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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. a dinosaur

    They've got enough trouble with their own fundamentalists. They hardly need ours going over there and complicating things.

    April 16, 2011 at 2:20 pm |
  2. ML

    Just because the religious right uses the ballot box to oppress doesn't mean it isn't repugnant.

    April 16, 2011 at 2:18 pm |
  3. Mike

    Christian Right employs "reason, tolerance and mutual respect"?? You must be out of your f*ing mind. The Christian right's gift to American politics has been the exploitation of emotional issues, intolerance, and a complete disdain and lack of respect for people who differ in their opinions. And then to think that the experience of the Christian Right can be translated into arabic societies? Well, you can add cultural ignorance to the list of benefits you have offered.

    April 16, 2011 at 2:17 pm |
    • M22

      mike: "Christian Right employs "reason, tolerance and mutual respect"?? You must be out of your f*ing mind."

      Evidently you missed the point. Hate Christians all you want, but ignoring the fact that they don't use physical force to dominate others is dishonest. They use the political process to try to change the laws to how they think the laws "should" be. Just like every other interest group.

      When they fail to persuade legislatures and voters, they don't riot in the streets, they continue to try to persuade.

      "The Christian right's gift to American politics has been the exploitation of emotional issues, intolerance, and a complete disdain and lack of respect for people who differ in their opinions."

      This was intended to be ironic, no? Or do you really believe in your blanket ad hominem categorization?

      April 16, 2011 at 3:00 pm |
    • John

      M22,I would like you to note that the Christians only have a marginal voice now,yet it is growing!I would also like you to think about when the Christians controlled much of Europe.They wrecked havoc! Is that what you desire to return too!

      April 16, 2011 at 4:01 pm |
    • M22

      john: "would also like you to think about when the Christians controlled much of Europe.They wrecked havoc! Is that what you desire to return too!"

      And when the pagans controlled the world they wreaked havoc too. So?

      When secular socialists controlled Germany and Russia, they wreaked havoc too. So?

      When monarchs controlled Europe they wreaked havoc too. So?

      Humans are violent and domineering insofar as they're human, not insofar as they're religious.

      April 16, 2011 at 4:10 pm |
    • John

      M22,I know its tough to have your ideals flipped on end but,the teachings and words and beliefs of the Christian community have nothing in common with the teachings of Jesus!Jesus was not intolerant,I wish more Christians wood just read his teachings,yet most refer to obscure scriptures in different books of the bible to spread their hate and intolerance in their own individual hearts.They do these things in Jesus' name,not with his blessing!

      April 16, 2011 at 4:23 pm |
    • M22

      john: "M22,I know its tough to have your ideals flipped on end but,the teachings and words and beliefs of the Christian community have nothing in common with the teachings of Jesus!"

      Who said I have any sort of religion whatsoever? And how was this relevant to either what you said, or my response to what you said?

      "have nothing in common with the teachings...etc."

      Brilliantly irrelevant response.

      April 16, 2011 at 4:33 pm |
    • John

      M22 my apology.I assume to much! Its just that when you defend the slime you tend to be lumped in with them! I also urge to stop picking through everyones written and try to understand where they are coming from! Fancy words and proper writing technique are not the hallmark of great ideas,I suppose most have an editor,something most do not have on hand!

      April 16, 2011 at 4:49 pm |
    • John

      M22 the socialists,pagens,and monarchs have been driven from power to the betterment of the world,I just think its time the same be done with the two major religions,Christianity and Islam! Don't ya think?They have both had 2000 and around 1000 years respectively to prove their point!Times up they failed,time to move on! don;t YOU THINK!

      April 16, 2011 at 4:54 pm |
  4. Josie

    Personally, no the Christian Right couldn't help them. They don't want help...they want total control; with that being said...

    My views of the "Christian Right" is very straight foward, they don't want women out of the home, they want the traditional bible setting where men are in control of everything. Women can be nurses or in a caring or teaching field for some, but that is even pushing it! I have seen examples of the "Good Christian Right"/Fundamentals...I'll pass thank you, they would make this country no better then the middle east if they had their way.

    The Liberal Christians I am good friends with tend to actually follow Jesus's teachings. Jesus did not adhere to many of the laws of his own time and religion, I highly doubt if he was here now he would recognize many of those who claim to follow him. He befriended tax-collectors, drunks, homeless, "loose women" and many others that were looked down on. He stood up for caring, understanding, following the law, and being forgiving...hmm, interesting huh.

    April 16, 2011 at 2:13 pm |
  5. Ohhh

    I get it. The religious right is tolerant because they tolerate a wide variety of strategies being used to force people to live the way they think we should live.

    April 16, 2011 at 2:08 pm |
    • M22

      ohh: "because they tolerate a wide variety of strategies being used to force people to live the way they think we should live."

      As opposed to every other political party, group and voting bloc that seeks to do the same?

      Or is it okay for abortion proponents to try to change or extend the laws because they're "right" and their opponents are "wrong"?

      Not a deep thinker, are you?

      April 16, 2011 at 2:53 pm |
  6. Sonny

    Why cant christians stay out of other peoples business and let them practice their own religion??? Always trying to convert...

    April 16, 2011 at 2:06 pm |
  7. M

    I meant theocracy in that last sentence.

    April 16, 2011 at 2:03 pm |
  8. :(

    This is sort of like saying we can thank the KKK for the civil rights laws.

    April 16, 2011 at 2:02 pm |
  9. M

    The author is a right wing Christian Fundamentalist, what is so logical about Pat Robertson or Jerry Falwell coming to the conclusion that gays, or abortionist, caused 9/11 or that evolution is a hoax. What about Huckabbe and his Mau Mau talk or god forbid Glenn Beck and his attempt to rewrite 20th century history, when he said Martin Luther King was not for social justice These people are the most illogical people on the planet and are merely a tone down of their muslim fundamentalist counterparts. Is changing the History that all the founding fathers were christian or founded on christian fundamentalism. The only reason why this country has a functioning democracy was because of seperation of church and state. And now these holier than thou christian conservatives who turn out to be everything they rail against whether that's gays or having an extramarrital affair, are addamant about putting the ten commandments on a court house or trying to teach creationism along side evolution. That's the equivalent of teaching atronomy alongside astrology. Everything they've done is to destroy are democracy and replace with a repressive democracy in where they are in charge.

    April 16, 2011 at 2:02 pm |
  10. lumax

    the only reason the fundies got into politics was so they could get better positioning to attempt influence on Israel on rebuilding the temple so the fictional accounts of the rapture will play out so they can go be with Jesus

    April 16, 2011 at 2:00 pm |
    • Steve (the real one)

      1. The temple will be rebuilt! the anti christ will have to declare himself god in it, as the bible declares.
      2. The rapture is also true!
      3. That is not the reason Christians got into politics. Chances are it was to counteract Liberalism!

      April 16, 2011 at 2:07 pm |
    • John

      Steve,what is the point of countering liberalism?Why?What did Liberalism do to the Christians?Disagree?

      April 16, 2011 at 3:48 pm |
    • Steve (the real one)

      John
      Steve,what is the point of countering liberalism?Why?What did Liberalism do to the Christians?Disagree?
      --------–
      Who is the greatest defender of abortion? Who is beating up on boy scouts because they do not want gay scout masters? Let me tell you a bit about me. I am a Christian, I believe abortion is wrong. i have never screamed or cursed somebody for getting one! I am not protesting the President, I am not a Tea Partier I have core believes but political protests and violence is not what I do, because that is not what Jesus did! I am pointing out the 2 main parties counteract each other!

      April 16, 2011 at 4:05 pm |
  11. yankeelover1

    NO!

    April 16, 2011 at 1:58 pm |
  12. Oh please

    I know many kind, concerned Christians who do all manner of things to help their fellow man, but they aren't Fundamentalists.

    April 16, 2011 at 1:55 pm |
    • John

      Those that stand by as Christians and watch their fellow Christians commit acts of hate and intolerance are just as guilty!Not all Germans were in agreement with what happened in WWII but,saying that,their numbers gave the Nazi's the power to wreck Havoc upon the peoples of Europe! Same thing would happen if the Christian churches were allowed to rule again!Take a gander at the history of Christianity.Yes I did compare the Christians to the Nazis! They both spread intolerance of anything different.Intolerance leads to hate,hate leads to dead bodies everywhere.History DOES repeat itself!

      April 16, 2011 at 4:13 pm |
    • Steve (the real one)

      John
      Those that stand by as Christians and watch their fellow Christians commit acts of hate and intolerance are just as guilty!Not all Germans were in agreement with what happened in WWII but,saying that,their numbers gave the Nazi's the power to wreck Havoc upon the peoples of Europe! Same thing would happen if the Christian churches were allowed to rule again!Take a gander at the history of Christianity.Yes I did compare the Christians to the Nazis! They both spread intolerance of anything different.Intolerance leads to hate,hate leads to dead bodies everywhere.History DOES repeat itself!
      --------\
      I actually agree with you. But let's broaden this a bit. How about ANYONE stands by and watch hatred, and violence.... We are all human and need to treat others with respect, no matter if we disagree with them about religion, politics, or lifestyle!

      April 16, 2011 at 5:09 pm |
    • John

      No I disagree.

      April 16, 2011 at 5:35 pm |
  13. Rational Thought

    In response to the headline....NOOOOO! THEY CANNOT!

    April 16, 2011 at 1:48 pm |
  14. FrankLW

    The central fallacy with that reasoning is that fundamentalist Islam is NOT fundamentalist Christianity. Fundamentalist Islam holds that the entire world must – by force if necessary – be made to abide by Muslim law, Sharia. Islam itself actually means "submission" and is directly opposed to modern democratic ideals of absolute equality for all, and intellectual and civil freedom to choose one's lifestyle etc.

    April 16, 2011 at 1:39 pm |
    • John

      I live in America,I live under Christian law!Take a look at the Christian countries of Europe is history;Rome,Spain,England.How many people were killed?Salem witch hunts in our own country?I agree that few would really chose to live under Sharia law but,I wouldn't compare Christians to Muslims because the Muslims throughout history have been 1000 times more tolerant than the Christians!

      April 16, 2011 at 2:50 pm |
    • Steve (the real one)

      Steve (the real one)
      Your comment is awaiting moderation.
      John
      I live in America,I live under Christian law!Take a look at the Christian countries of Europe is history;Rome,Spain,England.How many people were killed?Salem witch hunts in our own country?I agree that few would really chose to live under Sharia law but,I wouldn't compare Christians to Muslims because the Muslims throughout history have been 1000 times more tolerant than the Christians!
      --
      Really?? Did you asks Theo Van Gogh (sp)? No you didn't because he is dead! How about Salman Rushdi? Did you ask the Victims of 9-11? Try asking little girls in Pakistan who all they want is to go to school. Ask them (with noses and ears cut off and acid tossed into their faces), just how tolerant Islam is! Ask that poor 14 year old girl was was recent whipped to death over a change of adultery when in fact, she was ra-ped! Oh wait, she's dead

      April 16, 2011 at 3:01 pm |
    • John

      I know about that Steve!Did you read you history books?Books written under Christian dominance even.Yes those are horrors!But ,they still pale in comparison to the atrocoties committed by Christians through out history!

      April 16, 2011 at 3:43 pm |
    • Steve (the real one)

      John
      I know about that Steve!Did you read you history books?Books written under Christian dominance even.Yes those are horrors!But ,they still pale in comparison to the atrocoties committed by Christians through out history!
      ------
      I won't argue your opinion John. I know terrible thing have occurred by those who called themselves Christians. At the same time, I will say I strongly disagree with your attempt to paint ALL Christians with the same brush! Are they some atheists who are criminals? yes! Does that make ALL atheists criminal? No! Blanket statements do not work! That is myhttp://i.cdn.turner.com/cnn/.element/img/3.0/1px.gif point!

      April 16, 2011 at 3:53 pm |
    • John

      Steve,take that statement and insert Muslim! Thanks for making my point!

      April 16, 2011 at 4:04 pm |
    • Steve (the real one)

      John
      Steve,take that statement and insert Muslim! Thanks for making my point!
      -------
      According to the context of your post, that is NOT your point. Your point is Christianity is1000% less tolerant than Islam! Speak against Mohammad and see what happen! Speak out Christ and what happens? Burn a bible and what happens? Burn a Koran and what happens? I fully understand that is not everyone! I am pointing out where I disagree with your original point!

      April 16, 2011 at 4:11 pm |
    • FrankLW

      John, it is certainly true that Christians have perpetrated horrific mass murder, particularly against the Jews who "killed god" (of all things), from the days of early Christianity as it was being adopted by the Roman Empire or its successors, through the Crusades, Spanish Inquisition and through WW2.
      Still, the dogma espoused today by fundamentalist Islam is drastically different since, unlike Christianity, it kills any that merely badmouth Muhammad and do seek to forcefully and violently make the world Muslim – and not only through missionary type work (as terrible as that was/is among Christians, that is relatively benign).
      Yes, there is always hope that Islam can once again be moderated, but that appears to be quite faint – particularly since Islam was historically "moderate" only when there was Muslim rule or the Muslims were a very small minority...

      April 17, 2011 at 5:40 am |
  15. Michael

    Religions don't stop wars they start them.

    April 16, 2011 at 1:37 pm |
    • Steve (the real one)

      Religions, greed, hatred, jealously, misunderstandings! the list can go on and on!

      April 16, 2011 at 1:41 pm |
  16. tallulah13

    Actually, I think fundamentalist christians are doing their best to divide the U.S.. I don't think other countries need their "help".

    April 16, 2011 at 1:36 pm |
    • Rick

      Amen!

      April 16, 2011 at 2:25 pm |
  17. bob

    i dont think one fairytale can help another

    April 16, 2011 at 1:28 pm |
  18. nicetry

    What does this have to do with Mideast politics? Seems to me like you used a topic that grabs people interest to read your uninteresting article on how "modern" the American christian right party is. I agree with Steve (the real one) but on different grounds.

    April 16, 2011 at 1:24 pm |
    • Steve (the real one)

      I am interested to hear your thought, if you don't mind.

      April 16, 2011 at 1:27 pm |
  19. dvn

    The solution to religion is NOT more religion...

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

      Truer words could not be spoken.

      April 16, 2011 at 1:36 pm |
  20. Steve (the real one)

    The major problem is some believe Jesus was a conservative republican! Wrong! He was no politically motivated nor was he a politician! In saying that, Jesse was NOT a liberal democrat either. It is simply wrong to attempt to hijack the message of Jesus with Politics.

    April 16, 2011 at 1:13 pm |
    • Steve (the real one)

      Sorry make that Jesus and not Jesse!

      April 16, 2011 at 1:40 pm |
    • as

      I suspect you've never studied Jesus' teachings on the KINGDOM of God, the triumphal entry, or the reason He was crucified. All very political.

      April 16, 2011 at 2:04 pm |
    • Steve (the real one)

      as
      I suspect you've never studied Jesus' teachings on the KINGDOM of God, the triumphal entry, or the reason He was crucified. All very political.
      -------
      I have studied it! Question, in the Kingdom, who gets a vote? Yes Jesus was surrounded by politics, but Jesus was not political! How often did He address the Roman occupation? Folks in that time expected the Messiah to eliminate the Romans and some even attempted to make Jesus King. He did not entertain that! How often did He address the religious (chief priests) The Sanhedrin had no political power, they did had power over religious matters! Politics belonged to Rome!

      April 16, 2011 at 2:17 pm |
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