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. John

    I am very surprised this article actually was posted on CNN. What a bunch of balhooey. The Christian Right is very tolerant.... as long as you agree with them. These "You're with me or against me" self serving idealists are the American version of the Taliban. They want to force their values on everyone. They are the furthest thing from liberal. This guy could probably do well writing speeches for Sarah Palin or maybe work as director of PR for the Sith.

    April 16, 2011 at 11:51 am |
    • Steve (the real one)

      Excellent point John, just half correct, non Christians and are just as intolerant! Read these blogs! as a Christian, I can admit intolerance by some on my side. Can you do the same about your side?

      April 16, 2011 at 1:25 pm |
    • John

      to Steve – I don't have a "side" which is my point here

      April 16, 2011 at 1:54 pm |
    • Steve (the real one)

      to Steve – I don't have a "side" which is my point here
      By side I mean either Christian or non Christian.

      April 16, 2011 at 1:56 pm |
  2. GP

    There is a problem with his defense of the right. He claims that the extremist actions of some members of the right alienated the majority of the right. I don't ever remember members of the majority of the right denouncing the extremist actions associated with the right. They either stayed silent or encouraged the these actions.

    If they were alienated then it wouldn't have been so difficult to de-criminalize being gay. If they were alienated it wouldn't have been so difficult to allow single parent adoptions. If they were alienated it would not be so difficult to prosecute child abusers who use partial phrases from the bible to rationalize why they beat their child to the point of broken limbs. Yet in each of these issues the religious right seemed to rally around their more extremist members. It brings them together. It does not result in alienation.

    April 16, 2011 at 11:50 am |
  3. abd

    in the US: divorce rate 55%, tens of thousands of girls who are 12 years and younger got pregnant, tens of thousands of people don't know who their dads are..... so keep your american version of democracy for yourself.

    April 16, 2011 at 11:49 am |
    • Deidre

      Not to mention a full 50% of kids are born out of wedlock.
      And the places where all of this divorce, teen pregnancy, wife battering ,et al is most found? By far the deep south, that bastion of religious right moral superiority.

      Speak up about your better values when you find them.

      April 16, 2011 at 1:44 pm |
  4. Skip Guinness

    Learn to pray. http://skippyguinnesslearns.blogspot.com/

    April 16, 2011 at 11:45 am |
  5. Tyler

    I'm sorry but the Religious Reich has not really helped this country. Unless you consider helping us head towards a country ran like Iran. Most of the religious right I know are war mongering, hate-spewing, hypocrites that just want everyone to live their lives just like them. I think they would love to be a dictator in charge of a communist country.

    April 16, 2011 at 11:42 am |
  6. What?

    When I think about how they turn a blind eye to people advocating the murder of doctors who perform abortions and even encourage jury nullification in those cases I think about how tolerant they are to accept that tactic for political change.

    April 16, 2011 at 11:41 am |
    • Deidre

      Far more concerning yet is their blind eye to the poor and dwindling middle class. Where have the conservative churches been while the Filthy Republicans call for yet more free lunches for the wealthy on the backs of what's left for the midddle and poor? Nowhere. As Christians, the rightwing is in fact useless to all but the top 1 percent.

      April 16, 2011 at 1:42 pm |
    • What?


      Do you have anything better to do than to comment on every post in the story?

      April 16, 2011 at 2:13 pm |
  7. Dan of The Prophecy Society

    The real truth is that Jesus NEVER used the political process to try to achieve spiritual means.

    Some misinformed interpreters point to his overturning the tables in the Temple as a political act, but they miss the point about what he did. Jesus was cleansing the Temple of leaven (practices of the priests and Pharisees) who had made the Temple a place of business instead of a place of worship. The money changers were exchanging silver coins minted in Tyre (with the image of a pagan god on them) for use in paying the Temple tax. Jesus overturned the tables to stop the misuse of the Temple, an act against the religious authorities that controlled the Temple area. This was symbolically cleansing the House of God of leaven as the Israelites had been commanded to do during Passover, when this event took place.

    To repeat the original point, Jesus NEVER tried to bring about spiritual goals by participating in the secular political process. Today's Christians should heed his example.

    April 16, 2011 at 11:41 am |
    • 21k

      hmm. dan doesn't toe the joel orstein and glenn beck line. so he shall burn in the fires of hell for alllllllllll eternity!

      April 16, 2011 at 11:45 am |
    • Steve (the real one)

      hmm. dan doesn't toe the joel orstein and glenn beck line. so he shall burn in the fires of hell for alllllllllll eternity!
      Acts 5:29 NIV
      Peter and the other apostles replied: "We must obey God rather than men! Dan is absolutely correct Jesus was neither Liberal, conservative, republican, nor democrat. He was never politically motived nor a politician

      April 16, 2011 at 1:22 pm |
    • Deidre

      I have no problem with them being involved in the political process when they're not lying and promoting misinformation and otherwise doing more harm than good. They have a right to be there; it's their tactics that are very very objectionable.

      April 16, 2011 at 1:46 pm |
  8. sir_ken_g

    What a load....
    The Bible thiumpers are very interested in the Middle East. That is where they claim the second comig will start – and they want to hurry it along.

    April 16, 2011 at 11:40 am |
  9. frank

    stupid article, the christian right is among the most divisive groups in this country

    April 16, 2011 at 11:39 am |
  10. atrain

    This is hilarious. I would encourage Blake and Zimmerman to take a little closer look at the REAL world we live in. If you want to understand the impact of Christian fundamentalism on this country and globally, read "The Family" by Jeff Sharlet. That will sum it up nicely for you. Who allowed this nonsense to be posted on a seemingly almost legitimate news site? Not exactly Pulitzer prize material is it Johnny? Thanks for a good laugh though my goodness

    April 16, 2011 at 11:39 am |
  11. jn555

    This is so off base, it's almost sickening. First, fundamentalists have weakened our democracy, restricting our freedoms, and attempting to get rid of more. Second, I seriously doubt fundamentalist Muslims would want to hear anything out of a fundamentalist Christians mouth, nor follow by example. Didn't we supposedly learn this from the crusades?

    April 16, 2011 at 11:37 am |
  12. Peace2All

    From the Article, Zimmerman states:

    "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)."

    Really...? Hmmm....

    Also from the Article: "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."

    Fundamental Christians...'tolerant'...'tactics'...? Avoid...'heavy-handed religious appeals.' Really...?

    From my experience it is the 'fundamentalists' (as a generality) that 'basically' believe, speak, and act in direct opposite of that statement. Definitely, I have seen more of the progressive Christians or moderates believe, speak and act more in-line with that statement.

    Anyway... the implications from this article make me very curious... and remain to be seen how it gets played out into the future.



    April 16, 2011 at 11:35 am |
    • 21k

      got your paisley shirt on i see, so take another hit. the future implications of rabid xtian control of the "guv'ment" here will unfortunately be the forced imposition of religion (one in particular) on all of us. so we will need to believe that god makes planes fly, not wings and engines. so while we complain loudly about the taliban and islamic fundamentalists, we are moving backwards to meet them, only with xtianity as our banner.

      April 16, 2011 at 11:43 am |
    • Peace2All


      LOL... That was pretty funny actually. No... paisley shirt... and no, not taking 'hits.'

      My post stands... and... is not in disagreement with yours. It seems you have just put a 'finer point' on it.




      April 16, 2011 at 11:51 am |
  13. Geoff

    Fundamentalist Christians are typically more Zionist than most Jews.

    No, thanks.

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

      It is because they believe Zionism is a precondition of the second coming.

      April 16, 2011 at 11:53 am |
  14. Ozymandias71

    Like the Religious Right has 'helped' Uganda? Uh huh. /shakes head

    April 16, 2011 at 11:30 am |
  15. David Johnson

    I think the fundies would be as helpful, as an infestation of bedbugs.

    Religion poisons everything – C. Hitchens

    I think the peoples of the earth can only be helped, by a large dose of secular humanism.

    “No god will save us,” declared Humanist Manifesto II (1973), “we must save ourselves.”


    April 16, 2011 at 11:30 am |
  16. stratcat944

    God bless America, your response to LogicAndReality has got to be the most ignorant comment I've ever seen posted in a public forum.

    April 16, 2011 at 11:29 am |
    • JohnR

      Really? you don't get out much! And while communism no doubt did not cause more death and misery than all religious wars combined, it did cause a LOT of death and misery. And this does indeed show that religion isn't the only problem. More specifically, the brutal excesses of both religious and communist rulers are special cases of what happens when rigid orthodoxies are ruthlessly enforced on populations, and even this much more general horror doesn't exhaust all the horros visited by humans on one another.

      April 16, 2011 at 11:50 am |
  17. Chad

    I'm so tired of hearing about the atrocities of the middle ages and having them attributed to modern Christianity. Although there will always be criminals who claim allegiance to one religion or another, unfortunately Islamic principals are extremely repressive. And I don't want to hear one more atheist quote the OLD TESTAMENT to try and ascribe these same behaviors to Modern North American Christianity, we are governed by the NEW TESTAMENT that commands love and respect for all (whether we all follow those ideals to the letter is obviously an easy answer, no). Bottom line, you don't see bands of thousands of Christian men hiding in the mountains armed to the hilt and ready to kill whoever opposes them and their desire to set up a theocracy where women are scorned and denouncing their faith is punishable by death. Christianity TODAY is light years ahead of Islam in all respects but the cultivation of violence, stop bringing up the Crusades as that hasn't applied for hundreds of years!

    April 16, 2011 at 11:29 am |
    • 21k

      just go out to utah.

      April 16, 2011 at 11:31 am |
    • Ozymandias71

      Wait a minute... you're saying the ATHEISTS are quoting the Old Testament? Try reading a CNN story about LGBT Americans and see how many times 'Christians' gleefully quote the Old Testament.

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

      Ozymandias, grow up and stop deflecting. Yes, the Old T is quoted by Christians, what I'm saying is that atheists are always quoting stories involving brutality that are literally thousands of years old (from the Old T) in an effort to prove modern Christianity is just as violent as modern Islam. It's transparent, pathetic and only holds water with the simple-minded. Last I checked, Christians weren't calling for the execution of LGBT individuals, why don't you go try that in Saudi Arabia?

      April 16, 2011 at 11:39 am |
    • Chad

      And lets compare the two religions right now. Christianity in America means we have a few kooks who take things too far and say some stupid things. In Islamic countries, those equivalent kooks RUN THE COUNTRY.

      April 16, 2011 at 11:42 am |
    • JohnR

      The only reason the middle ages are past us is because of the scientific and industrial revolutions largely brought about by the secularization trends begun during the renaissance and moved forward during the enlightenment. If christian atrocities are largely things of the past, it's because christians have been largely muzzled by secular society and what we are trying to prevent is a RETURN to the way things were when christianity held sway.

      April 16, 2011 at 11:46 am |
    • Ozymandias71

      Chad, the only one deflecting is you. And yes, there are plenty of 'Christians' calling for LGBT Americans to be killed ,using Leviticus 20:13 as their mantra – but even more are calling for LGBT Americans to be discriminated against, to be pushed back into the closet, to be satisfied with their lot as 2nd-class citizens. The Prop 8 trial brought this into sharp relief, which is why the proponents have been fighting tooth and nail to keep the video sealed – they don't want the American public to see the sheer animus that propels anti-LGBT legislation, or how it is *always* couched in scripture.

      April 16, 2011 at 11:48 am |
    • ToChad

      I agree with you on the middle-aged stuff. People who want to rail up and down about the Spanish Inquisition but leave out the fact Episcopaleans are responsible for initiating abolition or Catholic charity are simply as hypocritical as the RR.

      The contemporary sin the Christian Right *IS* guilt of though that's just as bad is the wholesale destruction fo the middle class by endorsing the Republican Party who has and is concerned with nothing more than enriching the overclass with what's left of middle-class assets. They're also responsible for the filthiest, most deceitful campaigning known to mankind.

      In all the Christian Right will not be Judged well by history nor by their maker. To say the least.

      April 16, 2011 at 1:39 pm |
  18. Barb

    The religious right Christians are our taliban. I believe in God, but feel my beliefs are personal and private and should not be imposed onto others. I have no need for a third party,e.g. like a man-made doctrine on how I should believe. Additionally, religion has absolutely no place in government. Democracy ceases to exist when relgion moves in on goverment. Organize religion is nothing less than scary. What makes it so scary? All of its blind followers who have a need to be told what to think, do, and be and then told how to do all three.

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

      it's always been part of government. There's nothing wrong with it being part of local government but it does NOT belong on the federal level. It is not the role of the federal government to get involved in these things. The left has made a big mistake in letting the moneyed-right lobby the evangelical Christian vote at the urging of their greedy televangelists. They should never have been allowed to claim Christ as theirs when near everything they do and promote is so obviously the opposite of what Christ would support.

      Comparing them to the Taliban and trashing all Christians does more harm than good. There is nothing wrong with calling the Republican Right on their filthy actions largely based in greed. Lumping ALL Christians in though is harmful, not helpful.

      April 16, 2011 at 1:21 pm |
    • Steve (the real one)

      Barb, Jesus said make disciples! Kinda impossible to do that with a "private" faith! We are to share!

      April 16, 2011 at 1:45 pm |
  19. Atom Spectre

    This has to be one of the most bone chilling, frightening articles I've read in a long time. Religion and religious values have no place in politics. All irrational beliefs will always lead to irrational behavior.

    April 16, 2011 at 11:25 am |
    • RGeneration

      Alrite....man up now. There's nothing "bone chilling" here. Go watch a horror movie or something. Don't get too dramatic.

      April 16, 2011 at 11:29 am |
    • ToJohn

      They are obnoxious liars and hypocrites certain. But they are not the Taliban and it is not helpful to make such comparisons.

      April 16, 2011 at 1:15 pm |
    • ToAtom

      Well good luck keeping it out. Religion has been a part of politics for so long as history has existed. Everyone has a right to lobby for their beliefs politically. It's when that lobbying is done by rich fatcats to take advantage of the beliefs of poor and middle class people that they then screw over I take a huge issue.

      April 16, 2011 at 1:16 pm |
  20. LogicAndReality

    Paul, you have got to be kidding me. The most disgusting acts in history have been done in the name of God. Please study history before using big words to sound intelligent in your post. Thanks for the grade seven history lesson, now go do some real research while the grown ups discuss.

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

      Some of.. not all.

      Example-Mongul culling of china, mass enslavement all over the world, Stalins purges causing more deaths in many eyes than the Holocaust caused. (in a state that hated the idea of religion note)

      April 16, 2011 at 11:16 am |
    • God bless America

      LogicAndReality, please don't blame God for historical tragedies. Remember communism, was that in the name of God? Communists casused the death of more death and suffering than all "religious" wars combined.

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

      let's not forget what a great job southern preachers did here justifying slavery, from their pulpits on sunday mornings.

      April 16, 2011 at 11:28 am |
    • GAW

      Whenever there is an ideology (Religious or non-religious) that furthers a persons cause for better or for worse it will be used. Good has been done in the name of secularism and religion as well as evil. An ideology is only as good as the person using it. BTW Simplistic thinking abounds in these replies, from atheists and the religious alike.

      April 16, 2011 at 12:03 pm |
    • 21k

      gaw, when folks simply believe that a greater being is responsible for all the unanswered questions in life, they are winning the simplistic thinking contest by a mile.

      April 16, 2011 at 12:11 pm |
    • To_Logic

      I'd say economic greed has created worse acts than religion ever has.

      But even noting some atrocity performed by the Christians, they have also created by far some of the the BEST acts of humanity. Ranging from networks of hospitals started by French nuns in the United States to fufill community needs, abolition started by very fire-in-the-eyes John Brown, a devout Espiscopalean.. civil rights from the black evangelical churches, and an entire host of charity here and abroad.

      Understand I dislike the charlatan Republican right for the nasty, mean-spirited, false-testimony providing hypocrites they are fair and square. It's NOT fair and square to tar the entire Christian community with that filth though and it's not helpful politically either as it just offends people who would not otherwise be sympathetic to them.

      April 16, 2011 at 1:13 pm |
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