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

« Previous entry
soundoff (449 Responses)
  1. HotAirAce

    If pouring gasoline on a fire is considered help, then I suppose anything is possible...

    April 16, 2011 at 4:01 pm |
  2. SMP

    If the christans are so great then why do they kill abortion doctors. If you don't like abortion-don't have one. It's my choice

    April 16, 2011 at 3:58 pm |
    • airwx

      To kill (murder) is not Christian, thus anyone who kills an abotionist is not a Christian. Generalizations don't solve the issue.

      April 16, 2011 at 4:05 pm |
  3. Ohhh

    I guess trolls don't understand sarcasm.

    April 16, 2011 at 3:43 pm |
  4. Inthewind

    Only when they stop bending over and kissing the a** of the terrorist of the jewish religion!!

    April 16, 2011 at 3:34 pm |
  5. Oakramble

    Fundamentalist Christians are no less lunatic than fundamental Muslims!

    April 16, 2011 at 3:32 pm |
    • Dan

      No kidding, at least Muslims believe in Dinosaurs, unlike some evangelicals.

      April 16, 2011 at 4:06 pm |
  6. Bernard

    "Could fundamentalist Christians help Mideast politics?"

    No. Next question.

    April 16, 2011 at 3:27 pm |
    • Steve (the real one)

      I have a question? Can anybody help ME politics? Can any Westerner? Most people have no clue to that centuries old culture and infighting between the main Islamic sects. Your thoughts?

      April 16, 2011 at 4:36 pm |
  7. Nitrogen

    This is preposterous. The Christian Right plays the game of politics well, but it's only because they know that we'd squish them if they attacked us directly. Their tactics are much more insidious this way. They promote arguments (that have been debunked over and over again) in the hope that their logic will make sense to people, when really all of their absolutist morals come straight out of the Old Testament. Zimmerman's comment about the C.R. enriching politics instead of constricting it couldn't be further from the truth. What is your agenda Zimmerman?

    April 16, 2011 at 3:21 pm |
    • M22

      nitrogen: "Zimmerman's comment about the C.R. enriching politics instead of constricting it couldn't be further from the truth. What is your agenda Zimmerman?"

      Yeah, because the fewer opinions there are in the world the more enriched it becomes. The fewer contrary beliefs there are the more hope there is for testing the truth.

      Your dogmatism is showing through.

      J.S. Mill would be so proud.

      April 16, 2011 at 4:08 pm |
  8. bill mcmasters

    fundamentalist christianity has never been good for american democracy, except perhaps, as an anti-example – something to be fought against. fundamentalist islam is like fundie christianity on methamphetamines. can john blake actually, seriously suggest that fundie islam could be constructive to democracy?

    April 16, 2011 at 3:21 pm |
  9. LivingInReality

    I feel so much better that I gave up religion. Unfortunately others might not be able see the wall in front of them, because religion is all they know of life.
    Giving up religion allowed me to see my own faults from poor self-esteem to racism. Every religion forces followers to believe everyone else is less than you since they don't believe in your religion. Religion forces you to hate yourself for just not wanting be in the religion.
    You can not get along in the world thinking everyone else is below you. You cannot progress on your own by relying on religion.

    April 16, 2011 at 3:18 pm |
    • airwx

      No, "every religion" does not require you to take a superior ati-tude. Mine tells me to be a servant to all...to help them...what religion were you in that required such thinking?

      April 16, 2011 at 3:24 pm |
    • sheisbackisis

      Thank you! This is a pleasing and enlightened comment. I think you are the only response about self improvement and not the improvement of others. We can only change ourselves. Until ours species truely starts to look inwards and not outward for the change we seek I believe we most definiately will alway think we "know" better. I am thankful to find your words and light amongst so much finger pointig.

      April 16, 2011 at 4:20 pm |
  10. David

    This was originally published in the Christian Science Monitor. Sorry, your cult doesn't believe that disease exists, I don't see why you should be taken seriously in any other fields. CNN should be ashamed of giving them space to publish this garbage, even online, but they never seem to be. No one other than fundamentalist christians think that fundamentalist christians are tolerant.

    April 16, 2011 at 3:17 pm |
  11. Paul

    Thank you Mr. Blake. So many historical Biblical Christians have been blackballed by the horrific lies said about us. It is encouraging to see a little of the truth for once.

    April 16, 2011 at 3:12 pm |
    • vel

      what lies? The truth that Christians have killed others and each other over whose invisible friend was the "bestest"? On who had the "right" answer on what God "really" meant? The lies you tell when you claim that the US is only "Christian" or that there billions of you, when all of you hate the next since you don't agree on what the right way to "worship" God is? It's all the usual "OneTrueChristian" claims, oooh, those "other" Christians aren't "real" ones.

      April 16, 2011 at 3:16 pm |
  12. David

    Funny how non Christ like "Christians" are. They're about as far removed from anything Jesus would have taught. Look no further than their treatment of gays and lesbians. Oh they'll tell you they hate the "sin" not the "sinner" as if they have the right to make any such distinctions. As if they are oh so perfect. They'll announce to you and the wold that they'll "pray" for you- when all they really are doing is trying to make themselves feel superior. Pathetic, but I will pray for them.

    April 16, 2011 at 3:08 pm |
    • airwx

      There are those of us who take that whole "Judge Not" thing very seriously. Sorry you haven't met more of us....

      April 16, 2011 at 3:17 pm |
    • Trogdorious


      if you look above this you'll see I agree with you, as a Christian, that Christian's aren't very Christ like anymore....what is infuriating to me is that with Islam, the average American, in my humble opinion, is willing to say "well only a few Muslims are radical, most of them love peace" even though they have probably never met one....yet, with Christians, people who have never set foot in a church or met real people of faith judge the entire Christian right by the fact that their beliefs don't align with their own.....I am in no way saying you are doing this....perhaps you have met many Christians, or watched many of those ridiculous late night healing sessions if you'll only send in $9.99 and and that has helped shape your opinion of Christians and if so I apologize for those "Christians".....there is one thing for certain, Christians are just as likely to "sin" or make mistakes as anyone else and I hope you will meet some Christians who are harder on themselves than they are on others....i hope you will be open to the idea that some of us Christians do in fact hate the way the current Christian Church is represented in the world..

      April 16, 2011 at 4:40 pm |
    • scott

      WOW, and you've never meet me.

      April 16, 2011 at 6:57 pm |
  13. one more

    you had me holding on reading this article, except for the ending " let's hope so" ......my response to you is...no the Muslim right don't have the same believes as the Christian right they need still much improvement on what is a peaceful religion and have to begging by acknowledging violence isn't the solution to any conflict, after all this is accomplish we can't even begging to see the hope in the transformation.

    April 16, 2011 at 3:05 pm |
    • David

      The christian right could use some massive improvement on what is Christ like.

      April 16, 2011 at 3:10 pm |
    • Trogdorious


      as a Christian, I couldn't agree with you more

      April 16, 2011 at 4:29 pm |
  14. David

    Religion and politics don't mix.just ask the Taliban.

    April 16, 2011 at 3:03 pm |
  15. someoneelse

    Fundamentalist Christians have not helped democracy in any way in the States. And calling them tolerant ??? This article is sad.

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

      There is a book that I would like you and others to read: "What If Jesus Had Never Been Born?" by D. James Kennedy, Nelson Books. If you think that fundamental Christianity has not helped democracy in any way, I think you may be surprised to find out how it has, thank you, from a Christian who cares.

      April 16, 2011 at 3:22 pm |
    • someoneelse

      First of all, Christians don't care about anything except doing what they have to to get into heaven. This is why a good non-religious person is inherently better than a good religious person. Second, ALL OF CHRISTIANITY was based off of already thought up ideals, mostly from the Greeks. No, Democracy has nothing from Christianity.

      April 16, 2011 at 4:43 pm |
  16. Paul NYC

    The Christian Right is tolerant? Of what? Each other?

    April 16, 2011 at 2:56 pm |
  17. trixen

    Mutual respect?! HA! I have ZERO respect for the Christian Right, so it ain't mutual. I don't consider myself terribly liberal either, but any time religion is injected into government, bad things happen. We end up taking steps backward when we should be moving forward. Religion has no place in government at all. Religious beliefs ought to be either kept to oneself or perhaps shared with family or close friends, but NOBODY ELSE.

    April 16, 2011 at 2:45 pm |
    • M22

      trixen: "Religion has no place in government at all. Religious beliefs ought to be either kept to oneself or perhaps shared with family or close friends, but NOBODY ELSE."

      What does this even mean?

      By "religion in politics" you mean the injection of morality. Except if you divorce morality from law what do you end up with? Unprincipled and arbitrary legislation. Legislation, mind you, that you'll never be able to criticize because the word "should" will unavailable to you.

      Ethical considerations permeate the law by necessity. And whether the source of those ethics is religion or not is irrelevant. Criticizing the source, and not the merits, of the moral is absurd to the nth degree.

      April 16, 2011 at 3:09 pm |
    • Mike Johnson

      They aren't Christians nor are they right.

      April 16, 2011 at 4:19 pm |
  18. Canadain

    This is insane.. religion is the problem (world wide) This is like curing a heroine addict by giving him crack! Reason, thought. Belief backed by evidence .o this B.S. .Fundamentalism= dark ages Christian, Jewish, Muslim or otherwise!

    April 16, 2011 at 2:32 pm |
  19. Reality2

    There is little likeness between fundamental Christians and Islamic Fundamentalists. It doesn't seem right to compare muslims (not just extremists) who kill their family members if they convert to another faith, with Christians who will pray for their family members if they convert to another faith. Many other comparisons of this nature could be given, however, this example is the fundamental difference between the two faiths, how they treat those who don't believe. Anyone posting from a non-muslim country is in the same islamic category: "war" -the designation given to all countries not controlled by Islam. Those who live in a muslim country would be in an area designated as "peace". It is easy to figure out what the plan is for those countries that don't reside in an area of "peace".

    April 16, 2011 at 2:30 pm |
    • Dubhly

      Sorry reality, but both religions are required to convert others to their religion. This has been done at the point of the sword by christians too, many times. Most recent was the native americans in the US, they were converted by force, their children taken away to be raised by "good christian" families, etc. Just becuase you do not wish to see the comparison does not mean its not real. Religion needs to be a personal issue, not a governmental one.

      April 16, 2011 at 2:44 pm |
    • Trogdorious


      What Dubhly says is true...Just because current Christian culture does not condone violence as a means to convert and some of Islam does, doesn't mean it wasn't just the opposite at other points in history....true Christianity, true faith, means looking at yourself first and confronting your own "sins" and neither religion has done that.

      on a different note...so many people on here seem to express Christians shouldn't have a voice in politics, or have hurt politics or the world because they believe their way is right..since when was believing you're right exclusive to Christians???....we all might wanna look in the mirror and realize we all believe in something, even if you don't believe in anything, you have opinions....just like Christians....so if you Christians should lose their voice or be silent, then so should all of us....unless you're willing to give up your opinions and beliefs first....of course this is absurd, so stop trying to argue that Christians have hurt politics and just realize they have opinions, liberals have opinions, conservatives have opinions, etc etc. and everyone in current politics seems to think they're right....its called passion....kettle meet pot

      April 16, 2011 at 4:15 pm |
    • Anon34

      @Trogdorious I applaud you for looking through both sides. But I feel your looking at people who are bashing the Christian Right to distastefully. I believe that everyone, including those that are deep in faith, to have a voice. I just feel that all should have an equal voice and the Christian fundamentalists get to bark a little more loudly than the rest of us.

      April 16, 2011 at 5:18 pm |
  20. scott

    There is one huge problem with this: fundamental Christianity and fundamental Islam are not the same thing. Christians in the US have never killed and imprisoned masses of Christians for converting to Islam. Look at the history of how Christians are treated in the M.E. This article is silly. There is no comparison between the two.

    April 16, 2011 at 2:20 pm |
    • Leslie

      Stay out of the Middle East Christians!!! You have done enough damage over the years!!!!!!

      April 16, 2011 at 2:33 pm |
    • Dubhly

      Yeah, just forget the Inquisition, and the crusades where islam picked up such ideas. ( please read plenty of sarcasm here)

      Should also be noted that the religious right has not improved the political climate, rather they have enraged the scene. They are right, and righteous in their goals. This does not lend itself well to moderation, open mindedness, or tolerance. I would point out the constant moral authority they try to dominate. They wish to control how anyone lives their lives, whether they are christian or not. THEY feel they are the only ones who are capable of deciding for people which moral and ethical compass they live by. In truth they are no differant then the Taliban. There ARE in fact examples where they do kill, torture, terrorize, force out, etc... anyone that doesnt believe with them. This is true in american history, but more true world wide. First example is the KKK, which defines itself as a christian organization, how about the native americans who were forced to christianize to have half a chance of getting along. should i mention blacks in slavery, and the fact that it was justified using christianity?
      No sir, the right wing can be consevative, but leave the religion at home! it does not foster anything but hate when it tries to control people. When youi mix religion and politics all you get is a controlling religion. This is doubly so if you mix the jewish, and its descendant religions to the mix.

      April 16, 2011 at 2:40 pm |
    • Steve (the real one)

      Stay out of the Middle East Christians!!! You have done enough damage over the years!!!!!!
      Would that include Midldle-Easterners who are Christians like the Egyptian Copts? Would that include Christians who are also in the military? How about tourists?

      April 16, 2011 at 2:40 pm |
    • Ryan

      The Inquisition???

      April 16, 2011 at 2:41 pm |
    • Steve (the real one)

      A Christian is a follower of Christ. Christ hated no one, He did not elevate one race above another. In short, if an organization does what Christ did not, that organization is not Christian! It does not matter what label or name they give themselves!

      April 16, 2011 at 2:46 pm |
    • Jebus Rice

      You can compare the 2 religions because both are fundamentally nuts. Both evangelicals and radical islam think their god is the right god and try to push their beliefs onto others through making laws based on what their religions. The killing aspect is just a matter of time. Though I'm sure a lot of right wing evangelicals join the military because they think were in a holy war with the middle east. Just one side kills legally. I do support the troops It's just some of the members reasoning for joining up is a bit radical.

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

      @Jebus Rice

      You'd be suprised how many of us over here fighting are actually Atheist. Putting Pastafarian on my dog tags becuase I do enjoy sarcasm so much. Also just to note you would probably be suprised to the number of belivers who give up belief in god while in mid tour. I'd love to give you a reason as to why but I'm not everyone else and I'm incapable of reading minds. And the ones who do believe, there just normal people like you and me, I highly disagree they joined up because they get to fight Islam, most people join up for money/benefits.

      April 16, 2011 at 3:22 pm |
    • NoWay

      Fundamentalists and Evangelicals have ruined our country. They insist there is no way but their way..... garbage.

      April 16, 2011 at 3:42 pm |
    • RS47

      Islam has always, and does today through their several schools of Islamic jurisprudence, affirm many distasteful (and worse) tenants, including jihad in all its forms, including violent jihad to advance Islam; severe persecution of non-muslims (kaffirs) living in an Islamic society to force conversion to Islam; death for apostasy from Islam; the catagorization of many human behaviors as either prohibited or required; the declaration that women do not have anything near the rights of men; the use of deceit and lying (taqqiya) of the kaffir (non-muslim) to protect and/or advance Islam; and the goal of Islamizing the world by any means, including violence. You will usually not hear muslims living in the west affirm these tenants, and they may even deny them, but that doesn't matter, as these tenants are orthodox Islamic theology. Islamic theology is also dualistic, in that a tolerant and peaceful reference to Islamic canon can be made, but usually this theology has ben abrogated or replaced by later canonical references that are violent and supremist. If you don't agree, you have not studied orthodox Islamic theology. Islam also does not recognize separation of church and state, and is totalitarian in it's orthodox or true tenants. Conversely, orthodox Christian theology never affirms violence to advance Christianity, affirms separation of church and state, and also affirms an individual's freedom to choose any worldview, theology, or lack thereof. These are huge differences, not to mention the great differences in primary theology. Islamists constantly justify their violence by legitimately and honestly referencing their canon, the Quran and the Sunna of Mohammad, whereas if a Christian commits violent acts, Christian theology can not legitimately be referenced as a justification. One of the great deceptions by the media, politicians, etc., is that Islam has been hijacked by a few extremists – however it is in fact the so-called extremists who are abiding by orthodox Islamic theology, and this theology is a driving force for their actions. The root cause of Islamic supremism and violence is not muslims, but rather orthodox Islamic theology. Islamic and Christian theology are completely different and can not in any way be compared as equivalent.

      April 16, 2011 at 3:53 pm |
    • Anon34

      I just can't believe what this guy is saying! Right Christians CONTRIBUTE to our politics?!!?!? Seriously? They may enrage and degrade politics. They may NOT cause violence. But thats just a status quo. Its not like their helping to move along any of the precedings.

      April 16, 2011 at 3:55 pm |
    • Trogdorious

      @Jebus Rice

      As a retired Marine I can definitely tell you that I never met anyone who joined b/c God told them to go kill Muslims. Most of us had no where else to go, no money, no job, or truly wanted to simply serve their country.

      Interesting point...except all those non-Christians in government haven't done anything to move along "the precedings" (whatever that is) either....read a history book...Christians have done plenty to advance democracy through the years...despite your obvious anger and hatred for the current batch of Christians you can't deny history....although i'm sure you'll attempt to block it from entering your mind....

      April 16, 2011 at 4:03 pm |
    • Mike Johnson

      Thanks for you public display of stupidity. Have you heard of the crusaders? It was Christians who murdered Jews and drove Islam from Spain. I bet you can't find Spain on a map of the Iberian Peninsula. Seville Cathedral is build over a mosque. The truth is many of the oldest Christians sects and churches are in the Middle East. Islam in Spain protected Jews from murderous Christians.

      April 16, 2011 at 4:13 pm |
    • M22

      noway: "Fundamentalists and Evangelicals have ruined our country. They insist there is no way but their way..... garbage."

      The conclusion of which is what? That their beliefs are garbage, therefore your beliefs are the only true way?


      April 16, 2011 at 4:22 pm |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
« Previous entry
About this blog

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.