progressive values must be honest with ourselves about this. We cannot say that we are different from our opponents because we do not impose our personal morality on others. We have fundamental values and we want to impose them on the entire world, as stated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The only thing we can do to distinguish ourselves from right wing fundamentalists is:

Reference: Will the real Fundamentalists Please Stand Up?


Activism & Human Rights

© Anitra L. Freeman / Updated December 13, 2002