Religion: Freedom Versus Fundamentalism

There is a distinct danger in pushing a religion on someone; this article is meant to put into perspective some things that we often overlook in America today. Enjoy.
June 6, 2007
by Brian Trent

A Temple to Zeus is perfectly American. It’s not only allowable, but would showcase that powerful liberty which Americans acknowledge: Religious freedom. Within every U.S. city, a citizen is entitled by First Amendment rights to select whatever house of worship he or she pleases. As long as religious practice doesn’t infringe on the rights of others, we are constitutionally guaranteed this right. We can select any church, mosque, temple, or shrine which appeals to individual tastes or cultural heritage. An American even possesses the right to resurrect the Cult of Isis or Apollo. . . or to invent a new religion altogether. Just as importantly, citizens retain the freedom to not practice as well.

But it’s the first ten words of that First Amendment which declare, in no uncertain terms, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” A Jew can believe that eating pork is wrong, a Hindu can refuse a hamburger, and a fundamentalist Christian can believe that women came from Adam’s spare rib, yet no governmental authority can impose these theological notions on the population. If, for example, within 50 years the majority of Americans convert to one of Islam’s strictest sects, the individual citizen can never be forced to pray, to fast, or to destroy his non-Islamic literature.

Afghanistan’s former government didn’t permit this liberty. It required men to grow their beards a specific length or risk imprisonment, while the woman who refused to wear her body-length burqa robe would be publicly beaten, tortured, or stoned to death. When the Taliban were overthrown, hundreds of young men happily smiled for cameras as they enjoyed a collective shave, indulging with wild abandon a freedom that the global community would never think twice about. Others willingly chose to keep their beards in observance of religious dogma. The point is that all Afghans once again had the freedom to choose.

It isn’t necessarily an insult to the faithful that religion is largely a matter of opinion and circumstance. As children, we are raised in accordance with the cultural/historical customs of our family, our villa, and our local society. If you were born in India, you’d likely be Hindu. Born five centuries ago in South America? You’d revere Quetzatcoatl.

The march of deities through history’s pages has been colorful testament to religion’s diversity. Bearded Zeus, mighty Thor, blood-thirsty Tlaloc, and resurrected Osiris once had legions of worshipers. In Babylon there were one hundred gods, and India’s pantheon totaled in the tens of millions. This variety is not merely an ancient one; single faiths continually splinter into rival interpretations, from the Catholic-Protestant sundering to the Sunni-Shiite split. Into this already crowded field entirely new religions arise, such as Joseph Smith’s founding of Mormonism and L. Ron Hubbard’s controversial Scientology.

Yet there have always been those factions seeking to press their religious opinions on entire civilizations. This is particularly true among monotheistic faiths; the conviction of One God permits no other contenders. It is this philosophy which lies at the heart of religious government. Alas, many American religious leaders resent the concept of religious freedom. What they seek is religious dominion. The late Jerry Falwell was a prime example of this; he despised America’s Constitution, and desperately tried to advance dominion. Not a progressive society, but a fundamentalist one.

“If we are going to save America and evangelize the world,” said Falwell, “We cannot accommodate secular philosophies that are diametrically opposed to Christian truth.”

How is this so different from the words of former Taliban spiritual leader Mullah Mohammed Omar who, before September 11, 2001, oversaw the campaign to destroy all his country’s ancient Buddhist statues, some of which dated back to the second century? And what reason for this destruction? Omar explained: “I don’t care about anything else but Islam.”

This is not a new attitude; it is in fact a very old one. Fundamentalists like Falwell, Omar, Pat Robertson, and others of this small but deadly pathology of the global populace operate on the absolutist perception that the world breaks down into camps of Good and Evil, believers and infidels. Religious pluralism, indeed, any pluralism, is forbidden. Law comes from the “inspired” rule of the church or mosque.

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2 Responses

  1. […] Religion: Freedom vs. Fundamentalism […]

  2. […] 10th, 2007 by Bill Religion: Freedom Versus Fundamentalism « Politics & Religion There is a distinct danger in pushing a religion on someone; this article is meant to put into […]

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