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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. nelson

    no but they seem to be very good a getting captured and beheaded. I just don't want my tax dollars going to free them. If we help the Christians they will never learn.

    April 16, 2011 at 8:10 pm |
  2. david

    middle east doesn't need anyone's help.

    April 16, 2011 at 8:05 pm |
  3. Blame Bush

    ...."Zimmerman says the Christian Right employed virtues normally associated with liberals – reason, tolerance and mutual respect ...."

    Are you kidding me? The fundies want to turn the USA into a theocracy and there are not the least bit tolerant of anyone but their own kind. If they had mutual respect for people they wouldn't be going ape shat over gay marriage.

    Zimmerman has got to be spoofing us, or just another plain old tool for the religious zealots.

    April 16, 2011 at 8:01 pm |
  4. Lily

    Beliefs are silly and can change at any time. Why does the news always put Middle Eastern issues in terms of Muslims vs. Christians? The Crusades are over. Do a story on women and children. Do a story on arts organizations surviving amidst war. Do a story about food quality. Do a story on drug production. Do a story on just about anything, but leave religion to the idiots who subscribe to it.

    April 16, 2011 at 7:28 pm |
    • airwx

      Do you believe someone loves you? Love is not only invisible, but it also immeasurable. It can change at any time. Are you then silly to believe?

      April 16, 2011 at 7:35 pm |
  5. Keith

    Religion is stupid. You're all morons.

    April 16, 2011 at 7:26 pm |
  6. joe

    Even if you think politics would be better off with no religion involved, there is no practical way to erase religion from the middle east or the US. Since it is a totally impossible scenario, it is not a scenario that this article is considering. I believe the author is proposing some role model for a solution (which is actually possible) to middle east democracy could still involve the inevitable islamic influences. If you say "NO RELIGION", you are kind of missing the point of the article and the realities of the situation.

    April 16, 2011 at 7:18 pm |
  7. Rabbi Green

    Just like they help africa??? Where kids any gays are killed by the hundreds in witch hunts now..... Send them to the mideast maybe they'll all kill each other... Win Win

    April 16, 2011 at 7:14 pm |
  8. jimmynog

    Dummies helping other dummies? Yeah, sounds like that could really work!

    April 16, 2011 at 6:52 pm |
  9. Aezel

    So he says they rely on "reason" in their arguments, and then goes on to cite ridiculous points of "reason" like gay couples hurt children when they raise them. All REAL research shows the opposite.

    More than 50% of their points of "reason" are made-up bulls***. "Reason," means your viewpoint is logical, and you can back it up with evidence. Making things up that REAL studies show to be not true at all, is not employing reason, that is just, making things up. This article is a joke.

    Back to the overall point of the article-> Fundamentalist Christians helping the Middle East? Talk about the blind leading the blind.

    April 16, 2011 at 6:51 pm |
    • airwx

      Please cite your sources of research on children of gays and lesbians. My personal experience in counselling shows a large amount of conflict in the home is created when children reach puberty in a gay or lesbian setting. It takes many forms, but the heartbreak is not just with the children, but the adults as well.

      April 16, 2011 at 7:03 pm |
  10. katie

    Islam and Christianity are VERY different religions–and Christianity benefits from the Reformation and the Enlightenment, while Islam has had no such intellectual renaissance to move it into the modern era. In fact, Islam means "submission" in Arabic (not "peace," as the press often wrongly reports). It requires submission to the Koran and the implementation of sharia, or religious law. That religious law requires, among other things, death as a punishment for religious conversion (e.g. from Islam to Christianity), stoning as a punishment for adultery, the cutting off of hands as a punishment for stealing, and jihad as a requirement for the highest rewards of eternal life. No Christian "fundamentalist" would advocate any of these things–because they are not present in the Bible. Christian fundamentalists might still believe in hell, but punishment is God's to exact, not man's. It is delayed to the next life. This allows democracy and reason room to flourish. But Islam rests on punishment in this life–by men, against other men. It is a religion informed by violence and coersion, without room for reason. Until Islam has its own Reformation and Enlightenment, its fundamentalists will never be able to function in, let alone enrich, democracy in the way that Christians have.

    April 16, 2011 at 6:49 pm |
    • Aezel

      Except the whole point of his article is ridiculous. Oh yea, Christians "help" reason. I hate to tell him, reason and logical thinking in society exist in SPITE of fundamentalist Christians.

      Thanks, but us rational thinkers can get by just fine without fundamentalist Christians. They have not enriched our reasonable thinking in any way. Any study that cites their insistence that gay couples harm children when they raise them as an example of "reasonable" thinking is ludicrous.

      There are plenty of secular countries in the world, and their democracy and logical thinking get on quite fine without the sheeple Christians bogging them down.

      April 16, 2011 at 6:57 pm |
    • Evan

      Aezel, I'm a free-thinker–that's why I'm a Christian.

      April 16, 2011 at 7:01 pm |
  11. Keith

    "opponents of gay marriage say it harms children"... and this type of right wing rhetoric is supposed to pander to my intellect?
    Do you think intelligent voters in the west or Muslims in the Middle East need these American crackpots to lead the way. Sorry... they're already using the state of Israel as their pawn to bring Jesus back a second time. I doubt Muslims want anything to do with right wing Christians from the USofA. They scare me – right up there with members of Hamas, the Taliban and other religious zealots.
    America has no hope in hell if the author of this article and the authors he quotes are esteeming this religious side show in America. Separation of Church/Synagogue/Mosque/Temple and state. Too many channels... and no substance. Please... come to work but leave your fairy tales at home.

    April 16, 2011 at 6:39 pm |
  12. Resist710

    Fundamentalist anythings can help nothing.

    April 16, 2011 at 6:10 pm |
    • airwx

      Fundamental can also mean basic, as originally designed....not just intolerant. I can be a fundie and still not agree with burning books or bombing abortion clinics. I can still believe my faith without dissing your faith or lack thereof. When non-believers reach that same point we might be able to open a dialogue for our mutal betterment.

      April 16, 2011 at 6:16 pm |
  13. Paul Bishop

    If I were an alien reading these comments, I'd be very confused at their intolerance toward the supposedly "intolerant" Christian right. "Do these humans think intolerance is bad or good? Or is it only intolerance to certain things?"

    If you actually interact with what the article is saying, people with very absolutist beliefs have been able to make positive contributions to the marketplace of ideas and use humane, and dare I say TOLERANT methods of dialog and arguing for their points.
    The fact is, you'll always have conservative and liberal elements within a society – there is no everyone-agrees-on-everything utopia; but you need to share a common matrix to live together and get along, or you get civil war and societal disaster. That's all the article is saying, whether the specific advocacies of the fundamentalists are right or wrong, they deserve some respect for how they've incorporated into democracy. Hopefully fundamentalists in the Middle East can learn to do the same.

    April 16, 2011 at 6:05 pm |
    • airwx

      Quite true, Paul. Nicely stated.

      April 16, 2011 at 6:11 pm |
    • frank

      "whether the specific advocacies of the fundamentalists are right or wrong, they deserve some respect for how they've incorporated into democracy" –why does somebody deserve respect for using something as a vehicle to get what they want?

      April 16, 2011 at 6:25 pm |
    • Sharon

      Many athiests are obnoxious and intolerant, but you're only seeing the loudmouths here who flock to any article about religion to launch their diatribes.

      That doesn't change the fact that the supposedly Christian Right IS intolerant and hardly a role model for anyone considering the division and filthy politics they've launched here which have helped NO ONE except the filthy rich.

      April 16, 2011 at 6:26 pm |
    • airwx

      @Frank....so tell me, when was the last time you deliberately did not use every avenue open to you to get what you wanted?

      April 16, 2011 at 6:31 pm |
  14. Mad Zagyg

    I'm sorry, but the CNN Belief Blog is so BAD!

    This article is almost at awful as the misinformation contained within it.

    The world will be a better place once all religions are relics of the past.

    April 16, 2011 at 5:54 pm |
    • Keith

      Thanks! I thought I was the only one who had to go back and read the article several times to believe what I was reading... crazy stuff, huh.

      April 16, 2011 at 6:41 pm |
  15. Fred Riek

    I have already posted a comment, but I failed to say anything about this article. It is absurd to say the Christian right could help out in the Middle East. It is in alrge part a reaction to the Christian right and their conviction that they must spread their theology where people don't want to hear it. The Christian right sponsors medical missions and missions to help build wells and other needed things by impoverished areas of the world. But at what price, their very souls. It is like a bad movie where the devil wants to take your sould. Only the Christian right sees themselves as saving their souls for Christ. The Christian right believes this is what God wants them to do. Just like the suicide bombers beleive they are blowing up innocent children, women, old people, and others in the name of Allah. Just as Barry Goldwater was wrong when he said "Extremism in the defense of liberty is not a vice", extreme religious beliefs and practices are just that, extreme, and should not be encouraged but be limited for the common good of everyone. However, I would not mind if all the Christian right people and the taliban and extreme islamists met somewhere in a desert and sorted out their differences. Now this could be a holy event.

    April 16, 2011 at 5:41 pm |
    • airwx

      Ok, let me follow your "logic".

      Christians should not go around doing good and helping other people because you generalize that all of them are extremists who only want to convert people. You want to limit them because you have decided that your "plan" (religion/dogma) is somehow better. You would control what is permissible speech for the "common good". And then you wish to start a fight for your entertainment.

      Friend, if this is where humanistic logic leads....I'll have none of it.

      April 16, 2011 at 5:56 pm |
    • M22

      airw: "Christians should not go around doing good and helping other people because you generalize that all of them are extremists who only want to convert people. You want to limit them because you have decided that your "plan" (religion/dogma) is somehow better. You would control what is permissible speech for the "common good". And then you wish to start a fight for your entertainment."

      Sadly "Riek" won't understand the point you're making.

      The words "ironic" and "hypocritical" apply fantastically well to virtually every comment on this article.

      April 16, 2011 at 6:01 pm |
    • airwx

      @M22 Maybe, maybe not; but I answer only to help those who don't understand that Humanism is indeed a religion. Pour light into darkness and the darkness is exposed.

      April 16, 2011 at 6:04 pm |
    • Sharon

      Yep. After all, they've done such a great job of unifying everyone here...

      April 16, 2011 at 6:23 pm |
    • M22

      fred: "extreme religious beliefs and practices are just that, extreme, and should not be encouraged but be limited for the common good of everyone."

      Ah, but of course. Society should limit what others can believe or say for the "common good." But what, pray tell, determines what the common good is? Your own extremist beliefs and desires?

      Brilliant.

      April 16, 2011 at 7:36 pm |
  16. Ryan

    Unfortunately, Zimmerman seems to ignore the previous 1000 years of history which make a contrary point to his own. Religion has no place in politics. Or perhaps things were pretty awesome under Charlemagne, I don't know. I mean, after he killed everyone who disagreed with him of course.

    April 16, 2011 at 5:35 pm |
    • Paul Bishop

      Ryan, from what you say here you don' know much history either. It was religious devotion that gave us hospitals, medicine, laws, and a host of other good things in political systems. Religion has been used to do horrible things, but for good also. Before you condemn an important part of humanity you'd better look at why it was there and what good it has brought you.

      April 16, 2011 at 6:10 pm |
    • HZD

      Ryan, did you even read the article? The whole point was that fundamentalist Christians have entered the political arena and put forward their political opinions in the same way than everyone else does. And that is a good model for the Middle East. It is precisely the fact that they do NOT go around killing everyone who disagrees with them that the author is pointing to as a good example.

      (And learn history before making snarky comments. Charlemagne was more than 1000 years ago.)

      April 16, 2011 at 7:40 pm |
  17. Rob

    Wow, I guess I really don't see it quite the way the author here does. I see the fundamentalists as being THE PROBLEM not the solution and to try to sell me on some story that actually the far religious right agree's more with liberal agenda's is laughable. I believe in theory that Christian beliefs could help but they really don't because anytime you get sheep following the heard around you get this mass that are doing what everybody else is doing without realizing what it is they are doing. NO I do not agree with this observation at all.

    April 16, 2011 at 5:35 pm |
  18. Fred Riek

    The "Christian right" is our equivalent of the taliban and radical muslims. They must be feared because oif their intolerance and because of their refusal to use the intellect that God gave us all. They refuse to accept evolution as a fact and want to prohibit others from using their intellect to further the knowledge base for future generations as we have benefited from past sicentists, explorers, writers, and dare I say it, HUMANISTS. I agree with the comment that the "Christian Right" is neither Christian nor right.

    April 16, 2011 at 5:29 pm |
    • Colin

      Comment of the Day.....Fred Riek for President.

      April 16, 2011 at 5:31 pm |
    • Rob

      Here, here!!

      April 16, 2011 at 5:36 pm |
    • Keith

      Yay brother! Here! Here!

      April 16, 2011 at 6:43 pm |
    • joe

      I don't know. Like any group, they have their joe schmoes and their intellectual strongmen. You can't really discount the whole group as idiots just because you've never engaged a good apologist. Certainly, even they admit there is a step of faith involved, and are not trying to claim they can prove the whole religion – but they can bring much more reasonable, sourced, and intelligent arguments to bear than most typical sheep you've probably encountered.

      April 16, 2011 at 7:11 pm |
    • Adam

      Who says we do not use our intellect? I have intensely studied evolution, but still find it an insufficient explanation. Simply because people arrive at a different logical conclusion than your own, when the premises themselves are hypothetical, does not mean that they are not intellectual. To mock people of differing opinion shows intolerance and bias. Your views, taken to the extreme, have already resulted in the slaughter of millions of Christians in places like the USSR, Mao's China and North Korea. For liberals being so much about diversity, how little you adhere to that mantra when it comes to diversity of opinion. To make everyone think the same as yourselves is nothing more than brainwashing and indoctrination.

      April 16, 2011 at 7:28 pm |
  19. Colin

    To sum up this article's main thesis. Those who want to ban modern medicine in America are good for those who want to build a hopspital in Egypt because; (i) when they oppose modern medicine here, they are nice about it, they just picket medical clinics with bottles of leaches; (ii) they still want (the now unemployed) doctors to be able to vote; and (iii) rather than concentrating on the complete inanity of banning modern medicine, they concentrate on the nice, pretty side of it, like no more of those nasty syringes.

    They can help the Middle East by teaching the "Back to the Leaches" crowd over there how to go about returning to the Dark Ages politely and with little violence.

    And this is the Christian Taliban putting its best foot forward!!

    April 16, 2011 at 5:25 pm |
  20. Whenwillstopbelievinginfairytales

    All religion, be it christianity, islam, hindu etc, inhibits reason. The purpose of religion is to provide explanations for things we don't understand, control populations and assuage our fear of not existing (death).
    The 1st and 2nd laws of thermodynamics forbay the existence of an eternal soul.

    Pardon the pun but I pray that in perhaps 200 years the majority of mankind will be free of the disease called religion!

    April 16, 2011 at 5:20 pm |
    • lisa shafer

      I'm sorry, what does forbay mean? I'm not familiar with that term. If the purpose of religion is to help explain things outside of our understanding, and by the term understanding I mean things that we can't replicate in a lab or exist outside of our physical world....ie. death, love, the meaning of pain and suffering, can pain or suffering be a good thing for one, altruism etc, then what is so wrong with it that you "pray" that its gone in 200 hundred years.

      April 16, 2011 at 5:35 pm |
    • rolando

      """"Pardon the pun but I pray that in perhaps 200 years the majority of mankind will be free of the disease called religion!""

      The author of the above statement should look into the number of times others have wished this same recourse but have been only proven short of insight into the human experience and construct.

      April 16, 2011 at 5:36 pm |
    • Colin

      @Lisa. Actually, "forbay" is an acceptable, if antiquated, third person, present tense, plural conjugation of the English verb "to forbid".

      April 16, 2011 at 5:40 pm |
    • Roblow

      religion is the entire problem in the mid-east, Christian or otherwise.

      April 16, 2011 at 5:46 pm |
    • Randoms

      The fear of dying and having nothing to look forward to for some is unbearable. Especially when they have children, religion seems to be a haven for safekeeping. To have faith in something you cannot see or prove is comforting, but it is killing more people in it's hypocrisy than any other dispute BAR none. My god is bigger than your god theory...

      April 16, 2011 at 5:56 pm |
    • Jellyfishdude

      your liberalism prohibits freedom and rationale

      April 16, 2011 at 6:05 pm |
    • joe

      May I point out the logical flaw in your argument: The first and second law of thermodynamics cannot prove that no supernatural eternal soul exists. Why? By definition. The definition of "supernatural" is something like "above natural laws and understanding." Clearly, if it is above natural laws, then it would seem obvious that it is simply not subject to the laws of thermodynamics.

      Yes, this is akin to answering your objection with "magic." but you simply cannot disprove a supernatural existence with natural laws. By definition, they dont apply.

      April 16, 2011 at 7:04 pm |
    • The truth is hidden

      That one I have got to hear? How, does that explain the imposibiltiy of an eternal soul? You have got to be kidding me!

      April 16, 2011 at 7:13 pm |
    • Adam

      Ironically, the 1st and 2nd laws of thermodynamics also forbid the very existence of our universe.

      April 16, 2011 at 7:33 pm |
    • HumbleU

      I can't wait until people like you finally stop using abstract, human-created ideas and THEORY (which I would like to make sure everyone remembers, is not completely proveable), to try to explain the unexplainable. Until then, have fun raining on everyone's parade!

      And when the end comes, and the outside chance that there is a God IS correct, I hope that you can finally stop believing in your own fairytales.

      April 16, 2011 at 7:34 pm |
    • Steev

      Regardless of what some consider "supernatural" the existence of "souls" has never been proven anywhere, whether by example, demonstration, or logic.
      Similarly, "supernatural" beings have never been shown to exist either.
      The last-ditch grasp at the word "supernatural" simply means that you religious people are terrified that we might prove the non-existence of your "god", despite the fact that you are proving your "god's" non-existence with every word you utter and every action you take.
      There are ways of proving your "god" exists, but only if your "god" ACTUALLY exists.
      But no one can face the logic or the facts that point at your "god's" non-existence. You flail blindly and hysterically at the universe around you, never willing to concede the fact that you lost any credibility thousands of years ago when you allowed people to make stuff up and call it real.

      April 16, 2011 at 11:42 pm |
    • Ed

      Pardon the pun but I pray that in perhaps 200 years the majority of mankind will be free of the disease called religion!

      Just an FYI the word 'pray' means speak so you basicaly said 'I speak that in perhaps 200 years the majority of mankind will be free of the disease called religion!'

      A better way to say it might be I wish or I hope.

      April 17, 2011 at 7:42 am |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.