You’re Just As Fundamentalist As We Are!

23 Aug

Often, when arguing against fundamentalists of all stripes (whether religious, anti-abortion, anti-gay-marriage, etc.), this trope comes up eventually. “Yeah, well, you’re just as fundamentalist as I am! You’re just in the other extreme!” And I call B.S. Here’s why (explanation after the jump):

This is an image, the full description of which is coming next.

This image, from Reddit, explains exactly what I mean when I deny that I represent the “other extreme”. If a fundamentalist is against marriage equality, and I am in favor of it, I do not represent the “other extreme”. The other extreme would be forcing all people to have same-sex marriage. A fundamentalist saying that “God” belongs on our money, arguing against my claim that government should remain neutral and secular, cannot claim that I represent the “other extreme”. The other extreme would be endorsing atheism on our money, on our pledge, in our national motto, etc. Putting “One nation, without God” or “We stand godless” or something… that is the other extreme.

If an anti-choice person says that I, as a pro-choicer, represent the other extreme, I will kindly point out that the other extreme would, in fact, be demanding that all pregnant women get abortions. I represent the neutral option: that a woman should (and legally does) have the right to choose whether she gets an abortion or keeps the pregnancy. One extreme is denying her that choice and forcing her to continue that pregnancy. The other extreme is still denying her that choice, but instead forcing her to abort that pregnancy. Pro-choice represents the middle ground, leaving that choice up the woman who is pregnant.

Fundamentalists frame the argument in this manner because they don’t want to be seen as arguing their extreme position against a neutral one. That would make them look crazy, now, wouldn’t it? Because then, people would see that they’re arguing for an extreme where something is forced upon (or denied to) another, whereas the other side of the argument — whether pro-choice, pro-secularism, pro-marriage-equality, etc. — is neutral, leaving the choice up to each individual.

It all comes down to choice; the choice to get married to someone of the same gender or a different one; the choice to abort or keep a pregnancy; the personal choice of religious belief without the endorsement of our government, which our founding fathers worked hard to enshrine in the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause, evident by many of their other writings, especially those written to justify the contents of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

The separation of church and state is not an extreme position. It is one that is justified by not only sound logic and reasoning, but by the writings of our founding fathers, especially Thomas Jefferson’s letter to the Danbury Baptists, where he says:

Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between Church & State.

It is not an extreme position; it is one of choice, where each individual is left to choose with hir own conscience what religious stance is right for hir, without any government interference — which can take the form of a simple endorsement. Having the government endorse any religious belief, or set of beliefs, is dangerous territory, and allows the government to establish that religious belief, or set of beliefs, to be the “official” religion. Forcing our shared government — which is there for all of us, not just the vocal majority of us — to remain secular (religiously neutral) is not only required, but ensures equal protection and freedoms for all of us. Again, it all boils down to a choice, which one side (fundamentalists) want taken away. The true extreme opposite would be to demand that our government endorse hard atheism: the position that there are no gods. An atheistic government would be one that not only endorses atheism, but gives preferential treatment to atheists and atheist organizations. Atheistic tax-exempt organizations could rally for a particular political belief or candidate without reprisal from the IRS, as happens today with many religious institutions who do the same. Nobody, however, is arguing for the true “other extreme”. I have never seen anybody rally for an atheistic government — only a secular one.

The pro-choice position is not an extreme one. It is one that argues that the choice of aborting or continuing a pregnancy should be left to the woman herself. The true “other extreme” would be advocating that all pregnancies be aborted, rather than forced to continue (as is the pro-life argument). We represent the middle, neutral ground — we are not pro-abortion; we are pro-choice. In all areas.

The pro-marriage equality stance is not an extreme position; it is one of choice. We are advocating for the choice of people to marry whomever they want, regardless of gender. One extreme is denying that right to same-sex couples. The true “other extreme” would be to force that choice upon couples and allow only same-sex marriages.

Think of like this: Let’s say there is a thermostat in somebody’s bedroom. Let’s also say that some stranger is arguing that the room’s thermostat should be set to 40 degrees, a temperature they consider nice and cool, and so should the owner of the bedroom. Saying, “Let’s just leave it alone and let the occupant of this bedroom choose for hirself!” would not be an extreme position. This would be a position of choice, allowing the occupant of the bedroom (instead of a stranger) to decide the temperature for hirself. The true “other extreme” would be arguing that it be set to 100 degree: nice and warm.


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  1. Occasional Link Roundup | Brute Reason

    September 24, 2012 at 4:11 pm

    […] On the charge that atheists are actually just as “extreme” as fundamentalist religious f…. […]

  2. John

    September 26, 2012 at 2:06 pm

    It is simply amazing that anyone would have to keep making the point that you make. It is more than valid, and yet so very obvious. It hurts ones head that the religious amongst us can not (or refuse to) see that all they are doing is FORCING their beliefs on others, which is so very wrong.

  3. Rob F

    September 27, 2012 at 8:53 pm

    This post is quite brilliant and makes an important point.

    As an aside, perhaps Fundamentalists see their opponents as extremists because they seen to see things in black and white; grey blindness, if you will. Or maybe they see their opponents as extremists because everyone in the Fundamentalist’s ingroup is also and extremist, and their belief system requires everyone who is not with them to be absolute evil.