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Home From the Rabbi From the Rabbi - November 2012
From the Rabbi - November 2012 PDF Print E-mail

Dear Friends:

Fundamentalism scares the daylights out of me.  Let me tell you why.

We need to understand that the attitude of fundamentalism is not just a religious phenomenon.  A secular ideology can share the same characteristics as the most extreme religious system.  The basic attribute of any fundamentalism is that there is only one way to understand reality, one truth, one perspective.  Everything else is wrong.   So, someone who believes that cutting down a tree to provide lumber for the building of a house is a desecration of the environment and that this atrocity should never be committed is very little different from a religious person who believes that there is only one path of worship to the true God.

Fundamentalisms, whether religious or secular, are closed systems.  They admit no alternative views of reality.  Anyone who differs with their conclusions is, ipso facto, in error.  It is not a long stretch from deciding that the other person is wrong to concluding that the other person is sinful and even evil.  “My way or the highway” consigns a large number of thoughtful people who happen to think differently from the fundamentalist to exclusion and ostracism.  This demeans their human dignity and restricts their human rights.  It is only another short step to justifying the forcible removal and even killing of the heretic (anyone who disagrees); after all, if homosexuality is a sin against God, why not do God’s work and slay all the homosexuals?  That’s the logical conclusion when one idea is accorded absolute validity and all others are derogated as wicked and rejected.

Fundamentalisms are essentially antagonistic to democracy.  If any ideas other than your own are wrong and sinful, what is the point of discussing them or considering them or making a compromise with them?  To accept that the other person may have something of value to contribute to the solution of a problem is to do business with the devil, and this the fundamentalist cannot do.  Our basic rights under the Constitution (and especially the Bill of Rights) exist to protect minority points of view,, even unpopular ones.  But a fundamentalist, religious or secular, has no reason to respect those rights when they foster and protect views which he/she thinks are heretically sinful.

Finally, fundamentalisms are dangerous for Jews.  If there is only one truth and all other points of view ought to be eliminated, guess who goes out the door!  We represent a little less than 3% of the American population.  Should our position in this society be dependent on being seen as the one right and honorable path, we lose every time – it’s just a matter of numbers at that point.

The opposite of fundamentalism is pluralism, the idea that there are many different honorable and legitimate paths to the same objectives.  In a democratic society, each of those paths is entitled to some respect and to some role in the discussion; a viable solution often reflects a compromise in which elements of several different ideas are combined in a less-than-perfect agreement to move forward.  America functions best when pragmatism rules, when all the parties who hold differing ideas come together to craft a solution that works, even when it is not ideologically pure or correct. 

I hope every member of CBI will vote in the upcoming election.  When you do, I hope you will keep in mind the issue of fundamentalisms and make your choices for those candidates who will advance rather than impede the solutions to the many problems that plague our society.

     Kenneth D. Roseman, Rabbi



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