Could fundamentalist Christians help Mideast politics?
Egyptian activists in Cairo on March 27.
April 16th, 2011
01:00 AM ET

Could fundamentalist Christians help Mideast politics?

By John Blake, CNN

(CNN) - As protesters battle repressive regimes in the Middle East, some commentators fear that the collapse of these regimes could pave the way for radical Islamic groups to take power.

But anyone who believes that democracy and religious fundamentalism cannot co-exist has not been paying attention to how fundamentalist Christians have strengthened American democracy, Jonathan Zimmerman, a history professor at New York University says in a provocative recent  Christian Science Monitor article.

Zimmerman writes that Americans don’t have to look at Muslim countries like Turkey to see how fervent religious parties can be peacefully integrated into a democracy:

We need only look in the mirror. Over the past four decades, fundamentalist Christians have surged into United States politics. And, in the process, they have enriched - not constricted - our democracy.

Zimmerman says the Christian Right employed virtues normally associated with liberals - reason, tolerance and mutual respect - when they decided to enter the political arena about 40 years ago.  (Many scholars would say that true fundamentalists make up a small subset of the Christian Right, but Zimmerman uses the terms interchangeably.)

Zimmerman, author of “Small Wonder: The Little Red Schoolhouse in History and Memory,” writes:

I can hear you scoffing. These are the same people who want to ban abortion, gay marriage and stem-cell research. What’s liberal about that?

Zimmerman says fundamentalist Christians are tolerant when it comes to tactics. They avoid heavy-handed religious appeals, believing those turn off ordinary people. They mix their religious claims with appeals to reason.

He cites a book called “The Democratic Virtues of the Christian Right” to back up his point. Jon Shields, the book’s author, spent years examining anti-abortion activists at rallies and discovered they didn’t rely on explicitly Christian appeals  to argue their causes, emphasizing reason instead, Zimmerman says.

So anti-pornography organizers indict the industry’s degradation of women; opponents of gay marriage say it harms children; campaigners against gambling stress its addictive qualities, and anti-abortion activists argue that the procedure harms mothers as well as the unborn.

Zimmerman says there are Christian Right groups like Operation Rescue, which blocked abortion clinics around the country, that were explicitly religious. But he says they “alienated most members of the Christian Right.”

And what does this have to do with the uprisings in the Middle East? Zimmerman asks:

Will conservative Islamic parties like the Muslim Brotherhood follow the example of our own right-wing Christians, accommodating democratic practice in order to press their case? Or will they resort to violence and terrorism?

He ends by saying:

Let’s lay to rest the unfair caricature of the Christian Right, which has generally played by the rules of democracy. And let’s hope that the Middle East’s own religious conservatives will do the same.

- CNN Writer

Filed under: Abortion • Christianity • Culture wars • Egypt • Fundamentalism • Iran • Islam • Middle East

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soundoff (449 Responses)
  1. hippiekenny

    What is this guy Zimmerman smoking ??????? The best way fundamentalist Christians could help is by STAYING OUT ! Or by actually LIVING the words of Jesus Christ instead of just preaching them

    April 16, 2011 at 11:02 am |
    • Deidre

      Stay out? Hmmm. I don't think so. Leavign aside they do have a right to participate in the political process (it's their sleazy misinformation campaigns I take issue with), Christian Americans are also responsible for the abolition movement, hospitals, civil rights movements and a host of charity.
      to lump Christians in with Gingrichian/Palin phoney hypocrites is disingenuous and poor history.

      April 16, 2011 at 1:05 pm |
  2. 21k

    YES! all our xtian zealots could move there, and live-out their biblical fantasies.

    April 16, 2011 at 11:01 am |
  3. Paul

    Over half the people who signed the Declaration of Independence had divinity degrees. And so many of the founding fathers were Christians, whether people want to admit it or not. Yes, Jefferson and Franklin were deists, as people are so apt to point out – but they were in the minority. We aren't a Christian nation – but we do have an indelible stamp of Christian freedom in our make up.

    Regardless of who spouts otherwise, it is the truth. Pointing out examples of extremism doesn't prove the opposite.

    The greatest acts of intolerance and violence in history have been perpetrated by people who despised religion (most often Christianity) and believe it is the greatest source of intolerance and violence.

    April 16, 2011 at 11:01 am |
    • 21k

      so the inquisition was run by? and how bout those drowned witches here? waco texas? reverend jones?

      April 16, 2011 at 11:04 am |
    • 21k

      and by the way, just because our founding fathers happened to believe in mythology doesn't make it true. only that xtianity has a great business model.

      April 16, 2011 at 11:06 am |
    • Paul

      Yes, the Inquisition, the crusades, and Salem has been so indelibly stamped in our mindset because of the The Crucible, so that should be included also.

      All examples of people who try to mix religion and political power. It's clearly a terrible combination that causes the worst to come out of people. True Christians would never perpetrate such atrocities.

      Now it's your turn to look up Pol Pot, Stalin, Kim Jong Il, Nero, and Mao Zedong. They have ruthlessly destroyed hundreds of millions of lives. And every one of them was a Christianity-hating atheist who thought extinguishing religion was their duty as a human being. The death counts for those nutcases are far higher than the Christian offenses mentioned above (and any other that may have been missed).

      April 16, 2011 at 11:12 am |
    • 21k

      while monsters, they were not hypocrites to their own faith (or lack of) as the xtians are so often. even in small things like staying true to a spouse or multiples of (gingrich). if one wants to believe in a supreme being, they should at least pick one that is helpful though. not one who created the whole universe, but could not stop the Holocaust.

      April 16, 2011 at 11:17 am |
    • Paul

      Pointing out Christian hypocrisy doesn't prove a point. Any philosophy 101 student will tell you that truth is truth no matter who tarnishes it or doesn't. Basing your belief on someones vaunted hypocrisy – which is a word people use nowadays to hold people to standards that they don't adhere to themselves – is ignorance. Christianity is more than Gingrich or anyone else cheating on his wives.

      April 16, 2011 at 11:27 am |
    • Jose

      Actually by pointing out that some Christians were hypocrites, you validate the faith in a way. 🙂 It says to do good things and failed men and women didnt do it as they should.

      April 16, 2011 at 11:32 am |
    • Deidre

      Actually the founding fathers were deitists, not practicing Christians. They were also very educated.
      Religion followed dogmatically in the hands of the uneducated has never produced much good result.

      April 16, 2011 at 1:03 pm |
    • Paul


      That statement is basically a lie. The amount of 'deists' in our founding fathers is so small compared to the actual number of real, practicing Christians that your statement is basically a whitewashed fable. Though I don't blame you, this is something humanists are taught to parrot and believe.

      April 16, 2011 at 2:39 pm |
    • Sharon

      Paul -

      If it's a lie, than you should have had a citation to prove that. The fact is the founding fathers were dietists not Christians; that is true. I'm certain I've forgotten more history than "truths' your backwoods southern propoganda mill ever brainwashed you into believing.

      April 16, 2011 at 6:30 pm |
  4. LogicAndReality

    You know, at the end of the day Christianity and Islam are almost identical. Perhaps not in the details, but most certainly in their conclusions. Islam has won political power in other parts of the world and the west laughs at them walking around with their Qu'arans and their assumed repression of women. Christians walk around with bibles like it's nobody's business. Ever been to a hotel room without one? Ever seen them on TV praising Jesus with tears? Read what the bible really says about women. It's no better than the Qu'aran. Argue all you want, it's the truth. Some people view repressing gay marriage as gross, yet Christians do so in the name of God.... just like Islamic people do what we perceive as "Gross" in the name of Allah. All the same!

    April 16, 2011 at 11:01 am |
    • Deidre

      See, this is the kind of tripe that gives the worsst of the Christian Right so much ammo. Everytime you say something like that it's a soundbyte for their next campaign. I don't agree wit hthe Christian Right's tactics and much of what they want. But I would never compare them to Muslim terrorists or to lump all Christians in with the worst of the Christian right is harmful, not helpful.

      April 16, 2011 at 1:01 pm |
    • luke

      You know very little about either religion if this is your assumption.

      April 16, 2011 at 2:44 pm |
  5. Steve

    I know one Christian that would say that not nearly all Christians are wacko's...well at least not in the Christian sense haha.

    April 16, 2011 at 10:55 am |
  6. Jonathan

    Actually the Christian Right Republicans have a long history of being intolerant going back to the 19th century. The premise of this article is laughable...

    April 16, 2011 at 10:54 am |
    • Jose

      19th century democrats launched a civil war to keep african americans enslaved. It was a 19th century republican who freed them. Please consider that.

      April 16, 2011 at 11:30 am |
    • Deidre

      I agree. So long as we make the distinction Christian Republicans rather than Christians. Plenty of Christians are not Republican. Those that are are usually Republican first and Christian way way down the list.

      April 16, 2011 at 1:07 pm |
    • To_Jose

      That's true Jose. And since the 70's the Republican party courted that disgusting vote and it is now it's base making what happened almost 200 years ago irrelevant. Today, you folks would be calling Abe Lincoln a big government socialist.

      April 16, 2011 at 1:09 pm |
  7. Anonj

    Kathleen and everyone else who is taking issue with Christian right involvement: you seem to have no problem in generalizing about all "Muslims". The double standard that is so evident here is what the rest of the world, Muslim or otherwise, reacts to day in and day out.

    April 16, 2011 at 10:50 am |
  8. tony

    I've never heard such outrageous lies and rubbish in my life!!! US Kristianity is Extreme Facism,Pure and Simple. Just ask any dead abortion doctor.

    April 16, 2011 at 10:47 am |
    • Jonathan

      It's not fascism yet and probably won't ever be but there are fascist elements and definitely a lot of zeal.

      April 16, 2011 at 10:55 am |
    • Jose

      Dead abortion doctors?
      You do realize that the extreme vast majority of men and women who perform abortions are.. indeed.. NOT murdered.

      You sound like an extreamist... *looks at * Dangerous.

      April 16, 2011 at 11:28 am |
    • Steve (the real one)

      I've never heard such outrageous lies and rubbish in my life!!! US Kristianity is Extreme Facism,Pure and Simple. Just ask any dead abortion doctor.
      You sure you are not confusing liberalism? just ask any aborted baby! BTW the Bible says DO NOT MURDER! Anyone killing a doctor (even an abortionist) is wrong no matter if they call themselves a Christian or not! You color all of Christianity with a broad brush! It does not work!

      April 16, 2011 at 12:21 pm |
    • Marggie

      you realize people who kill aren't christians... they are just lunatics who need an excuse to kill... jesus wouldn't kill an abortionist....

      April 16, 2011 at 5:50 pm |
  9. Religious Sects

    Religion is a very personal thing & should be kept that way. Religion has no place in government/politics.

    April 16, 2011 at 10:47 am |
  10. BL

    Fundamentalist Christians are infinitely more dangerous than radical Muslims. Insane Muslims only want to kill infidels, Christians can't wait for everyone to die in the End Times.

    April 16, 2011 at 10:45 am |
    • Steve (the real one)

      Fundamentalist Christians are infinitely more dangerous than radical Muslims. Insane Muslims only want to kill infidels, Christians can't wait for everyone to die in the End Times
      .Not one iota of truth in your post. We are here to tell you Jesus is real and His word is true! You just don't want to hear it. 1. According to Islam, YOU are an infidel! So by your own statement, they want to kill YOU! You would rather fear me and Christians like me!
      2. If you actually knew anything about the Word of God you would know everyone will not die during the 7 year period known as the tribulation
      3. If you knew anything about the Word of God you would know, YOU do not have to go through that 7 year period!

      April 17, 2011 at 7:26 pm |
  11. Mikky_H

    I find many of Mr Zimmerman's comments/ analyses laughable, in particular 'fundamentalist Christians are tolerant when it comes to tactics'. However, let's say for a moment that it is only the extreme elements of the Christian right that are responsible for the more intolerant arguments and actions. Why then are moderate Christians not speaking out against such arguments and actions? When such intolerance is displayed (or worse, actions bordering on terrorism are executed, e.g. murder of doctors giving abortions), it is met with a whisper from the moderates of "...but they do have a point" which is backed up by some intolerant, religious, argument. Muslims in the middle East may attack you with a sword, but the Christian Right in America attack you with a pen.

    April 16, 2011 at 10:41 am |
    • Deidre

      I agree with you. Hardly democratic, they're responsible for gunning down anyone they don't agree with and for running the most deceitful and sleazy campaigns possible – more and more even against each other and lie about everything to their purposes. They gave the Republican richey-rich's the popular vote to run over the whole country.

      I find not much Christian at all in the Christian Right.

      April 16, 2011 at 12:59 pm |
  12. Carl

    This writer should be fired immediately and CNN should issue an apology for publishing such deceitful and insulting garbage. The religious right not only threatens almost every freedom in this country and is trying to take out society back to the stone age of barbarism.

    April 16, 2011 at 10:40 am |
    • Connie

      Your comment threatens the most important freedom in this country... freedom of speech. Maybe just a bit hypocritical.

      April 16, 2011 at 10:54 am |
    • Adam

      Carl, thank you for your intolerant bigotry. Connie, thanks for showing actual reason.

      April 16, 2011 at 11:09 am |
    • Jose

      So... Someone writes something you dont agree with and you say fire them.

      Sounds like you dont like freedom of speach.

      April 16, 2011 at 11:27 am |
    • Marggie

      wow sorry fidel castro

      April 16, 2011 at 5:49 pm |
  13. azuma

    "They avoid heavy-handed religious appeals, believing those turn off ordinary people. " – that could not be more true.

    He says over the last 40 years, when the fundamentalist christian right decided to enter politics, our democracy has strengthened. I wonder what else has happened in those 40 years?

    Our economy has tanked, our unemployment has skyrocketed, our position as a world power has greatly diminished, we have become hated all over the world (try traveling sometime...), our kids are becoming less and less educated (check the facts), college has become almost unobtainable without massive loans, etc.

    If he thinks that correlation = causation then my above comments ring true as well.

    April 16, 2011 at 10:40 am |
    • Jose

      You forget how bad unemployment was in the 70's. Our position as a superpower has grown compared to then (soviet union fell and as powerful as china is they are still not a superpower. Our economy is several times as large as theres people forget. Chinas gdp=5.7 trillion, USA gdp=14.62 trillion. Nearly triple and consider that chinas is spread out over 4 times as many people. So basically... per person.. thats over a ten fold diffence)

      April 16, 2011 at 11:26 am |
    • Deidre

      The so-called Christian right, whom I don't disagree with entirely, lost me when they teamed up with the Republican money boys and gave them a free ticket to run over the middle class and effectively destroy the country. For that, they will be held in Judgement certainly, and whoa be to them.

      April 16, 2011 at 12:53 pm |
  14. Faleela

    Judging from what fundamentalist Christians have done here...no

    April 16, 2011 at 10:40 am |
  15. stonedwhitetrash

    Everyone must get stoned shalom

    April 16, 2011 at 10:36 am |
  16. kathleen

    They are as bad as muslims they have nothing to offer anyone. It would be nut bag to nut bag

    April 16, 2011 at 10:25 am |
    • skeaky

      @ Kathleen...Far as I'm concerned..... take you to another country and drop you off.

      April 16, 2011 at 10:33 am |
    • Adam

      So you hate both Muslims and Christians? For all that liberals say about tolerance, I'm hard-pressed to find any from them.

      April 16, 2011 at 11:05 am |
    • Jose

      Your a truely hateful person. You obviously think that about a billion+ of the worlds population is bad in some way (muslims) cause you said another group of 2billion+ is as bad as them.
      You basically hate about half the world.

      April 16, 2011 at 11:21 am |
  17. skeaky

    Hank you have small pen-is.

    April 16, 2011 at 10:24 am |
    • kathleen

      are you a nut bag fundamentalist?

      April 16, 2011 at 10:27 am |
  18. jim

    Christians add nothing of value to any political system, they are as self righteous and dictatorial as Muslims!

    April 16, 2011 at 10:24 am |
    • jbuck1970

      I suppose you also believe that all blacks are lazy, all Mexicans are illegal immigrants, and all Irish are drunks. I can't stand the Christian Right, but sir, I am myself a Christian. Please do not paint us all with such broad strokes....

      April 16, 2011 at 10:27 am |
    • skeaky

      @ Jim...time for you to go back to your saturday cartoon and your bowl of fruitloops....twit.

      April 16, 2011 at 10:28 am |
    • Jose

      So Christians add nothing? Well.. I can name one example. The abolition movement was based largely upon the workings of organized religious groups.

      Oh and just about every president out there has at least claimed to be Christian and most really were. Look at how many times Abraham Lincoln refers to God. Barrak Obama often ends a speach with God Bless and may God Bless America.

      April 16, 2011 at 11:19 am |
    • Steve (the real one)

      So Christians add nothing? Well.. I can name one example. The abolition movement was based largely upon the workings of organized religious groups. Oh and just about every president out there has at least claimed to be Christian and most really were. Look at how many times Abraham Lincoln refers to God. Barrak Obama often ends a speach with God Bless and may God Bless America.
      Jose folks forget most hospitals and universities were founded by Christians and on Christian principles. Yale and Harvard are examples. Secularism and humanism changed the course of those 2 schools I mentioned.

      April 16, 2011 at 12:43 pm |
  19. boraxguitar

    The fundamentalists are simply using democatic, reasonable, tolerant means to achieve an undemocratic, unreasonable, intolerant end. It's a method right out of the communist playbook. How's that for irony?

    April 16, 2011 at 10:23 am |
  20. Hank

    " ... fundamentalist Christians have strengthened American democracy" ... is Blake kidding? ... fundamentalist Christians would have the same theocracy style government here if they could. Sam is correct, fundamentalist have damaged both Christianity and Islam.

    April 16, 2011 at 10:14 am |
    • Adam

      Hank, the Christian right is very strongly supportive of the 1st Amendement. There is no intent to establish a theocratic government. In fact, we've stood by and largely tolerated the removal of prayer from school, the removal of things like the 10 Commandments from public display and the like. We've put up from a great deal of intolerance from radical leftists, and still showed them respect while we get none. Please don't believe everything the liberal brainwashing machine tells you and try to think critically for once. Thank you.

      April 16, 2011 at 11:02 am |
    • john

      Yeah, Adam, that's exactly why people like Pat Robertson are so influential. Tolerance. I'm glad you have "tolerated" other people's right not to have your mythology shoved down their throats by government employees.

      April 16, 2011 at 11:09 am |
    • fofo

      Religion should have no place in politics. If they continue co-mingling with the politics, then it should only be fair for them to pay their taxes as well. I have no problem with religious people, as long as they keep their opinion and their faith close to themselves because after all it's just "an opinion" and wrong to force it on others. If they don't want abortion, then they should not do it but they have no right to impose it on others. If they are gay and rather stay in closet, it's just fine with me, but they have no right to tell gays what to do. At the end, I sure hope a time will come when human race reaches a stage of growth that respect others without first expecting them to be just like themselves.

      April 16, 2011 at 11:14 am |
    • Adam

      So, John, you say that tolerance is only enacted when its convenient and in line with your ideology. How hypocritical. No wonder it took so long for democrats to embrace racial equality...

      April 16, 2011 at 11:15 am |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.