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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. Toby Geralds

    Haven't fundamentalist Christians done enough to "help" the Mideast by supporting two wars against Muslim nations? Honestly, sometimes I wonder why there isn't a *bigger* backlash against Christians in Muslim countries. The U.S. got attacked *once*, more than a decade ago, and it's still complaining and hating. What if the U.S. had tomahawk cruise missiles and cluster bombs dropped on it by Muslims every day for the past 10 years? How many Terry Jones, Pamela Gellars and Franklin Grahams would we have then??

    April 16, 2011 at 1:07 pm |
  2. chuckmartel

    You used to be Christain Right now you are muslim and you use terms like plastic Jesus? No gay bashing in mideast or in islami lands? What a moron. Religous fundamentalism is as deranged and ignorant as one can get.

    April 16, 2011 at 1:06 pm |
  3. NewRome

    Right. Exactly what the Arabs need. The Jewish State in Palestine and the return of the Christian Crusaders in the Arab land.

    April 16, 2011 at 1:06 pm |
  4. Nadda

    Im surprised we arent seeing an article about a group from another Country coming here to the U.S. to save us!!

    April 16, 2011 at 1:05 pm |
  5. William Hopper

    Given enough power and backing in the Middle East, these same Christians would be handing out Bibles in Mecca. That some Christians have avoided being explicit about their agenda in order to garner support is NOT a recommendation. While some Christians might be able to tolerate other religions, that's still a long way from accepting other religions. Diplomacy and foreign aid has to come from those who can understand and work within another's culture without believing that it is evil, godless, and condemned to Hell. http://www.heathensguide.com

    April 16, 2011 at 1:05 pm |
  6. Khadijah

    I used to belong to the Christian Right, so I know how ignorant they are. It took me years to break their programing. Nope, hopefully they will be too tied up in their gay bashing, sanctimonious homless shelters, and playing church that they will just ignore us Muslims. If they'd just go in there intent upon being as helpful as posible, and leave their plastic Jesus home ... Why bother.

    April 16, 2011 at 12:56 pm |
  7. Gumby

    What a load of cr@p. All Xian thugs have done in this country is made things better for themselves. Meanwhile the poor get poorer and women lose more control over what they can and can't do with their own bodies. The religious right is a horrible force in this country, and arguing that quasi-theocracy actually helps democracy is doublespeak of Orwellian proportions.

    April 16, 2011 at 12:51 pm |
  8. Wackadoodle

    This is great! All the Muslims will forget about their internal problems and can unite in how much they hate all these white, western Christians telling them what to do with their country. They'll run them up the flagpole and peace will reign o'er Libya, Egypt and Tunisia. "I know we've had our differences, but only by working together could we kick Franky Graham out of the Middle East!"

    Brilliant.

    April 16, 2011 at 12:51 pm |
  9. Joshua

    Fundamentalist Christians in the US never had as one of their central tenets the extermination of the Jews. Fundamentalist Muslims in the Middle East do. That is one reason why Fundamentalist Islam cannot support democracy.

    April 16, 2011 at 12:33 pm |
    • A Mom

      Good comment. Thanks for pointing out that fundamentalist muslims and fundamentalist Christians should not be lumped together.

      April 16, 2011 at 12:44 pm |
    • Sadat Anwar

      Nonsense propaganda. Fundamentalist Muslims do not have it as part of their goal to "exterminate all Jews". This is your sneaky way of trying to suppress dissent against Israel and Zionism. There is a difference between denying Israel the right to exist and denying Jews the right to exist, believe it or not. If you disagree with that, then please be consistent and say that the Jews who deny Palestine's right to exist also deny the Palestinians' right to exist. Or wait– I guess the Palestinians don't exist anyways, they're just a figment of our imagination and clever Arab word-play. Right.

      The truth is– the Christian track record in treating Jews is far, far worse than that of Islam's. That is acknowledged by many Jewish orientalist scholars such as Bernard Lewis and others. That is why Moses Maimonaides, the Thomas Aquinas of Jewish theology and philosophy, wrote his works in Arabic in Islamic Spain and Egypt, not in Germany, France, or England.

      April 16, 2011 at 12:56 pm |
    • Sadat Anwar

      This is of course is a false parallel anyways. Let the Jews kick all the Christians out of Miami, confiscate their land and money and deny them the right to return, and then let's see how lovingly the fundamentalist Christians would respond. Then I'll have fun telling them, "Miami is SO small, and you have so many OTHER cities and states that you can go to, so please stop complaining and throw your old house keys into the garbage!"

      April 16, 2011 at 1:01 pm |
    • Steve (the real one)

      Sadat Anwar
      Nonsense propaganda.
      ---------
      Really? Then why did you make peace with Israel if you believe they have no right to exist? That cost you your life, Anwar! Was it worth it?

      April 16, 2011 at 1:03 pm |
  10. Reality

    As with most Islam-based upheavals, the Sunnis and Shiites will continue their hatred for each other ending in more bloody civil wars. As usual, the Christians will be the collateral damage.

    Some examples:

    Iraq, Pakistan, Palestine, Syria, Lebanon:

    From: http://www.cnn.com/2007/WORLD/meast/02/03/iraq.cleric.ap/index.html

    "Al-Sistani was apparently referring to Abdullah bin Jabrain, a key member of Saudi Arabia's clerical establishment, who last month joined a chorus of other senior figures from the hardline Wahhabi school of Sunni Islam that regards Shiites as infidels.

    Bin Jabrain described Shiites as "the most vicious enemy of Muslims."

    And it "ain't any better" in Palestine:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2006/07/22/world/middleeast/22jihadists.html?ex=1311220800&en=477ff07cfa579449&ei=5088&partner=rssnyt&emc=rss

    An excerpt:

    "The conflict in Lebanon has ignited a robust debate on jihadist Web sites over backing for Hezbollah, the Shiite group that set off the crisis when it seized two Israeli soldiers on July 12. The discussions reflect the widening divide between Shiite and Sunni Arabs in parts of the Middle East. Accusing Palestinians of being anti-Shiite, one Iraqi Shiite militant bitterly wrote, “It is better to concentrate one’s efforts on helping the Shiite kinfolk rather than the Sunnis.”

    April 16, 2011 at 12:27 pm |
  11. ???

    The tolerance of the religious right is why Rove pioneered the political strategies of 'Rally your Base' and put gay marriage on the ballot in all states that are swing states. Because those are tactics of tolerant people who are willing to work with others.

    (sarcasm)

    April 16, 2011 at 12:24 pm |
    • Deirdre

      So he outstrategized you. Maybe if you stopped taking the bait and talked about what the Republicans are doing to working families instead of insisting on taking the unsavory opposite stance of whatever social smokescreen Rove, Inc puts out there you'd do better in elections?

      Jsut a thought.

      April 16, 2011 at 1:59 pm |
    • ???

      Deirdre – You assume a lot about me, none of which is true.

      April 16, 2011 at 2:05 pm |
  12. hi

    no offense, but when you look at any religious history there's been as much deaths as much as people been helped. i don't think religion would be the right answer to help the middle-east, in fact it'll probably bring in bigger chaos and death to those who had the best intensions to help.
    send people that are un-bias about religion that has the best intension to help, less fuss and less harm done

    April 16, 2011 at 12:20 pm |
    • Deirdre

      More deaths than it's helped? You sure you want to stand by that? Nearly every hospital in the country is religious in origin for one thing. That's leaving aside a wealth of charitys across the globe that are the often the first on the scene and the last to leave when disaster strikes.

      The Religious Right is known for it's disingenuity. Why emulate them?

      April 16, 2011 at 1:57 pm |
  13. Lee Oates

    This is a moronic article. Fundamentalist have brought nothing but destruction to the US with their intolerant, hateful behaviour towards other religions and cultures. They have weakened democracy and advocated a religious brand of Fascism. Their absolute hateful behaviour towards Muslims have created a huge rift between east and west. They support the worst of our leadership. They have done nothing to enrich the life of Americans.

    April 16, 2011 at 12:20 pm |
    • Gumby

      Hear, hear!

      April 16, 2011 at 12:56 pm |
  14. BMoore

    Interesting discussion... I am a conservative, Christian pastor. I think that the last 40 years of Christian political power-block activism has ended up doing great damage to the cause of Christ. Like it or not, the only mission that Jesus left the church was to make "disciples" (believers who follow Christ). Christians are to do this by loving, serving, being compassionate and sharing His message of reconciliation with God through faith in Jesus Christ. Some hear, believe and follow Him. Some do not. The problem is that the goal of Christian political activism and the "culture war" is much more about making America "moral" (at least from a partially-biblical standard), but that is not the mission of the church. Being moral and being Christian are not synonymous. The result has been to make adversaries (and in rare occasions, enemies) out of the same people Christians are called to love and serve. It has left the impression that Christianity is associated with a particular political party. It has, in general, left Christians more disengaged from those that are not, and vice versa. We created Christian alternatives for everything (like sports), which ended up creating a Christian bubble mentality that separated Christians even more. And finally, it left a lasting impression that people like me are as heartless, insensitive, arrogant, ignorant and even dangerous as the caricatures found in many of the angry comments in response to this article. These impressions (based on some highly publicized-yet-exceptional instances of reality) make it much more difficult to have a reasonable discussion about my faith in Jesus with those who do not share it. BTW, my believing that God created everything seen and unseen makes me a danger to national security? Really?

    April 16, 2011 at 12:14 pm |
    • Jesus

      Simply put, if you'd confine your faith and not try and inject your view of it into the political arena, I would view you and others like you as harmless as palm readers. Unfortunately, your Christian brothers insert their views into the political mainstream. That makes you dangerous. Our 21st century democracy has no place for 1st century Voodoo. Take your zombie Gawd (you know, the mythical guy that rose from the dead) and all your ridiculous fear based dogma and go the mideast. I suggest you wear a T-shirt that says, "Allah is bogus". Please try it!!

      April 16, 2011 at 12:25 pm |
    • Jesse

      Thank you. I believe that the majority of Christians are good people who's name is tainted by the few, but highly publicized, bad apples in the bunch.

      April 16, 2011 at 12:39 pm |
  15. A Mom

    Article is FULL of error. Comparing a terrorist group to right-wing Christians is just one that screams. And I quote..."Will conservative Islamic parties like the Muslim Brotherhood follow the example of our own right-wing Christians". And here is another that deserves noting. Article states that Christians entered the political arena 40 years ago. What about all those Christians that helped to lay the foundation of our country back in the late 1700's? Can fundamentalist Christians help the Mideast? Christ is the ONLY hope for the Mideast.

    April 16, 2011 at 12:14 pm |
  16. Omar

    This article is so stupid! This Christian Right is the same group that supports Jewish settlers from taking over more Palestinian lands. How are they helping the situation? What an idiot.

    April 16, 2011 at 12:12 pm |
    • chuckmartel

      You are right. Regardless of ones stand on mideast issues, this article makes no sense at all and is completely stupid. This "belief" or "people of faith" crowd s really dumb.

      April 16, 2011 at 12:17 pm |
    • BobRoss

      "This Christian Right is the same group that supports Jewish settlers from taking over more Palestinian lands."
      What does that have to do with this article? The author was talking about the Christian Right's role in this country's political process. Saying that instead of trying to work outside of the process they have entered into the democratic discussion as to what they view is best for the U.S.
      I definitely agree that a political role such as that would benefit the Middle East; as opposed to groups using intimidation and violence to coerce agreement to their political goals.

      April 16, 2011 at 12:29 pm |
  17. Gene Brady

    Sure, they can send that idiot family that protests the dead soldiers or the other idiot from Florida that burned the Koran. They are excellant representatives of the "Christian Right". Send all of them over there just to get them out of HERE!

    April 16, 2011 at 12:07 pm |
    • Deirdre

      They're hardly representative of the entire Christian community.

      April 16, 2011 at 2:00 pm |
  18. ramon

    In the middle east political solution is the hardest. The only thing that this people beleive is signs. if the signs are good the go their ways. but if the signs are wrong believed it they're prune to follow the majority rule. It matter not even if they are wrong. What politician should avoid is arming them. These are desperate men looking after their own survival, see all the picture, it is mostly men, they do not want to work for penny anymore. They are hungry and thisty. Evrybody want their fair share of countrys wealth. Is this good? for somense it's good for them.. But that's whem more corruption sucked in and they become just like beast in the forest. Imagine just How could this change the world. The truth is the changes is already happenning, the world once quiet is about to explode. The cool guys become hotheads. Even the women has its own changing. Harder to see one submit to husbands wished. Children suing parents worst, they starting murdering them. The parents does it to them likewise. brother against brothers, sisters against sisters. Oh God, are you really coming?

    April 16, 2011 at 12:06 pm |
  19. sassypants

    Anyone who disagrees with this article is shortsighted and ignorant. The only thing that would make you happy is if Christians didn't exist and didn't participate in our democracy at all. Well, you can just get over that.

    April 16, 2011 at 11:55 am |
    • yohoho

      you're right, that would make me happy.

      April 16, 2011 at 12:07 pm |
    • Jesus

      Is that an offer? I would be thrilled beyond words if Christian ideology did not exist. The same would hold true for all other religions.

      April 16, 2011 at 12:18 pm |
    • Hypocrite much?

      I see you are an example of the tolerance of the right the author was talking about...

      April 16, 2011 at 12:19 pm |
    • Tony

      Sure, the Christian right has tried to force their morals and religious beliefs on everyone denying freedom to certain groups of "sinners" but its because us non-Christians dont know any better...so we should just be told what to do and never question their judgement because they never judge anyone that is different from them...right?

      April 16, 2011 at 12:38 pm |
    • TheTruth72

      Matthew 24

      April 16, 2011 at 1:04 pm |
  20. chuckmartel

    Just what the mideast needs, more GD religion. The writers on this faith blog seem to be very stupid and deranged. I suppose anybody who refers to themselves as a "person of faith" must be a delusional imbecile. Maybe the US can get rid of some kooky bible bangers here. The bible bangers can go to the mideast and get blown up by some exploding muzzies. Now if we can only get our exploding, rug praying muzzies to leave as well.

    April 16, 2011 at 11:54 am |
    • PhxLuke

      it is very interesting how hateful you sound... Is bigotry against "people of faith" the last acceptable form of discrimination? Wanting the death of other people who might see the world differently than you do is a bit extreme, and a little frightening. Have fun on your crusade.

      April 16, 2011 at 12:15 pm |
    • Jesus

      Add more irrational thinking to a culture that is rampant with illogical thinking. Gee. that reeally sounds foolish!

      April 16, 2011 at 12:16 pm |
    • Lee Oates

      Christianity helping other cultures is a huge delusion. American Indians were almost destroyed by Christians helping them with their cultural-busting laws and residential schools. Advice to Muslims, when a Christian offers to help you, run like hell.

      April 16, 2011 at 12:32 pm |
    • John Sharp

      I completely agree with you. I find PHX luke's comments ludicrous. We should be intolerant of stupidity, believing in a sky fairy is simply lacking in intelligence.
      It is not hateful to abhor adding stupidity to an already volatile situation.
      It is actually a reasonable response.

      April 16, 2011 at 12:42 pm |
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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.